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Slovakia

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Trenčín with Trenčín Castle
Location
Slovakia in its region.svg
Flag
Flag of Slovakia.svg
Quick Facts
Capital Bratislava
Government Parliamentary republic
Currency Euro (€)
Area 49,035 sq km
Population 5,426,252 (2015 est.)
Language Slovak (official), Hungarian, Ukrainian
Religion Roman Catholic 62%
atheist 13.4%
Protestant 8.9%
Greek Catholic 3.8%
Orthodox 0.9%
Jehovah's Witnesses 0.3%
other 0.5%
unspecified 10.6%
Electricity 230V/50Hz (European plug type E)
Country code +421
Internet TLD .sk
Time Zone UTC +1

Slovakia or the Slovak Republic (Slovak: Slovensko, Slovenská republika; both names are officially recognized), is a landlocked country in Central Europe, bordered by Austria to the west, the Czech Republic to the northwest, Hungary to the south, Poland to the north and Ukraine to the east.

Understand[edit]

History[edit]

The area comprising modern Slovakia has been settled since the early Paleolithic era. The first documented groups living in the region were various Celtic tribes, who included the Boii and Taurisci. The Celts were joined later by the Dacians from the Balkans, who briefly ruled the area before being pushed out by Germanic tribes from the northwest. From the south, the Roman Empire established its northern border on the banks of the Danube by the 1st century. For the next 300 years, Roman legions launched military incursions northwards onto Slovak soil to combat Germanic tribes. The best-known example of the Roman presence is a Latin inscription carved in stone in Trenčín.

The Slavic invasion from the east profoundly changed the ethnic and cultural makeup of Slovakia. Settling in the Danubian lowlands in the 6th-7th centuries, the Slavs created a succession of influential confederations and polities, including Samo's Realm, the Principality of Nitra, and Great Moravia, the first organized Slavic state. Upon invitation of Great Moravia's duke, the Byzantine brothers Cyril and Methodius converted the region's Slavs to Christianity and introduced Old Church Slavonic, the first written Slavic language. Although the Slavs initially converted under the Eastern Byzantine rite, Slovaks predominantly followed Catholicism after the Great Schism in 1054.

Invading, nomadic Hungarians in the 9th century brought an end to Great Moravia and Slavic rule. In the decades to follow, the Hungarians settled in the Pannonian Basin, including the southern portions of the Slovak lands. For the next millennium, Slovakia fell within the Kingdom of Hungary's borders.

The Mongol invasion of 1241-1242 devastated northwestern Slovakia. An estimated one-third of the region's population, many of them internally displaced by the invasion, perished. Afterwards, under the Hungarian kingdom, Slovakia economically developed thanks to its abundance of gold, copper, iron and salt, with Bratislava, Košice and Prešov granted charters. Large numbers of Walloons (from contemporary Belgium), Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Poles and Ruthenians settled in the region during a period of immigration in the 13th-14th centuries. Politically, Slovakia was ruled by a series of semi-independent Hungarian oligarchs and aristocrats who either swore fealty to the king or actively competed with royal authority. The most famous of these oligarchs were Matthew III Csák, ruler of western Slovakia, and Amade Aba, whose domain comprised the east. By the 1500s, Slovakia had transformed into one of the most urbanized and economically advanced portions of Hungary.

The Hungarian defeat at the 1526 Battle of Mohács by the Turks left the kingdom's inheritance to the Austrian Habsburgs. In the onslaught of the Ottoman Empire's invasion, the Habsburgs moved the Hungarian capital to Pressburg (contemporary Bratislava) in 1536, where the Habsburg monarchs assumed the Hungarian throne in St. Martin's Cathedral until 1830. While remaining a kingdom, Hungary became a de facto Habsburg province, although it retained its nobility and legal tradition separate from German-speaking Austria. Meanwhile, southern Slovak lands faced an Ottoman occupation until the 1680s and '90s, as Habsburg-led forces gradually reclaimed most of Hungary. Despite being interchangeably ruled by Hungarians, Austrians and Turks, Slovaks fiercely protected their culture and language.

Bratislava Castle.

The birth pangs of Slovak nationalism began in the 1780s. Due to the efforts of Catholic priest Anton Bernolák, the Slovak language was first standardized. Intellectual Protestants, including Ján Kollár and Pavel Šafárik, championed a Slovakized form of Czech, stressing the common Slavic ancestry of both peoples. Ľudovít Štúr, a Lutheran Slovak (and renaissance man in every sense) advocated for the central Slovak dialect to be the national language, which was agreed upon after long debates between Catholics and Protestants in 1847. In 1848, Hungary revolted against its Austrian Habsburg masters, prompting Slovak patriots to launch their own counter-revolt against the rebellious Hungarians. First fighting alongside Austrian troops, Slovak nationalists eventually demanded full independence from the Habsburg Empire, yet were ignored by Vienna. Brought back to the Habsburg fold, Hungary was eventually granted full sovereignty in its internal affairs in the 1867 Compromise, creating the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Afterwards, the Hungarian government aggressively pursued Magyarization policies within its borders. where Slovak language teaching and institutions were suppressed in favor of Hungarian schooling and culture.

At the turn of the 20th century, Slovak nationalists increasingly joined forces with sympathetic Czechs in calls for autonomy. World War I and its exhaustive toll on the empire only accelerated mutual Czech and Slovak calls for separation. Just weeks before the the war's end, Czechoslovakia declared independence from Austria-Hungary on 28 October 1918, with Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk as its first president. Hungary, reeling from the empire's collapse and a homegrown communist revolution, briefly occupied swaths of Slovakia in a 1919 invasion, yet withdrew after heavy pressure from France and Romania.

The First Czechoslovak Republic, although democratic and largely stable, did not satisfy all Slovaks. Highly centralized from Prague, Slovakia lagged significantly behind the Czechs in industry, infrastructure and education, maintaining a strong agrarian and Catholic character. The Great Depression and its resulting economic slump fueled calls made by leading political-religious leaders Andrej Hlinka and Jozef Tiso for greater sovereignty. In the wake of the 1938 Sudetenland Crisis that saw the First Republic's partial dismemberment by Nazi Germany, Hungary and Poland, Hitler applied considerable pressure on Slovakia to separate and ally itself with Germany. Under its leader Jozef Tiso, the Slovak Republic declared independence from Czechoslovakia on 14 March 1939. A day later, the remaining Czech lands were invaded and made a protectorate of the Third Reich. Slovakia joined Nazi Germany in its invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, sparking World War II.

Under the clerical fascist Tiso regime, Slovakia joined the Axis powers and assisted the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. Mimicking Nazi anti-Semitic laws, the Tiso regime barred Jews from intermarriages and employment, deporting tens of thousands to death camps in occupied Poland. Thousands of other Jews, however, were saved by acts of bravery and kindness from civilians. Secretly encouraged on by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, large portions of the Slovak Armed Forces revolted against Tiso in August 1944, joining underground partisans. Known as the Slovak National Uprising {Slovenské národné povstanie, or SNP), the rebellion sought Tiso's overthrow as the Soviet Red Army approached from the east. Lasting until October, the uprising was crushed by tens of thousands of German troops and Tiso loyalists, yet the SNP left an indelible mark in Slovak history. Soviet and Romanian units would liberate Slovakia by April 1945. Arrested by American forces in Germany, Tiso was handed over to Czechoslovak authorities and later executed for high treason in 1947. A majority of Slovakia's ethnic German population, along with tens of thousands of Hungarians, were expelled in the war's aftermath with the Beneš Decrees, an act of mass revenge that remains highly controversial.

The UNESCO-protected town of Bardejov.

Following the 1948 communist coup d'etat, Czechoslovakia fell into the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc. The communists accelerated industrialization throughout the country. After a period of intense Stalinist purges, the party liberalized in the 1960s. In 1968, under the leadership of Alexander Dubček—a Slovak—the state relaxed its controls on press, speech, travel and federalization in a period known as the Prague Spring (Pražská jar). The reforms proved too much for the Soviet Union, which organized a Warsaw Pact invasion of the country that August. Dubček was forcefully replaced by another Slovak, Gustáv Husák, who ruled Czechoslovakia for the next 20 years during the harshly conservative Normalization (Normalizácia) era.

The dramatic events of 1989, including elections in Poland, peaceful protests in Hungary and the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany, arrived in Czechoslovakia that November. Mass protests in Bratislava, Prague and elsewhere around the country defiantly challenged the government for days, peacefully deposing the communists in the Velvet (or Gentle) Revolution (nežná revolúcia). Now a democratic federation, fissures buried by decades of authoritarianism arose, with Slovak nationalists arguing that Czechs had for too long overshadowed the union. As a result, Czech and Slovak politicians voted in 1992 to part ways with the Velvet Divorce.

On 1 January 1993, the new states of Slovakia and the Czech Republic were born. Historical, political and geographic factors initially caused Slovakia to experience more difficulties in developing stable democratic traditions and a market economy than its neighbors, yet it now boasts a stable economy. Slovakia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, and adopted the euro in January 2009, although this action remains controversial.

Holidays and Festivals[edit]

As a predominantly Catholic society, major Christian holidays are observed in Slovakia, along with other secular days.

