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Exploring Ljubljana while running

Text: Živa and Miha Deu Photos: iStock by Getty Images, Turizem Ljubljana and courtesy of Miha Deu

Many people like to lose themselves in their thoughts and forget about their surroundings when they're running. Especially if they're running on woodland paths, for example. But running can be a really special experience if you decide to try something new, such as a run through the centre of a city, spiced up with a bit of sightseeing. And why not? All you need is an experienced guide, a certain amount of physical fitness and running gear.

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Available routes range from 4 to 15 kilometres, or simply choose the distance you feel like running. As you run, you'll hear about the sights of Ljubljana – including things you would never find in a guidebook – straight from the mouth of a Ljubljana native. How does it work? Your running guide meets you at an agreed spot and describes the route he has worked out for you. Then a quick warm-up and off you go. Along the way you'll learn something about Slovenia, Ljubljana, and life in general... But don't worry: if you get too out of breath you can always stop and ask more questions.

All kinds of travellers keen to experience new adventures have already gone running with SightRunning Ljubljana – from couples and keen runners to people who are in the city on business. One undoubted advantage of Ljubljana is that while the municipality covers an area of almost 275 square kilometres, all the most beautiful sites are condensed into the Old Town and its immediate vicinity. Ljubljana – last year the proud holder of the title of 2016 European Green Capital – boasts an enormous 542 square metres of public green space per inhabitant. You will meet a lot of Ljubljana runners any day of the week in Tivoli Park or on Rožnik and Golovec – two of the city's hills. You will also find them on the path up to one of the city's main tourist attractions: Ljubljana Castle. Ljubljana also has its own marathon, held for the first time in 1996. From 673 runners in the first year, the number of entrants had grown to almost 24,000 by last year. We Slovenes are a sporty nation. Traditionally big winter sports and hiking enthusiasts, in recent years we have also caught the running bug. Which means that exploring this wonderful city while running or jogging is a genuinely local thing to do.

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Is sightrunning for me?

Christopher, 45, New York, USA

Christopher came to Ljubljana in the summer on business and planned to stay for three days. Owing to his busy schedule and the high summer temperatures, he booked his run for seven o'clock in the morning: "The nature of my job means that I'm on the road a lot. It can sometimes happen that I hardly get to see the city I'm visiting. I go straight from the hotel to the office, and then in the evening head to a restaurant. My diary is always crammed, which means that my trips inevitably involve a certain amount of stress. Whenever I can, I like to make time for a run, and since I've discovered that I can combine running with getting to know my surroundings, I'm always happy to take the opportunity. I loved Ljubljana – I'll definitely be back with my family!" As it happens, it was on a business trip just like Christopher's that the idea of exploring the city while running was born: when you'd like to go running but you don't know where to go, or what sites you should be seeing.

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12k run with Christopher

Starting from his city-centre hotel, Christopher and his guide ran down to the sluice gate on the river Ljubljanica (a mechanism for regulating the level of the river as it flows through the centre of the city). The sluice gate stands at the end of the regulated channel of the Ljubljanica. Plečnik, Slovenia's greatest architect, designed it as a symbolic structure that formally marks the end of the city centre. The little squares on either side of the sluice gate make this an ideal place to warm up. The runners then set off beneath Plečnik's market arcade and past the fish market, whose stalls were already full of fresh fish despite the early hour. After running past the Town Hall, they headed up to Ljubljana Castle and enjoyed a bird's-eye view of the city. From the castle they ran down through the Old Town to Špica ("The Point") on the bank of the Ljubljanica, just a stone's throw from the city centre, which was once the location of a river bathing establishment.

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Monica, 29, London, England

Monica is a young mum who loves travelling and who began writing her blog The Travel Hack in 2009 while backpacking in Australia and Asia. As the name of her blog suggests, she loves finding alternative ways to discover the world and shares her stories with her readers: "My running guide turned up at my apartment at nine in the morning to find me waiting for him nervously and asking myself who could be so crazy as to sign up for something like this in the middle of a holiday! Miha was clearly full of energy and immediately asked me whether I fancied a 15k run. Fifteen kilometres! My terrified face told him the whole story and it was obvious that he was already adjusting our route in his head. The atmosphere soon relaxed and I didn't feel at all awkward about stopping when I felt tired or whenever I saw something I liked so much that I wanted to find out more about it. Miha had answers for my steady stream of questions, and each question also gave me the opportunity for a two-minute rest.

10k run with Monica

From Monica's apartment the route went past the remains of the Roman wall that once surrounded Ljubljana (when it was known as Emona) and on to the Križanke complex – a thirteenth-century church and monastery converted into an events venue in the twentieth century. It is here that the Ljubljana Festival has taken place every summer since 1953, with guests including the New York Philharmonic and Milan's La Scala.

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Monica and her guide than cut through Knafljev Prehod, a popular gathering-place for young people in the evenings. Next they ran past the National Museum and the Museum of Modern Art and into the green of Tivoli Park, stopping by the baroque mansion that houses the National Museum of Contemporary History. From there their route took them to one of the tallest buildings in the capital, Nebotičnik ("Skyscraper"), where they treated themselves to a well-deserved lemonade while enjoying the marvellous view from the terrace at the top.

Andreas and Petra, 32, Berlin, Germany

Andreas and his wife did not want to interrupt their preparations for the Berlin Marathon during their week's holiday in Slovenia. They let SightRunning know their pace in advance so that the run could be adapted to their level of fitness.

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15k run with Andreas and Petra:

The run began at Križanke, Ljubljana's open-air events venue, and took them past the National and University Library, a mecca of knowledge for students from all over Slovenia. Then into Tivoli Park and over Rožnik, a city-centre hill popular with local walkers and runners. At the top of Rožnik (394 m) is "Cankar's Peak" and a memorial room dedicated to the Slovene writer Ivan Cankar. After running back down the hill, they ran through the city centre past Prešernov Trg (Prešeren Square) and Miklošičeva Ulica, a street lined with some of the pearls of Secession-era Ljubljana (Max Fabiani's Miklošič Park, the façade of the Grand Hotel Union), and the Dragon Bridge, decorated with bronze dragons – the symbols of Ljubljana. Next they ran to the Metelkova complex, an "autonomous cultural centre" that is also home to the popular Ljubljana youth hostel Celica, an imaginatively converted former military prison (celica means "cell"). After their 15k run, the runners (both very fit) treated themselves to a beer – a local one of course – in one of the bars by the river Ljubljanica, an area that is always bustling with life.

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Although there isn't enough time to visit sights in detail during a run, sightrunning is an excellent way to get a – literally – quick impression of what Ljubljana has to offer. Later on runners can come back with their partner, family or friends to visit those sights they particularly like the look of.