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Although Slovakia has been somewhat off the tourism radar, its welcoming people, beautiful landscapes and political stability make it an attractive destination. Slovakia's landscape features some of Europe's highest mountain ranges, providing jaw-dropping scenery. However, most travellers do not come to Slovakia merely to gaze at its beauty: Slovakia's mountains are fertile ground for skiing and hiking, as the increasing numbers of tourists suggest.
Unfortunately, for those uninterested in getting their hiking boots on or skidding down snow-covered mountains, Slovakia's potential is harder to unravel. The capital, Bratislava, is the most obvious place to head for. Nestled alongside the Danube River and set against a backdrop of the Little Carpathians, the city features numerous museums and other historical monuments. We recommend however that visitors explore some of Slovakia's undiscovered highlights, like the Dunajec River Gorge or Trnava, Slovakia's oldest town.
Slovakia was selected by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 countries to visit in 2013, which will undoubtedly boost attention given to it.
Slovak ancestors can be traced to the mountainous regions of Central Europe over 1,500 years ago. Celtic tribes and after them the Slavs settled in the fertile plains fed by the Danube. In the ninth Century, they were part of the Great Moravian Empire. The Great Moravian Empire was a loose confederation of Slavic people. It was during his statehood that the Slavic Prince Rastislav invited the Byzantine brothers Constantine and Methodius to Great Moravia. They are credited for the civilizing and Christianizing of the Slavs. Many wars were taking place around the time of the Magyar invasion. However, it was during this invasion that the Great Moravian Empire was conquered in 896 A.D., and this resulted in a thousand years of Hungarian rule.
Czechoslovakia was created from segments of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. That fell apart during and after the first World War. The Czech provinces of Bohemia, Moravia and the majority of Silesia from the Austrian Empire were combined with the lands of Slovakia and Ruthenia from the Kingdom of Hungary, to form this new country. For 19 years Czechoslovakia was a democratic country, until the western part of the country was annexed by Nazi-Germany in 1938. Under the treat that the rest of the country would be partitioned to Hungary or Poland. Slovakia declared independence, and joined the German coalition. The government, under the leadership of Jozef Tiso at that time was greatly influenced by Nazi-Germany. After the war he would be executed for collaboration. After the war Czechoslovakia was reunited, and came under the influence of the Soviet Union, as a member of the Warsaw Pact. In the late 1960’s a wave of liberalisation was crushed by the Soviet Union. In 1969, Czechoslovakia became a federation of the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic. The end of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1989, during the peaceful Velvet Revolution, was followed once again by the country's dissolution, this time into two successor states. In July 1992 Slovakia, led by Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, declared itself a sovereign state, meaning that its laws took precedence over those of the federal government. On January 1st, 1993 the Czechs and the Slovaks split to form two independent states: The Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Slovakia has remained a close partner with the Czech Republic, both countries cooperate with Hungary and Poland in the Visegrád Group. Slovakia became a member of NATO and the European Union in 2004. In 2009 Slovakia introduced the Euro, as its currency.
Slovakia shares international borders with Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, Poland and the Czech Republic. It covers about 49,000 square kilometres and has almost 5.5 million inhabitants. The Carpathian Mountains extend across most of the northern half of the country. Amongst this mountain range are the high peaks of the Tatra mountains. To the north, close to the Polish border, are the High Tatras which are a popular skiing destination and home to many scenic lakes and valleys as well as the highest point in Slovakia at 2,655 metres. Some of the most important rivers are the Danube, the Váh and the Hron. The Tisa marks the Slovak-Hungarian border for just 5 kilometres.
Slovakia can be grouped into 4 geographical areas.
Administratively, the country is made up of eight distinct regions, or kraj, which are named after the largest city in each region; Bratislava Region, Trnava Region, Trencin Region, Zilina Region, Nitra Region, Banska Bystrica Region, Presov Region, Kosice Region.
