Slovakia is still a mystery to the general public. Is there anything to see at all? But whoever travels there discovers a surprisingly beautiful and pleasant country. Although the Slovaks have been part of the European Union since 2004, the Central European country remains unknown and therefore unloved by most Belgians and Dutch. That’s a shame, because despite its small surface area, the country has a lot to offer for a nice holiday nearby. Picturesque historic towns, mountains, rocks, lakes, waterfalls and ice caves, impressive castles… you name it. Would you like to explore a somewhat unusual and not very touristy destination? Which beautiful places and sights should you not miss?
- Traveling in Slovakia
- 1. Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia
- 2. Spissky Hrad
- 3. High Tatras National Park
- 4. Bardejov
- 5. Slovensky Raj National Park
- 6. Boat trip on the Dunajec River
- 7. Kosice
- 8. Slovensky scratch
- 9. Skanzens
- 10. Bojnice
- Even more beautiful places, castles and sights in Slovakia
Traveling in Slovakia
Introduction to the country
Although Slovakia and the Czech Republic once formed Czechoslovakia, the two countries are quite different. Admittedly, there are also similarities. Yet both countries have a very different character. Slovakia is much more rural and traditional than its more touristy and more northern neighbor.
It is a small country: its surface area is at most half the size of Portugal. The capital is Bratislava. Kosice is the second largest and most important city. The approximately 5.5 million inhabitants speak Slovak, a language closely related to Czech but with significant differences. Although the inhabitants understand English quite fluently, especially the younger generations, it is useful and fun to learn a few words of Slovak. This can be especially useful in rural eastern Slovakia.
Dobre jitro / Dobre rano
Ano / Nie
Do you speak English?
How do I get to Slovakia?
You have several options to get to Slovakia. The easiest and most adventurous thing is to drive to Slovakia in your own car. You simply get into the car at home in Belgium or the Netherlands and can reach the country via Germany and Austria. From Brussels, Bratislava is 1,227 kilometers or an 11.5-hour drive. If you leave Amsterdam it will take you about 11 hours: the distance to Bratislava is 1,205 kilometers. Don’t drive this route in one day, but take a relaxing approach with an overnight stay in the south of Germany or Austria. This way you arrive at your destination relaxed.
Bratislava is only a 45-minute drive from Vienna, so a flight to the Austrian capital and from there with a rental car to Slovakia is also possible.
Bratislava and its castle on the Danube / Source: PaulCosmin, Pixabay
1. Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia
Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is all in all small, compact and well-organized. Like Vienna (Austria), it is located on the Danube, about 55 kilometers downstream. It is a vibrant, modern city but without the hordes of tourists of Prague in the Czech Republic. You will find nice and cozy streets with bars and cafes, impressive architecture and a few excellent museums.
The city’s main landmark is the modern ‘Novy most’ (new bridge). It connects the center of Bratislava on the northern bank of the Danube with the suburb of Petrzalka on the southern side of the river.
The old town (‘Stare Mesto’) contains beautiful squares, historic buildings and picturesque streets. In short, there are plenty of beautiful places and sights in Bratislava.
From the fourteenth-century St Martin Cathedral (‘dom sv Martina’), where nine Hungarian kings and eight queens were crowned from 1563 to 1830, you can reach the steps to the castle under the road. This takes you to the Corvinus Gate (‘korvinova brana’) and the impressive castle. It dates from the fifteenth century and is located a hundred meters above the Danube. The towers were added in the seventeenth century. From the castle you can enjoy views as far as Austria and even Hungary on a clear day.
Especially Hviezdoslavovo namestie and Hlavne namestie are two squares that stand out. If you take a walk through Bratislava, be sure to visit these places and enjoy the beautiful architecture of the buildings around the square.
Michalska and St. Michael’s Tower (‘michalska veza’)
One of the nicest and most picturesque streets in Bratislava is Michalska. You will also find many restaurants there. The impressive St. Michael’s Tower dominates the street scene. It is an old watchtower from the fourteenth century, from which you have a beautiful view of the old city. From Michalska you can continue walking along Venturska, a street with many Baroque palaces.
This is one of the oldest streets in the city. It runs from St. Martin’s Cathedral to the Church of the Clarissin Order from the thirteenth century.
A kilometer walk from the old town you will find the Slavin hill northwest of the square namestie Slobody. There is a cemetery and a garden with excellent views over Bratislava. The Slavin war memorial towers high above the hill. This enormous column was erected in 1960 and commemorates the six thousand Russian soldiers who drove the Nazis out of Slovakia.