  • Slovak Republic Day (Deň vzniku Slovenskej republiky), 1 January: Celebration of the Velvet Divorce and the birth of the Slovak Republic, convieniently also on New Year's Day when most people nurse hangovers. Most businesses are closed and flags will be prominently displayed.
  • Ephiphany (Zjavenie Pána), 6 January: Christian celebration of the Three Kings' arrival in Bethlehem. Shops and banks are closed.
Traditional Slovak Easter eggs.
  • Carnival (Fašiangy), between Epiphany to Ash Wednesday: Traditional Catholic festival period, with village markets, drinks, dances, balls and celebrations. Similar to Fasching in Germany and Mardi Gras in the United States. A traditional period yet not a public holiday.
  • Easter (Veľká noc), a movable feast scheduled to the lunar calendar, usually in March or April and includes Good Friday and Easter Monday. Religious Slovaks will go to mass, sometimes in traditional clothing in some villages. Throughout Slovakia, kraslice are prepared, which are egg shells adorned with ornaments and painted. Traditional food is served, including eggs, special Easter Ham, bread and horseradish. Most businesses will be closed
  • Easter Monday (Veľkonočný pondelok or Oblievačka), the day after Easter: A holiday with pagan roots, where men go door to door splashing women young and old with water for fertility and good health, and in return get copious amounts of alcohol and sweets. Water splashing in common in central and eastern Slovakia, while (slightly) whipping woman with willow sticks on their bottoms is common in the northwest. A public holiday with most businesses closed.
  • May Day (Sviatok práce), 1 May: Celebration of workers and labor rights, once an enormous affair during communism is now marked by barbeques, rest and some small socialist gatherings. Most businesses are closed.
  • Day of Victory over Fascism (Deň víťazstva nad fašizmom), 8 May: Celebration of Nazi Germany's defeat, with most businesses closed.
  • St. Cyril and Methodius Day (Sviatok svätého Cyrila a Metoda), 5 July: Celebration of the Christian missionaries' arrival in Great Moravia. A public holiday with most businesses closed.
  • Slovak National Uprising (Výročie Slovenského národného povstania), 29 August: Commemoration of the mass uprising against the Tiso regime in 1944. Most businesses are closed.
  • Constitution Day (Deň Ústavy Slovenskej republiky), 1 September: Celebration of the 1992 constitution, with most businesses and schools closed.
  • Day of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows (Sviatok Panny Márie Sedembolestnej), 15 September: Catholic day commemorating the Virgin Mary, the state's patron saint. Most businesses are closed, with the faithful attending mass.
  • Vinobranie, normally at the end of September and early October: Local celebrations of the wine harvest, where cities and towns across the republic host air markets of food, crafts and drink on different weekends.
  • All Saints Day (Sviatok všetkých svätých), 1 November: Families visit the graves of their ancestors to light candles. After sunset, cemeteries glow beautifully with candlelight. Visitors should be sure to visit a cemetery to witness this holiday. Many restaurants, malls and stores will either be closed or close earlier than usual.
  • Day of Struggle for Freedom and Democracy (Deň boja za slobodu a demokraciu), 17 November: Joint commemoration of the 1939 student protests against the German occupation and the 1989 overthrow of the communist Czechoslovak state, marked normally by political speeches and marches. Most businesses are closed.
A Christmas market in Prešov.
  • St. Nicolas' Day (Deň Svätého Mikuláša), 6 December: In cities and towns, St. Nicolas (Mikuláš), accompanied by an angel and devil, visit houses of children, determining who's good and bad, and distribute sweets to behaved childred, or coal and onions to bad kids. Strictly a cultural holiday, with businesses open.
  • St. Lucia's Day (Deň Svätej Lucie), 13 December: While St. Lucia is associated as the patron saint of light in most Catholic states, St. Lucia is associated with witchery, love and mischief in Slovakia. A day of many traditions, including taking 13 pieces of paper, leave one blank and write the names of 12 boys or girls; one paper is burned every day until Christmas Eve. What name remains is the name of your future spouse; if blank, you are single forever. Strictly a cultural holiday with businesses open.
  • Christmas (Vianoce), 24-26 December: Lasting for three days, Christmas celebrations include a traditional dinner of wafers eaten with garlic and honey, followed by a soup (either of mushrooms or cabbage), and a main course of fried carp and potato salad. A time of family celebrations, with most businesses entirely closed.
  • New Year's Eve (Silvestrovské oslavy), 31 December: A day and night of partying and champagne, with many cities having displays. Not a public holiday, but some businesses may close early.

Ethnic groups[edit]

Although ethnic Slovaks make up a majority of the country's population, Slovakia retains a significant Hungarian-speaking minority, comprising nearly 9.4% of the total population. Hungarians make up a majority of the population in Slovakia's deep south, close to the Hungarian border and in the Danubian lowlands.

In the eastern part of the country, there are strong numbers of Romani (Gypsies), as well as Rusyns and Ukrainians. Small, scattered Czech, Polish and German minorities also live throughout the republic.

Regions[edit]

Slovakia is divided into nine political regions (kraje), which can be grouped into three regions for tourism purposes.

Map of Slovakia with regions colour-coded
Western Slovakia (Bratislava, Nitra, Trnava, Trenčín, Topoľčany, Púchov)
Slovakia's urban core, home to the capital and largest city, the Danube, river valleys, forests and hills.
Central Slovakia (Banská Bystrica. Žilina, Tvrdošín, Rajecké Teplice)
A mountainous region of small towns, medieval mines and many national parks.
Eastern Slovakia (Košice, Poprad, Prešov, Bardejov)
Capped with the Tatras, another mountainous and more region with forests, agricultural pastures and home to Slovakia's second city.

Cities[edit]

  • Bratislava—the republic's capital and largest city, with a beautifully restored historical centre full of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance churches, palaces, cobblestone streets, charming hillside neighborhoods, fountains, riverside parks, and pleasant cafes, all looked down on from the city's impressive castle.
  • Banská Bystrica—once one of the most important mining towns in the Hungarian portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and an important centre for Slovak culture, with a beautiful restored square, ancient churches, castles, museums and a memorial to the Slovak National Uprising.
  • Banská Štiavnica—a picturesque medieval mining town.
  • Košice—Slovakia's second largest city and the metropolis of the east, home to the easternmost Gothic cathedral in Europe, the oldest European coat of arms, a historical city centre, many palaces and museums.
  • Nitra—the oldest city in Slovakia, home to a pleasant city core, spectacular surrounding nature and an impressive castle.
  • Prešov—the best example of Renaissance architecture in Slovakia, numerous churches, the Solivary salt mine and museum.
  • Trenčín—one of the most charming towns in the country, with a highly-picturesque castle above the city overlooking its historical centre, the river Váh and the surrounding region.
  • Trnava—an ancient twn with the high number of churches and well-preserved Baroque architecture.
  • Žilina—the fourth largest city with a well-preserved historical city centre influenced by German architecture and a unique museum dedicated the tinkering culture in Budatín castle.

Other destinations[edit]

The High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry).
  • Bardejov—a spa town in the northeast that exhibits numerous cultural monuments and a completely intact medieval town centre. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Bojnice—Slovakia's most-visited castle, with beautifully preserved interiors.
  • High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry)—the country's largest national park and a major centre for winter sports and hiking.
  • Levoča—a magnificent medieval pearl in the Spiš region surrounded by town walls, with a unique Renaissance town hall, burger´s houses, numerous churches and St. James Cathedral, home to the biggest Gothic wooden altar of the world.
  • Piešťany—the country's most famous spa town.
  • Rajecké Teplice—a peaceful spa town surrounded by the magnificent Malá Fatra National Park.
  • Slovak Karst—a national park famous for an extensive network of natural caves and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Slovak Paradise National Park (Slovenský Raj)—a protected area of deep ravines and canyons carved by cascading waterfalls in limestone.
  • Spiš Castle—one of the largest castles in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Spišská Nová Ves—a charming medieval town in Eastern Slovakia.
  • Vlkolínec—a small, traditional Carpathian village in north-central Slovakia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Wooden Churches of the Slovak Carpathians—a collection of 16th-18th century UNESCO-protected Catholic, Greek Catholic and Protestant wooden churches, most located in the north of the country in Tvrdošín, Kežmarok, Hervartov, Leštiny, Bodružal, Hronsek, Ruská Bystrá and Ladomirová.

Get in[edit]

Travel document requirements[edit]

Visa policy

  • As a Schengen state, in general, non-EEA citizens who qualify for a visa exemption can only stay for a maximum of 90 days in a 180 day period within the Schengen zone (including Slovakia) as a whole.
  • Non-EU/EFTA citizens of states who can visit Slovakia and the Schengen area as a whole for 90 days in a 180 day period with only a passport include: Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominica, East Timor, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong SAR, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macao SAR, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Taiwan, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City and Venezuela.
  • Individuals from any other state not mentioned above require a visa before entering Slovak borders.
  • Recognised refugees in possession of a valid travel document issued by the government of any one of the above countries are exempt from obtaining a visa for Slovakia (but no other Schengen country, except Germany and Hungary) for a maximum stay of 90 days in a 180 day period.
  • More information about these rules, regulations and applications are available with the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.

For all EU and EFTA nationals, a passport and national identity card only needs to be valid for the period of their stay in Slovakia. For all other nationals, passports or valid travel documents must be valid for a period of at least 90 days beyond the expected length of stay in Slovakia or the Schengen Area.

If an EU, EEA, or Swiss national intends to stay in Slovakia longer than three months, they are obliged to submit a notice of stay to the foreign police within 10 working days after their arrival. After this, an individual can stay in Slovakia without any further obligations for 90 days from their entry. After this period of 90 days is over, the EU/EEA/Swiss national is obliged to apply for a registration of residence with the Ministry of Interior.

By plane[edit]

Most visitors arriving by plane will arrive at Bratislava's M. R. Štefánik Airport (BTS), a small but relatively efficient airport located just to the city's east, with buses normally arriving every 10 to 20 minutes. Štefánik Airport is a major hub for Ryanair, and also hosts services by ČSA Czech Airlines, flydubai, Pobeda, Air Cairo, WizzAir and a slew of seasonal charters that includes SmartWings.

Košice (KSC) is another important gateway to the country, with flights run by Austrian Airlines, ČSA Czech Airlines, LOT, Turkish Airlines and Wizz Air.

Other ports of entry are Poprad-Tatry (TAT) and Sliač (SLD), although these airports are largely reserved for charter flights.

Due to its close proximity to Bratislava and the western half of the country, Vienna (VIE) is also commonly used for travelers bound to Slovakia. Kraków (KRK) is also suitable to use for visitors hoping to explore the Tatras in central Slovakia.

By train[edit]

There are several international train routes running through Slovakia. In general, there are frequent direct rail connections (without train changes) with Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Ukraine.

By car[edit]

Thanks to its Central European location, Slovakia has good road access with all of its neighbors. As a member of the Schengen Zone, border controls have been eased with all neighboring states except Ukraine, which remains an EU border. Occasionally, there are impromptu border checks when crossing over from the Czech Republic or Austria. Visitors arriving by car from Ukraine should expect long delays.

By bus[edit]

A popular alternative to car and rail travel to Slovakia is using the bus. A number of prominent international carriers offer service to Slovakia. Among the best-known and reliable international coach companies providing service to the country include:

From the Czech Republic[edit]

Czech RegioJet trains at Bratislava's hlavná stanica, an important rail gateway into Slovakia.

As the former half of old Czechoslovakia, trains between the Czech Republic and Slovakia are frequent and largely reliable. EC trains operated by Czech carrier České dráhy (ČD) run every two hours from Prague and Brno to Bratislava continuing eastward towards Košice. There is also a direct overnight train to Žilina, Banská Bystrica and Zvolen. Olomouc, Pardubice and Ostrava also share direct or indirect rail connections with various Slovak cities.