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Spišský Hrad is one of the most important places in eastern Europe and has one of the largest ensembles of 13th- and 14th-century military, political and religious buildings. Especially interesting are its Romanesque and Gothic architecture which has remained remarkably intact. Spišský Hrad and its associated monuments are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Another World Heritage site, the town of Banská Štiavnica and its surroundings were visited by engineers and scientists who contributed to its fame. For example, the medieval mining centre grew into a town with Renaissance palaces, 16th-century churches, elegant squares and castles. The town and the technical monuments in the direct surrounding area form an interesting mix and is of importance regarding the mining and metallurgical activities of the past.
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Vysoké Tatry (High Tatras) is a high mountain range in the north of Slovakia, along the border with Poland. It is the smallest high mountain range in the world, and peaks all of a sudden rise up from the flatter surroundings to over 2,500 metres above sea level. There are several peaks, with Gerlachovský štít being the highest peak in Slovakia rising to 2,655 metres above sea level. The area is popular with bikers, climbers and there are some fine walks and more difficult treks. In winter, skiiing is an option here. Poprad is a good place to base yourself.
Slovensky Raj is a mountainous region north from Dedinky and is just a perfect area for a weekend excursion. There are many touristic routes along the river, through forest and on rocks. The routes are quite easy and as long as you do not go with high heels it is achievable for everyone including children. Picturesque suroundings, pure nature, fresh air and relax - everything is there. Since 1988 the region is a National Park Slovensky Raj and it is protected. Tickets are mandatory but are very cheap. Even though there are no hotels (except one in Dedinky), and capacity of campsites and bungalowes is limited there are many private rooms in the area. The owners sometimes stay at the road with written information.
After visiting the routes in Slovensky Raj or when the weather is unfortunate you can visit the Icy Cave close to Dedinky and protected by UNESCO as well. To visit the cave you must climb up the slope about 15 minutes and the tickets are available up there. In the cave you would meet a glaciar surroundings with icy stalagmites, stalagtites and other spectacular formations. The temperature is naturally below zero all around the year and is rather constant.
There are about 1,300 hot springs in Slovakia. Some of the best known places are Bardejov, Besenova, Vrbov and Poprad. There are many miscellanous warm and hot springs with vary characteristic and mineral ingredients. There is plenty to do and many of the pools are extremely old, ugly and unrenovated for years. There are only some modern aquaparks that can be recommended and choices include Kupele Turcianske Telplice, Aquathermal Senec, Termalne Kupalisko Podhajska, Termalpark Velky Meder, Meander Park Thermal, Aquacity Poprad and Aquapark Tatralandia.
Each February, the Slovak Republic mountain village of Donovaly hosts one of Europe’s most competitive dogsled races. While some of the world’s best dog-sledders mush across the Starohorské Vrchy, the Low Tatras, and the Veľká Fatra mountains, attendees can enjoy attractions, refreshments, and live country music nearly 1,000 metres above sea level.
The 12th century Romantic Bojnice Castle provides the perfect setting for this annual ghosts and monsters festival which attracts over 50,000 visitors between April and May each year. Audience participation is strongly encouraged during this monster-filled festival which is centered around a different story, characters, and ideas every year. Visitors can also encounter alien invasions, witches, vampires, tragic romances, and stalls loaded with food and refreshments.
The biggest music festival in the Slovak Republic’s second biggest city also happens to be among the country’s oldest music festival. Both the Czech and Slovak philharmonic orchestras make beautiful music during this week-long May classical music festival which was first held in 1956. The festival also attracts chamber orchestras, opera performers, and other talented classical musicians.
The constant flow of suds may be the biggest attraction for many people at this 10-day long Bratislava beer festival, but drinking is not the only enjoyable attraction offered here. More than 300 musical performances are on this June festival’s bill each year alongside games, food, and raffle ticket draws for wonderful prizes.
