Calling Slovakia a beautiful country is an understatement. For many years, European travellers have been crowding Western and Mediterranean Europe, while overlooking Slovakia. This has nothing to do with what attractions the country has to offer, but everything to do with the lack of information and what you can expect when you visit. So read on to learn about this lovely place and the things to do in Slovakia.
Overview of Slovakia
Our home in southern Poland is just a few kilometres from the Slovakian border, and we love escaping to this beautiful rural land of forests, mountains, rivers, great beer, good food and its absolutely lovable capital city.
Where is Slovakia?
Slovakia is a landlocked country nestling in central Europe, bordering Poland to the north, Hungary to the south, Ukraine to the east, Austria to the west, and the Czech Republic to the northwest. Of all these, the Czech Republic takes the lion’s share of tourism Central Europe.
What is Slovakia like?
Much of Slovakia comprises mountains and forests. It has many caves including five listed by UNESCO for their outstanding significance as natural features. National parks and protected areas (CHKO) account for a total of nearly 20% of Slovakia’s total 49,000 sq kilometres.
Bratislava, Slovakia is the capital and largest town, but with fewer than half a million people, it is one of the smallest capitals in Europe.. There are lots of things to do in Bratislava and in our opinion, it’s one of the loveliest European capitals.
What is included in this article?
In this article, we are going to cover things to do in Slovakia and some of the basic things you should know about the country before you pack to go there.
But before we get started on the best things to do in Slovakia, here are a few facts about the country that most people in the West don’t know. And perhaps this will help you make up your mind if Slovakia is a destination for you.
Facts about Slovakia.
Bratislava, the capital and the largest city is the only capital in the world so closely bordering two other countries – The centre of the city is about 5km from Austria and 15km from Hungary.
You can visit three capital cities in a very short trip travelling by road, rail or even river boat! Vienna lies just 60 kilometres (90 minutes) upstream along the Danube, and Budapest about four times as far downstream. All three historic cities are located on the banks of the great European river, and many Danube cruises include all three cities on their itinerary. If you want to visit Poland – Krakow the old capital is 4 hours away.
With a population of about five and a half million, Slovakia’s population density is about 110 people per sqkm – slightly less than the average for the European Union as a whole.
As a member of the European Union, travel between Slovakia and all but one of its neighbours is easy with completely open borders by road, river and rail. Since Slovakia also uses the Euro, even currency conversion is avoided with much of Europe.
Driving car in Europe – extra info
If you plan to explore Slovakia by car, then note that although most of its neighbours are in the EU, each country has different ways of charging visitors for the use of its roads. Slovakia and Hungary both sell electronic vignettes for short term visitors, Austria and the Czech Republic both have window stickers for their vignette and Poland has no vignettes but they do have a few toll roads. (Austria also has some tolls on top of its vignette charge) In all cases, these charges only apply to major roads and motorways so if you plan your routes including border crossings exclusively on small roads you can avoid all charges. The bottom line – if you are travelling internationally, even within the EU, check with the car hire company that your car is insured and provided with vignettes valid for each of the countries you will be visiting.
Travel on Slovakian national railways is free for children, full-time students below 26 years old, people with disabilities and everyone over the age of 62.
Slovakia boasts the world’s highest number of stately homes/chateaux and castles per capita at over 600 in total.
Due to the similar sounds of the country names, staff in the foreign embassies of Slovakia and Slovenia meet regularly to exchange wrongly-addressed mail. Though they are both in southern Central Europe, the two countries do not share a border.
Best things to do in Slovakia
Bratislava is a lovely town which has drawn us happily back for more than one return visit. The historic parts are so compact that a day trip will allow you to soak up the traditional character of the place. However, there is plenty of depth here to repay much more time spent in visiting its attractions.
Check our article – A day in Bratislava, things to do for an overview of what to experience and explore. Enjoy the main square, the town hall and Bratislava Castle. Then there are a few ideas about where else you can go if you have the time to extend your exploration for longer. Enjoy discovering the culture of the modern city over a wider area than the compact bubble containing the main tourist magnets.