A regular one-way ticket from Prague to Bratislava costs 400CZK and 400-700CZK to Košice if purchased several days in advance. České dráhy also offers discounted First Minute Europe tickets, with up to 20% discounts to Slovak destinations. ČD additionally offers Group Weekend tickets, where groups can travel to the closest Slovak border station at a discount, as well as the Local Border Traffic ticket for travelers going between communities within 40-60 km of the Czech-Slovak border, for prices as low as 23 to 80CZK.

Private Czech rail operators LEO Express and RegioJet provide services from Prague, Pardubice, Olomouc and Ostrava to Žilina, Prešov, and Košice, with RegioJet additionally offering a line between Prague, Brno and Bratislava. Online tickets for these carriers can start at 200 to 300CZK if booked in advanced.

Additionally, both countries are linked together by a number of roads; the most important being Czech and Slovak motorway D2 linking Brno to Bratislava. Drivers entering Slovakia from the Czech Republic using the D2 motorway from Prague can make a toll payment at the nearest rest area after the border. The short stretch between the border itself and the nearest rest area is toll-free.

From Austria[edit]

A ferry crossing the Morava between Angern an der March and Záhorská Ves.

As Vienna and Bratislava are the closest capitals in Europe at only 55 km (34 mi), there are frequent cross-border connections between the two states, with rail service provided by Austrian state company ÖBB. Its Vienna-Bratislava connections cost normally around €16 one-way, with a travel time of an hour.

Similarly, Slovak Lines and RegioJet offer fast bus journeys between both capitals starting at €3, with Slovak Lines providing additional routes from several other Austrian towns and cities.

A less conventional connection between the two countries is by using the Danube River. Fast, hydrofoil express boats operated by Lod and Twin City Liner connect Vienna with Bratislava, with a travel time of normally an hour and fifty minutes. Regular prices begin normally around €20 in each direction.

Austrian autobahn A6 (E58) connects with Slovak motorway D4 outside of Bratislava, which intersects nearby with the D2 (E65) motorway.

Several Austrian communities are also just short distance by foot from their Slovak counterparts, with the best-known being Angern an der March only a brief ferry ride away from Záhorská Ves, and Schlosshof separated by a scenic bicycle bridge from Devínska Nová Ves.

From Hungary[edit]

Cycling across the Hungarian-Slovak border in the Danube town of Komárno.

With a 677 km (421 mi) long border, Hungary shares many links with its northern neighbor. Hungarian state rail provider Magyar Államvasutak (MÁV) runs frequent bi-hourly service from Budapest's Keleti station to Bratislava, with a travel time of normally two and a half hours, costing normally 5,000HUF. There are also train links from the city of Miskolc to Lučenec and Košice.

It is currently not possible to print a MÁV international ticket online, meaning that travelers will need to visit a train station or ticket office to pick it up.

Hungary is also well connected to Slovakia by roads. The M15 motorway (E65/E75) connects to the Slovak D2 motorway south of Bratislava and northwest of the city of Mosonmagyaróvár; M15 intersects with the M1 motorway (E60), providing a direct link from Budapest and Győr. From Budapest, M2 (E77) transitions to highway 2 and connects to Slovak highway 66 at the border, providing a clear (and very scenic) route to Zvolen and Banská Bystrica. From Miskolc, highway 3 (E71) connects to Slovak expressway R4, connecting to Košice and Prešov.

Many Hungarian and Slovak towns can be crossed by foot. Some examples include the town of Komárom separated by a river bridge from its Slovak twin Komárno, the ancient capital Esztergom also by bridge from the Slovak town of Štúrovo, the hillside town of Somoskőújfalu separated by a 50-minute scenic walk from Šiatorská Bukovinka, and the eastern town of Sátoraljaújhely a short walk from its Slovak suburb Slovenské Nové Mesto. In each case, both sides of the border have rail and bus links to the rest of their respective nations.

From Poland[edit]

Due to the Tatra Mountains on the Polish-Slovak border, rail connections are not as developed between the two nations. However, Polish state carrier PKP Intercity provides a nightly train from Kraków to Bratislava. Other southwestern Polish rail connections are often routed through the Czech city of Břeclav, continuing on towards Slovakia. Additionally, Silesian rail carrier Koleje Śląskie provides rail service between the Polish ski resort of Zwardoń to Žilina, with a journey time of 90 minutes. At the present time, there are no rail connections between eastern Poland and Slovakia.

By car, the Polish S1 expressway links Bielsko-Biała with Slovak highway 12 towards Čadca, national road DK7 (E77) from Kraków, Rabka-Zdrój and Nowy Targ connects to Slovak highway 59 with Dolný Kubín and Ružomberok, and DK19 (E371) from Rzeszow to highway 21 towards Svidník and Prešov.

Several Polish towns are in walkable distance from their Slovak counterparts. These include the river valley communities of Piwniczna-Zdrój from Mníšek nad Popradom, and the Polish ski resort of Zwardoń from its Slovak twin Skalité.

From Ukraine[edit]

Ukrainian state carrier Ukrzaliznytsia (UZ) offers connections from Uzhhorod (Ужгород) via Chop {Чоп} and Čierna n.Tisou to locations in Slovakia. However, trains are notoriously slow due to the railway gauge and electrical change at the border, as well as from the scrutiny of border guards, as the Slovak-Ukrainian border is not only a Schengen border but also the border for the European Union. It is highly recommended that travelers use a bus service instead, as it's generally faster and more reliable.

International tickets for UZ cannot be purchased online and must be bought at a railway station or UZ ticket office.

By car, Slovakia is accessed by Ukrainian highway P15 outside of Malyi Bereznyi (Малий Березний) and Ubľa. and from H13 (E50), connecting Uzhhorod (Ужгород) to Vyšné Nemecké. The former is for cars (not trucks), pedestrians and cyclists, and the latter is for motorized traffic only (including heavy trucks). Always expect long waiting times at the Uzhhorod-Vyšné Nemecké border crossing. Both crossings are open round the clock.

The only sole pedestrian/cyclist crossing from Ukraine into Slovakia is between the villages of Mali Selmentsi (Малі Селменці) and Veľké Slemence, open from 8:00 to 20:00.

It is essential that all travelers crossing the Slovak-Ukrainian border have their passports or visa papers ready.

Get around[edit]

By plane[edit]

ČSA Czech Airlines operates domestic flights between Bratislava and Košice. However, given the price of the flight and its short length, it is seldom used by locals, although it is the most comfortable and fastest way to cross the country.

By train[edit]

A ZSSK train passing through the High Tatras.

Train travel is quite common in Slovakia and is largely reliable and affordable albeit prone to delays. State carrier Železničná spoločnosť Slovensko (ZSSK) operates a bulk of the country's rail traffic, with major hubs in Bratislava, Žilina, Banská Bystrica, Poprad and Košice. Due to ZSSK's wide reach throughout the country, it is one of the best options to travel around Slovakia, provided visitors don't have a private vehicle. The quality of ZSSK's fleet does, however, vary. Some trains are quite modern, while others clearly show their age. ZSSK's trains are coloured red and white.

Trains for free
Since 2014, students and pensioners can travel for free on all ZSSK trains in Slovakia (2nd class only). Due to EU policies of non-discrimination, this also applies to citizens of all other EU nations. There are several limitations:

  • Free travel only applies to all train services funded by the state except for IC, RegioJet and LEO Express trains. Free travel for EC and SC trains are also possible, yet a special surcharge (€1 for EC, €5 for SC) is required.
  • Eligible travelers must register themselves to obtain an ID for free. This can be done at most railway stations and is free of charge (bring your own photograph sized 2x3 cm). Students enrolled in Slovak universities can use their university ID instead.
  • Children under 6 years of age and people above 62 can travel for free as well, regardless of their nationality (i.e. also non-EU citizens). Those above 62 years of age still have to register themselves (and obtain an ID) first, though.
  • Before boarding a train, an eligible traveler has to buy a ticket (costing €0). There's a limited number of free tickets available for each train (to reduce overcrowding). If the quota has already been reached, you can still buy a ticket with a 50% discount.
  • When travelling by train from abroad, free travel only applies after the first train stop in Slovakia, not from the actual border crossing point. Likewise, when exiting Slovakia by train, you'll have to buy another ticket from the last station in Slovakia onward.

Since 2011, ZSSK no longer retains a monopoly on rail travel and is open to competition. Czech private carrier RegioJet offers services in the north of the country, connecting Žilina, Ružomberok, Poprad and Košice together, with service continuing into the Czech Republic. In comparison to ZSSK, RegioJet's fleet is largely modern and its trains are distinctively coloured yellow.

Another private Czech carrier, LEO Express, also operates between Košice and Žilina, with service continuing into the Czech Republic. Like RegioJet, LEO Express' trains are modern and its are coloured black and gold.

Passengers should remember that there is no universal train ticket in Slovakia, as ZSSK, RegioJet and LEO Express are separate entities, with different offices and tickets to purchase from. Visitors can only use a specific ticket with the company it was purchased from.

Train categories[edit]

The following categories are used to differentiate trains:

  • Osobný vlak (Os) – slow-moving trains usually stopping at every stop; a mix of modern and old vehicles.
  • Regionálny expres (REX) – domestic and international trains connecting region to region.
  • Regionálny rýchlik (RR) – fast domestic trains with shorter routes.
  • Rýchlik (R) – regular domestic and international day and night trains.
  • Express (Ex) – high category international and domestic trains.
  • EuroNight (EN) – international night trains; traveling abroad requires an reservation, while domestically does not.
  • EuroCity (EC) – international high category trains, requiring a €1 surcharge if visitors use this to travel domestically.
  • InterCity (IC) – high-speed domestic trains operating from Bratislava to Košice with minimal stops and obligatory seat reservations. Not funded by government subsidies.
  • RegioJet (RJ) – domestic and international trains exclusively operated by RegioJet.
  • LEO Express (LE) – domestic and international trains operated by LEO Express.
  • SuperCity (SC) – high-speed Pendolino train operated by České dráhy (ČD).