Dozens of traditional folk festivals are held in the Slovak Republic each year, but none can rival the size of this lively celebration in the picturesque village of Východná beneath the Krivao Mountains. This festival, held over three days during the first weekend of July every year since 1953, now attracts up to 1,500 performers and 70,000 spectators on an annual basis. Folk dancing, singing, and crafts are the festival’s main attractions. Many Východná residents even welcome festival attendees into their own homes during the festival.
These elaborate three-day long ceremonies are a throwback to Bratislava’s more than three centuries as Greater Hungary’s capital, when 11 Hapsburg monarchs received their crowns within the city’s Dome of St Martin. Although the Hapsburgs no longer rule the land, their majestic era lives on during this September coronation re-enactment complete with horseback riding processions, shooting demonstrations, folk festivities, and actors taking the king’s oath on the very spot where the monarchs first ascended their thrones.
This early September weekend festival is the biggest event in the Slovak Republic’s most attractive mining town, Banská Štiavnica. Both the festival and its closing Salamander Procession are named after the wooden lizard the chief shepherd holds in his hand while telling stories about the origin of the mines. Mine-dwelling dwarfs called bergmans follow the chief shepherd while bearing mining flags to the sounds of mining music. This festival is a tribute to the Slovak Republic’s many miners, oilmen, and ironworkers.
The humble apple is the major star of this October festival held within a medieval castle yard in the orchard community of Modra, just a 30-minute drive away from Bratislava. Several different kinds of freshly picked apples, apple seeds, and apple products are ready to be sampled and purchased each fall. The festival also contains children’s games and apple preparation competitions between teams of between two and four people.
Slovakia has a moderate continental climate with warm summers and relatively cold winters. Summers last from June to September with average maximum temperatures mostly between 22 °C and 26 °C in the lower parts of the country. Nights average around a pleasant 15 °C during this time. Winters, from December to March, are usually a little above zero during the day and a few below zero at night, though colder spells of weather when the wind blows from the east are possible. The east and north is colder than the southwest of the country during this time. Absolute highs and lows are close to 40 °C and around -30 °C, even colder though in the higher mountains of the Carphatians and Tatra. Precipitation is quite evenly distributed throughout the year, with spring and summer somewhat wetter though. On average, there are about 10 to 15 days with some rain (or snow).
Milan Rastislav Štefánik Airport (BTS), or simply Bratislava Airport, near the capital Bratislava offers a range of flights. Low-cost airline Ryanair offers by far the most flights with destinations currently being Alicante, Birmingham, Bristol, Brussels South Charleroi Airport, Dublin, Edinburgh, Girona, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Liverpool, London Luton Airport, London Stansted Airport, Malaga, Milan-Orio al Serio, Paris Beauvais-Tillé Airport, Rome Ciampino Airport, Stockholm-Skavsta and seasonal to Alghero, Palma de Mallorca and Trapani. A few other airlines serve destinations like Warsaw, Tel Aviv, Yerevan, Tirana, Prague, Kosice, Catania, Split and Zadar.
Bus number 61 runs from the airport to the central train station and it takes approximately 30 minutes. Some people find it easier to fly into Vienna and then taking the bus from there to Bratislava. This costs €9 and leaves you off at the Central Bus Station (Mlynsky Nivy). The Old Town is a short public bus trip from there.
Another good option is to land at the Vienna International Airport (VIE), also known as Schwechat, and travel to Bratislava from there.
You can cross into Slovakia from the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Austria and Hungary easily and without major waiting times. Even border crossings with Ukraine are better than they used to be. Have your documentation and green card (insurance) ready and you will pass within minutes.
It is possible to enter Slovakia by boat from Austria. The Twin city liner, connects Bratislava and Vienna. The trip takes about 75 minutes. There are three daily departures from April to October with extra Friday and Saturday evening departures from May onwards.
The Railways of the Slovak Republic operates a network of railways in the country.
Most trains depart from Bratislava and there are more expensive daily express train linking cities further east.
