Metelkova Art Center is one of the most offbeat and fascinating areas of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Sometimes referred to as Metelkova Mesto, this quirky corner near the center of Ljubljana is different and distinctive. Known for its colorful and peculiar street art, Metelkova Art Center has become one of the top attractions in Ljubljana.
But Metelkova is much more than its street art. It is an autonomous community with a messy history, and its current status remains perplexing and entangled to this day.
This travel guide to visiting the Metelkova Art Center in Ljubljana details the history of this autonomous cultural hub and its evolution into a creative community and attractions. Plus, we answer all your top questions, like “Is Metelkova Mesto safe?”
What is Metelkova Art Center
Before you visit the Metelkova Art Center, it’s important to understand exactly what it is. Firstly, it is NOT just a part of the city covered in quirky street art. Metelkova Mesto is actually an autonomous social and cultural center located in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Similar to Freetown Christiania in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark, Metelkova Mesto is a self-governed or self-managed community, considering itself separate in many ways from the municipality of Ljubljana.
Officially named the Metelkova City Autonomous Cultural Centre or Metelkova AKC, in this small zone in the heart of Ljubljana various forms of art, self-expression, and alternative culture are celebrated.
Unconventional and eccentric, those who live or hang around Metelkova live by their own rules. And it is that unorthodox, free-minded way of thinking that draws so many people who are simply curious about the nonconformity of Metelkova Mesto.
History of Metelkova Mesto in Ljubljana
Metelkova Art Center formed somewhat by happenstance, and its history is as complicated as that of Slovenia itself. In the early 1990s when Slovenia declared independence, marking the end of the Republic of Yugoslavia, this area along Metelko Street was the military headquarters for the Yugoslav National Army.
The 7 buildings that served as military barracks were abandoned when Yugoslavia was dissolved and the military left Metelkova. Afterward, a group of squatters occupied the abandoned buildings and turned the area into a vibrant hub for alternative culture and ways of life.
Over the years, Metelkova has become a haven for artists, musicians, diverse populations, LGBTQI+ groups, and societal nonconformists. Despite facing threats of eviction and demolition, the community has managed to persevere and today Metelkova continues to attract visitors from all over the world. In fact, Metelkova Mesto is now recognized as an example of self-organized urban communities in Europe.
What to do in Metelkova Art Centre Ljubljana
If you plan to visit the Metelkova Art Center, keep in mind this is more of a walk through attraction versus a place you will spend hours exploring.
Admire the Street Art
The street art in Metelkova Art Center seems to tell a tortured story, perhaps the stories of the artists and marginalized groups who inhabit Metelkova. The art is both expressive and disturbing, rebellious and thought-provoking. Creepy creatures that resemble Gollum from Lord of the Rings, hang from buildings while graffiti covers everything from the walls to the trash cans.
Even the playground in the center of the Metelkova seems more like interpretive art and less like a place for kids to be carefree.
It is almost as if you are supposed to feel some level of discomfort when walking through Metelkova Mesto. Perhaps that is part of the mission – to feel the discomfort that under-represented people feel every day.
Spend a Night in Prison
On brand with the vibes of Metelkova Art Center, you can literally spend a night behind bars at the only operating hostel in the community. At the unusual Hostel Celica, a former military prison, you can stay in an old prison cell converted into a hostel.
Visit Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova MSUM
Just at the entrance to Metelkova Mesto but not technically in the autonomous community, the Museum of Contemporary Art is a wonderful, well-curated museum that celebrates contemporary and modern art through a series of permanent and traveling exhibitions.
There is an admission fee of 5 Euro to enter, but if you love art it is a great stop to include in your visit to Metelkova Art Center.
Partake in the Nightlife
An artistic community like Metelkova Mesto naturally lends itself to a thriving music scene. While we didn’t experience the nightlife in Metelkova personally, because we were traveling with an 8-year-old, Metelkova is said to host some of Ljubljana’s best raves and concerts. If that’s your scene, be sure to look into it before your visit!
Where to stay if visiting Metelkova Ljubljana
When visiting Ljubljana, I wouldn’t recommend staying in Metelkova. Not because of its eclectic culture necessarily, but because there are lots of places to stay that are closer to more of the things to do in Ljubljana.
Grand Hotel Union and Hotel Emonec are two great hotel options in the heart of Ljubljana. From either one, it is about a 15 minute walk to Metelkova Art Center.
However, if you want an experience as quirky as Metelkova itself, look no further than Hostel Celica. Located on the edge of Metelkova Mesto, this former military prison converted into a hostel is a popular place to stay, particularly for young backpackers.
Frequently Asked Questions about Metelkova Mesto
Of course, when visiting an autonomous community like Metelkova Art Center it is normal to have a few questions. So, let’s address some of the main ones.
Is Metelkova safe?
Turn the corner into Metelkova and it is a noticeably different vibe than the dreamy and charming streets of Ljubljana. It’s admittedly a bit seedy, kind of dirty, and while walking through Metelkova you may smell marijuana, which is currently illegal in Slovenia.
But, speaking from personal experience only, it didn’t feel inherently unsafe. If solo traveling as a female or traveling with kids, plan to visit Metelkova during the day.
Is Metelkova Art Center worth visiting?
Metelkova Art Center is worth visiting simply for the peculiarity of it. Visiting an autonomous zone or community is a unique experience. And while you will likely just walk through and take a couple of photos of the street art, it is fascinating to visit when you know and understand the history and social structure of the area.
It is admittedly so different than many of the other organically beautiful places in Slovenia, like Lake Bled, Triglav National Park, or Vintgar Gorge, that it feel entirely different than anything else you will experience on any Slovenia itinerary.
Should you visit Metelkova with kids?
As family travelers, safety is always our top priority when visiting a new place. Although the lifestyle in Metelkova Art Center is different, you can certainly stroll through the autonomous zone with kids. Prior to visiting Ljubljana, we read reviews stating the Metelkova Mesto zone felt dangerous and dodgy. We read reports from people who said they saw used drug needles on the ground or witnessed drug use.
Personally, we did not experience or witness any of that. We saw a few people sitting around smoking and listening to music – 1980s boom box style. We took photos of our 8-year-old daughter in front of some weird street art, and then proceeded with our day in Ljubljana. It was actually a pretty low-key experience.
Do you have other questions or a comment about visiting Metelkova Mesto? We’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.