With the fall of the Communist regime and the collapse of the iron curtain, the former country of Czechoslovakia split into two in 1993. The quieter, less glamorous half became the Republic of Slovakia with its capital in Bratislava. Where the Czech Republic has style, flair, and romance, Slovakia is quieter, less developed, but just as pretty with great historical and scenic value.
Cities like Bratislava have a quaint charm that is distinctly old-fashioned, and the countryside is full of castles: Spis, Turna, Nitra, Pocuvadlo, and many others. A large part of Slovakia- especially the mountains of the Tatras- are beautifully unspoiled and excellent for trekking and climbing. But the best thing about the country is its population - warm, friendly people, who still retain many of their ancient customs and traditions, and have a rich cultural heritage which has managed to survive, pretty much intact, through the turmoil of the 20th century.
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SLOVAKIA QUICK FACTS
Currency: Euro (€)
Area: 49,035 sq km
Population: 5,458 million (2020)
Language: Slovak (official), Hungarian, Ukrainian
Electricity: 230V/50Hz (European plug type E)
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SLOVAKIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 1 January, Origin of the Slovak Republic
- 6 January, Catholic Epiphany
- 1 May, Labour Day
- 8 May, Liberation Day
- 5 July, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius
- 29 August, Anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising
- 1 September, Constitution of the Slovak Republic
- 15 September, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows
- 1 November, All Saints Day
- 17 November, Struggle for Freedom and Democracy (1989/1939)
- 24 December, Christmas Eve
- 26 December, St. Stephen’s Day
FESTIVALS IN SLOVAKIA
BEST TIME TO VISIT SLOVAKIA
In general, Slovakia experience a continental climate, with short, fairly hot summers and chilly winters. Spring can be the best time to visit, as the days tend to warm quickly, with consistently pleasant, mild weather for most of May. This is also the blossom season when the fruit trees that line so many Slovak roads are in full flower. Autumn is also recommended, with clear and settled weather often lasting for days on end in September and October. With Slovakia being heavily forested, this is also a great time to appreciate the changing colours of the foliage.
June & July - Festivals abound across the country, High Tatras hiking trails are all open.
January & February - Peak ski season in the mountains, but many other sights are closed.
September - Fewer crowds but clement weather, wine season means it's a ripe time for alcohol-themed festivities.
Winter can be a great time to visit Bratislava as the city looks beautiful under the snow. Other than the High Tatras, most other parts of the country have little to offer during winter, and most sights will be closed from November and March. Summer is, of course, still the season that sees the largest number of tourists, and temperatures are at their highest, with the occasional heatwave pushing well over 30°C.
When planning your trip, keep in mind that the highest trails in the Tatras are closed from November to mid-June because of snow. July and August are the warmest (and most crowded) months and you will find hotel prices and crowds at their lowest from October to April
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN SLOVAKIA
The snow sports season in Slovakia is from the beginning of December through to April.
HIKING & CYCLING IN SLOVAKIA
The best time for outdoor activities in Slovakia is from May to October, although some trails can still be closed during May and early June.
KITESURF IN SLOVAKIA
Slovakia has some great water reservoir and dam spots for windsurfing such as Orava, Domasa, Zemplinska Sirava and smaller ones such as Slnava, Ruzina, Samorin.
SLOVAKIA TRAVEL COSTS
Slovakia is one of the cheaper Central European countries and it’s pretty easy to travel here on a budget.
On a mid-range budget of $85-110 USD, you can stay in a budget hotel or Airbnb, eat out all your meals at budget-friendly restaurants serving traditional cuisine, go out for some drinks, take some guided tours, visit more paid attractions, and take some taxis to get around.
If you’re looking for ways to trim your expenses when in Slovakia here are some tips:
Bratislava offers a handful of free walking tours which are a great way to get familiar with the city and its culture on a budget.
Get outdoors and explore Slovakia’s national parks. Most don’t charge an entry fee.
Bring your tent as wild camping is legal. You can pitch your tent on almost all public land throughout Slovakia, just avoid national parks and forests.
SLOVAKIA TRAVEL TIPS
GETTING AROUND SLOVAKIA
Bus routes include cities throughout Slovakia and Europe, but the train is usually comparably priced and more convenient. For schedules and tickets see www.cp.atlas.sk. When traveling with a smaller bus company, passengers usually purchase the ticket from the driver.