Slovakia's road network is in a good condition and from motorways to secondary rural roads are all paved, although some rural ones might be potholed after severe winters. The main route runs from Bratislava to Presov and Kosice, via Kralovany and Poprad. You can rent cars from several international and local companies at major airports and cities and you need a national driver's licence. Bring proof of ownership when importing your own car. When you go to Slovakia in wintertime be prepared that some roads are covered with snow, especially in the mountain regions. It is known that snow is not removed too often from the roads and all the Slovak drivers are equipped with winter tires and quite often in chains. Driving on the snow, except with proper prepared cars, needs concentration and good driving skills.
BBDS is one of the major bus companies in the country, but there are lots more. Most of them have several daily departures to almost all bigger cities and towns in the country as well as more regional and local departures to smaller villages.
Slovak Shipping & Ports operates ships on the Danube. There are also leisurely yachting trips on the river and a few regular passenger ferries.
If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen, you will need to obtain a Schengen Visa. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.
See also Money Matters
Slovakia has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
Citizens of the EU can work freely within Slovakia. However you will need to report to the Foreign Police at Hrobáková 42, if you are going to live in Bratislava (used to be at number 44.). If you want you can also apply for a Slovak ID card, but that is not mandatory for people with a EU passport. You will need to bring a copy of your contract with you, recent pictures (passport size), and fill in 2 forms. (ask you employer if they have copies for you, so you can do that already at home.) You will also be able to receive a Slovak birth number.
Apart from that you will need to open a Slovak Bank Account. (e.g. at VUB Bank, Tatra Bank, CSOB or any of the others). You should also do a short medical exam before signing the contract with your employer, but this can in most cases also be done after signing the contract.
The Slovak language belongs to Slavic languages like Czech, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian. People from Slavic countries can usually understand some part of Slovak language, but not enough to have proper conversations. In general Slovak people will speak English or German as a second or third language.
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Slovakia is typical of Central Europe in that most foods are of a hearty nature, usually meat and a starch (potatoes, rice, etc.), washed down with beer. Typical meals include Goulash or the Slovak national dish Bryndza Halusky, a potato risoto covered in a tangy, salty white cheese and bacon. It is somewhat of an acquired taste, but good on cold days. Vegetarians suffer somewhat in Slovakia, even in Bratislava, as the Slovak concept of "meatless" permits a liberal usage of bacon. However, a growing number of places now offer more varieties for those who go meatless. When in doubt (and one should always be in doubt about whether dishes come with meat in Slovakia), ask "Bez Mesa?" (without meat?).
You should try baked cheese that is very popular and can be ordered almost in every restaurant. Knedle (dumplings) with thick sauce and meat are also popular. The most common non-Slovak food is Italian - the Slovaks are crazy for Italian food. It is usually of the southern red-sauce variety, but can be tasty.
There is a wide rangeof accommodation available in Slovakia. The most luxurious hotels can mostly be found in major cities such as Bratislava and Košice and in the major tourist destinations like the High Tatras or the spa towns. These hotels offer Western style comfort and prices.
There will at least one hotel available in every major town or tourist area, but the quality varies. Some of the mid-range hotels were built during the Communist era in the corresponding architecture style, which might make them look less appealing from the outside, though the interiors might be perfectly adequate.
Budget hostels are mostly concentrated in the major cities, and you can expect typical hostel prices as in the rest of (Central) Europe. If you are venturing outside of cities, there are numerous mountain huts available for short-term rent in the mountain areas. Especially in touristy areas there will be many private rooms available for rent, look out for 'Zimmer Frei' signs. This typically does not include breakfast.
Beer is very popular all around Slovakia and it's very tasty beer. You should, however, take a closer look for hygiene in pubs as it is common that the glasses are not washed after use but only put into water for some seconds. Just take a tissue and clean it up or buy beer in a bottle.
