10 Things Foreigners Should Know About Slovakia

10 Things Foreigners Should Know About Slovakia

I was undeniably smitten with Slovakia when I made brief stops to two of its wonderful villages this year: Oravsky Podzamok and Vlkolinec.

Commonly referred to as an off the beaten path destination in Europe, this was a gem that I hope everybody would soon seek out as a getaway because the natural beauty of this country was incredibly vivid right from the moment that I set my eyes on it.

Though I didn’t have the chance to explore its capital, Bratislava, as well as its other popular districts, the places that I’ve been to were enough to make me yearn for more. With that in mind, I’m already planning on a 2nd voyage!

And what better way to anticipate that than to ask Slovaks for some interesting facts about the country as early as now? So today, I present to you, Maya and Michal who will talk about this wonderful country that’s smacked right in the heart of Europe!

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What to Do in Slovakia?

Come and check out this list of top things to do in Slovakia which features the best activities and tours to do in and from Bratislava.

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BIO & INTRO

Travel With the SmileWe are Maya and Michal, born and raised in Slovakia. After studying in our capital of Bratislava, we started to crave adventure. So we quit our jobs thereafter, packed our bags and moved to Canada. That was over 3 years ago and we couldn’t be happier about our decision of living abroad.

In 2015, after many questions from friends and family, we started a travel blog where we document our trips around Canada and beyond: Travel with the Smile.

I’m sure many expats would agree that the longer you live abroad, the more you miss some parts of your home country, that’s why every time we go for a visit, we always plan a getaway to Slovakia’s nature.

In a nutshell, some important facts about Slovakia: Slovakia is a small country at ~49,000 km2 in Central Europe with a population of 5,5 million. The capital and the largest city is Bratislava and the official language is Slovak. Since joining European union in 2004, Slovakia’s currency is the Euro, and we have everything from unique castles, caves, mountains, hot springs, folk architecture and more.

Without further ado, read on below about the 10 interesting things about Slovakia:
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10 Things Foreigners Should Know About Slovakia

#1: Slovakia is in Central Europe — it’s NOT Slovenia

Central Europe

Slovakia is such a small country that only very few people actually knew where it is after asking me where I’m from. Trying to help them place my home country on a map doesn’t help when I try to explain that Slovakia is located in Central Europe. There are so many definitions of Central and Eastern Europe, that it really depends on the source you are using whether you find Slovakia in Central or Eastern Europe.

And yet this is not the only common misunderstanding from foreigners. They also confuse it with Slovenia. Even George W. Bush and many other politicians have mistakenly talked about Slovakia and Slovenia. It resulted in regular monthly meetings of staff from Slovak and Slovenian embassies to exchange wrongly-addressed mail.

#2: Has great national parks with diverse nature

High Tatras

With 9 national parks and 14 protected landscape areas, there is a lot to choose from when visiting Slovakia. Most of them are located in central part of the country, and the best part is you can visit them by using public transport! The best known park is the High Tatras with peaks over 2500m, and it is a popular place for hiking and skiing.

Meanwhile, Slovak Paradise is popular for exploring the caves; whereas Low Tatras is the largest national park full of mountains and green valleys — our favourite for mountain biking.

#3: We’ve got interesting folk dances

Folk Dances

One of the most interesting things about Slovakia are Slovak folk dances. Influenced by the region and a way of living, dances and folk costumes are different and colorful. In fact, there are more than a hundred folk groups in Slovakia and the dances are brisk, full of temperament and accompanied mostly by cymbalo, violin and bass.

Maya is a former folk dancer and used to dance in a folk group. Many folk performances are held at the festivals around and during summer. See yourself how beautiful and unique our folk art is in this video.

#4: More than 1,600 mineral springs

Mineral Springs

There are more than 1,600 officially registered springs, many of them used as a source of mineral drinking water and the others are thermal springs for relaxing spas. You can buy bottled water from Slovak springs in every store – each type has a different benefits for your body. The biggest area for swimming is in Bešeňová, where 33 springs can be found.

The world rarity are hot springs in Podhájska – the water is said to have more beneficial effects than the famous Dead Sea water.

#5: The most castles and chateaux per capita in the world

TrencinPhoto by Marian Hubinsky / CC
Slovakia has 180 castles and 425 chateaux – huge numbers for a small country! So wherever you go, you will see at least one castle or chateaux. The most popular of them all is Spiš Castle, which is also one of the largest in Central Europe (it is included in the UNESCO List of World’s Cultural and Natural Heritage).

