Slovakia Travel Guide
The Slovak Republic is not just for castle and cave lovers; it’s an excellent and easily accessible destination that boasts a relaxed and compact capital, the towering peaks of the Tatra Mountains and a top-notch national park. Having peacefully separated from its Czech neighbour nearly 15 years ago, the early years of independence have seen the Slovaks tearing down Soviet reminders and kicking up dust with the introduction of ATMs and nightclubs, but unfortunately the potato dumplings and fermented sheep cheese have stuck.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: The relaxed and quaint capital of Bratislava, amazing countryside, skiing in the Carpathian Mountains, spa resorts, mineral waters, inexpensive prices, highest number of fortified castles per capita in the world.
What’s Not: Winter weather and hibernation of locals, the almost too laid back population of Bratislava, two-tiered prices for locals and foreigners, high level of unemployment, ticks, potato dumplings and fermented sheep cheese.
When to Go
The climate in most of Slovakia is of a damp continental variety, which generally means cold, crisp winters and warm, occasionally humid summers. The climate does vary considerably depending on altitude, with some mountainous areas remaining cool for much of the year. Summertime weather is generally very pleasant, with average daytime temperatures in the 70s (°F), and long periods of sunshine. Daytime temperatures in the wintertime however can hover around freezing point, and frequently dip into sub-zero territory.
Getting There & Away
Since the arrival of cheap flights, Bratislava and Slovakia have become easily accessible from destination in the rest of Europe. There are flights from Bratislava to over 20 European cities and the city is also extremely convenient to access if you happen to be in Vienna. In fact, Bratislava is a mere 40 miles from Vienna, and there are frequent bus connections between the cities. Rail links with the rest of Europe are also excellent and Vienna, Prague and Budapest are all accessible within a few hours. Trains to Moscow are also available, with journeys taking around 33 hours.
Health & Safety
Despite the film Hostel, Slovakia is not in fact known for gruesome kidnappings, but you may come across one or two weird hostels all the same. If you want to venture into the mountains, you should inform your hotel staff of your plans and itinerary first so that there is a record of your whereabouts in the event that you get lost. Plan your mountain hikes carefully if you want to avoid being on the front page of the local papers for being rescued.
Food & Hospitality
The Slovak national dish is known as bryndzové halušky, and is composed of potato dumplings and a type of fermented sheep cheese. Although this dish comes with the claim that it prevents cancer, most visitors’ stomachs turn at the sight of it. However, if you do bite into something that tastes horrible, there are dozens of types of tasty Slovak mineral waters to wash food down with. The beer is something worth talking about, with many local breweries producing excellent varieties. Hotels, hostels and mountain chalets are abundant however a two-tiered pricing system is often applied, with foreigners expected to dish out a few extra dollars.
Two weeks is a good length of time to properly experience the country, though you could easily bargain for spending more time to really immerse yourself.
Two days to relax in Bratislava, enjoy some of the local cuisine and drift among the quaint streets of the Old Town.
A week in the Carpathians, to experience some great mountain resorts, outdoor activities and spas.
Five days in the west of the country to take in some of the rural attractions and experience some of the best spas in Europe.
Three days cycling along the Danube on one of Europe’s longest cycling trails – an unforgettable and refreshing experience.
Three days in the Malá Fatra National Park, with a pair of skis or hiking boots.
Three days indulging in some of the historical focal points of the country including the many remarkable castles.
Bratislava: is the capital city of Slovakia, and is a pleasant and relaxed destination, more like a large town than a city. There is an Old Town section with quaint restaurants and bars that make the perfect place to sample the local beers and Slovak wines.
Trenciánske Teplice: is an attractive town in western Slovakia, famous for its spa, undulating hills and excellent hiking. There are a number of natural hot water springs and sulphur spas in the town as well as a Turkish bath. Get your togs on and prepare for a mighty scrubbing!
Vysoké Tatry: is a compact mountain range with alpine peaks that tower above valleys, filled with pines. Excellent climbing and trekking can be enjoyed, and it’s also possible to canoe on the lakes.
Čachtice Castle: a Hungarian countess tortured and then murdered over 600 local peasant women in the 1600s at this castle, but strangely that seems to be what draws the tourists here rather than what deters them.
Devín Castle: is located where the Morava and Danube rivers join, and was formerly a Hapsburg military fortress. Austria and Hungary are visible across the river, and the castle frequently hosts local festivals and other events.
Malá Fatra National Park: is situated around the Vratná Valley, with mountains encircling the area and snowy peaks in evidence as late as April. The area has great hiking and skiing, but can be crowded at peak times.
Folk festivals: can be enjoyed in most towns and cities, with dancing, local costumes and cuisine providing endless entertainment for outsiders.
Cycling: on Europe’s most extensive cycling route which stretches along the Danube and extends from Passau in Germany as far as Stúrovo.
Walking and hiking: explore Slovakia’s top-class, well-marked walking and hiking trails. The best routes are in the Small Carpathians, and there is a café on Kamzík with wonderful panoramas.
Water sports: enjoy fishing, canoeing, boating and swimming in the many lakes and rivers that are found in the glacial valleys. Rafting is also possible in Pieniny National Park.
Skiing: get out on the slopes. Located in the 30 different mountain regions, the best are located in the Tatra Mountains, though there are several different skiing resorts scattered throughout the country.
Festivals & Events
There is a plethora of festivals in Slovakia throughout the year, celebrating everything from local music to the regional food and wines.
April: Lumen’s annual International Festival of Gospel Music is a popular festival occurring annually in April.
June: Sacred Music Festival is held in Ladislava every year in June.
July: International Organ Festival celebrates the violin virtuoso Peter Michalica, and occurs in July.
September: Snina is the annual Slovak Romany festival, and occurs in September.
December: the annual International Film Festival is held in several movie theaters of the Palace Cinemas multiplex in the Bratislava Aupark center.