Tatra Electric Railway (TEŽ)
Two types of tickets can be used on the Tatra Electric Railway: (1.) ordinary Slovak train tickets, featuring a "From:" and "To:" stations and valid only on a given date. These tickets can be bought at every railway station. (2.) Zonal tickets (looking like public transport tickets) can be used on any day and for any single journey (of a specified length). These tickets can only be bought at stations and newspaper stalls around the High Tatras. There is no difference in price, the only difference is flexibility. Both types of tickets have to be validated with a stamping machine inside a TEŽ train immediately after boarding.

TEŽ trains have no conductors and no ticket selling machines, but since October 2013, train drivers sell day tickets (€4) as a last resort for passengers who cannot obtain a ticket otherwise. Single tickets cannot be bought from train drivers, only outside the train. Passengers are occasionally checked by plain-clothed ticket inspectors; a fine for riding without a valid ticket is €30. More information and fare system here.

SMS tickets can also be used on the TEŽ network. To take advantage of this, however, a Slovak mobile number is required. It is therefore out of question for short-term visitors.


Tickets[edit]

Compared to Western Europe, Slovak train prices are relatively inexpensive and competitive. All three major train carriers sell domestic and international tickets online, as well as in most train stations, accepting card payments. Smaller stations (served only by local commuter trains) will only sell domestic tickets and sometimes will not accept card payment. Visitors should buy a ticket before boarding a train. If you don't, you can buy a ticket from a train conductor, with normally a €1.50 surcharge. If there's no ticket office at a station or if it's closed, visitors must purchase a ticket from the conductor, yet with no surcharge. Conductors do not sell international tickets. The only exception are tickets called small cross-border interchange (Malý pohraničný styk) which are valid in regional trains only and only around 40 km from the border.

With the exception of train stations in major cities, most ZSSK employees cannot speak English. In order to bypass a potential language barrier, visitors should write down the name of their destination, the number of travelers, the class they want and the time of their desired departure, which will all be universally understood by the employee. In contrast, most RegioJet and LEO Express employees are fluent or understand English.

ZSSK offers an array of discounts for travelers. Frequent rail users can look into a KLASIK RAILPLUS pass, where for €35 a year, people between the ages of 26 to 60 can obtain a 25% discount off all first and second class travel. Visitors traveling on Os and REX category trains for destinations within 60 km can obtain a REGIONAL discount, with 15% off the regular total fare. For six or more people traveling together a GROUP discount offers 25% off first and second class travel. People celebrating their birthdays can have their second class tickets upgraded to first class for that particular day, although they must present a valid ID for proof.

RegioJet offers registration for discounted travel, although it does not have a rewards programme. Users of LEO Express can join its Smile Club to collect kilometers as points for future travel discounts. Currently, ZSSK does not have a rewards programme, although it does offer a Credit Account for money deposits, enabling discounted travel.

If you're caught without a ticket in an international train leaving Slovakia, the Slovak conductor will ask you to buy a ticket to the border crossing point.

For a full listing of all train timetables and connections regardless of company, along with a fare calculator, CP is an exceptionally useful website to plan rail travel.

Taking bicycles[edit]

A single bicycle ticket costs €1.50 (regardless of the distance) and a day ticket costs €2.50 on ZSSK trains. Almost all trains in Slovakia transport bicycles without hassle, except for IC and EC trains, in which a bike either requires a prior reservation (€2.50) or prohibits bikes entirely. Day tickets for bikes are not valid on IC or EC trains. Unfortunately, low-floor trains are a rare occurrence in Slovakia (and so far only on REG lines), so be prepared to hoist your bike high up to put it inside the train. Moreover, many railway employees still view cyclists as a nuisance and can be quite unwelcoming.

Unfortunately, bicycles are prohibited on RegioJet and LEO Express trains.

By bus[edit]

Slovakia has a highly complex and integrated bus network, and for some routes is faster (and sometimes more punctual) than using rail. Bus stations are usually named AS (autobusová stanica) on maps and timetables. Slovak Lines is perhaps the best-known carrier, offering routes between a number of cities and smaller communities across the country, as well as serving the Bratislava regional network (BiD) in a 35 km radius. Tickets can be either purchased online or from the driver. Czech carrier RegioJet is another competitor and offers services between a number of Slovak communities. Tickets can be purchased from a RegioJet conductor, although going online to purchase a seat is the best option. A slew of smaller bus companies operate throughout the country, whose schedules can be researched via CP and AMS Bus, where tickets can be purchased online.

When traveling with one of these smaller companies, passengers usually purchase the ticket from the driver. To do this, simply walk up to the driver and tell him or her the destination. The driver will print out a receipt, which will be your ticket. The receipt will show the price you need to pay. Largely, you can pay drivers by cash, although an increasing number of buses also allow you to purchase by a contactless credit card. Most drivers don't speak English, meaning that if visitors can't pronounce their destination's name, simply write it down and show it.

By car[edit]

A motorway-level road.
An expressway-level road.
A first-class road.

As of 2017, there are nearly 718 km (446 mi) of motorways and expressways throughout the country. Successive Slovak governments have embarked on ambitious plans to connect the country and today most cities have high-speed road access, yet there are still considerable gaps in the network. Due to this, expect to drive on many smaller roads with lower speeds. Most major roads (especially in Western Slovakia) are in good repair, however maintenance standards vary from good to rather bumpy for lower-tier roads, especially in the east.

Motorways (diaľnice) are demarcated by red and white signs, with a D and a number. Motorways are 130 km/h (81 mph) in the countryside and 90 km/h (56 mph) in urban areas. Below motorways are expressways (rýchlostné cesty), also marked with red and white signs with a R and a number, and look nearly identical to motorways. R-class roads also have speed limits of 130 km/h (81 mph) in the countryside and 90 km/h (56 mph) in urban areas. The third level of routes are first-class roads, marked with blue and white signs with a one or two-digit number. First-class roads make up the bulk of Slovakia's road network. Speed limits are 90 km/h (56 mph) in the countryside and 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas. Finally there are second-class roads, also blue and white with a three-digit number. These are generally rural routes. Be aware that many second-class roads in the countryside can be one lane.

The D1 Motorway.

In order to use Slovak motorways and expressways, visitors must purchase a vignette. Vignettes can be purchased electronically online or at service stations near the border. Vignettes cost €10 for 10 days, €14 for 30 days. or €50 for one year. A failure of not paying for a vignette can result in a steep fine of €500. Trucks and vehicles heavier than 3.5 tonnes must pay a toll using an electronic on-board device, which applies to some first-class roads along the motorways! Truck and large vehicle drivers should check Myto for more information.

Slovakia is a zero tolerance country towards alcohol, with no alcohol before driving whatsoever. Penalties are severe. Wearing seat belts in cars and vans is compulsory and children aged 11 or younger or lower than 150cm must be placed on the rear seat or on the passenger seat in a proper child seat (of course with the airbag disabled, in case the child seat is rear-facing). Headlights must also be switched on when driving at all times, regardless of weather conditions or whether it is a night or day, so switch them on. This is not necessary if your car is equipped with daytime running lamps. In winter, snow and ice are common on roads, and winter tires are recommended (and compulsory if the road is covered by snow or ice). In extreme weather. some minor mountain roads might require snow chains.

Wearing helmets is compulsory for both drivers and passengers on motorcycles of any size. Goggles must also be worn by the driver of motorcycles with engines larger than 50cc.

Fines for traffic offences are now much higher than in the neighbouring Austria, especially for speeding. Sadly enough, Western car registration plates attract more attention from police officers, so it's another good reason to abide the law. Police presence is frequent on roadways, especially on major routes, in both marked and unmarked vehicles.

As a precaution, avoid driving through the mountain passes of central and northern Slovakia during strong winter conditions.

Driving styles in Slovakia are, especially compared to Western Europe or North America, more aggressive and of lower standard. One should be aware of other cars frequently speeding past and overtaking on your side of the road, especially in the more mountainous areas of the country.

Renting a car is a convenient, efficient and relatively cheap (prices starts a approx. 65€/day at car rental chains) way to explore Slovakia, especially if you intend to visit more remote areas, where train and bus services are sporadic.

By bicycle[edit]

Travelling by bicycle is an excellent way to see and enjoy most of this beautiful country. There are caveats, though. Stick to second-class roads with low traffic, as drivers on larger roads may show little sympathy to cyclists. You can plan your journey using maps from Cykloserver.cz, which show both official (dark violet) and recommended (light violet) trails. Second, road bikes and their riders might suffer on minor Slovak roads of inferior quality. A touring bike is a better alternative. Wearing a safety helmet is required for cyclists of all ages riding on public roads outside of urban areas and for children under 15 also within urban areas.

Mountain bikers will especially love the county's network of legal MTB trails in the Malé Karpaty, Veľká Fatra and Štiavnické vrchy ranges. Less adventurous cyclists can also enjoy paved roads of varying quality (off-limits to cars) in the Malé Karpaty, Levočské vrchy and Nízke Tatry (the latter range also features some strenuous climbs), or cycle along the banks the levees of the Danube, Morava and Váh rivers. Sadly, Slovak Paradise National Park restricts almost all cycling activities on its territory. Road cycling is popular, too, yet visitors should bear in mind that many secondary roads are in bad shape. Do not look for the same level of comfort as provided by roads in the Alpine countries.

By hitchhiking[edit]

Hitchhiking (stopovanie or autostop) is best done by asking around at gas stations and is largely safe. However, hitchhiking is strictly prohibited on motorways and expressways. Keep in mind that trains and buses in Slovakia are cheap for Westerners and (apart from extremely rural areas where people are generally less wary of hitchhikers) it might take a while for someone to pick you up. Therefore, hitchhiking can only be recommended if it's your hobby, not primarily as a means to save money. You can find some offers if you travel from Slovakia and into Slovakia as well on specialized web pages. A useful resource is Autostop.sk.

On foot[edit]

Hiking signpost in the High Tatras.

Slovakia is a hiker's paradise. With the exception of the relatively flat southern lowlands, much of Slovakia is covered with hundreds of kilometers of extremely well-marked scenic hiking trails, especially through its national parks, providing breathtaking landscapes. Slovaks have always lived in a close relationship with nature. During the communist period when travelling abroad was severely restricted, hiking became a national pastime. Most Slovaks visitors meet will have gone on a hike at least once in their life and many do so regularly. Many can give you great advice about the most interesting local trails. The Slovak trail network is also very well maintained. The quality and efficiency of the country's sign-posting system is unique in Europe (and perhaps the world).

