Slovakia Holiday Planning Guide
A land of magnificent castles, untouched nature, and rich cultural heritage, Slovakia is a jewel in the heart of Europe that's waiting to be discovered. Larger cities such as Bratislava and Kosice feature historic architecture and offer numerous sightseeing opportunities and exciting art scenes, while outside the cities traditional villages provide the perfect place to get acquainted with local customs. Some of the country's most popular tourist destinations revolve around its numerous spa resorts--famous for their therapeutic properties--and a selection of wooden churches, many of which claim World Heritage Site status. Those looking for nature's attractions on their Slovakia holiday can enjoy everything from the thick forests and snowy peaks of the Tatra Mountains, to one of Europe's largest concentrations of subterranean caves. The country's cuisine reflects its multicultural history and is a definite must-try.
Places to Visit in Slovakia
Regions of SlovakiaBratislava Region
: As the first stop for many in Slovakia, the capital offers lots of shopping venues, beautiful architecture, museums, art galleries, and exciting nightlife all surrounded by a countryside spotted with historical structures.Presov Region
: For those who want to escape urban life, this region boasts gorgeous scenery among the High Tatras mountains with ski resorts and stunning hiking trails interspersed between villages and World Heritage Sites.Zilina Region
: Defined as one of the nation's most picturesque areas, this region supports a wealth of outdoor activities and adventures, including hunting and exploring deep cave systems.Banska Bystrica Region
: This region offers something for everyone with a mixture of mountainous terrain perfect for hiking and skiing along with a buzzing city life with museums and historical buildings.Kosice Region
: Home of Slovak Karst and Slovak Paradise National Parks, this region boasts a landscape worth exploring as well as a busy capital with a dedication to preserving cultural traditions.Trencin Region
: As the birthplace of one of the oldest settlements in the country, this region is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts while also supporting the city of Trencin, an energetic destination popular with youth due to its large university.
Cities in SlovakiaBratislava
: The capital of Slovakia is the first stop for many visitors, who often stay to explore the vibrant city's Baroque architecture, historical buildings, museums, theatres, palaces, and monuments, or wander just outside city boundaries for a walk along the Danube River.Liptovsky Mikulas
: Set in Liptov Basin, this town center supports local merchants like shoemakers and hatters amidst folk architecture found on structures like the Church of Saint Nicholas, the city's oldest building.Kosice
: Dubbed as the European Capital of Culture, this city teems with establishments like art galleries and museums, including a collection of Andy Warhol paintings, and is home to the nation's largest church.
Things to Do in Slovakia
Popular Slovakia Tourist AttractionsBratislava Old Town
: Deep in the heart of the capital, old cobblestone streets wind through centuries-old castles, cathedrals, and public squares where you can explore and stop to try local honey liqueur.Bratislava Castle (Hrad)
: Offering impressive views of Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary, this 15th-century castle atop a rocky hill hosts the national museum and the original Sigismund Gate.St Elizabeth's / Blue Church
: Built in the early 1900s and popular among Slovakia tourist attractions, this church is a strange yet beautiful site with a blue-glazed roof and blue tiles that makes the structure look remarkably like an ornate cake.Devin Castle
: Famous for its traces of prehistoric settlements and ruins, the castle now houses a museum displaying archaeological items and boasts a range of outdoor activities in the wild landscape around the site.UFO Observation Deck
: Get a unique view on your Slovakia trip by observing the landscape and sky from a circular deck equipped with telescopes and free binoculars.Hlavne Namestie
: This city center is popular during festivals and holidays when people come to shop and dine among historical buildings and beautiful architecture.Cumil
: Keep an eye out for this bronze statue peeking out from a manhole cover, and decide for yourself if he is just resting or looking up passersby's skirts (visitors and locals often rub his head for good luck).Michael's Gate
: As the oldest preserved part of city fortifications, the 14th-century gate is topped with an impressive statue of Saint Michael slaying a dragon.St. Martin's Cathedral
: Include this towering cathedral in your Slovakia vacation and view the 19th-century Viennese stained glass and the relics of John the Merciful, a 7th-century saint, in a lavishly decorated hall.Slavin War Memorial
: One of the more somber Slovakia things to do, this memorial monument and burial ground pays tribute to the Soviet Army soldiers killed during the liberation of Bratislava during World War II with a central hall housing white marble statues.
Planning a Slovakia Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Slovakia with Kids
Slovakia is filled with great, kid-friendly destinations whether your young traveler is interested in the outdoors, wildlife, shopping, or entertainment. Bratislava
represent great hubs of museums and historical buildings with towers you can climb to the very top. In fact, all regions host numerous ancient ruins and medieval castles. If you're not able to venture very far into the countryside, check out any of the parks or zoos inside the cities, or take the kids to an open-air market where they can find a unique souvenir with which to remember your Slovakia vacation.
Things to Do in Slovakia with Kids
Starting in the capital, let the children explore the cobblestone streets and spot stone castles and towering cathedrals with impressive architecture. Visit on Saturday morning to catch a busy open-air market in motion. Head into the countryside for even more castles, many of which house museums that educate visitors on the region's historical and cultural significance. Bratislava Castle (Hrad)
hosts the national museum with great displays and artifacts.