As we have said, there are lots. Here are some of the best for your tour,
Spis Castle is the largest fortified castle in Central Europe and is the jewel of Slovakia. Though the castle was built in the 12th century, continuous alterations and additions have been made over the centuries as well as the addition of other structures within the complex. This has resulted in a remarkable blend of architectural styles that are now listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The castle can be seen from a distance, as it stands at 600m on a hill near the town of Spisska Kapitula.
Bojnice Castle also dates back to the 12th century and was owned for many generations of aristocrats and kings. The building was reconstructed in the 17th century to give it its current romantic appearance. Today, Bojnice Castle is among the most visited in Slovakia. The castle has drawn the attention international filmmakers and has featured in several romantic, fairytale, and fantasy films.
Stara Lubovna Castle
Located in eastern Slovakia above the town of the same name, Stara Lubovna Castle features an open-air museum of the folk architecture which lies in the shadow of the castle. The castle was constructed in the 14th century and is open all-year-round for visitors.
This castle was constructed on a settlement from the Bronze Age. The site was inhabited by Germanic, Celts, and Slavonic tribes. The oldest structure extant today is a tower dating back to Great Moravia, a Central European Slavonic empire of the first century. The onsite museum displays a wide range of collections of ancient weapons including medieval swords, and oriental firearms.
Our favourite, Orava Castle was built on a magnificent sheer rocky crag over 100 metres above the river valley. The earliest record of the castle dates back to the 12th century during which it was declared a royal property. But a huge fire razed the castle in 1800. Twentieth century reconstruction and repair has been true to the traditional culture and today, Orava Castle is one of the most visited spots in Slovakia. It has been nominated as a site of national cultural heritage.
Hiking in Slovakia
Hike in Mala Fatra National Park
If you are looking for an adventure of strenuous hiking, Slovakia’s Mala Fatra National park is the place to be.
The summit – Velky Rozsutec is one of the most beautiful peaks in Slovakia. The hike trails are within the National Park Mala Fatra. The peak is at an altitude of more than 1,600 meters of which you will have climbed over 1,000 from the valleys below. The trekking routes encompass steep inclines as well as numerous gorges, steep ladders and clambering. It is one of the most challenging hike trails available and highly rated by those who have done it.
Mala Fatra National Park is crisscrossed by dozens of mountain trails for all abilities including families with children. There is a plethora of options to choose from to suit your needs. Expect beautiful gorges refreshing waterfalls, secluded hamlets, and enormous flower-strewn meadows.
Slovenski Raj National Park
Slovenski Raj which translates to English as the Slovak Paradise is a different kind of hiking experience in Slovakia. Unlike other trekking routes in the mountainous nation, Slovanski Raj routes do not have so many rugged peaks, long views, or lakes. But it makes up for that by offering beautiful gorges surrounded by lush green forest, climbing ladders, and walks over suspension bridges.
Slovak paradise is packed with natural beauty including the UNESCO listed Dobsinska Ice Cave.
Some of the most popular hike routes in Slovenski Raj:
One of the most popular hiking trails, Sucha Bela starts at Podlesok and provides views of with several magnificent waterfalls.
Piecky means fireplace and gets its name from some of the rock formations here. The gorge is stunning, and the trail includes one of the tallest ladders in the park, rising 14 metres.
This 18 km trail is the longest in Slovak Paradise National Park and you can take a full day following the meandering river Hornady. The adventure includes catwalks above the river with its rapids and and waterfalls as well as bridges across the gorge. There are several points of entry to the gorge and the trek includes an impressive viewpoint at 200 m elevation from where you can see the Tatras on a clear day.
Kysel – via Ferrata
This gorge is now open again after a 40 year closure following fire damage. Today, it is again one of the region’s most popular.
Visit the Tatra Mountains (Formal Name High Tatra or Vysoké Tatry)
The Tatras are part of the Carpathian Mountains – the second-longest mountain range in Europe, running from the Czech Republic, through Poland, Slovakia, and Serbia, Romania, and Moldova. In Slovakia, they are run near, and in some places form, the northern border with Poland.. They include jagged rocky peaks, and emerald green lakes which you can reach by cable cars, and rugged hiking routes. Choose between short treks around mountain lakes, or hike or ride a cable car to some of the highest points in Slovakia at over 2,500m. In the winter, come and ski its a good alternative to skiing in Apls
While hiking the High Tatra, you might come across a Tatra chamois – an endangered animal that looks like a mountain goat. You might also see other animals including the brown bear, fox, alpine marmot, and lynx.
