Slovakia — Overview
From the Roman Empire to Greater Hungary, to the smaller half of the Communist nation of Czechoslovakia, the Slovak Republic has spent most of its long history under the rule of much larger empires. Its 1993 Velvet Divorce from Czechoslovakia was only the third time in 2,000 years that this tiny territory became an independent nation. The country’s two other independence periods were a brief time during WWII and a point during the Great Moravian Empire, which lasted between the 5th and 10th centuries.
The Slovak Republic is still developing as both an independent nation and tourism destination, but this tiny country has become an increasingly popular stop for many people during tours of nearby Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Its capital, Bratislava, may not yet boast as many tourists as Prague or Vienna, but this smaller city formerly known as Pozsony ranked among the most powerful in Europe during its over 300 years as Greater Hungary’s capital. The 16th century Bratislava Castle has only recently been reopened after a decades-long restoration project which started in the 1950s, while the Devin Castle has seen centuries of trading activity from its location at the one-time border of the Iron Curtain where the Danube and Morava rivers intersect.
However, only a handful of the Slovak Republic’s countless ancient castles are located in Bratislava. Visitors must venture outside the city to admire the country’s best preserved castles, most beautiful wooden churches, and most accessible cave complexes, the longest of which is approximately 15 miles long. The Low Tatras ski resort of Jasna has quickly become a cheaper and less crowded alternative to several Alps skiing spots. Tatras National Park’s mountains, Pieniny National Park’s outstanding rafting, and Mala Fatra National Park’s endless beach forests are just a handful of the surprisingly diverse landscapes found within this relatively tiny nation.
Hotel rooms can be tough to find in the Slovak Republic, especially during the peak summer, skiing, and holiday seasons. Booking as much as a year in advance is recommended in many cases. Camping is also commonly available, and visitors can even stay in private guest homes. Bratislava contains a few youth hostels. However, the country’s most relaxing places to stay may be its more than 94 destination spas, many of which have welcomed guests for well over a century. Slovak cuisine, like so many other aspects of the country’s culture, is heavily influenced by neighboring Germany, Austria, and Hungary.
Although Bratislava Milan Rastislav Štefánik Airport is the country’s largest air gateway, it currently offers no direct flights to North American cities. Many North American visitors find it more convenient to fly into the nearby Vienna International Airport and then travel the 34 miles to Bratislava by car, bus, or rail. Bratislava has become an increasingly frequent stop on Danube River cruises and Rail Europe journeys across the continent. The Slovak Republic is within easy driving distance of at least four other European nations, and its road quality is on par with that of its neighbors. Rail travel across the nation is generally quicker and cheaper than bus travel, but buses travel to a greater number of places.
- Explore the dozen Slovak Republic caves which are accessible to the public
- Go whitewater rafting on the Dunajec River
- Ski or snowboard on the Tatras mountains
- Get pampered at any of the Slovak Republic’s 94 destination spas
- Tour the eight different buildings of the Bratislava City Museum, including the ancient Devin Castle, just across the former Iron Curtain border from Austria
- Take a scenic steam train journey past numerous wooden churches along one of the Slovak Republic’s many phased-out railway tracks
- Enjoy the International Festival of Ghosts and Monsters against the fitting backdrop of the 12th century Bojnice Castle