Towards the end of this summer, just when I thought I had seen all there is to see about Eastern Europe, Ljubljana happened and it blew me away within, erm, probably two minutes of exiting the train station. It had everything I was looking for: small-town lanes, laid-back cafes, that certain “everything is possible” vibe, a beautiful sunset over the canal – and a lot of personality. One thing that really stuck out though and that I have never ever seen in any other city, is this: Ljubljana is incredibly social. People look after each other, and make sure nobody’s left out. Here are some projects that are as inspiring as hip: Fair trade coffee, thrift shops with fancy recycled products (!) or local food prepared by people with special needs. This is an important concept that any (European) city can learn from: practicing inclusion in every area of life.

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Gostilna dela employs people from vulnerable social groups and helps them train their skills in special mentorship programs. The cafe is a perfect combination fo minimalist and cosy, and don’t even get me started on the food. That brunch will so help you #startyourdayright equip you for a hike up to Ljubljana Castle.

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Center ponovne uporabe will fit all your antique needs: In an effort to reduce waste and increase the longeivity of clothes, porcelain, furniture, weird objects that are all well-preserved and restored. The centre is a social enterprise which employs people who are having trouble finding work, and increasing awareness of the fragility of Mother Earth if we throw stuff away that someone would surely find useful.

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The Stara roba is a thrift shop run by a charity for homeless people and the Self-Help Society. All items have been donated and sell at absolute bargain prices. Chose from mugs, books, jewellery, books, some furniture … and know that all proceeds will support the homeless.

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Cafe Čokl will gladly supply you with your daily dose of brew: Raw, unroasted fair trade coffee beans are being imported to the country (and then ground locally) to meet all your aeropress, chemex or whatever other brewing needs you have. Team Čokl (sorry, I just love that name!) also keep waste to an absolute minimum, have super charming barristas and totally excel at the whole indie coffee shop inspiration game. So bring your laptops, all you lovely bloggers.

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Druga violina admittedly sounds like they’re selling something a bit more niche than, er, Slovenian dishes but they do just that and it’s more than enough. This charming restaurant is located in Ljubljana’s old part of town and employs people with special needs. They are super sweet and will serve you local dishes but also a wide range of seasons and vegetarian dishes. Who knew Slovenian cuisine could be that diverse? Sausage for President though, always, just sayin.

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And here’s a quick rundown of other cool places for you Slovenian bucket list (or Google Map):

Pivnica Union: Come for beers on tap, Slovenian dishes and fab lunch deals. Union is one of the two most popular Slovenian breweries, so you can well trust these guys and well ask them for recommendations if you’re unsure and more of a wine kinda girl usually.

Hood Burger: This place is so legendary that I almost don’t wanna tell people about it. That may or may not be because it’s in a shipping container in a parking lot in the Vic district. As if that’s not enough of a good concept, there’s also serious gourmet burgers in da hood. Get it?

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Cat cafe: Have a cup of tea with five cats! Wait, what? Yeah, I’m serious. Who needs friends when you have these fluffy cuties. They won’t be grumpy cats if you’re nice to them.

Klobasarna: Mama, I want more sausage! Restaurant in the Old Town that serves Slovenien dishes for take-away with homemade buns, fresh horseradish and Carniolan sausages. Oh, and there are two giant sausages hanging from the house too. What’s not to love.

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Ljubljana, it’s been real – not just, but definitely also because there’s so much soul, personality and imperfection (a good thing) spread across the city. I will be back for sure, and I will bring a hungry stomach or two and some cats.

What are you favourite hangouts in Ljubjana? 

All photography by Caroline Schmitt