A land of magnificent cities and majestic castles, Slovakia is one of European’s most spectacular countries, even though many people outside the region might struggle to place it on a map.
Often overlooked by tourists, this modest-sized destination is more sedate than the neighboring Czech Republic, but equally rich in architectural grandeur.
Slovakia also boasts a mountain region to rival the Alps, yet it’s significantly more affordable than Austria, which it also borders. Here are 11 of the best places to visit in when you travel here:
A younger sister to Vienna and Prague, Bratislava shares part of its history with Budapest due to its time under the rule of the Hungarian kingdom.
The city has transformed since becoming Slovakia’s capital 25 years ago and is undoubtedly one of the most interesting border cities in Europe.
Whether you’re wandering through the narrow pathways of the Old Town gazing at the elaborate facades of the historic houses or exploring grandiose Bratislava Castle, one of the main symbols of the capital, Bratislava fails to disappoint.
There are many interesting museums, beautiful palaces and churches to discover in this relaxing town, with St. Michael’s Gate, the best-preserved part of the town fortification system, another of its standout sights.
Just a half an hour drive from the city center, you’ll find the glorious ruins of the Devín Castle.
Situated at the confluence of Danube and Morava rivers, it’s one of the oldest castles in Slovakia.
Its fascinating museum tells of its turbulent history, while the castle affords wonderful views of the surrounding landscape.
Tip: For the best view of the city, the top of the SNP Bridge (also known as UFO Bridge for its unusual design) is difficult to beat. From here there’s a splendid panorama of the Old Town and Bratislava Castle.
UFO Observation deck, Most SNP, 851 01 Bratislava, Slovakia; +421 262 520 300
While Bratislava has the bustle of a capital, life in Košice, the second biggest town in the country, is much slower and more contemplative.
A picture-perfect Central European city, its beauty lies in the breathtaking architecture of the UNESCO-protected St. Elisabeth Cathedral, the coziness of the coffee shops on main Hlavná Street and the grandeur of the Neo-Baroque State Theatre.
With the biggest concentration of the historical monuments in the country, Košice is one of Slovakia’s absolute highlights.
Tip: For the ultimate coffee experience, there’s Cafe Slávia. Set in the well-preserved Art Nouveau building, it’s an idyllic place to score a daily dose of caffeine. Traditional restaurant Med Malina serves local culinary delights like pirohy (filled dumplings) and bryndzové halušky (potato dumplings with sheep cheese).
Cafe Slávia, Hlavná 63, 040 01 Košice, Slovakia; +421 903 653 636
Med Malina, Hlavná 81, 040 01 Košice, Slovakia; +421 556 220 397
For anyone looking for an affordable alternative to the Alps, the High Tatras mountains are an ideal choice.
With its dramatic snowy peaks and spectacular ski slopes, this mountain range is one of the most impressive sights in the country and has something to offer every type of traveler.
Fans of hiking will find miles of mountain paths, winter sports enthusiasts can experience the numerous pistes and ski resorts and wildlife lovers can take advantage of the excellent opportunities for bear and bird watching.
And did we mention the breathtaking views?
The mountains occupy an area of 785 square kilometers, with around 610 square kilometers based within Slovakia and about 175 square kilometers residing in Poland.
Tip: Adventoura Slovakia offers a rich selection of adventure tours in the High Tatras including paragliding, rafting, wildlife watching and husky dog sledding.
Adventoura Slovakia, Uherova 33, 058 01 Poprad, Slovakia; +421 903 641 549
One of the oldest spa towns in Slovakia, Bojnice is most famous for its magnificent fortress.
With its beautiful mix of Romantic, Gothic and Renaissance architecture, picturesque towers and swan pond, Bojnice Castle would be a perfect setting for any fairytale or fantasy book.
Fascinating on the outside and the inside, it is rightfully the most visited tourist attraction in the country and a great place to explore.
With its grandiose halls, such as the opulent Golden Hall, modeled after the ceiling in the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia and its museum, which details the history of the 12th century castle, there’s plenty to keep visitors occupied.
The castle has also become a holy grail for Instagrammers and photographers alike thanks to its endless photo opportunities.
Bojnice Zoo, the oldest and most popular zoo in Slovakia, is located nearby.
Tip: UNESCO-protected Čičmany, the most charming village in Slovakia, is about a 45-minute drive away. It’s famous for its picturesque timber houses decorated with white paintings and is truly an enchanting destination that is regularly named one of the most colorful places in Europe.
Bojnice Zoo, Zámok a okolie 6, 972 01 Bojnice; +421 465 402 975
This UNESCO-protected city in the east of Slovakia is home to one of the finest Old Towns in the country.
Here you’ll find a historic walled city core with scenic narrow streets and plenty of beautiful architectural delights.
Levoča is also a city of fascinating records, with the spectacular wooden altar of the Basilica of St. James famed to be the largest in the world.
The basilica is one of three major monuments in the town square, the others being the Old Town Hall, built during the 15th and 17th century and the domed Evangelical Lutheran Church, which dates back to 1837.
For delicious local cuisine, Kupecká Bašta restaurant, located inside one of the medieval fortified towers of Levoča’s Old Town, comes highly recommended.
Tip: Nearby Slovak Paradise National Park offers a unique hiking experience. You can tread the narrow rocky paths of the Suchá Belá gorge gazing at the countless waterfalls, explore the unique Dobšinská Ice Cave and be enchanted by the view from the spectacular Tomášovský viewpoint.
Slovak Paradise National Park, +421 534 4220 10
Gloriously perched on a hilltop looking over the endless valleys of eastern Slovakia, Spiš Castle is worth a trip.
