In the Eastern Alps, Maribor is a mountain city with a deep winemaking heritage. For proof look no further than the Old Vine House, which as the name tells you is clad with an old vine. A very old vine in fact, which has been creeping along the facade of this building since the 1500s and has stems that looks like a venerable tree trunks. That vine is in the Lent neighbourhood, which backs onto the Drava River and has most of the oldest monuments.
Two indispensible sights are the Gothic cathedral and the castle, which has a museum that will keep you rapt for hours. Maribor is in a cauldron of wine-growing peaks, the highest of which are to the south and host Slovenia’s largest ski resort, where night ski runs show the city in lights hundreds of metres below.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Maribor:
1. Old Vine House
In the Lent neighbourhood beside the Drava grows the oldest fruit-bearing vine in the world.
This 440-year-old plant works its way along a trellis on the historic building’s facade, and its three trunks are fenced off by iron railings.
The earliest record of the vine is from 1657, and it’s remarkable to think of all the calamities it has survived, from the two World Wars to the phylloxera blight in the 1800s.
The vine bears “Blaufränkisch” grapes, and produces 25 litres of wine a year that is gifted in small bottles to important visitors.
For instance, Bill Clinton received a bottle when he visited in 1999. Appropriately the building houses a museum all about Styrian wine, and with special attention to this famous plant.
2. Glavni Trg
Your jumping off point for a breeze through Maribor’s history, Glavni Trg is Maribor’s central square.
A few of the city’s big monuments are here, like the Town Hall, Plague Column and former casino.
But most of the buildings on the square have something interesting in their past.
One has apothecary motifs in panels on its facade and long ago was the city’s pharmacy.
At the corner with Poštna Ulica is Ludwigshof, a fine Jugendstil house built by an industrialist family in 1905. The square’s market tradition has been revived with a farmers’ market on Friday mornings, selling seasonal fruit and vegetables, bread and regional treats like the pastry gibanica.
3. Water Tower
Standing alone on the Drava, this stone tower used to belong to Maribor’s city fortifications.
It was raised in the middle of the 16th century when a new defensive system was devised to repel Turkish raids.
Once the tower outlived its military value it was repurposed for wine storage, becoming the oldest wine cellar in Slovenia in the process.
The tower’s role hasn’t changed in hundreds of years: You can try a few Styrian wines on the upper floor or ask for a recommendation and sip it at your leisure beside the river.
If you want to burn off some calories there’s no more scenic way to do it than by scaling the vine laden slopes of this hill.
You can reach the summit of Piramida in under 30 minutes from the banks of the Drava River if you’re a brisk walker.
Up to 1784 the hill was a plinth for the Upper Maribor Caste, which was brought down at the end of the 18th century.
An obelisk replaced it, and after this was destroyed by lightning in 1821 a small chapel has been the sole monument on the hilltop.
Take a peek inside to see the statue of the Virgin, and savour those views of Maribor and the Pohorje Range.
5. Maribor Cathedral
Begun in the 1100s, the oldest portions of Maribor Cathedral are in the Romanesque style.
But when the city’s congregation ballooned in medieval times there was a Gothic overhaul.
A lot of the nave and chancel are from this period: The pointed arches, ribbed vaults and lancet windows in the apse are all Gothic and rendered in the local yellowy sandstone.
The Baroque tower came later, in the 17th century and is open until 18:00 in the summer.
A new stained glass window was designed to commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1999.
6. Plague Column
On Glavni Trg, Maribor’s Plague Column is a memorial to an outbreak of plague that wiped out a third of the city in 1680. The first monument to the epidemic was erected just a year later, but this splendid column took its place in 1743. Such is the workmanship on the Plague Column that it is held as one of Slovenia’s outstanding Baroque monuments.
Josef Straub was the sculptor, and he carved a Corinthian column with a golden statue of Mary resting on the capital.
The column is fashioned from marble and stands on a marble plinth with plaques and reliefs, surrounded by statues of saints.
These sculptures are all replicas, as the originals are kept out of the elements in the Maribor Regional Archives.
7. Maribor Castle
Now, if you’re searching for the castle in Maribor you couldn’t be blamed for walking straight past it.
That’s because it looks much more like a palace.
In truth the building only briefly had a defensive role to beef up the northeastern walls.
Instead it was more of an opulent residence and has gone through hundreds of years of updates and extensions.
The castle was begun by Habsburg King Frederick III in the 1400s and was repeatedly reshaped up to 1843.There’s a fusion of Renaissance and Baroque design, and the most beautiful element is the arcaded gallery on its upper floor.
Go in for the Regional Museum, which follows below.
8. Regional Museum Maribor
In its day the castle’s interior was famed for its luxury, and you’ll see what all the fuss about on the rich main stairway and in the ceremonial hall, which has stunning ceiling frescoes framed by a riot of stucco decor.
