It’s rare to find anyone who visits Ljubljana and doesn’t come away completely smitten. Clean, compact and instantly likable, Slovenia’s gem of a capital wears its layers of history on its sleeve — an appealing mix of red tile rooftops, baroque church spires and narrow storefronts that hold fast to their medieval footprints. And in the midst of it all sits Grand Hotel Union, a 1905 Art Nouveau belle that has reigned over the city’s cultural scene since it opened its doors. Equal parts old-world gravitas and contemporary cheer, the hotel is the perfect home base to enjoy Ljubljana at its picturesque best.
Among Grand Hotel Union’s strongest assets is its location, as central as you can get to Ljubljana’s charming Old Town. From here it’s a few minutes’ stroll to sites like Preseren Square, dominated by the fanciful pink Franciscan Church; the open-air Central Market, with vendors selling everything from local cherries to handcrafted jewelry; and the iconic “Dragon Bridge,” guarded by four statues of Ljubljana’s fire-breathing mascot.
The Ljubljanica River bisects the city’s historic core, its leafy banks dotted with tables and chairs spilling from the numerous eateries that line the walkways — a window into the lively cafe culture that makes a sojourn here such a joy. Ljubljana is less about ticking sights off a list than it is about strolling the cobbled streets and basking in the relaxed, convivial atmosphere, and Grand Hotel Union is exceptionally well positioned to take it in.
Rooms and suites at Grand Hotel Union (194 in all) are large, bright and appealing, done in warm woods and restful neutrals. Family-friendly configurations range from connecting rooms to triple rooms and two-bedroom suites. The three-bedroom Royal Suite nicely accommodates larger or multigenerational groups.
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While the decor is simple, linens and surfaces are well chosen and beds are plush and comfortable. The sleek, spacious bathrooms include combined showers and tubs, plus (a first for me) branded toiletries bearing tongue-in-cheek messages. If possible, request a room with a balcony that faces Ljubljana Castle, perched on a hilltop nearby — this vantage point offers stellar views over the Old Town and the mountains in the distance.
Rates are an outstanding value for the quality and location, starting at 180 € per night for a triple room and 225 € for a two-bedroom suite. Pricing includes a full buffet breakfast that mixes Slovenian specialties with British and American standbys like egg dishes, sausages, pancakes, hot cereals and baked beans.
The 1905 Grand Union Cafe, for decades the hub of the city’s social scene, has the air of a classic European salon, all high ceilings, herringbone floors and vintage crystal chandeliers. Lounge here with a morning cappuccino and pastry, or a glass of excellent Slovenian wine and a pre-dinner nibble. Restaurant Union offers casual lunch and dinner fare, with outdoor seating in the warm months and specialties from the grill on certain days of the week.
The real star, though, is Atelje, an acclaimed local favorite housed in an industrial-chic space around the corner from the hotel. Prix fixe menus change weekly and feature a well-curated mix of global cuisine inflected with classic Slovenian flavors — for example, fresh trout with miso and herbs or rabbit with white asparagus. It’s a true destination restaurant, not just a convenience for guests.
Grand Hotel Union’s indoor pool is a beauty, tucked on the top floor with an alfresco terrace that overlooks the Old Town rooftops. The pool is part of the Sense Wellness spa, so the ambiance is tranquil — best for kids who are old enough to swim in relative quiet. Spa treatments, should you be lucky enough to get a little time alone, include massages, body scrubs and mud wraps; there’s also a sauna and a whirlpool bath. Hotel guests get a small discount on the spa menu.
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From the bell and housekeeping staff to the front desk, the warm and genial service is part of what makes a stay at Grand Hotel Union special. The concierge team especially stands out in anticipating and helping with guests’ needs. For my checkout day, I had booked a pricey transfer to the countryside town of Bled, but the concierges arranged for a local tour company to drop me off during one of their regular day trips — much easier, less expensive and I got a bonus sightseeing stop at the stunning Vintgar Gorge. It’s just one of the many ways that the staff routinely goes above and beyond.
• The hotel is attached to a newer offshoot, Grand Hotel Union Business, that caters to traveling professionals. Be sure you’re booking a room in the original building rather than the business wing, which has less family appeal. This section also contains the breakfast room; it can get busy with meeting and convention guests, so it’s helpful to arrive early.
• Grand Hotel Union is a quick walk from Ljubljana’s train and bus station or a 25-minute ride from the airport. While there’s no need for a car here, especially as the historic center is pedestrian-only, an onsite garage makes parking easy if you prefer to drive into town. There’s also a handy shuttle service called GoOpti that runs not only throughout Slovenia, but also to and from cities as far away as Venice, Zagreb, Budapest and Munich. I used it twice during my time in the country — smooth as silk!
Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino received a media package in order to review Grand Hotel Union for families. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Lisa Frederick except where noted.
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