Trails are numerous, suitable for various levels of fitness and many lead through beautiful scenery. Every route is marked and signposted, with different trails given a colour. Four colours are used: red, blue, green and yellow. The longest and most strenuous trails are usually marked red. On one red-marked path, the Slovak National Uprising Heroes Trail, it is possible to traverse from the northeastern Dukla Pass on the Polish-Slovak border all the way 750 km west to Bradlo (near Bratislava). In towns, you will usually see a signpost, with arrows pointing in different directions, marking the colour of the path and the average walking times to the nearest destinations. All visitors need to do is to follow the colour; there will be a mark every hundred metres or so, consisting of a 10x10 cm square three-section mark where the edges are white and the chosen path's colour is in the middle.

It is also possible (and highly recommended) to purchase hiking maps of smaller Slovak regions. These are based on former military maps, have a very good resolution (1:50000 or 1:25000) and can be purchased from most kiosks, information centres and bookstores for bargain prices between €1.50-2.50. These are published by the Slovak Tourist Club (KST), which maintains all the trails and show all marked trails in the area, including their average walking times, making route planning very easy and efficient. If visitors want to plan your hike before, use the excellent online maps at Hiking.sk or Cykloserver.cz. The latter link features bicycle trails and also covers the neighboring Czech Republic.

In mountainous areas, you should also buy insurance for some peace of mind. Emergency rescue services are not covered by normal travel insurance. Costing about €0.50 a day, hiking insurance can be bought in hotels or online via the Mountain Rescue Service.

Talk[edit]

Banská Bystrica's SNP Square.

The official and most widely-spoken language is Slovak, a Slavic language spoken by over 5 million people. Slovaks are very proud of their language and thus even in Bratislava visitors may not find many signs written in English outside of the main tourist areas. Most people born after the 1980s speak at least some English and in some cases German (particularly close to the Austrian border). Czech, a strongly-related language, is largely intelligible to most Slovaks. Despite their similar appearance, vocabulary and grammar, Czech and Slovak are not dialects of each other.

Slovak is written using the same Roman characters English uses (with some added accents or diacritics), so Western travelers won't have any trouble reading signs and maps. While some words are tongue twisters due to the concentration of consonants, a basic knowledge of the alphabet including the letters with diacritics will go a long way, as Slovak is very phonetic. Standard Slovak is spoken with the stress always on the first syllable (but it may be on the penultimate syllable in some dialects in the east).

As the country was under the rule of Hungary for ten centuries, there is a significant Hungarian-speaking minority, with most living in the south close to the Danube. Many Hungarians are bilingual, while some speak little to no Slovak. As it is not a related Slavic language, a vast majority of ethnic Slovaks have little to no understanding of Hungarian.

While visitors can make do with English and German in Bratislava, in smaller towns and villages your only chance is trying to approach younger people that speak some English. Older residents may know some German. People born between 1935 and 1980 will have learned Russian in school, although few Slovaks appreciate being spoken to in Russian due to lingering negative connotations from the communist era. Due to the significant tourism growth in the north and east, English is becoming more widely used. When traveling in Slovakia's north in the Tatras, Polish is quite useful and somewhat understood by Slovaks. In the east, Rusyn, a Ukrainian dialect close to Polish, is spoken. It is also intelligible with Russian to some extent. Other Slavic languages, especially Serbian, Croatian and Slovene are also partially understood throughout the country. Attempts to speak Slovak will be warmly appreciated by the locals.

If you speak the international language Esperanto, you can take advantage of the network of Esperanto delegates scattered across Slovakia.

For those interested in learning Slovak, there are language schools in Bratislava and Košice.

Buy[edit][add listing]

Euro banknotes.

Slovakia has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.

One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.

Until 2009, the official currency was the slovenská koruna ("crown", SKK) which can still be found and accepted by the central bank until 2017 at a rate of 30.126SKK to €1.

Automatic teller machines (ATM, bankomat) are widely available in Slovakia except in small villages. Obtaining money there should not present a problem, as most small villages have a postal office where visitors can withdraw money (cashback) for a fee of €7. Credit and debit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, Visa Electron, Cirrus and Maestro are widely accepted both in shops and restaurants across the country.

See[edit][add listing]

A country of fascinating old cities, quaint villages and rugged beauty, Slovakia is an accessible land that benefits from being in the heart of Central Europe. Thanks to the fall of communism, as well as to good transit links with Austria and the Czech Republic, there has never been a better time to visit this country than now. Many visitors tend to stay in Bratislava due to its close proximity to Vienna and its position between Budapest and Prague, entirely missing out on the highly scenic central and eastern regions of the country. Adventurous tourists should surely break out of the capital and head east towards the Tatras, encountering an array of cities, castles and national parks along the way.

Cities[edit]

Old Košice.

The country's capital and largest city, Bratislava, is a mixture of the Baroque, Socialist and modern, home to a thoroughly charming Old Town and overlooked by both its imposing Bratislava Castle and the Most SNP, an iconic bridge capped by a UFO-like object. The jagged ruin of Devín Castle is also a prominent point in the capital. For history lovers, St. Martin's Cathedral draws in visitors thanks to its history steeped in Habsburg coronations. In recent years, Bratislava has become a popular destination for British and German tourists (especially for stag nights) for its nightlife and affordable prices.

To the east, Nitra is one of the oldest cities in the country, with a history stretching back to ancient Slavic times, capped by its ancient Nitra Castle. The charming town of Trenčín, close to the Czech border, has a history stretching back to Roman times and is also capped by its highly photogenic and imposing Gothic Castle. Trenčín is also home to the Pohoda Festival, one of the country's largest international music festivals. To the north, the medieval city of Žilina is a gateway to the exquisite Upper Váh region and is home to its charming Mariánske námestie. Close to the country's geographic center, the medieval mining city of Banská Bystrica, nestled in the Tatra foothills, is another fascinating city with an old historical centre. Going to the northeast of the country in the Šariš Region, visitors should not miss the historical town of Bardejov, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a highly photogenic medieval core. To the south, Prešov presents a compact, cobblestone Old Town. South of Prešov, Košice invites visitors in with its ancient, narrow streets and its imposing Gothic St. Elisabeth Cathedral, the country's largest house of worship.

Natural attractions[edit]

A dramatic vista in Malá Fatra National Park.

Slovakia is simply a treasure trove of natural sites. Much of the central and northern parts of the country are rugged and mountainous due to the Carpathian Mountains, of which the Tatra, Fatra and Beskid ranges are a part of. In the south, the Danubian Lowland is a flat, fertile and green region bordering the Danube River.

Slovakia is home to nine national parks and various natural preserves that protect the country's mountainous regions. The crown jewel of the national park system is High Tatras National Park, a rugged park of high peaks, deep valleys, lakes and forests straddling the Slovak-Polish border. The park is home to Gerlach Peak (Gerlachovský štít) at 2,655 m (8,711 ft), the tallest mountain in the country and Central Europe. To the south, Low Tatras National Park, Malá Fatra National Park, Slovak Paradise and Muránska planina National Park dominate much of Central Slovakia.

Several national parks also share cross-border cousins. Pieniny National Park connects to its Polish counterpart, Pieniński National Park, with both parks sharing the breathtaking Dunajec River Gorge. To the very east, Poloniny National Park connects with Uzhansky National Park in Ukraine and Bieszczady National Park in Poland; the Slovak and Ukrainian portions form the Primeval Beech Forests, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the last, relatively untouched regions of Europe.

Geologically, a sizable part of the country is made out of limestone, which in combination with many springs and rivers has resulted in formation of numerous caves. Perhaps the best-known example is the UNESCO-listed Slovak Karst, a mountainous area on the southeastern Slovak-Hungarian border, marked by dozens of deep caves, with its Domica Cave being a highlight.

Castles and other attractions[edit]

Bojnice Castle overlooking the town of the same name.

For history lovers, Slovakia has the highest number of castles and chateaux per capita in the world, ranging from simple ruins to the well-preserved. If visitors are fans of medieval history, look no further. There are also numerous Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque examples in cities and towns across the republic, including within the capital. There are also well-preserved examples of wooden folk architecture, including churches made entirely out of wood and the tallest wooden altar in the world.

In the capital, Bratislava Castle dominates the city's skyline and has more or less become a symbol of the Slovak state. Also in the capital are the ruins of Devín Castle, an ancient fortification dating to Great Moravian times that was destroyed by Napoleon's troops in 1809. To the northeast, Trenčín Castle sits high over the Váh river plain, used by the Slavs and later the Hungarians. South of Trenčín in the town of Bojnice is Bojnice Castle, a Gothic and Renaissance masterpiece that cemented Hungarian rule in the region for centuries. In the city of Žilina, Budatín Castle is another Renaissance-era masterwork. Also close to Žilina is Strečno Castle, a fortification perched high above the Váh River. Heavily damaged during the Slovak National Uprising, much of Strečno has been restored. In north Central Slovakia, the dramatic Orava Castle looms over the village of Oravský Podzámok; the castle was used extensively for the landmark 1922 horror film Nosferatu. Outside of Košice, the ruins of Spiš Castle continue to impress visitors 800 years later.

A good listing of Slovakia's castles, mansions and ruins can be found on the state's tourism website.

Do[edit][add listing]

The Dobšinská Ice Cave.

Spelunking[edit]

Thanks to Slovakia's dramatic geology, more than 2,400 caves are found throughout the country (and many are still being discovered into the present day). Slovakia is arguably one of the best places for spelunking in Europe. Several of these subterranean areas are nationally protected or UNESCO listed and can be explored by the general public. Some notable caves in the country include the surreal Dobšinská Ice Cave in Slovak Paradise National Park, Ochrinska Aragonite Cave, Gombasek Cave and Jasovská Cave in the Slovak Karst, Belianska Cave in the High Tatras, Demänovská Cave of Liberty in the Low Tatras. and Domica Cave. The Slovak Caves Administration offers a listing and information regarding the country's rich cave systems.

Winter sports[edit]

The High and Low Tatras, Pieniny and Donovaly ranges are excellent for skiing and snowboarding. Many domestic tourists, along with Czechs, Poles, Germans, Austrians and Hungarians are drawn to Slovak ski resorts due to their high altitudes and affordable prices. Some skiing resorts include those in Jasná, Tatranská Lomnica, Ružomberok, Velká Raca, Oravice and Ždiar. A full listing of the republic's resorts and ski locations can be found here.