For us though, the most beautiful castle is from our hometown of Trencin (pictured above).

#6: First folk architecture reservation in the world

CicmanyPhoto by Petra Gregorová / CC
The picturesque village of Čičmany is located near Strážov Hills in northern Slovakia. It is the first-ever folk architecture reservation in the world and the 1st mention of the village dates back to the year 1272! There are more than 130 houses that belong to this area and the wooden houses are painted with different folk ornaments, some of them appearing on the people’s folk costumes.

#7: We have more than 6,000 caves

Caves

More than six thousand caves have been discovered in Slovakia. Most of them can be found in the national parks of Low Tatras, Slovak Paradise and Slovak Karst, and they truly are unique natural wonders.

For instance, Ochtinska Aragonite Cave is called “freak of nature”. Instead of classic stalagmites and stalactites, you will find white aragonite twigs and bushes. Did you know? There are only four accessible aragonite caves in the world, rest of them are in Czech Republic, Mexico and Argentina.

#8: Similar language to other European countries

Bratislava

Slovak language belongs to the Slavic language family. It is sometimes called “Slovak Esperanto” because it is the most comprehensible language for the speakers of other Slavic languages.

Truth be told, we understand each other with people from different European countries speaking Slavic languages – such as Czech, Polish, Russian, Croatian and others

#9: The oldest European marathon

Kosice MarathonPhoto by EHRENBERG Kommunikation / CC
Kosice Peace Marathon is the oldest marathon in Europe and the world’s second oldest (after Boston Marathon). It is held every year in Kosice, in the eastern part of Slovakia, on the first Sunday in October.

#10: A special (smelly) but tasty cheese

Bryndzove haluskyPhoto by Julie Putseys / CC
Slovakia’s national dish is called “Bryndzové halušky”. They are potato dumplings with a special kind of fermented sheep cheese called “bryndza”.

It is best prepared with pieces of fried bacon on top! This is a very unique and popular meal which can be found in most of the restaurants. Quality varies so make sure to check beforehand the best place to get bryndzové halušky.
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Overall

10 Things Foreigners Should Know About Slovakia

Slovakia

If you’re from Slovakia like Michal and Maya, do you agree with the 10 points that they wrote about the country? Maybe you have something to add too?

After learning of these facts, you bet that I’m very excited to come back! For sure I am eyeing on a trip to its national parks as well as the famed High Tatras! How about you?

NOTE: This series will happen monthly so keep an eye out for the next country that I’ll be featuring!

Foreigners Should Know

How about you?

  • What do you think about this blog series?
  • If you’re a Slovak, do you agree with the points that Maya and Michal made? What else can you add?
  • If you’re a foreigner, what points do you find interesting or intriguing? Would you want to visit this country?

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41 comments

  1. I lived in SK for 8 years. Remarkable scenery, customs and people.

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  2. Quick question? We are your indian guys from India and America traveling to Bratislava for child days of fun. We feel like they’re are a lot of outdoor staring and giving us dirty looks. Do they think we are Muslim or do they just not like dark skinned people from other countries. Given the history I am assuming that but wanted to gain your opinion.

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    1. Hey Kodi, I don’t think it’s because you’re Muslim that they’re staring. I assure you, people tend to stare at me too especially if I travel to remote or off-the-beaten-path destinations in Europe. That’s just simply because we look different. It helps to not jump into rash conclusions and generalize everyone. I bet they just find it interesting or curious the way that we look different from them — besides, you gotta admit, there are remote parts in your own country (like India) where people will stare at a white man. (The same for mine).

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    2. As a person living near Bratislavai I can tell you it’s not because people hate you or something like that, most of them are still not used to see people of colour in streets and thus if they see one they tend to stare. It’s not like in Austria, France, Italy where streets are crowded with all sorts of people and locals are used to it. Slovak people are usually very friendly and they are doing their best to help you if you ask something (e.g. directions) even if they don’t speak english. Don’t understand the “given the history” part though. What do you mean by that?