The Spissky Hrad castle in Slovakia / Source: Marticss, Pixabay
2. Spissky Hrad
‘Hrad’ is Slovak for ‘castle’ and the ruins of the spectacular nine-hundred-year-old Spis Castle high on the rocks rise majestically from the green surroundings. It is not without reason that this impressive and photogenic place is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is not only the largest castle in Slovakia, but also one of the largest medieval castles in all of Europe.
Hungarian kings built the castle in the thirteenth century. Unfortunately, it was burned down in 1780 and the castle has remained abandoned ever since. Yet enough parts remained standing (and others extensively restored) to still dazzle visitors.
The castle is open from May to October. A visit to the ruins can easily take a few hours. It’s fun to stroll around the castle. Here and there there are old objects on display. In the dungeon you will find torture devices from the time when this was still considered normal. The nearest town is Spisske Podhradie, little more than a deserted hole with virtually no accommodation (except for one guesthouse), a lonely restaurant and a small supermarket.
The High Tatras / Source: Jarekgrafik, Pixabay
3. High Tatras National Park
One of Slovakia’s crown jewels is the High Tatras National Park, a spectacular mountain range with breathtaking valleys, lakes, viewpoints and walks. 25 mountain peaks are higher than 2500 meters. The High Tatras are impressive and at the same time compact: from west to east the distance is about 25 kilometers.
The town of Poprad is the main gateway to the national park. Closer to the foot of the mountains are small villages such as Stary Smokovec and Tatranska Lomnica, where you can also spend the night.
The Tatras are a true paradise for hikers. The hundreds of miles of trails and walks could keep you busy for years. But since you may not have years to do them all, it’s best to pick a few fun ones.
Several beautiful walks lead from Strbske Pleso, a beautiful mountain lake of twenty hectares, into the Tatras. This way you can go to the Skok Waterfalls, an unforgettable walk of about three hours there and back on a yellow marked path. The main path is the red Tatranska magistrala. You can follow this for one to one and a half hours from Strbske Pleso to Popradske Pleso, from where a more difficult and steeper blue marked path continues to the even higher Velke Hincovo lake. You can also follow the magistrala path from Popradske Pleso further east to Sliezsky dom and back down to Stary Smokovec: a trip that takes a whole day.
Also from the village of Stary Smokovec you have a wide choice of walks for half or full days. Also consider an overnight stay in a ‘chata’. These are log cabins in the mountains where hikers can spend the night and eat.
At 2634 meters, the Lomnicky mountain peak is the second highest in the Tatras after Gerlachovsky Stit, which is twenty meters higher. You can visit this peak without having to hike or climb, thanks to the modern cable car from Tatranska Lomnica. The journey takes place in two phases. A first cable car takes you from the valley to the Skalnate Pleso lake at an altitude of 1751 meters in ten minutes. A second, steep cable car runs from the lake all the way to the top of the mountain. The panorama and views from Lomnicky Stit are not to be missed.
Bardejov is located in northeastern Slovakia and is one of the most beautiful towns in the country. The history of the place goes back a long way: the area was already inhabited in the Stone Age. The oldest written mention dates from 1241. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Bardejov became an important trading center between Russia and Poland. It is a pleasant town to stroll around in an afternoon, around a well-preserved medieval central square (‘Radnicne namestie’).
Many of the old city walls and gates have been preserved. For example, you can walk through the restored ‘Dolna Brana’ (Dolna Gate) in the northeast of the city or the ‘Prasna brana’ (Powder Gate) in the south. Another remnant is the bastion northwest of the city center. It dates from the fourteenth century.
The St. Egidius Church (‘kostol sv Egidia’) borders the north of the central market square Radnicne namestie. It dates from the fifteenth century and has one of Eastern Europe’s most impressive Gothic interiors full of paintings, wood sculptures and eleven altars. Also take a look at the former town hall in the middle of the square, a building from 1509 and a unique example of Renaissance architecture. You will also find a historical exhibition there. The Saris Museum is also worth a visit. Around the square, don’t miss the building at house number 16 and the former pub at house number 42, two of the most beautiful Renaissance and Baroque houses in Bardejov.
5. Slovensky Raj National Park
Slovensky Raj means Slovak paradise and it lives up to its name. This park is a beautiful and vast forested area full of ravines, gorges, canyons, meadows and waterfalls. This is a fantastic playground especially for hikers, with unforgettable paths that also include ladders, chains and bridges. You will find fewer dizzying heights and viewpoints here, but walking in Slovensky Raj is very adventurous. If you like to walk, take two or three days to spend in this nice park. Try to take at least one of the many beautiful walks during your trip to Slovakia. There are many variations and other combinations possible: purchase a good map of the paths in the park.