Outside of history, Slovakia offers a plethora of outdoor activities in a gorgeous setting. Hike the Carpathian Mountains, go fishing in a serene lake, or visit a mountain resort and--in season--ski the slopes that vary from beginner to expert levels. While some hiking trails require proper equipment and guides, other trails are level and easy for young children to navigate without trouble. Do not miss the UFO Observation Deck
, where children can watch for alien aircraft and admire the stars with powerful telescopes.
Wind down after your adventures with a stop at AquaCity in Poprad, where adults and kids alike can unwind in thermal spring pools, jacuzzis, and waterfalls. You'll find kid-friendly attractions like indoor and outdoor slides with inflatables. Playgrounds offer a drier option with a children's train.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Slovakia
Plan any hiking trips carefully with a map before going, as some trails ascend high into the mountains and present challenging terrain even for expert climbers. Think about asking a local guide for route advice before taking kids into the Slovak wilderness. If you are visiting during the winter months, outdoor activities with small children may be limited due to the extreme cold and wind. Do not forget to ask for children's discounts at any Slovakia tourist attractions.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Slovakia
Cuisine of Slovakia
It is easy to get full on Slovakian cuisine, as dishes are typically large and packed with meat, especially pork. Potatoes, dumplings, and cheese appear on menus frequently. While vegetables may seem hard to come by, sauerkraut is always offered. During your trip to Slovakia, be sure to try the halusky, the most famous national dish that's similar to gnocchi.
Shopping in Slovakia
While large shopping malls are popular in larger cities like Bratislava
, villages are more likely to have open-air markets and small merchant shops. Saturday morning markets are especially exciting and perfect for finding everything from handcrafted clothing to jewelry. If it is food you want, seek out fresh fruits and vegetables, which are well-priced and make healthy snacks while sightseeing in Slovakia.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Slovakia
History of Slovakia
Inhabitation of Slovakia dates back thousands of years, lending the nation a rich history. Traces of this history can be found among many Slovakia places to see, like Bratislava Old Town
and Michael's Gate
The earliest traces of present-day Slovakia date back to the 9th century, when the Great Moravian Empire was formed and included parts of Hungary and Poland as well as the Czech Republic. Eventually the Hungarian Empire rose up and included Slovakia for more than 1,000 years. Throughout much of history, Slovakia struggled for independence but constantly fell under outside rule. Perhaps one of the biggest hindrances was the forced assimilation of Magyarization, a period when all other languages besides Maygar were outlawed and measures were enforced to stamp out Slovakian culture and heritage. By the early 20th century, the assimilation was largely successful, and even the Slovaks did not view themselves as an individual people.
Slovakia remained part of Hungary until 1918, and the region was instead known as Upper Hungary until it became part of the newly formed Czechoslovakia following World War I.
Slovakia participated in World War II and fought for the liberation of Bratislava. Slavin War Memorial
, a memorial monument and graveyard of Soviet Union liberators, is a common stop during Slovakia sightseeing.
After World War II, the independent country of Czechoslovakia restored. Then after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, the country peacefully separated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Slovakia joined the European Union in 2004.
Customs of Slovakia
Personal space is treasured in Slovakia, and natives usually keep an arm's length between them while talking. Kisses on the cheek are reserved only for close friends and family, while handshakes are typically acceptable for greeting Slovaks. Here lunch is the largest meal of the day, so an invitation to lunch can be a very lengthy ordeal with several courses.
Holidays & Festivals in Slovakia
If you are taking your Slovakia trip during Easter, you may be taken aback by the Slovakian celebrations. Traditionally on Easter Monday boys and men dump buckets of water on girls and women and use handmade switches to playfully whip women's legs, gaining a ribbon on the switch for each woman whipped. The women are expected to reply with gifts of sweets, Easter eggs, money, or a shot of vodka for older men. While this tradition is slowly fading, it is still practiced. Reportedly men love the holiday, but women don't feel the same way; some even leave for vacation during this time.
Slovakia Travel Tips
Climate of Slovakia
Summer in Slovakia is typically pleasant and warm with little rain, making it perfect for hiking and biking mountain trails. Visitors going in winter, however, should be prepared for freezing temperatures, wet conditions, and possible snowstorms. Strong winds here are especially harsh, so take lots of heavy clothing and waterproof gear in the winter.
Transportation in Slovakia
Bus systems run all over the country, creating surprisingly good transportation even for the mountain villages. However, as a visitor you may want to locate a network map to more easily navigate the bus system. Larger cities like Kosice and Bratislava have trams and trolleys. If you have the time and energy, consider renting a bicycle or motorbike to explore the cities and outlying areas.
Language of Slovakia
Slovakia's dominant language is Slovak, which sounds very similar to Czech. Some English is spoken in larger cities, but it is best to learn some key phrases in Slovak before going.
Tipping in Slovakia
Tipping is encouraged in Slovakia for good service and is usually done by rounding up the bill, although 15 percent is not expected. Do not forget to tip in bars after every round of drinks as well.