Spas[edit]

Slovakia offers many excellent spas, saunas and water parks to relax at year round, whether its in the cold winter months or the sweltering summer. If visitors enjoy stinking mud and are willing to pay for it, the best, most famous (and most expensive) spa is located in Piešťany. Other major spas are located around Trenčianske Teplice, Rajecké Teplice, Bardejov, Dudince and Podhájska. If spas and saunas are too slow for visitors who want more fun, try water parks in Bešeňová, Liptovský Mikuláš, Poprad, Turčianske Teplice, Oravice, Senec and Dunajská Streda. Significantly cheaper options are classical open-air pools, some of the best are in Veľký Meder and Štúrovo.

Festivals[edit]

The medieval mining town of Banská Štiavnica.

In the late winter and early spring Fašiangy (Mardi Gras) is celebrated throughout the country. In the countryside, especially in wine-producing regions, wine festivals (vinobranie) are common in the early autumn at the end of the harvest period. Many town centres will be closed and a traditional market is set up for these events, mostly with local produce, handicrafts for sale, and plenty to eat and drink. In larger cities, similar Christmas markets open in December.

Steam trains[edit]

Those interested in railway history or would like to spend a family day in the countryside, Slovakia offers a number of phased-out railway tracks, once used for transporting wood through the mountains, to transport tourists through forests and valleys in cozy steam trains. The best-preserved of them all is ČHŽ near the town of Brezno.

Learn[edit]

Studying in Slovakia is relatively inexpensive for foreign students, with studies, living expenses and other educational items normally costing around €4,000 on average for bachelor, master and doctorate students.

There are several excellent centers for higher education in the country, with courses offered in English. This includes Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia's oldest and most prestigious university, along with Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica and the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava. More information about studying in Slovakia can be found here.

Work[edit]

The skyline of Bratislava's Old Town.

As a European Union member, EU citizens can legally reside and work in Slovakia without restrictions. The most popular website for job listings is Profesia.sk. As of 2015, average salaries were €880 a month, with the highest salaries in Bratislava and the surrounding region. The best paid positions in the country are IT experts, whose salaries are nearly over €2,000 a month; construction workers earn around €600 a month and waiters €400.

If prospective workers are from outside of the EU, a visa is required to work. Teaching English as a second language is a popular work option, especially for freelancers. In order to do this, prospective freelancers will need a trade license (živnostenský list), which can be obtained from a tradesman department (živnostenské oddelenie) at a regional trade license office (živnostenský úrad). You will need a clean criminal record from your home country, a bank statement from a Slovak bank account, a notarized copy of your rental or home contract and pay a small fee.

It's best to consult the Slovak embassy or consulate in your country for more information.

Note that unless you are applying for certain positions in international firms and similar organisations where English or German might do, you will probably need a working knowledge of Slovak for most other jobs.

Eat[edit][add listing]

The main meal of the day is traditionally lunch, although this is changing especially in cities due to work schedules, where dinner is increasing becoming the main meal.

With the possible exception of the most exclusive establishments, dress codes are not enforced in restaurants. Informal clothing is common in nearly all establishments. Hauling yourself into a restaurant for a well-deserved meal after a day of hiking or skiing in sporty clothes might attract a few looks, yet visitors will not be turned away. Generally, anything you would wear for a stroll in town is perfectly fine. Visitors won't need a jacket or closed shoes. In the summer shorts and sandals are acceptable.

In sitting establishments (cafes and restaurants), it is common to tip around 10% or at least round the amount up to the nearest euro or note (depending on the amount). Tips are not included in the bill; if there is a percentage shown on your bill, this is usually VAT. The tip is added to the bill and should be handed to the waiter while you pay before leaving the table. Tipping is not compulsory, so if visitors are not satisfied with the service, don't feel obliged to tip! You will not be hassled if you don't. Tipping is not common in over-the-counter establishments, bars or for other services.

It should be noted that in all but the most exclusive restaurants it is not customary to be shown to your table by the staff. When entering, simply pick a table of your choice. Once you are comfortably seated, waiting staff will be over shortly to give you the menu and let you order drinks.

Traditional local foods[edit]

Bryndzové halušky, a Slovak staple.

Slovak cuisine focuses mostly on simple and hearty recipes. Historically, what is now considered genuinely Slovak has been traditional food from northern villages, where people lived off sheep grazing and limited agriculture, where herbs were more accessible than spices. Therefore, staple foods mostly involve (smoked) meat, cheese, potatoes and flour. This does not make the food bland, however, with much of it is quite filling and flavoursome, though can be a bit on the heavy side. As no strong spices or truly exotic ingredients are used, sampling local wares is a safe and rewarding experience.

Some dishes are authentically Slovak, while others are variations on regional themes. Cheese, pork and poultry are typically consumed along with some beef and game dishes, mostly accompanying potatoes and various types of dumplings. Since Slovakia is a landlocked country, fish and seafood options are limited, yet trout is the most common fish served. Carp is usually served on Christmas. Soups are quite common both as an appetizer and, as some are quite filling, also as a main dish.

Bryndzové halušky is the national dish. Made out of potato dumplings, unpasteurized fermented sheep cheese called bryndza and small bits of bacon or pork fat, this meal is unique, quite appetizing and very filling. Please note that while this dish will usually be listed in the vegetarian section of the menu, it does normally contain meat; if you are vegetarian, make sure to ask for halušky without bacon. Halušky can be found in many restaurants, however, quality can vary. Ethnic Slovak restaurants are normally the best places to find this meal. In the northern regions, visitors will find authentic restaurants called salaš (a word meaning "sheep farm" in Slovak), which serve delicious and local, fresh varieties of sheep cheese. Sometimes, halušky is served with smoked cheese added on top. A separate dish called strapačky might also be available, where sauerkraut is served instead of bryndza, yet this is atypical..

A salaš will also usually serve other typical Slovak dishes and foods. Varieties include soft, spreadable versions of bryndza, blocks of sheep cheese (soft and malleable, delicious on its own or with salt), parenica (cheese curled in layers into a small peelable roll, sold smoked or unsmoked) and korbáčiky (meaning "hair braids" in Slovak), in which cheese is woven into a hair braid pattern. Many of these cheeses are available to buy at outdoor markets and in modern supermarkets, although those that are mass-produced and not as good.

Kapustnica with sausage.

Most other dishes are regional, with their varieties also found elsewhere around Central Europe. These include kapustnica, a flavoursome and sometimes mildly spicy sauerkraut soup found in other Slavic countries, typically eaten at Christmas but served year round in restaurants. Depending on the recipe it may also include smoked meat and/or dried mushrooms. Pirohy, large dumplings similar to the Polish dish of pierogi can also be widely found and depending on the filling, is either savory or sweet, with fillings of sauerkraut, various types of cheeses, meats, or simply fruits and jam. A popular variant is bryndzové pirohy (sheep cheese dumplings).

Guláš (goulash) is a regional dish made with cuts of beef, onions, vegetables and squashed potatoes with spices, which is very hearty and filling. A culinary legacy of the Hungarians, guláš can be served as a soup (with bread) or as a stew (with dumplings) and can be found outdoors during barbecues, festival markets (where it is prepared in a big cauldron), and in restaurants with game instead of beef, considered the most authentic. A variety called Segedinský guláš {Szeged goulash) is quite distinct, prepared with sauerkraut. Guláš can be quite spicy.

Apart from kapustnica and guláš, which are main dishes, other polievky (soups) are quite popular as an appetizer. Hubová polievka (mushroom soup) is a typical Christmas dish in many parts,along with several soups made out of beans or bean sprouts. In restaurants, the most common soups are kuracia polievka (chicken), hovädzia polievka (beef), krémová cesnačka (creamy garlic) and paradajková polievka (tomato), served in garlic broth with croutons (don't go kissing people after) are also very common. Some restaurants offer certain soups to be served in a small loaf of bread (v bochniku), which can be an interesting and tasty experience.

A typical example of Slovak street food is lokše, which are potato pancakes served with various fillings (with popular varieties including duck fat and/or meat (husacina), poppy seeds or jam). Especially in Western Slovakia, lokše is also be found in restaurants. Langoš, a Hungarian specialty, is a large, fried flat bread served with garlic, cheese and ketchup (or sour cream) on top, often sold on street corners or in markets. A local version of an American hamburger (but without beef and instead using pork or chicken) is called cigánska pečienka (or simply cigánska). If visitors are looking for something sweet, in spa cities such as Piešťany, you will find stands selling spa wafers, usually two plate-sized thin wafers with various fillings. Try chocolate or hazelnut.

Bryndzové pirohy, dumplings with sheep cheese.

Other foods worth trying are paprikas (chicken in paprika sauce with dumplings), rezeň (schnitzel), čiernohorsky rezeň' (schnitzel with a potato dumpling coating instead of batter) and sviečková na smotane (beef sirloin in a vegetable sauce with dumplings), a Slovak variant of the Czech staple svíčková.

In some parts of the countryside, there is a tradition called zabíjačka, where a pig is slaughtered and its various parts are consumed in a festive, barbecue-like event. This is a more historic celebration than you are likely to find in contemporary Slovakia, although if you have an opportunity to attend, it can be an interesting experience, where meat and sausages are home-made, delicious and full of flavour. If you can find homemade hurka (pork meat and liver sausage with rice) or krvavnicky (similar to hurka, but with pork blood) on offer elsewhere, they are both very good. There is also tlačenka (cold meat pressed together with some vegetables, served similar to ham), which is served with vinegar and onion on top, and can be bought in supermarkets as well. Various other type of sausages and smoked meats are available commercially.

A thick fried slice of cheese served with French fries and a salad is also a common Slovak dish. It is served in most restaurants and worth trying out, especially with local smoked variety of cheese (udeny syr. ostiepok) or hermelin (a local cheese similar to Camembert). This is not considered a substitute for meat.

Sweets[edit]

Slovak-style jablkový závin (apple strudel).

For dessert, visit a local cukráreň (candy or sweet shop). These establishments, though slowly merging into cafes, exclusively specialise in appeasing your sweet tooth, serving a variety of cakes, hot and cold drinks and (sometimes) ice cream. Due to the shared heritage of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Slovak cakes often resemble those in the Czech Republic and Austria. The selection is diverse and on display, so just pick one you like the look of, perhaps a krémeš (a small pastry, thick of vanilla custard and topped with a layer of cream or chocolate), or veterník (a huge profiterole coated in caramel).