The Sucha Bela hiking trail in particular is a real experience and recommended. The path includes wooden bridges, ladders and iron chains along waterfalls, special rocks and even an old Carthusian monastery. The green marked path starts in Podlesok, accessible from Hrabusice where you can leave your car in a parking lot. At the top of the gorge, take a yellow marked path on the left along the Glacka cesta gorge and then follow a red path eastwards to Klastorisko. From Klastorisko you follow a blue path that returns along the Hornad River to Podlesok. Count on a good nine hours for the total walk there and back.
From the town of Cingov you follow the path to Tomaovský výhľad, a spectacular viewpoint on the end of a rock. You reach it after about an hour of walking. It is ideal for those who only want a short walk. If you want it a little longer, you can continue from here to Letanovsky mlyn. A red marked path continues from here along the Hornad River and further on connects to the green, spectacular Klastorska roklina path towards Klastorisko. From here another blue path goes back to your starting place Cigov. This walk can easily take six hours, so allow a whole day.
One of the shortest but also most spectacular walks can be found in the south of the national park and starts at Biele Vody, a place fifteen minutes northeast of Dedinky along a red path. You follow a green path up through the Zejmarska gorge. If you are in good condition, it will take you fifty minutes. To return, follow the green path back down to Dedinky, or take the cable car (which is not always in operation).
Dobsinska ice cave
The national park also contains the spectacular Dobsinska Ice Cave. As the name suggests, the cave is completely covered by ice. You will find the cave west of Stratena in the south of the park. From mid-May to mid-September you can take a guided tour and discover this beautiful spot for yourself. In the large hall (‘velka sien’) the ice is up to twenty meters thick in places. Bring a sweater, because the temperature in the ice cave is often only a few degrees above freezing.
The Dunajec River / Source: Jarekgrafik, Pixabay
6. Boat trip on the Dunajec River
Pieniny National Park
The Dunajec River on the border of Slovakia with Poland is located in the Pieniny National Park, established in 1967. The Pieniny Mountains in northern Slovakia offer a spectacular landscape of high rocks and cliffs. The Dunajec flows through this beautiful setting.
A fun adventure here is a boat trip through the gorge on a traditional wooden raft. Along the way you can enjoy the beautiful nature and landscape.
In the town of Cerveny Klastor you will find several operators who offer these boat trips. They usually last an hour to an hour and a half and are available from early May to late October. The trip goes to Lesnica, from where you can walk back to Cerveny Klastor in just under two hours. Would you rather not walk? Then you can also take a taxi back or rent a bicycle.
Do you have to wait a while for your boat? Then visit the fourteenth-century Carthusian monastery of Cerveny Klastor. It contains a museum with ancient artefacts and some impressive sixteenth-century frescoes.
Kosice in Slovakia / Source: E Zara, Pixabay
The city of Kosice
Kosice is the second largest city in Slovakia. It is a modern and lively place where you can relax. The old town is worth exploring, with many good museums and impressive churches, as well as nice bars and cafes. The history of Kosice dates back to 1230. Many of Kosice’s sights are located on or around the main street Hlavna and the central square Hlavna Namestie which turns into the square Slobody namestie. The vast Hlavna Namestie is on par with squares in Bratislava. You will find the state theater from 1899, a somewhat kitschy musical fountain, the large ‘plague column’ from 1723 and the Jesuit church.
St. Elisabeth’s Cathedral
The biggest attraction here is St. Elisabeth’s Cathedral from 1345, the easternmost Gothic cathedral in Europe and the largest church in Slovakia, with a capacity of five thousand people. It is an impressive building. In addition to the cathedral, you will find the fourteenth-century city tower on the north side and the St. Michael’s Chapel (‘kaplinka sv Michala’), also from the fourteenth century, on the south side.
Parks and museums in Kosice
You can relax in the green Mestsky Park, the city park of Kosice just outside the historic old town, or in one of the many museums. There is the East Slovak Gallery and the Julius Jakoby Gallery for those who love art. Contemporary Slovak artists exhibit at the Löffler Museum at Alzbetina 20. You will also find an extensive collection of portraits and sculpture from the early twentieth century.
The ‘Slovak Technical Museum’ at Hlavna 88 is interesting for those who love old machines and techniques. If you are more into history and archeology, visit the Eastern Slovak Museum. One of the top attractions here is the ‘Gold Treasure of Kosice’, a collection of 2,920 gold coins in the wall of a house, discovered by chance in 1935 during renovation works.