Rail is the main way to get around Slovakia and to neighbouring countries. Intercity (IC) and Eurocity (EC) trains are quickest. Ryclík (R; 'fast' trains) take slightly longer, but run more frequently and cost less. For schedules see www.cp.atlas.sk.
If you will be driving yourself take note that in order to use Slovak motorways and expressways, visitors must purchase a vignette. Vignettes can be purchased electronically online or at service stations near the border. Vignettes cost €10 for 10 days, €14 for 30 days. or €50 for one year.
Bratislava has an extensive tram, bus, and trolleybus network; though the old town is small, so you won't often need it.
Traditionally standing cabs compulsively overcharge foreigners and we recommend using Uber instead of any other taxi service when in Bratislava. You will get a fare estimate before each ride, can pay cashless, see reviews of each driver, and can book via smartphone. After an initial ban, Slovakia has since passed legislation that allows Uber to operate legally if its drivers and cars meet requirements that professional taxi drivers must meet.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF SLOVAKIA
Linger over drinks at one of myriad sidewalk or riverfront cafes in old town Bratislava.
Hike between mountain huts in one of Europe's smallest alpine mountain ranges, the High Tatras.
Wander the ruins of Spiš Castle, among the biggest in Europe.
Climb creaking ladders past crashing waterfalls in the dramatic gorges of Slovenský Raj National Park.
Two nights in Bratislava is enough to wander the old town streets and see some museums. The following day is best spent on a castle excursion, either to Devín or Trenčín. Or, better yet, spend all three days hiking in the rocky High Tatras mountains, staying central in the resort town of Starý Smokovec, or in more off-beat Ždiar in the Belá Tatras.
After a day or two in Bratislava, venture east. Spend at least four nights around the Tatras so you have time to hike to a mountain hut as well as take day trips to the must-see Spiš Castle ruins, medieval Levoča, or to Slovenský Raj National Park for its highly rated Suchá Belá Gorge hike. For the last night or two, continue to Bardejov to marvel at its complete Renaissance town square and nearby wooden churches.
Proximity to nature gives Slovakia's capital of BRATISLAVA its strongest flavouring. The Danube winds through town, and cycle paths through its verdant flood plain begin just outside the centre. Barely a 30-minute walk from the train station are the densely forested Small Carpathians; the trailer to a mountainous extent that runs countrywide, virtually unimpeded by civilization. The charming – if tiny – old town (starý mesto) is the place to start appreciating Bratislava. Stroll narrow pedestrian streets of pastel 18th-century buildings or sample the myriad sidewalk cafes under the watchful gaze of the city castle, harking back to medieval times. Done with the old? In with the new(er): the city boasts intriguing socialist-era architecture worth checking out and one of Eastern Europe's most spectacular modern art spaces. Contrasts like this are all part of Bratislava's allure.
Some of the best sights in Bratislava are actually way out of the city centre. The ruins of poignant Devín Castle was once the military plaything of 9th-century warlord Prince Rastislav, with a stunning location at the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers. Austria is just across the river from the castle.
Heading east out of the city you'll reach Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum Slovakia's most daring contemporary art museum. Boat trips run here down the Danube from the city centre from June to October or take bus 91 from Nový Most bus stop to Čunovo and walk from the terminus.
POPRAD will likely be your first experience of mountain country, being the nearest sizeable city to the High Tatras and a major regional transport hub. The delightful 16th-century neighbourhood of Spišska Sobota and a popular thermal water park may make you linger. From the adjacent train and bus stations, the central pedestrian square, Nám sv Egídia, is a five-minute walk south of Alžbetina.
The HIGH TATRAS (Vysoké Tatry), the tallest range in the Carpathian Mountains, tower over most of Eastern Europe. Some 25 peaks measure above 2500m. Although 'only' 25km wide and 78km long you will find no shortage of pristine snowfields, marine mountain lakes, waterfalls, pine forests, and shimmering alpine meadows. Three main resort towns string west to east mid-mountain. Štrbské Pleso is the traditional ski centre and is most crowded, with construction galore. Smokovec still offers a bit of a turn-of-the-20th-century heyday feel, plus the most services. Tatranská Lomnica, 5km further, is the quaintest, quietest village. All have mountain access by cable car, funicular, or chairlift.
