There’s no denying that Slovenia is a relatively small country. Normally, when you talk about a country’s third largest city, it should ring a bell. But I think you’d be forgiven for not having heard of the town of Celje. Surrounded by green countryside near the centre of the country, Celje is quiet but scenic. Not many people visit Celje as they tour Slovenia but I do think there’s a case for giving it some consideration.
Unlike Slovenia’s mountains and outdoor destinations, you don’t usually need more than a day or two to explore the country’s cities and towns. That’s true in this case too, as you can spend one day in Celje and experience quite a lot of the town. And yet you weren’t grow bored if you allow a little longer either, mainly thanks to the surrounding countryside. To see what I mean, here’s all the Celje info I think you need to travel there.
The Old Town of Celje
When you visit Celje, the natural starting point is with its Old Town. While much of Celje these days is modern, there’s still a kernel of history left in its Old Town. Small even compared with Ljubljana’s historical centre, it nonetheless has character. We visited during summer and it was just so nice buying an ice cream and strolling about its undisturbed streets.
Much of the architecture in Celje wasn’t mind-blowing, but it did have the sense of grandeur that you find in central Europe. Walking through the main streets you’ll see subtle dignity in buildings like the Old Town Hall above. One building that really makes an impression is the art nouveau Celjski Dom, aka. the German House. Sadly I didn’t get a good photo of it, but you can see it here.
Elsewhere in Celje you’ll come across plenty of smaller sights. The town features a number of churches and statues, not to mention fragments of its old town walls. While I’m not certain, it seems a solid guess that these stone houses also show where the town walls once ran.
Travel around Slovenia long enough and you’ll come to realise that rivers play a major role in most cities. Ljubljana has the Ljubljanica River, Maribor has the Drava and Celje has the Savinja. Contrasted against green riverbanks and forest, the Savinja River is a truly beautiful sight. The Town Park runs along the river bank on the city side, making it a really pleasant place for a stroll. It’s also here that you can get a nice view of Celje Castle, which we’ll now get to.
The Old Counts Mansion
One of the main sights in the centre of Celje is the town’s Regional Museum. Housed inside the Old Counts Mansion and the neighbouring Princely Palace, the Celje Regional Museum is a major local landmark. It has ties to the famed Counts of Celje who were responsible for shaping Slovenia during the late Middle Ages.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore its exhibits on local history. We were just content with admiring the pretty portico arcades along the exterior of the Old Counts Mansion, seen above.
I actually first noticed the regional museum while walking through the Town Park. That’s because on the other side of the building you’re met with this beautiful image of ivy crawling up around its windows. I’m always fascinated by scenes of nature trying to reclaim man-made structures and this kind of image is why.
Old Celje Castle
Now it’s time to talk about Old Celje Castle, the highlight of a visit to the town, at least for me. Known in Slovenian as Stari Grad Celje or Celjski Grad, this castle ruin watches over the town from its hilltop perch. Dating from the 12th century and abandoned in the 18th century, we’re all lucky it’s still standing today. My position on castles is firmly established and this easily rivals the other castles I’ve seen in Slovenia.
The old hilltop castle owes its size and importance to the aforementioned Counts of Celje. They were the ones that enhanced its fortifications and turned it into somewhere fit to serve as a residence. Visiting the castle you’ll learn its history and hear legends surroundings its residents and buried riches. You also get to explore the grounds, courtyards, walls and towers to see every nook and cranny.
During the warmer months, the Eastern Inner Ward hosts a “Living History” programme with archery, fencing and more. The castle also hosts a medieval festival each August in the central courtyard, as well as concerts. Something that you can enjoy year-round though is the phenomenal views of the city. Those views alone are worth the trip if you ask me.
It wouldn’t be a destination in Slovenia without a great place for outdoor activities among nature. For Celje, that area is the small mountain of Grmada within the hillside south of the city. The peak of Grmada reaches 718 metres, making it a manageable climb up from town. All through the hillside there are hiking trails and some made roads suitable for cycling with road bikes. And while there are hiking routes to enjoy in summer, the area also features a few ski slopes during winter.
Travel Tips for Visiting Celje
The nice thing about Celje is that you have several options for how you want to visit. One way is to visit as a day trip from Ljubljana, since it’s only 1 3/4 hours by bus and 1 1/4 by train. But you can also choose to stay one or several nights, seeing the town and then travelling further afield.
Visiting Celje with family, we chose to stay the weekend there and it made a great base for getting around Slovenia. For our weekend in Celje we stayed up near Grmada at the Hotel Celjska Koča. This hillside mountain lodge was nice and comfortable, offering beautiful views and a restaurant with Slovenian cuisine. You will need a car to reach it all the way up the hill, but it’s still close enough to town.
Because of its modest size, there aren’t too many other choices of where to stay in Celje, but there are some apartments and hotels to pick from.
Have you ever heard of or wanted to visit Celje before? If you’ve visited the town, what would you add to this Celje travel blog post? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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