In many ways a fairy-tale city, replete with castle, the capital city has as its defining motif a dragon, which you will see on flags that flutter from bridges and buildings, in intriguing architectural embellishments throughout the city, and on marketing materials everywhere. The historic center is imbued with striking monuments and generous squares that suggest good urban planning. Graffiti artists mark these public spaces, often branding historic edifices with such unironic one-liners as "Ljubljana is a beautiful city." And it is. Graffiti aside, Ljubljana has a low-key buzz and an air of exuberance that extends to the artfulness of its buildings, its statuary, and its fountains.

According to legend, Argonauts may have laid the foundations of Ljubljana as they fled along the Ljubljanica River from the Black Sea to the Adriatic with the Golden Fleece 3,000 years ago; certainly the Romans established a city, Emona, here by the turn of the 1st century A.D. With Emona destroyed by the Huns, Slavic immigrants chose to build a city at the foot of what is now Ljubljana Castle Hill; it grew to become what was known 500 years later as Leibach and in 1144 as Luwigana. When the Habsburgs took over, this became their administrative center until they were expelled during World War I. In the mid-19th century the city's economic pull was enhanced when the railroad linking Vienna and Trieste was built through Ljubljana, and much of the city's prosperity came from its tobacco factory.

A university town, with cutting-edge ambitions, Ljubljana percolates with charm. It's long been a cultural center, home to one of Europe's oldest philharmonic societies, and now also to a swinging alternative youth and student culture, drawing international artists from all spheres. It's also the birthplace of celebrated architect, Joze Plecnik, who almost single-handedly reshaped the city, erecting many of its lovely buildings and developing its squares and bridges. Best of all, the city is small and compact, so you'll see plenty of it with little effort.