8. Slovensky scratch
The Slovensky Kras region in eastern Slovakia extends south to the towns of Poprad and Spisska Nova Ves, west to Kosice and above the border with Hungary. The area is bursting with spectacular underground caves: no fewer than 47, although not all of them are open to the public. There is also more natural beauty to see, such as the beautiful Zadielska Canyon.
The town of Roznava is the ideal base to explore this region. There isn’t much to see but you will find the widest choice of accommodation and dining options in the area.
Domica Jaskyna (‘jaskyna’ is Slovak for ‘cave’) is one of the largest caves in the world. It is also the most famous in this region and perhaps the most beautiful, with lush colors and some stalactites as thick as tree trunks. But the other caves such as Ochtinska Aragonitova Jaskyna and Gombasecka Jaskyna are also worth a visit. All caves can be visited with a guide. There is usually an English-speaking guide available.
Slovensky Kras offers more than just caves. There is the beautiful Zadielska Canyon, accessible along a simple but beautiful hiking trail of about two kilometers from the village of Zadiel. The canyon is two kilometers long and is enclosed between 250 meter high walls. In some places the canyon is only ten meters wide.
Dive back into the past: Slovak skanzens / Source: Balcik84, Pixabay
Skanzens are spread throughout Slovakia, a kind of open-air museum where you go back in time. You walk among old buildings and folk history and can get an idea of daily life in earlier times. You can compare it a bit with Bokrijk in Belgium, but it is still different. You will find old school buildings, churches and houses of residents from higher and lower classes. Some houses date back to the eleventh century.
A visit to a skanzen should definitely be on the program of your tour of Slovakia. The beautiful places Pribylina, Vlkolinec (UNESCO World Heritage) and Cicmany are especially recommended.
One of the best skanzens is located four kilometers north of the town of Bardejov in Bardejovske Kupele. The old buildings are grouped together in the shape of an authentic village. You will find barns, rustic houses and wooden churches. Straw beehives and other nice details complete the picture.
Bojnice Castle looks like a building from a fairy tale. Unfortunately, the original twelfth-century Gothic castle has not been preserved. What you see today is a reconstruction modeled on French castles from the early twentieth century.
This is the most visited castle in all of Slovakia, so the queues can get long, especially during weekends. You cannot just wander around the castle yourself, but must join a guided tour. The building contains many beautiful, extravagantly decorated rooms with paintings, weapons and armor. Oh yes, there are also persistent rumors that this castle is haunted. You have been warned!
The castle of Trencin / Source: Vikino, Pixabay
Even more beautiful places, castles and sights in Slovakia
Listing all the sights of Slovakia is impossible. There is enough to see and discover to fill a two-week holiday. There are even more castles, towns and nature worth exploring.
In addition to Spissky Hrad and Bojnice, Slovakia has even more beautiful castles. There are more than one hundred and fifty of them, so visiting them all is impossible. If you still want to visit a number of castles in Slovakia during your stay, Orava Castle is one of the recommended ones.
The town of Trencin also has an impressive castle. At night the castle is also enchantingly beautifully illuminated. Don’t forget the impressive castles of Krasna Horka and Betliar in the Slovensky Kras region. Both castles were once owned by the noble Andrassy family.
Devin Castle, about nine kilometers west of Bratislava, is also worth a visit. It was once Hungary’s most important military stronghold in the region and lies at the confluence of the Danube with the Morava River. There is a boat between Bratislava and Devin Castle. This is the fastest and easiest way to reach the castle.
Some towns in Slovakia have little to offer, but others are very picturesque. For example, Levoca in Eastern Slovakia, between Poprad and Kosice, is not inferior to Bardejov when it comes to historic, impressive Renaissance buildings. In western Slovakia, old towns such as Trencin, Nitra and Trnava are worth a visit. Central Slovakia offers a number of interesting old mining towns such as Banska Bystrica and Banska Stiavnica.
The High Tatras and Pieniny are not Slovakia’s only national parks. The Mala Fatra National Park and the Low Tatras are also worth a visit. In the Low Tatras you will find the Demanovska Cave, a few minutes’ drive from the town of Liptovsky Mikulas, one of the most beautiful underground places in Slovakia. During a tour of one to one and a half hours you will pass the impressive halls with beautiful rock formations.
- Bratislava: ten sights you must see
- High Tatra Mountains (Slovakia): 5 sights
- Trencin: 5 sights not to be missed
- Castles in Slovakia: ten castles that you should not miss