When people plan their trip to Central Europe, it’s typically the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and Poland that mostly appear in their itineraries. Slovakia, sitting right in the middle of these countries, is often forgotten and overlooked, and if it’s not, it’s usually only the capital Bratislava or the High Tatra Mountains, that people visit. Slovakia, although small, has so much to offer (and I am not saying this just because I’m from there). Here are my top 12 reasons why international travellers should give my lovely country Slovakia a chance.
1) UNSPOILED AND UNTOUCHED
Nowadays it can be quite difficult to find a unique destination. Slovakia is still ‘off-the-beaten-path’, undiscovered by masses of tourists. I believe that it’s only a matter of time when more and more travellers will discover its beauty and start to visit. Our nature is still unspoiled and relatively untouched and you can find many peaceful places here without too many people around.
2) RICH IN HISTORY
We may be a young country, but our history and culture are rich. Slovakia’s cities are hundreds of years old with many festivals throughout the year. The way of life in the past used to vary in every Slovak region, so their local culture, folk costumes, and traditional dances differ from village to village and town to town. I would recommend checking-out our traditional dance performances in our national costumes accompanied by live bands. The most popular dance groups are ‘Lucnica’ and ‘Sluk’, which represent the best of our folklore and dance art.
3) AMAZING MOUNTAINS
I mentioned at the beginning of the High Tatras Mountains, which are our national pride, but most of the Slovak landscape is basically covered by different mountain ranges. In summer they offer great hikes for all types of adventurers – easier or more challenging ones, and during winter they turn into a white wonderland with great slopes and various winter festivals.
4) BREATHTAKING CAVES
Yes, Slovakia is remarkable on the surface, but do you know what’s hiding underground? A whole new world of amazing and unique caves. For example, Dobsinska Ice Cave is covered in ice all year round and is rated as one of the most remarkable ice caves in the world. Ochtinska Cave is one of the three caves in the world with rich natural decorations of aragonite – the two others are located in Mexico and Argentina. Cave Domica is part of the 25 km long cave system, which ends up in Hungary. When the underground waters are high enough, you can sail in small motorless boats on an underground river all the way to Hungarian cave Baradla. Those are only three, so imagine that we have over 7 thousand caves and you can visit 12 of them.
5) MANY NATIONAL PARKS
Our national parks are not only about hiking – they offer an attractive mix of activities. You can try ‘Slovak rafting’ on Dunajec River on flat wooden rafts with a tour guide in our folk costume taking you through our majestic mountain ranges. Try walking on top of the trees in Bachledova Valley, chase waterfalls in Slovak Paradise National Park, find your inner kid on bobsleds in the High Tatras or just relax in a spa in one of our world-class hotels.
6) TRADITIONAL VILLAGES WITH UNIQUE FOLK ARCHITECTURE
You don’t need a time machine to travel back in time. Just visit one of our traditional villages with picturesque wooden houses and decorative paintings and you’ll suddenly find yourself in a fairy tale. Villages Cicmany and Vlkolinec from the 13th – 14th centuries look like open-air museums but they are real. The houses are still in use and elderly inhabitants still wear traditional clothes. You can book a night or two (or more) here and enjoy this different world that you will hardly find anywhere else.
Slovakia has one of the highest amount of castles and châteaux per capita in Europe. There are around 220 castles and 425 châteaux, which is quite impressive when you take into account how small we are. Wherever in Slovakia you are, there is always a castle nearby. The most impressive is Spis Castle from medieval times and even though there are mostly ruins left, it hasn’t lost its charm and majesty. On the other hand, the castle in Bojnice is one of our best preserved and most beautiful castles and it looks straight out of the Cinderella story.
8) HOT SPRINGS
Slovakia has got high-quality water with over 1500 officially registered natural springs. You can buy Slovak mineral water anywhere in the country (something I really miss overseas). Apart from the drinking water, many of the springs are used as thermal spas with healing effects.
If you don’t want to do any procedures you can just relax in hot mineral water or book yourself a massage. Hot springs in Podhajska are world treasure because the water is supposedly more beneficial for your body than waters in the Dead Sea. Other famous spa towns in Slovakia to mention are Bardejov, Piestany, Trencianske Teplice and Bojnice but there are many more.
9) UNIQUE CUISINE WITH GREAT WINE AND BEERS
Slovakia has cuisine like no other! If you are all about a healthy diet, you probably won’t find anything suitable, because our traditional cuisine is hearty, fat and super yummy. When travelling around Slovakia you have to try our traditional ‘bryndzove halusky’ – something like potato gnocchi with sheep’s cheese and bacon; creamy garlic soup served in bread; or ‘buchty’ which are sweet steamed buns filled with jam, poppy seeds or walnuts.
Slovakia is also rich with wineries and breweries. I come from the wine region of Pezinok and Modra, where you can find world-class wines. If you are more of a beer person, I would recommend visiting brewery Erb in Banska Stiavnica, which was also mentioned in Lonely Planet’s Global Beer Tour publication.
10) HISTORIC TOWNS AND CITIES
Old towns of our cities are architectural gems. My favourite is probably Banska Stiavnica, a popular getaway for many Slovak people. The whole city centre is UNESCO World Heritage listed and it hides many beautiful alleyways (plus the Erb brewery mentioned before).
In Banska Stiavnica you can also find the world’s only Epicentre of Love. The whole idea behind this unique place came from the love poem ‘Marina’ by Slovak author Andrej Sladkovic published in 1846. With its 2910 lines, it is the longest love poem in the world. Even though the love of Marina and Andrej didn’t find a happy ending, you can save your love here forever in the unique archive of love with mirror floors and verses of the poem on the walls. They are working on multi-language tours as well, so soon you will be able to hear about this place in English, German and Hungarian.
Other amazing cities worthy of mentioning are Banska Bystrica with a rich mining history, Kosice on the East of Slovakia with a majestic cathedral in the city centre, Komarno in the South with many thermal hot spring. As well as my university city Nitra and Levoca which is another UNESCO Heritage listed town plus many more.
11) THERE IS UFO!
Yes, Bratislava has got a UFO! The UFO Tower and Observation Deck belong to the World Federation of Great Towers and it offers the best panoramic views over our capital’s old town, Bratislava Castle and Danube River. You can enjoy a cocktail or a nice meal in the restaurant while waiting for the sunset, the more adventurous ones can try 85m high skywalk. If you don’t like heights, there is a city beach right under with comfy seating, sand, hammocks, and tropical cocktails right on the shores of Danube.
12) SLOVAKIA IS CHEAP
In comparison to other European destinations, Slovakia is still very cheap. In Bratislava, the prices can be similar to other cities, but the more east you go the prices are lower. If you are travelling around Europe and you have a couple of Euros and a few days left, my country will not disappoint you!
Slovakia has been using Euros since 2009, so you don’t need to exchange money when visiting. Most of the restaurants and shops have EFTPOS terminals, but you will need cash in smaller establishments and in taxis. Tipping is appreciated.
Slovakia has been a member of The European Union since 2004. You don’t need any special visa here, only the Schengen visa (if you are travelling outside of EU).
The easiest way to get around is by car. We drive on the right-hand side. If you don’t like driving, trains and buses run through the country regularly and the prices are much less than in other European countries.
Slovakia has 4 seasons with hot summers and cold winters. I would recommend visiting in May/June, or September when the temperatures are nice and warm. Summer school holidays are July-August so many places can be busy with tourists. If you like skiing or snowboarding, winter is a great time to visit as well. Many ski resorts organize winter festivals and different events throughout the season.
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Slovakia. If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
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