Getting to the High Tatras
By car: This is how most travellers get to the High Tatras. It is the most convenient way to get to the mountains as well as giving you the flexibility to stop in small resorts, get to the best hiking routes, and take day trips.
By rail: Train travel is another option for getting to the High Tatras, and it connects Poprad with Kosice, Bratislava, Prague, and Budapest. From the starting point at Poprad, you can get to a second train to Tatranska Lomnica, Stary Smokovec, or Strbske Pleso. As you can imagine, this journey will take ages because the trains are slow.
By air: The closest airport is at Poprad. Once you reach the High Tatras, you can use the public bus to hop from town to town.
For the summer season in the High Tatras, the best time to travel is between Mid June and September, but some trails might stay open up to October depending on the snowfall. In the winter this region is of course a destination for skiing.
Great hiking trails in the High Tatras
The high Tatras is known for its numerous hiking routes, and here are a few for your list:
You can find this hike on the tallest peak of Tatras in Poland, and you will start your journey in Slovakia. It is a quite changing hike, involving climbing up through the jagged, rocky hills of the High Tatras. Just when you are about to reach the summit, you cross into Poland.
Often called the “most beautiful mountain” in Slovakia, Krivan is the most popular hiking trail in the High Tatras, and you will find out why.
This is the highest peak in the High Tatras, and the only way to the summit is with the help of a certified mountain guide.
Vel’ka Svist’ and Zelene Pleso
This hike has cable cars and a lodge where you can have your lunch.
The Great Cold Valley
Also one of the most popular trails, this hike will take you through a wide valley bursting with wildflowers during summer.
This hike will offer you a scenic stroll as well as a starting point for Krivan hike.
Enjoy the New canopy walk in Bachledka
At the eastern end of the High Tatras in the stately forests of the Bachledova Valley, we found a ski resort with all-year-round appeal since there is a brand new high tech canopy walk which takes you on a circular stroll 25m above the ground alongside the forest treetops. The walk ends on a vast spiral ramp, to an observation deck and for the adventurous, you can slide 30m down from it on a helter skelter.
Tip: We turned up on a September afternoon. The traffic queues to get out (as we were driving in) were at least a kilometre long. It was almost static behind a local road junction. We were the last to enter the gondola on the cable car up to the tops. We enjoyed a beautiful treetop stroll, clear evening skies and an uncrowded visit before again catching the last gondola down. When we drove out just after five, the roads were free. It seems the trick here is arrive late to miss the crowds.
Where to stay around the High Tatras
With all the fun activities to do in the High Tatras, it is unlikely that you will be able to make a trip back to the city on the same day. So, here are places you can stay as you explore this beautiful region.
Tatranska Lomnica is among the largest resort towns in the Tatras. It has easy access to cable cars that safely take you up to Lomnicky stit and Skalnate Pleso. This should be the first place to consider when looking for a place to stay.
Some of the best accommodation here includes:
This town provides accommodation in gorgeous hotels overlooking the lake. It is a great place to call home for a few days you will be in Tatras. Hotels include:
Grand Hotel Kempinski, which is a global hotel brand. It is located right by the lake and has an onsite restaurant and swimming pool, spa, and great views.
Poprad is located at the foot of the mountains. It has a wide selection of hotels and excellent restaurants and easy access to the airport and railway station.
As you will be spending a few days in Slovakia, we have decided to help you out with few basic Slovak terms so that you don’t feel out of place or fail to communicate simple terms to the locals or taxi driver.
- Hello – Dobry den ( DOH-bree den)
- Yes – Ano (AAH-noh
- No – Nie (NYEE_eh)
- Thank you – Dakujem (JAH-koo-yehm)
- You are welcome – Prosim (PROH-seem))
- Goodnight – Dobru noc (DOH-broo nohts)
- Lake – Pleso
- Castle – Hvrad
- Valley – Dolina
As I write this, I am reminded of so many happy memories, beautiful views and great times in Slovakia and Bratislava. Researching this article has reminded me that there is even more to see and do here than we have done. One thing is for certain – we will be going back to Slovakia with the twins again and again.
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