Slovakia’s unique identity as a nation is highlighted by its strong folk traditions, including performances by folk dance groups and traditional arts and crafts such as woodcarving, pottery, lace embroidery, and beekeeping. To learn about Slovakia’s extensive folk culture, head to Martin where you can visit The Slovak National Museum which boasts the largest open air ethnographic museum in Slovakia. Visitors can learn about Slovak traditional building methods and gain an understanding of the country’s folk identity by viewing the thousands of objects which demonstrate the evolution of Slovak arts and crafts over hundreds of years.
As an extremely mountainous country, Slovakia offers many hiking trails for all levels. Serious hikers can make a beeline for the High Tatras, which offer several summits over 2,500 meters and fantastic bird’s eye views from lookout points like Lomnicky Stit. Intermediate hikers should make their way to Jasná Chopok and stop to refuel at the Rotunda restaurant at a height of 2,004 meters (8202 ft) with views over the valley towards the High Tatras in the distance. North of Bratislava, the Little Carpathian mountain range spans about 100km, with many beautiful low peaks between 600 – 700 meters high. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the top, then find motivation for the descent by imagining yourself with a refreshing glass of wine from one of the local vineyards.
The 2,900 kilometer (approx 1,800 mile) long Danube Cycle Path begins in Germany and cuts through Slovakia before ending in Romania, taking cyclists past the ruins of ancient castles and the bridges connecting both sides of Bratislava. Cyclists can begin in Bratislava and enjoy a pleasant cycle along the Danube River for a few hours or for a few days. Cycling in the spa town of Piestany is also extremely popular, as the well-marked Važská Cycle Route runs along the Váh River for 250 kilometers (155 miles) to Zilina. If you’re more adventurous, rent a mountain bike and go off road at popular resorts like Donovaly, Jasná Chopok, or Ružomberok.
The capital city of Bratislava is Slovakia’s largest and most famous city, but Kosice, Presov, Nitra, and Banska Bystrica also offer many activities, museums, sightseeing opportunities, and plenty of nightlife to entertain visitors. Visit the Gothic St. Elisabeth Minister cathedral in Kosice, the largest church in Slovakia, accented by medieval gargoyles. In Presov, don’t miss the buildings in the historic center which are included in the Town Monument Reserve, meaning that they comprise a significant part of the national cultural heritage. The Museum of Wine in the 500-year-old cellar under the Prešov Town Hall is also a highlight. Nitra offers an 11th century castle and a hiking route to the top of Zobor Mountain which leads past many taverns offering local wine. Banska Bystrica is a great base camp for hiking or skiing.
Due to its valuable location in the center of the European continent, invading kingdoms fought over Slovak strongholds for more than a thousand years, starting with the Turks during the 9th century and continuing through to Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion in the early 19th century. During times of conflict, Slovak castles were often looted or set on fire if the invaders manage to penetrate the castle’s defense system. Now many castles lay in ruin, and you may be surprised to see the remains of ancient towers perched high atop a hill as you glance out of your train window. But several remarkable castles have been restored and serve as museums which exemplify the powerful function of these great buildings in the past. Don’t miss the castles at Spiš, Orava, or Bojnice.
The southern part of Slovakia enjoys a temperate climate which is ideal for producing wine. Although there are many memorable wines, make sure you don’t miss sampling Frankovka Modrá, a red wine similar to Pinot Noir. Another unique Slovak wine is Tokaj, a sweet white wine produced in the southeastern corner of the country near the Hungarian border.
Slovaks are extremely proud of their high quality cheeses and for good reason. Goat cheese is extremely popular throughout the country and the most iconic national dis, bryndzové halušky, features cheese as its defining ingredient. Bryndza cheese is a sharp, crumbly, spreadable goat cheese, perfect on top of dumplings or on freshly baked bread. Many Slovaks say bryndza cheese is the food they miss the most when they’re away from their country.
Beneath the ground in Slovakia, several mineral springs provide curative water which can be used for relaxation and treatment of medical issues such as back pain, arthritis, or respiratory disorders. Slovaks also bottle their mineral water and drink the cloudy liquid for its health benefits. As a tourist, you can visit one of 21 thermal spas throughout the country to enjoy a warm soak and a massage for a very reasonable price. In Trenčianske Teplice, you can enjoy a thermal bath soak and basic massage starting at only 14 euros.
Slovakia’s many mountains offer the perfect launch point for flying into the air like a bird. Don’t worry, all flights are tandem so you are with the instructor, unless you have a paragliding license. As you fly above the rolling hills and forests of Slovakia, you’re likely to see a whole lot of green and blue. Try scheduling your flight near sunset to enjoy the pink, purple, orange, and red sky as the sun sinks. Slovak sunsets over the mountains are spectacular!
If you enjoy old steam locomotives, you have many opportunities to enjoy riding them in Slovakia. At the Múzeum Kysuckej Dediny in Vychylovka you can find a real rarity; the only working historical narrow-gauge logging switchback railway in Europe. Hiking and cycling in the Hron River valley can be complemented by a ride on the historic Čiernohronská lesná železnica, which runs past picturesque nature and takes visitors deeper into the forest.
Although the Danube is the largest and deepest river in Slovakia, several other smaller rivers snake across the country, offering ample opportunities for boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddling, and rafting. The Váh River, the longest Slovak River, offers an easygoing flow which is perfect for novice kayakers and paddlers. The Hron River is also popular for paddle and rafting trips.
Summer is peak festival season in Slovakia, with Pohoda Fest in Trencin drawing an international crowd with headliners like M.I.A. performing in the open air. 30,000 festival goers set up tents at Trencin’s old military airport and spend three days enjoying warm weather, more than 160 unique performances, as well as dance, theatre, and film showings. In Piestany in June, Top Fest draws international talent such as Amy MacDonald and Bastille to entertain thousands of music fans. During the Slovak Food Festival in Bratislava, visitors can eat and drink their way through each of the county’s diverse regions. For an authentic small town Slovak experience, head to Folklórne slávnosti pod Poľanou Detva, a folk music and dance festival in Detva.
Slovakia has more than 100 ski resorts ready to welcome all levels from first timers to off piste experts. Families can find Europe’s second largest children’s skiing area at Donovaly Park Snow. More advanced skiers and snowboarders will enjoy carving down the slopes at Jasná Chopok and Tatranská Lomnica.