If you want to mix with the locals, you will have to order Kofola instead of a cola. The taste is not quite the same, and not everybody likes it, but you will get some respect for at least giving it a try. On the bright side, if you are on a tied budget it is the drink for you.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Slovakia. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Slovakia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Slovakia is quite a safe country but as in many other European countries there are regions with a higher crime rate. You should be careful in the cities with huge Gypsy societies but many Gypsies living in Slovakia are well associated. When visiting cities, exercise the same caution as you would in any other European city - use common sense, be extra careful after the dark, stay aware of your surroundings, keep your belongings in sight and avoid drunks and groups of young men. Pickpockets sometimes can be found in bigger crowds and at major train/bus stations.
Violent crime is especially uncommon, and Slovakia sees less violent crime per capita than many European countries. However, the biggest fear for a traveler is most probably the roads.
When visiting mountainous areas of Slovakia, especially the High Tatras, let the hotel personnel or other reliable people know where exactly you are going, so that rescuers can be sent out to find you if you don't return. The relative small area and height of the High Tatras is very deceptive - it is steep and difficult terrain with unpredictable weather. Never hike alone and use proper gear.
Wifi and broadband can be found more or less everywhere, and there will be an internet cafe available somewhere even in smaller towns. Also, shopping centres, hostels, pubs, cafes, and some public institutions such as libraries or government buildings offer (free) wifi.
See also International Telephone Calls
The international calling code for Slovakia is +421. In case of an emergency, call the universal number 112. You can also call directly on 150 for fire brigade, 155 in a medical emergency or 158 for the police.
Slovak phones operate on the GSM standard, which covers most of the country, and 3G covers most of the area. The coverage is surprisingly good, and you will often have signal even in mountain areas, unless you are in a deep ravine. There are three main operators - Orange, T-mobile and O2, and they all use 900 or 1800Mhz standard, which might not be compatible with some U.S. phones operating on 1900Mhz.
They all (along with some virtual operators, biggest of which are Funfón and Tesco Mobile) offer a variety of prepaid cards with various "pay as you go" schemes (some market research is advised, if you want the best deal) and incentives. If you have an unlocked phone, these are easy to pick up in any phone shop, or you can purchase a cheap phone with a prepaid card included.
There are still some phone boxes available, but with mobile phones now commonplace, they are declining in number. Also note that you might need to purchase a prepaid card to use some of them.
Slovenská pošta is the national postal service of Slovakia. They have affordable, reliable and relatively fast services. You can choose to send letters/postcards first (express) or second class. Prices start at €0.40 for a second class letter (up to 50 gram) domestically, €0.60 for express services. Within Europe prices start at €0.90 (Czech Republic €0.80), outside Europe prices start at €1.00, all for second class letters/postcards up to 50 grams. Post offices are available in all villages and provide banking services like money transfers as well. The post offices are usually open from Monday to Friday 8:00am to 6:00pm and on Saturday until 1:00pm. The main post offices in larger towns or shopping malls are open daily to 8:00pm. It is possible to buy post stamps for post cards and letters directly in the post offices or in some newspaper stands.
You can use parcels services with Slovenská Posta as well, although you might be better off with companies like UPS, TNT, FedEx or DHL, which offer similar prices, but usually faster and more reliable services.
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Ask timigaraj a question about Slovakia
As my home country I have first hand informations especially from the easter part of Slovakia with the Slovakian Paradise included./Accomodation, things to see and do, travel infos/
Ask daak a question about Slovakia
advice about where- when- how- why- (etc.)- to stay, mainly in slovakia :)
Ask dansnd a question about Slovakia
As an Englishman who has lived in Slovakia for 10 years, I can help with general questions about Slovakia, specifically the High Tatras National Park, and skiing, hiking etc in this region.
Ask Jozin a question about Slovakia
I'm native Slovak and I have travelled through Slovakia quite a lot, often with foreign friends. I can give you hints of what to see "off the beaten track", as LP would say...
Ask nichoco a question about Slovakia
I travel extensively and cheaply and test gear so can help with information on gear.
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