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Offering historic architecture, great nightlife, and stunning hiking (or skiing) trails for all levels, Banská Bystrica can easily entertain any visitor for days. The 6th largest city in Slovakia, with a population just over 80,000, is an intriguing off-the-beaten-path weekend destination, especially for outdoor enthusiasts. If you’re visiting Bratislava, hop over to Banská Bystrica by car, bus, or train. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in the heart of Slovakia.
Wake up with a creatively crafted cappuccino from trendy Black Coffee in the city center. Then choose a local hiking or skiing trail to enjoy the beautiful outdoors in this region. During winter, Donovaly Park Snow offers 16 ski lifts, a winter fun park for children, ice skating, and even nightly floodlit skiing. In summer, Donovaly’s ski slopes turn into superb hiking trails and the park also offers a toboggan run, mountain biking, and paragliding. Hiking enthusiasts can select one of Donovaly’s many trails or choose to embark on one of several marked hiking trails which start directly in Banská Bystrica’s center—or rent a car to try one of the more challenging treks in the Kremnica mountains, about a half hour away.
If you’re lucky enough to visit on a weekday, the set daily lunch menu at the modern Frais cafe can not be beaten. For just €4.35 (UK£3.80), you’ll receive a well balanced meal that will fill you up. On weekends, choose from freshly prepared risottos, well cooked steaks, or local specialty pork dishes.
After lunch, head to Aqualand. During the summer months, you can dive into the large outdoor pool to swim a few laps, jet down one of the many water slides, or rent a paddle boat to cruise around the lake. Need more to do? What about wakeboarding, tennis, bowling, or mini golf? You can find all of these activities at Aqualand.
Evenings are best spent in Námestie SNP, Banská Bystrica’s main square. Climb to the top of the 16th-century clock tower to watch the sun descend behind the rolling hills, then head back down for a locally sourced meal at Pigis. The seasonal menu offers the best produce from local farms; everything on the menu is sourced from the surrounding region. From hand-crafted burgers and fries, to meatloaf with roast potatoes, your taste buds will be delighted by Pigis’ creative twists on traditional favorites.
Later in the evening, head to the first floor of the Europa Shopping Center to dance the night away at Ministry of Fun, Slovakia’s largest nightclub. The club hosts visiting DJ’s who keep the party going until the early morning hours—and make sure you don’t miss the themed nights, the ‘oldies’ party is one of the best!
You’ll need a coffee after dancing all night at Ministry, so start your day at Leroy Bar and Café. You can get your caffeine fix in style from an AeroPress, Vacuum pot, or the V60 Pour Over Kit while sitting on the outdoor terrace, which offers an excellent people-watching perch over the main square.
After being adequately caffeinated, head to the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising (Museum SNP) to learn about Slovakia’s involvement in World War II. The museum is housed in a strange-looking, concrete, bowl-shaped building and contains a wide variety of artifacts, from guns to uniforms to tanks. Basic explanations are offered in English, and it’s a great chance to learn about the Slovak uprising against the Nazi party in the very city from where the resistance movement was launched in 1944.
For adventure seekers, an afternoon rafting trip down the Hron river is the perfect way to spend time in nature. Navigating fast rapids, fallen trees, and large rocks may be thrilling for some, but stressful for others, so for those who would prefer a calmer approach, the Black Hron Railway is much more relaxing. The old fashioned steam locomotive cars carry visitors through the picturesque Black Hron river valley where you may spot deer, wild boars, or even a bear! Hiking and cycling trails are also available in this area. Or visit the open-air forest museum which educates visitors about the importance of protecting and preserving forests.
Banská Bystrica is the perfect base camp for excursions into the Hron river valley and Slovakia’s Low and High Tatra Mountain ranges which offer an abundance of outdoor activities, much cheaper than the nearby Alps.
Slovakia is famous for its castles, and you can find a fantastically renovated one just 30 minutes away from Banská Bystrica by car (a bit longer by bus or train). Originally built in the 13th century, Vígľaš Castle now serves as a resort, with a four-star hotel, a medieval style restaurant, and wellness center with a sauna, swimming pool, and hot tub. Enjoy a soak and a spa treatment before dressing up for dinner underneath historic arches in the main hall of the castle.
After dinner, you can retire to the Dragon Cigar Bar for a cognac or whiskey with your choice of cigar. You can even choose to stay the night at the Grand Vígľaš in the Dracula Suite, which, amongst other surprises, features hidden stairs inside an ordinary looking wardrobe for those who enjoy a thrill.