The capital city of Bratislava is uniquely situated bordering two sovereign countries — Hungary and Austria. No other capital in the world has such exquisite placement. Sometimes referred to as the “little big city,” Bratislava wasn’t built to be a capital. It took on this role after the 1993 Velvet Divorce when Slovakia separated from the now neighboring Czech Republic, breaking apart the once-combined country of Czechoslovakia. While the capital is small by European standards, this pedestrian-based city is packed with gems from both the old and new worlds. Stroll through the city by foot and cover it in a day, an easy destination to make your new home. It’s not an exhausting touristy location, but you will find there is plenty to see and do.
Atop the city is the Bratislava Castle overlooking the Danube River, where from one lookout point you can see across to neighboring Hungary. Move a bit west from the city centre and you’ll encounter Devin Castle. Towering over the borough of Devin, it overlooks both the Danube and Morava Rivers. Yes, that’s right — Bratislava has not one, but two rivers crossing through the city. Look out for many peculiar, human-sized sculptures as you make your way around, like the “man at work” coming up from the gutter, the “paparazzi” photographer peering around the corner, and many more! Steps from the city’s edge, you will find loads of hiking trails. Simply cross any one of the several river footbridges to transport yourself into the forest, and discover more adventures awaiting you there...
As night approaches the city, relax at a cafe terrace and slowly inhale a cup of coffee as you admire the well-dressed locals and gaze at the skyline's mix of communist and modern architecture. Referred to as Partyslava by some, there is no shortage of bars for people to easily and safely go bar hopping. Pair up with a local to discover the exciting underground scene; or, for a more chill vibe tour the many microbreweries Bratislava has to offer.
While Slovakia, particularly Bratislava, is rich in wealth, it is still affordable in cost compared to its European counterparts. Bratislavian prices are on the high end for the country, but are relatively low in the macro-scope of Europe. For all EU residents/nationals/travelers, no need to exchange your currency, as Slovakia proudly uses the EURO. Also, EU residents and citizens under 26 who are students and senior citizens over 62 can apply for a free-fare train card as an additional cost saver.
Slovakia is jam-packed with nature. Greenery is forever in sight and always accessible, even from the capital. The country has more caves than anywhere else on earth! So far over 7,100 have been discovered, and there are likely more waiting to be found hidden deep in the dense forests. The landscape is mountainous; ranging in altitudes as high as the Gerlach Peak reaching 8,711 feet [2,655m] in the High Tantras near the Polish border and swooping down to 308.4ft [94m] on the surface of the Bodrog River near the Hungarian border. Boasting lower costs than neighboring Austria, the rugged terrain makes Slovakia a great ski destination, as well as a hikers delight.
Slovakia is a haven for the outdoor type. Imagine hiking through endless trails in the woods and eventually stumbling upon a natural mineral spring for a swimming hole. Yes, another alluring natural wonder on the Slovakian smorgasbord! There are mineral springs galore; over 1300 pepper the Slovak landscape. Let’s recap here — mountains covered by lush forests, which house caves and mineral springs throughout. It’s fair to say Slovakia was likely the setting of many fairy tales.
Have we mentioned the Castles? Slovakia has the highest concentration of castles in the world. The nation is home to over 120 of them. From enchanting fairytale-like fortresses to spectacular towers dominating the horizon line, these visible remains stand witness to earlier times. Some of the more famous castles to visit, aside from the aforementioned Bratislava and Devin Castles in the capital, are: Spiš Castle in the northwestern region of Eastern Slovakia, Bojnice Castle — the castle of spirits near Prievidza, and Orava Castle — one of the largest and most impressive, situated in the Orava region. Some of the well-preserved castles serve as convention centres and are often used for various grand activities, such as symposia, seminars and weddings. Looking for the perfect wedding venue — why not book a Slovakian castle? Ever enthralling, whether standing as eerie ruins or majestic well-kept grandeur palaces, each castle preserves a period of time and a piece of European history.
Tradition and Heritage
Slovaks value their heritage and keep their cultural traditions alive today. Deeply rooted folk traditions are a means to preserve their national identity. In international sporting competitions you may catch sight of a Slovak proudly adorning some folk costumes. There are plenty of annual folk festivals and celebrations to attend, featuring popular folk dances, songs and costumes. Even the fujara, a large shepherd's flute, is often played.
Village of Vlkolínec, UNESCO World Heritage site located in central Slovakia
Most notably is the village of Vlkolínec, located in central Slovakia where a folk architecture reservation dotes the mountainside. Here a large group of intact traditional log houses stand well preserved. Once upon a time these were settlement homes to farmers, shepherds and loggers, and they now offer a glimpse into the storybook past of yesteryear.
Last but not least, we must mention the food. If you’re a comfort food connoisseur, then Slovakia is surely the place for you to live happily, as most Slovakian dishes are creamy, rich in flavor and heavy. Dumplings, pierogis, cabbage soup, goulash, schnitzel, potato pancakes topped off with funnel cake for a sweet…. Delectable! Mutually inspired by their own traditions as well as dishes from neighboring countries, the Slovaks add their own delicious twist to everything.
You’ll find many dishes topped or stuffed (or both) with bryndza, a sheep’s cheese also known as “white gold.” Proudly manufactured in Slovakia in the Liptov region since the 17th century, it’s said to offer substantial health benefits and is a staple item in Slovakia. We recommend pairing your favorite Slovak meal with a local beer or the national spirit, Borovička, a gin-like alcohol flavored from juniper berries.
Wash down some bryndzové halušky with Borovička and learn a folk dance as we work diligently to gather all the need-to-know details about Slovakia. Na zdravie!
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