Founded in the 12th century and completely abandoned in the 18th, it serves as an impressive remnant of the country’s turbulent past and is also one of the biggest castles in Europe by area.
While it’s never been restored to its original appearance since being destroyed in a fire in 1780, visitors can hike to its UNESCO-protected ruins from Spišské Podhradie town.
Once inside, guests can visit a museum detailing the castle’s history as well as contemplate the breathtaking views from its ancient walls.
Tip: On the outskirts of the Spišské Podhradie lies the unique ecclesiastical town of Spišská Kapitula, which is also UNESCO protected. The true gem of this complex is the superb St. Martin’s Cathedral, renowned as one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in Slovakia.
Bardejov is a UNESCO-protected small town in northeast Slovakia that’s famous for its intact medieval city core.
With an instantly recognizable panorama of its well-maintained colorful burgher houses, this city is one of the most picturesque places in the whole country.
Visitors can walk inside the monumental Basilica of St. Egidius to admire the exquisite Gothic altars, or climb the basilica’s tower for the best views of the Old Town.
The Šariš Museum has one of the most valuable collections of historical artifacts in the country.
Tip: On the outskirts of Bardejov, you’ll find one of the most famous spa destinations in Slovakia – Bardejovské Kúpele. It boasts several healing springs, a handful of fashionable spa resorts and an attention worthy open-air Museum of Folk Architecture.
Positioned in the west of the country, Trenčín is another great destination for magnificent castle panoramas.
The central square features an epic view of the grandiose Trenčín Castle towering over the charming houses of the Old Town.
Trenčín is believed to be the northernmost known presence of the Romans in Central Europe, with the 179 CE rock inscription under the castle offering proof of this.
The city also offers fascinating exploration opportunities. You can walk around the mighty castle walls, stroll through the calm streets of the Old Town, admire the Art Nouveau architecture of the Hotel Elizabeth and soak in the relaxing atmosphere of this typical Slovak town.
For the adventurous, Trenčianske Teplice, a spa town 15 minutes drive away from Trenčín, is a perfect place for long strolls as well as bathing in healing mineral waters.
The magnificent ornate 19th century-built Turkish hammam here evokes the grandeur of the Belle Époque.
Tip: The best and quirkiest coffee shop in town is called Coffee Sheep and is situated in one of the Old Town’s back alleys. Its friendly atmosphere, delicious coffee and panoramic terrace with great castle views make it an ideal rest stop.
Coffee Sheep, Marka Aurélia 930/9, 911 01 Trenčín; +421 908 466 056
Hidden in the forests of Štiavnické vrchy, lies one of the most beautiful small towns of Slovakia – UNESCO-protected Banská Štiavnica.
Once the biggest mining center of the Habsburg Monarchy and the third-largest city in the Kingdom of Hungary, today Banská Štiavnica is a great destination to visit with many great sights.
You can discover the rich mining history of the city at the Mining Museum with a descent into the historic shaft.
There’s also plenty to explore in the snake-shaped Old Town of Banská Štiavnica, from the spectacular Holy Trinity column, to the eye-catching burgher houses, 15th century Gothic church St. Catherine’s and the Old Chateau (Starý zámok), which dates back to the 13th century.
One of the most curious things to see in the city is the network of artificial water reservoirs (tajchy) built to provide energy for the mining industry. The remaining 24 now serve as a natural escape providing lots of hiking and swimming opportunities.
Tip: For one of the best views of the city and the adjacent hills, visit the wonderful Baroque Calvary of Banská Štiavnica, built in the 18th century.
Banská Bystrica is another picturesque old town, with its beautiful main square, fascinating mix of architectures and ancient castle complex in the city center.
Low Tatras National Park
Slovakia is a land of beautiful nature and the Low Tatras National Park is one of its most precious treasures.
Spanning an area of more than 1,000 square kilometers, this national park is the largest in the whole country.
A visit here usually involves enjoying the superb mountain scenery, exploring the numerous valleys and descending into the remarkable ice caves.
Low Tatras also offers almost infinite possibilities for outdoor sports. Freeride skiing enthusiasts will be excited to try the slopes of Chopok, renowned as one of the top freeride destinations in Central Europe.
For the best panorama views, head to the top of Ďumbier mountain and admire the breathtaking vista of basically one third of Slovakia, including the High Tatras.
Meanwhile a visit to the small village of Vlkolínec, a UNESCO-protected reserve of folk architecture, feels like traveling back in time.
With a kaleidoscope of well-preserved old wooden houses and tranquility of surrounding nature, Vlkolínec is a perfect refuge from the city bustle and a great idea for a day trip.
Tip: Boasting the impressive stalactite-filled halls and crystal-clear underground lakes, the Demänovská Cave of Liberty (the most visited cave in Slovakia) is a magical sight to explore.
Set in the footsteps of the High Tatras, this small historic town is one of the lesser-known treasures of the country.
Once a significant trade center, Kežmarok is an extremely interesting destination to visit.
Its diversity of attractions is quite impressive, there’s a UNESCO-protected Protestant wooden church, a picturesque Renaissance walled castle, a variety of magnificent churches and an elegant central square dominated by a beautiful town hall.
The city is also a great base for the High Tatras exploration as well as an amazing place to discover.
Tip: Just a short drive away from Kežmarok, you’ll find the impressive Ľubovňa Castle, which evokes the glorious medieval history of this region.
Ľubovňa Castle, Zámocká 22 064 01 Stará Ľubovňa, Slovakia; + 421 52 432 24 22
Pavlo Fedykovych is a creator of svitforyou.com, a travel blog about Central Europe and Ukraine. He’s also a freelance contributing writer for Lonely Planet. He tweets at @de_weg_