The museum first moved in at the end of the 19th century and spells out the region’s cultural history, archaeology and ethnology.
It’s a big treasure chest filled with compelling objects like a collection of Frankish swords from 1200-1300,Iron Age Celtic weapons, coins from Roman times, ceremonial banners, 19th-century photography and paintings dating to the 1300s.
For a glance at primitive medicine the pharmacy exhibit has pots, scales, mortars and cabinets going back to the 1600s.
9. Maribor Synagogue
One of Europe’s oldest synagogues is on Židovska Ulica (Jewish Street) in what was Maribor’s ghetto in medieval times.
The synagogue, dating to the 1300s, is also one of only two remaining in the country.
In the middle ages this now solitary edifice was part of an enclave that had a ritual baths, Talmudic school, house for the rabbi and a cemetery.
The Jews were expelled from Maribor in 1497, and after that the synagogue became a church, then a military warehouse and finally a private home before reverting to its first role.
This modest, but historic building is now a cultural centre and museum with artefacts from the city’s Jewish population.
10. Mestni Park
The lower part of Maribor’s main park is inserted into the fabric of the city, where there are tree-fringed avenues, sculptures, lawns and a space for concerts on summer weekends.
There’s also an aquarium with more than 120 freshwater and saltwater species, as well as a terrarium inhabited by venomous and other reptiles.
But the park also continues for a few kilometres up the slope and into the countryside where its forest mingles with vineyards.
At the transition to these wilder expanses are three large ponds, the lowest of which has a stately pavilion and boathouse on its south side.
11. National Liberation Museum
At the start of the 20th century Maribor lived through some of the most turbulent decades in its history.
In the early 1900s eight out of ten households spoke German, and come the Second World War this put the town in the sights of the Nazis who vowed to make it German again.
The wartime Germanization efforts are documented at this museum , which goes into detail about the Nazi occupation and recounts the activities of the Partisans in the Lower Styrian uplands from 1941-44. All this information is relayed with graphics and photos, with some artefacts like uniforms, cold-weather equipment and posters to add colour.
Maribor gets more than 260 sunny days a year, and the warm summers and cool winters are just right for growing wine grapes.
This tradition is ancient and rich, and there are lots of points of contact if you want to know more.
The Vinag Wine Cellar is a thrill, with an entrance under Liberty Square that grants access to 2.5 kilometres of tunnels crammed with metallic vats and wooden barrels at one of the oldest cellars in Europe.
Throughout autumn there’s a festival for the Old Vine, throwing parties, tasting sessions and a putting on a culinary market.
This covers the birthday of the 19th-century Bishop Anton Martin Slomšek, now a patron saint for winemakers.
And in summer you should hire a bike to ride out into picturesque countryside to sample wine at the Ramsak winery, the Meranovo estate and many more.
Immediately south of Maribor is Slovenia’s largest ski resort, hoisted up in the Maribor Pohorje range with a maximum elevation of more than 1,300 metres.
In three distinct areas are 42 kilometres of ski runs, more than half of which are blue runs with well-groomed pistes and shallow gradients.
Good news if you’re just getting started.
Some ten kilometres of these runs are also equipped for night skiing, when the north-facing slopes grant a romantic view of the Maribor in lights.
There’s also first class competition on the upper slopes when the resort stages the “Golden Fox” FIS Alpine Alpine Ski World Cup races for slalom and giant slalom.
14. Lent Festival
The name of this cultural extravaganza has nothing to do with the time of year, but refers to the riverfront neighbourhood in the old part of Maribor.
The festival arrives at the end of June when gigantic grandstands are erected facing stages on the riverbank.
Call it a cliché, but there’s something for everyone, whether you’re into opera , ballet, jazz, or pop, rock and dance music.
There’s also entertainment for kids, and countless fringe events going on at venues around Maribor.
You’ll also have every chance to immerse yourself in Slovenian culture at folk concerts, theatre performances and street food stalls.
In its first decade after launching in 1993 Lent Festival hosted legends like Ray Charles and James Brown, while in 2017 Bob Geldof was the special guest.
15. Drava Boat Trip
You could cap a summer stay in Maribor with a lazy cruise along the Drava.
Your boat, the Dravska Vila has an observation deck on up stairs and a bar below so you can sip a cool drink as the Lent embankment and its historic monuments scroll past.
You could book a 45-minute cruise to the Studenici footbridge, or venture out into the countryside to Maribor Island, a wooded natural reserve with a leisure complex at the centre.
Perhaps you want to make your river trip more authentic, and in which case you can navigate the Drava on a timber raft.
Maribor’s loggers would ride on these to transport timber from the Kozjak and Pohrje ranges as far as Belgrade and Osijek.