Slovakia has a good variety of bakery products, including various sweet pastries. Try local fillings of poppy seeds and/or sweet, quark-like cottage cheese (tvaroh). Štrúdla or závin. the Slovak cousin of the Austrian strudel is also popular; try the traditional apple filling (jablkový závin) or the fancier version with sweet poppy seeds and sour cherries. For something savoury, try pagáč, a puff pastry with little pork cracklings. Local bread is excellent, but please note that some of the several varieties are sprinkled with caraway seeds. Baguettes and baguette stands are very common where visitors can choose from a variety of fillings.

When you are shopping in the supermarket, remember to pick up Tatranky and/or Horalky, two brands of wafers with hazelnut filling, lightly coated in chocolate.

Vegetarian food[edit]

For vegetarians, the variety of food in larger cities should be decent, though when venturing into the countryside, offers may be limited as vegetables are mostly considered a side dish, eaten mostly raw or in salads. Be aware that even though some dishes will be in the vegetarian section of the menu, this merely means that they're not predominantly meat-based and still might be prepared using animal fats or may contain small pieces of meat, so make your requirements clear. Vyprážaný syr so šunkou (fried cheese with ham) or Cesar salad are good examples of this. Still, almost every restaurant in the country will serve at least fried cheese (the normal, non-ham variety) with fries, which is universally popular. There should be a good selection of sweet dishes as well, with pancakes, dumplings filled with fruits, jams or chocolate, and sweet noodles with nuts, poppy seeds and sweet cottage cheese. Seeking out the nearest Italian pizzeria is also a good and accessible option found mostly everywhere.

Drink[edit][add listing]

Like its Czech, Polish and Hungarian counterparts, drinking is very much a part of Slovak culture, served at nearly all social occasions. However, locals tend to hold their liquor well and being visibly drunk is frowned upon, so be aware of your limits. Note that some locally-brewed spirits may be stronger than what visitors may be used to and that the standard Slovak shot glass is 40 ml, more than those in Western Europe or North America. If you order a double vodka, you will get almost 1 dl of it! Alcohol in general is cheap compared to Western Europe, East Asia or the US. There are no special shops, and alcoholic beverages can be purchased in practically any local supermarket or food store. You can legally drink and purchase alcohol if you are 18 years or older, but this is not strictly enforced. Visitors may be carded in some clubs if you look very young, however.

Beer[edit]

A collection of Slovak beers with brandy.

When it comes to beer (pivo), Slovakia has a great variety of excellent local brews similar in style and quality to neighboring Czech brands (which are also widely available). Beer is mostly the local drink of choice. A few Slovak brews include:

  • Zlatý Bažant — perhaps Slovakia's best-known beer, made in the southwest town of Hurbanovo. A pilsner type beer also sold by its literal translation Golden Pheasant in North America.
  • Corgoň — another pilsner type blonde from the Hurbanovo brewery.
  • Kelt — a light lager also made from the Hurbanovo brewery.
  • Šariš — made from the country's largest brewery in the Eastern Slovak town of Veľký Šariš. An award-winning beer made either light or dark.
  • Smädný mních — a light beer also made from the Veľký Šariš brewery, known for its monk emblem.
  • Steiger — a Bratislava-based beer.
  • Kaltenecker — a popular microbrew from Rožňava in Eastern Slovakia.
  • ERB — a microbrew from Banská Štiavnica.

Wine[edit]

The Tokaj wine region (shared with Hungary) is an excellent location to explore wineries.

Thanks to its fertile, warm south, Slovakia also has some great local wine (víno). Many are similar to German Riesling styles, yet relatively young, local grape varieties (Děvín, Pálava, Dunaj and Hron) are growing in popularity. There are a number of wine-growing regions in the south with centuries worth of tradition, including the area just outside Bratislava in the towns of Modra and Pezinok. The best-known wines are those from the Tokaj region in the southeast, an area shared with the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in northern Hungary. Home to the Tokaj grape variety endemic to the region, Tokaj wine is considered a premium brand with a worldwide reputation and is arguably some of the best Central Europe has to offer. If visitors have time, try to visit a local producer's wine cellar, as many are historical and a cultural experience in itself. You might also be offered homemade wine if you are visiting these areas, as many locals ferment their own brews. The quality obviously varies. Look for wines labeled neskorý zber or výber z hrozna which indicate a high quality wine (roughly corresponding with the German Spätlese and Auslese labels, respectively).

Wine lovers will also enjoy the Little Carpathian Wine Route, a trail leading through vineyards beginning in Bratislava and passing through Svätý Jur, Pezinok and Modra before ending in Trnava. Along the route, visitors can stop at various wine cellars along the route to taste what local vineyards have to offer.

Around the harvest time in the autumn, in the wine-producing regions, young wine called burčiak is often sold in wine bars and local markets, and is popular among locals. As burčiak strengthens with fermentation (as it becomes actual wine), its alcohol content can vary wildly.

Spirits[edit]

A bottle of Trnavská medovina (Trnava mead).

Slovakia produces excellent, hard-hitting spirits. Some highly popular brews include slivovica (plum brandy), hruškovica (pear brandy) and demänovka (herb liquor). The most popular spirit of choice is borovička, a type of gin. Fernet, an Italian-originated aromatic bitter spirit is also very popular. In some shops you may try a 25 or 50 ml shot for a few cents, so as to avoid buying a big bottle of something of unknown flavour, then decide whether to buy or not to buy. However, the general rule of thumb when buying liquor in a supermarket is the more expensive, the better. Some liquors are trying to look like they are made of fruit but are instead just aromatized or coloured alcohol. International brands are also available, but at a premium price (yet still cheaper than in most Western countries).

If visitors are more adventurous, try some homemade fruit brandies that the locals sometimes offer to foreigners. Slivovica is the most common, but also pear brandy, apricot brandy, or raspberry brandy can be found. Drinking is a part of tradition, especially deep in the Slovak countryside. If you are visiting locals, don't be surprised if you are offered homemade spirits as a welcome drink nor that the host may be quite proud of their private stock. Homemade liquors are very strong (sometimes up to 60% alcohol), so be careful. If slivovica has matured for 12 or more years, it can become a pleasant digestive.

In the winter months, varené víno, a mulled wine like the German glühwein and the Czech svařák is available at all outdoor markets. Medovina (mead) is also common and can be served warm or cold. Grog, a mixed hot drink consisting of black tea and a shot of local rum, is also very popular, especially at skiing resorts.

Non-alcoholic drinks[edit]

For non-alcoholic drinks try Vinea, a refreshing soft drink made from red and white grapes and is also non-carbonated. Kofola, a cola-like soft drink originating from the communist Czechoslovak era, is also very popular among locals and is available both on tap, in cans and bottles. Slovakia is one of the few countries in the world where Coca-Cola and Pepsi are not the most popular soft drink beverages.

Mineral water from Slovakia rank as some of the best on the globe, coming in numerous varieties with unique positive health effects (e.g. getting rid of heartburn, improving digestion, etc.) depending on the type of minerals naturally found in the water.

Many mineral water brands available from shops and supermarkets, for example Budiš, Mitická, Slatina, Rajec, Dobrá Voda, Zlatá studňa and Mattoni. Others are only available directly from the many natural mineral springs common across the country. As these are true mineral waters, they will invariably contain minerals with the taste differing according to the brand or spring. If visitors don't like one, try a different brand! You may also try mineral waters with various flavourings, ranging from raspberry to mojito.

In contrast to what you might be used to, sparking water is the default option, so if you prefer still water, you might have to look for this specifically. The level of carbonation is marked by the label. Dark blue or red labels usually indicate carbonated water (perlivá), a green label indicates mildly carbonation (mierne perlivá) and white, pink or baby blue indicat those without carbonation of any kind (neperlivá). Due to the excellent local choice and quality of the water, international brands are not common.

In restaurants, serving of a free glass of water is not a part of dining culture, so remember that if you ask for one, it is quite likely that you will be brought (most likely sparkling) mineral water instead (and charged for it).

Out of all hot drinks, káva (coffee) is available everywhere, mostly in three varieties (cafes in cities will offer more): espresso, normal coffee served medium-sized, small and black, and Viennese coffee with a dollop of cream on top. Cappuccinos are quite common as well. Coffee is served with sugar and milk and cream on the side. Horúca čokoláda (hot chocolate) is popular as well, especially in the winter. Čaj (tea) rooms are quite popular as a place to chill out in major cities. These usually have a laid-back, vaguely oriental ambiance, offering a great variety of black, green, white and fruit teas. Shisha and hookahs might be on offer as well. A part of this culture has spread other catering establishments, most of which will now offer a choice at least between fruit and black tea. Note that black tea is served with sugar and lemon in Slovakia; serving black tea with milk or cream is uncommon. Some places may offer a beverage called "hot apple", which tastes a bit like softer hot apple juice.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

Traditional folk architecture in Čičmany, Western Slovakia.

Slovakia has an array of lodging options. Especially in the larger cities like Bratislava and Košice, hosteling and low-cost hotels are widely available for budget travelers, as well as high-end lodging from big Western brands. Further out in the countryside in smaller towns and cities, prices tend to fall significantly, with well-rated hotels offering affordable prices.

In the High Tatras and in the country's various spa towns, visitors can also choose luxurious hotels offering spa procedures included in the price. This is not universal, as there are many spas and ski resorts that still remain largely affordable. There are numerous mountain cabins, chalets and pensions available for short-term rental.

Because of the country's gorgeous countryside, camping facilities are quite common. Pitching a tent in a national park or a protected landscape area, however, is illegal, yet several national parks have officially-designated places where visitors can stay a single night (provided there's no mess). Facilities vary from location to location, with some offering shared showers or toilets. Unfortunately, this doesn't include the High Tatras, where the only legal option to sleep during a multi-day trek is in a mountain chalet. If you do pitch a tent in a national park outside of a designated area, there is always a possibility you could be woken up by a park warden, demanding a fine.

Pitching a tent outside national parks and protected landscape areas is in the legal grey area. Under Slovak law, you always require prior consent from the owner of the land to camp on it. Anyway, this rule is not enforced and you'll be okay if you only stay one night on any place, steer clear of private houses and commercial buildings and leave reasonably soon in the morning. If you do plan to stay longer and with a larger group of people, you'll need an official permit, of course.

Stay safe[edit]

A Polícia car.

Law enforcement in Slovakia is primarily handled by the Policajný zbor, known simply as the Polícia. The Polícia can be recognized by their white and green cars, normally wearing white-green or black-green uniforms. Cities and smaller towns have municipal guards, although their powers are mostly limited to misdemeanors.

In case of an emergency, call the universal number 112. You can also call directly on 150 for fire brigade, 155 for a medical emergency, or 158 for the police.

