Slovakia is quickly becoming a popular tourist destination thanks to its rich history and ravishing natural beauty. It is a remarkably diverse country, with dramatic natural landscapes that range from high mountains in the north, to the low Danube basin in the south. The country is rightly proud of its more than 6000 caves and over 1500 mineral springs. It can also brag of having the highest wooden altar in the world and to the world’s highest number of castles and chateaux per capita.
Top tourist spots
Bratislava may be centuries older than Prague or Budapest, but this capital city comes without the usual tourist congestion. Its delightful historic center is a cobbled pedestrian zone, making it easy to enjoy its numerous Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance buildings, churches, and museums. Many visitors spend their time seeking out the town’s quirky bronze statues, which always bring a smile.
Tour the breathtakingly beautiful villages and little towns of St. Jur, Pezinok, and Modra. They all lie in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, where you will find top-class Slovak wineries.
Most Europeans don’t visit Slovakia for its city life or wine, however. They come in search of the good skiing and snowboarding in the High Tatras, outstanding caving in the karst, and endless hiking in the hilly midlands. Slovak Paradise National Park is a perennial favorite, thanks to its deep ravines, rivers and waterfalls.
What to see
Skanzens are scattered all over Slovakia and are definitely a must-see. These open-air museum-villages showcase Slovakia’s architecture, folk history, and also the basic lives of centuries past, even as far back as the 11thcentury. You can see craftmen’s workshops, manor houses, furnishings, traditional buildings, and churches. We especially recommended Pribylina Vikolinec (a UNESCO site) and Cicimany.
The medieval Spiš Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the largest castles in the Central Europe. If you only visit one castle in Slovakia, this is the one to see.
Dobšinská Ice Cave is an almost fairy-tale like ice cave in Slovak Paradise Mountains. It was the first electrically lit cave in Europe and included in the UNESCO World Heritage list (as a part of Caves of Aggtelek Karst and Slovak Karst site).
Traditional Slovak dishes are made with locally-available ingredients, staple foods that could stand the country’s hot summers and cold winters. Most were based on staple foods like potatoes, wheat, milk and dairy products, cabbage, onions, wild mushrooms, and few seasonings.
Although contemporary Slovak cuisine has been influenced by various world cuisines, pork is still the mainstay. That said, menus usually offer beef, poultry, mutton, duck and eggs, so the food is not as boring as you might first imagine.
Slovakia is a meat-and-potatoes nation; vegetables are an afterthought. Meat is either breaded and fried in oil (schnitzel), or cooked and served in sauce. It is usually accompanied by some variety of dumpling. Traditional ones include bryndzové halushky (potato dumplings with sheep cheese), lokše (potato dough pancakes) and zemiakové placky (potato pancakes fried in oil with garlic and flour), among others.
Slovaks are devoted wine lovers, and many produce excellent wines in their own homes. Wine tasting entails a visit to a traditional wine cellar where wine and fried cheese are served. The largest wine cellar in central Europe is found in Slovakia.
Typical souvenirs from Slovakia are cornhusk dolls dressed in folk costumes, ceramic objects, crystal glass, carved wooden figures, črpáks (wooden pitchers), fujaras (a folk instrument on the UNESCO list) and valaškas (a decorated folk hatchet).
If you’re a food lover, what better souvenir to return home with, than one of the best wines in the world? Mead wine, also known as Medovina, is a popular one. And you might as well buy some LYRA chocolate to go along with it.