Life gets considerably more laid-back the further east you venture from Bratislava. Somehow picturesque towns such as Levoča and Bardejov have avoided modern bustle and unfortunate 20th-century architectural decisions, while lingering over a street-front café in delightful Košice is obligatory. Meanwhile, national parks in this area beckon with untrammeled wildernesses free from the Tatras-bound tourists.
UNESCO-listed LEVOčA is pure 13-th century Slovakia with its high medieval walls, surrounding old town buildings, and cobblestone alleyways. At the center of it all stands the pride of the country's religious architectural collection, the Gothic Church of St Jacob. Levoča is one of Slovakia's most important pilgrimage centres. The spindles-and-spires Church of St Jacob, built in the 14th and 15th centuries, elevates your spirit with its soaring arches, precious art, and rare furnishings, where the main attraction is Slovakia's tallest altar, an impressive 18m high.
Sprawling for 4 hectares above the village of Spišské Podhradie, ruined Spiš Castle is undoubtedly one of the largest in Europe. Even if you've never been, you probably have seen pictures as the fortress is about Slovakia's most-photographed sight. Two kilometers west, the medieval Spiš Chapter ecclesiastical settlement is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site - a 13th-century Catholic complex encircled by a 16th-century wall. The highlight is St Martin's Cathedral (1273), towering above the clustering of quirky Gothic houses.
With its rumbling waterfalls, sheer gorges and dense forests, Slovenský Raj lives up to the name of 'Slovakian Paradise'. A few easier trails exist, but the one-way ladder-and-chain ascents make this a national park for the true adventurer. Cling to metal rungs heading up a precipice while an icy waterfall sprays you from a metre away. Bliss.
Base-of-choice for forays deeper into the tradition-steeped east of Slovakia is Košice, for centuries the eastern stronghold of the Hungarian Kingdom and maintaining its status as a medieval gem. Its vast oval-shaped námestie (central square) contains the largest collection of historical monuments in Slovakia, enlivened by myriad buzzing cafes and restaurants. As 2013's European Capital of Culture, Košice has accordingly initiated a new string of attractions including major art installations in a combination of impressively revamped buildings, and eclectic events to enliven city streets. From here, top trips include UNESCO-listed medieval Bardejov, with Slovakia's most beautiful town square, and the surrounding area's stunning wooden churches, reflecting a Carpatho-Rusyn heritage shared with neighbouring parts of Ukraine and Poland.
WHAT TO EAT IN SLOVAKIA
Slovak cuisine focuses mostly on simple and hearty recipes. Historically, what is now considered genuinely Slovak has mostly been traditional food from the northern villages, where people lived off sheep grazing and limited agriculture, where herbs were more accessible than spices. Therefore, staple foods mostly involve (smoked) meat, cheese, potatoes, and flour.
Bryndzové halušky is the national dish. Made out of potato dumplings, unpasteurized fermented sheep cheese called bryndza and small bits of bacon or pork fat, this meal is unique, quite appetizing, and very filling.
Pirohy, large dumplings similar to the Polish dish of pierogi can also be widely found and depending on the filling, is either savory or sweet, with fillings of sauerkraut, various types of cheeses, meats, or simply fruits and jam. A popular variant is bryndzové pirohy (sheep cheese dumplings).
Guláš (goulash) is a regional dish made with cuts of beef, onions, vegetables, and squashed potatoes with spices, which is very hearty and filling. A culinary legacy of the Hungarians, guláš can be served as a soup (with bread) or as a stew (with dumplings).
A typical example of Slovak street food is lokše, which are potato pancakes served with various fillings (with popular varieties including duck fat and/or meat (husacina), poppy seeds, or jam).
Langoš, a Hungarian specialty, is a large, fried flat bread served with garlic, cheese, and ketchup (or sour cream) on top, often sold on street corners or in markets.
LGBTQ IN SLOVAKIA
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Slovakia face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Slovakia, however, Slovakia does not recognise same-sex marriages or civil unions. In addition, the Constitution limits marriage to opposite-sex couples. Bills to recognise same-sex partnerships were introduced four times, in 1997, in 2000, in 2012 and in 2018, but were all rejected.
Slovakia holds rather conservative views on issues dealing with LGBT rights and only a minority of the population are LGBTQ tolerant. There is a small gay scene in Slovakia with a few bars and clubs in Bratislava and Slovakia's first gay pride event took place on 22 May 2010 in Bratislava but this is still predominantly opposed.