Slovakia is generally safe, even by European standards, where visitors are unlikely to encounter any problems whatsoever. Violent crime is especially uncommon. Slovakia sees less violent crime per capita than many European countries. Pickpockets are an issue, even though much smaller than in the popular destinations of Western Europe. However, the biggest fear for a traveler is likely to be road safety.

When visiting cities, exercise the same caution as you would in any other European city. Use common sense! Be extra careful after the dark if walking in poorly-lit areas, stay aware of your surroundings, keep your belongings in sight and avoid drunks and groups of young men. Pickpockets can sometimes be found in larger crowds or at major train or bus stations.

Since the 2000s, there has been an increase in neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist activism in Slovakia, which has resulted in a spate of racially-motivated attacks on foreigners. Perhaps the best-known neo-Nazi group is the ĽSNS, an extremist party known for its xenophobia, pro-fascist views and its veneration of Slovakia's World War II leader Jozef Tiso. Since 2016, the ĽSNS has been a sitting group in parliament, although the party is nearly completely ostracized by the political spectrum. It is advisable that foreigners (and those of colour) avoid ĽSNS demonstrations, which also attract considerable anti-fascist (antifa) counter-demonstrators and riot police.

When visiting mountainous areas, 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 with its steep, difficult terrain and unpredictable weather. Never hike alone and use proper gear. The mountain rescue service is a good source of additional and current information and take their warnings seriously. In an event of an emergency they can be contacted by calling 18300 or the universal 112. Make sure your medical insurance coverage includes the mountain activities before you venture forth, as a rescue mission in the inaccessible terrain may prove expensive.

Also note that the weather in the High Tatras is prone to sudden changes, especially during spring and autumn.

Slovakia is one of the few countries in Europe where bears and wolves live freely in the wild. While no one has died from a bear attack in the last hundred years, a few attacks occur each year. Your chance of encountering one as a tourist is very low, yet the possibility exists. A bear will avoid you if it knows you're there, so the best way to avoid this is by making your presence known by talking loudly, singing or clapping, especially in an area where it can't readily see you from a distance. If you see a bear, do not run, but leave the area slowly in the opposite direction. If you see one from your hotel, possibly feeding from the rubbish bins, which is a bit more common, though still unlikely, DO NOT approach or feed it.

Stay healthy[edit]

The countryside of Liptovská Mara in Central Slovakia.

No vaccination is necessary to visit or stay in Slovakia, although if you plan to visit countryside areas, tick vaccination is recommended. Also Hepatitis A and B vaccination is advisable as with all European countries.

Ticks can be found in forests and also sometimes in larger parks in bushes and tall grass. In some areas ticks may carry encephalitis. Therefore, when hiking try to avoid thick undergrowth and always check all over your body when you return (ticks tend to seek warm spots). Remove the tick as soon as possible by gently wiggling it out of the bite by its head (never break it off or squeeze the body as the head will stay lodged in skin and might become infected). Do not touch the tick at any stage with bare hands; use tweezers and latex gloves.

Nearly all food and drinks are perfectly safe. Hygiene standards in Slovakia are aligned with Western and Central Europe.

Tap water is drinkable everywhere. According to one study, water used as tap water in the Bratislava-Vienna region is the cleanest in the world. If you prefer mineral water, you can choose from a multitude of brands, as the republic has possibly the highest number of natural mineral water springs per capita in the world.

The High Tatras might not be the biggest or tallest mountain range, but some trails feature strenuous climbs, rocky terrain where weather can prove unpredictable. Slovak mountains on average claim several lives per year, including in the summer. Take proper gear, do not overestimate your abilities and use common sense.

Never venture off the marked hiking trails in national parks (unless you're a skilled mountain climber and with a proper permit)! It is foolish, as well as illegal. In wooded areas, where chances of injury are lower, hiking off the marked trail carries a heightened risk of encountering a bear or a wolf. Bears know where the hiking trails are and avoid them at all costs. See the above section for tips, should you run across one.

If you decide to swim in a local river, natural pool or lake (as many locals do), remember that unless expressly stated otherwise, these activities are often not supervised by a lifeguard and you are doing so at your own risk.

The standard of health care is quite high, but the language barrier can be problematic not many doctors speak English. However, this should not be a problem in major towns, most of which will have a medical clinic (fakultná nemocnica).

There are no over-the-counter drugs sold in Slovakia in supermarkets or drug stores. Visitors will need to head to a pharmacy (lekáreň) even if you just need an aspirin. In even smaller cities, there should be one open 24 hours a day. Look out for the nearest green cross sign; even if a particular pharmacy is closed, a sign on the door will point you towards the nearest open one. If you need a specific medicine, make sure you have your prescription ready as many drugs require it.

Respect[edit]

Slovak women in traditional costume.

Slovaks are a friendly, hospitable and peaceful people. Any visit should be largely free of trouble, although there are a few things to be mindful of.

The country, along with its neighbors the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Austria are considered a part of Central Europe, not Eastern Europe, a fact that is easily lost with many Western Europeans and North Americans. Being called Eastern European is considered offensive by some.

A common (and sometimes amusing) mistake made by foreigners is confusing Slovakia with similarly-named Slovenia. While both countries have Slavic heritage and similar flags, Slovakia was connected to Czechoslovakia and the Hungarian portion of Austria-Hungary, while Slovenia was a former republic of Yugoslavia with historical connections to Austria and the Venetian Republic. Slovaks (and Slovenes) are usually not offended by this, although many roll their eyes and find the confusion humorous.

Outside of the major cities, Slovakia is a fairly traditional Catholic society, with religiosity far stronger than the largely atheistic Czechs, yet less stridently Catholic than the Poles. Visitors should be mindful and respectful of these views.

For nearly a millennium, the country was a region of Hungary and for much of the 20th century the other half of Czechoslovakia before amicably splitting off in 1993. As a relatively new state, many Slovaks are proud of their country's independence and therefore some remain sensitive when it comes to nationality issues. There is no hostility or resentment when it comes to the Velvet Divorce that ended Czechoslovakia; Czechs and Slovaks remain politically, linguistically and culturally close together with next to no controversy. Calling the country "Czechoslovakia" by accident may raise some eyebrows or cause some laughter. However, under no circumstances should visitors refer to Slovaks as "Czechs." Both societies—although similar—are distinct. Relations with the Hungarian minority are also largely peaceful, yet controversies in the past regarding language and nationality rights have been exploited by Slovak and Hungarian nationalists.

Under Jozef Tiso, the Slovak Republic's position in World War II was complex. Many ultra-nationalists continue to venerate Tiso and his mentor Andrej Hlinka, while those on the center-right, center and left consider Tiso an archtraitor, and will specifically point out the Slovak National Uprising as mass resistance against Tiso's government. This topic is best avoided if visitors so happen to meet an ultra-nationalist, although few can speak English. Decades of communism left its mark on Slovakia economically and socially, and also remains a sensitive topic. As a part of Czechoslovakia, the country was a member of the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc. However, Slovakia was never a part of the Soviet Union nor the Russian Empire.

Relations with the Romani (Gypsy) minority are strained, with a large section of Slovak society holding strong views on the subject. Do not venture into a debate unless you are intimately acquainted with the problem.

Slovaks are quite hospitable. If they invite you into their home, expect to be well-looked after and offered a variety of food and drinks. If you are invited for lunch, expect a two or three-course meal similar to dinner, as lunch is traditionally the main meal of the day. It is considered polite to bring a small gift for the host, such as a bottle of wine, a spirit, a box of chocolates or a small bouquet of flowers. Never bring money.

Most people do not use their outdoor shoes inside their home for hygienic reasons, so please take your shoes off in the hallway before entering a home. Guests will often be given a pair of slippers afterwards.

When dining in a restaurant with the host's family, it is customary for them to pick the bill. This might not happen, but don't be surprised if they do.

When being introduced to or meeting someone, even of the opposite sex for the first time, it is not uncommon to kiss each other on the cheek once or twice (depending on the region) instead of shaking hands. It is not common between two males, but is quite normal for women. Do not be alarmed and remember that it is not a sexual gesture.

Contact[edit]

The iconic bronze statue of Čumil the Sewer Worker in Bratislava.

The international calling code for Slovakia is +421.

Slovak phones operate on the GSM standard, which covers most of the country. 3G is also widespread. As of 2015, there is good coverage of 4G in most cities. Phone coverage is surprisingly good and visitors often have signal even in mountainous areas unless you are in a deep ravine. There are four mobile operators / carriers: Orange, T-Com, O2 and 4ka. All use 900 or 1800Mhz standard, which might not be compatible with some North American phones operating on 1900Mhz.

All Slovak providers 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 commonplace, they are declining in number. Also note that you might need to purchase a prepaid card to use some of them.

Wi-Fi (pronounced as wee-fee) is widely available for free at many restaurants, cafes, pubs, businesses, libraries or government buildings, often advertised on the front window. Internet cafes are still sometimes found (especially in hostels), although with the advent of smartphones, they are now declining.

Mobile internet is available from €6 month via O2 or 3G prepaid mobile internet at €10-15 for 5 GB. Broadband internet is available in most of the cities and some villages, with prices depending on a location. In bigger cities you can get internet as cheap as €16 per 100 Mbit/s downstream and 4 Mbit/s upstream from Orange (or slower from Telekom or UPC).

Cope[edit]

Spiš Castle overlooking the small town of Spišské Podhradie.

News[edit]

Slovakia has an array of independent media outlets spanning across television, radio, newspapers and the internet. However, it is largely unintelligible for visitors as it is entirely in Slovak, Czech and towards southern Slovakia, Hungarian. However, there are several English language news sources where visitors can remain abreast on current events and cultural happenings in the republic.

  • Radio Slovakia International — English arm of public broadcaster RTVS. Offers news, commentary, interviews and cultural reports from across the country and Central Europe. Also broadcasts in French, Spanish, German and Russian.
  • The Slovak Spectator — the nation's bi-weekly English newspaper, with an active online presence. Popular among expats, this newspaper and website offers news, editorials, cultural listings and a classifieds section on everything from apartments, cars, NGOs and jobs.

Embassy support[edit]

Most foreign embassies are located in Bratislava's Old Town. A complete listing of embassies in the county with contact information can be found here. If a visitor's home country does not have an embassy in Slovakia, the nearest embassy will most likely be located nearby in Vienna, which is readily accessible by train, bus or car from Bratislava.

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