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    3. PS: Aileen, one additional benefit for English speaking visitors that don’t know Slovak, is that the majority of young people 25 and under, as well as some middle age folks, know at least some conversational English, and many are quite fluent. A great plus when you’re in a country where you don’t know the language! If you can learn the phrase “Prepačte, Chápem veľmi málo slovenčiny. Hovoríš po anglicky?”(Pardon me, I understand very little Slovak, do you speak English?), and speak it to a young person passing by on the street, or in a shop or restaurant; usually you will get the response, “Yes, I speak English “, and they are usually happy to help you!
      Also, Slovakia is one of the most budget friendly countries in Europe! Accommodations are generally one half to one quarter of what you’d pay anywhere else. Same with rental cars. Roundtrip airfair from the US is realatively cheap to a European gateway city such as Dublin Ireland, and r/t from Dublin to Bratislava is practically a steal at a range of $75 to $200. My upcoming trip to visit
      my cousins in Slovakia in September is $473 r/t from Chicago to Dublin, and
      $73 r/t from Dublin to Bratislava. 10 day rental car, (with automatic transmission, an extra cost upgrade advisable when driving on unfamiliar roads) is $198, tax included. And if I choose not to stay with family, 8 days for a beautiful little studio, with full galley kitchen, fireplace, private bathroom, and an English speaking host in Ružomberok is $198 total, tax included! So with $175 for trip/medical insurance, (you have to purchase medical insurance,as US policies and medicare DO NOT cover you anytime you go outside of the US), a 10 day trip to Slovakia is extremely affordable at just over $1,100 plus food, gas, and incidentals like entrance fees, etc. You can also pack light, because you can buy almost all your toiletry items there at Tesco (a European version of Walmart); many have US name brands!
      And if you use Bratislava as a home base, you can take a boat ride down the Blue Danube river to visit Vienna Austria in just over 1 hour, take the train to explore Budapest Hungary in about 2 hours, and Prague in 3 hours. Driving to the mountains in central Slovakia is about 2 hours. Košice, Prešov, and Bardejov in eastern Slovakia, and Krakow Poland are all a 3 to 4 hour drive. So not only do you get to visit and enjoy the most beautiful country in Europe, you can also explore so many other interesting cities and countries, all within about a 2 week holiday time period! And all this for possibly no more than, and probably less than a similar holidays timeframe in the US!
      Aileen, I hope I’ve helped you to wet some appetites for some soon coming trips to a little slice of heaven on earth, Slovakia!!

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  3. Just like to point out Scotland has less than 5.5million population and more than 1000 castles. Just to say

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    1. Yep, there certainly are other places too that have far more castles in number, but Slovakia has the most “per capita” :D

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    2. I am afraid it is probably counted for sovereign countries?

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  4. My family and I visited Slovakia this summer for 2 weeks. Wonderful country, beautiful countryside, very nice people!
    Everything from Orava and Spis castle, to hiking in Slovak Paradise and enjoying the aquapark in Besenova was great fun. We are definitely coming back!

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    1. Ah you are so lucky! I was only able to visit a few places so I hope to be back there soon and see more :D

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    2. Hello Aileen, One thing Michal a Maya didn’t include are the wonderful pedestrian only plazas in many Slovak towns; probably because to them, they aren’t a destination, but a normal way of life. But for those of us who aren’t used to that, (like most Americans), they are a wonderful and exciting destination in themselves! Slovaks and tourists alike stroll the streets (no cars allowed!), gather for good meals both indoors and outside, browse through the wonderful small shops, and just enjoy meeting others and having good conversations! Bratislava a Kośice both have extensive pedestrian centers offering restaurants, shops, and some beautiful architectural buildings, but even small towns like the sking destination Ružomberok, have beautiful vibrant plazas. When visiting Hlavné námestie (Main Square) in Bratislava, be sure to go see the ‘Blue church’. Its beautiful and unique, and just a few blocks walk outside the Square.
      And while the rugged Vesoký Tatry mountains are a must visit, so is riding the cable cars up to Malino Brdo ski and bike park in Rużomberok which affords beautiful views of the Nízke (Low) Tatrys. At the top, there are slightly strenuous trails, (I climbed in street shoes, which I really don’t recommend) that have many stunning views both on the way up and when you reach the top.

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  5. I would looove to visit Slovakia soon! Sounds awesome!

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    1. Hope you get to see it soon Sheena :D

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  6. Wow, the nature looks beautiful! We only had a quick stop in Bratislava last year. I’d love to get back and explore more of the country!

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    1. I, on the other hand, didn’t manage to drop by Bratislava that’s why I do need to go back there :P

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    2. It is my homeland and I can dearly recommend to everyone to see it! I consider it the most beautiful country i have ever seen and traveled to far away countries!

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  7. Wow!! Slovakia looks like an amazing destination!!

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    1. That’s for sure! :D

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  8. This is such stunningly, beautiful country. I have to say that I honestly did not know that it was not a part of Slovenia. Great information for sure!

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    1. Indeed, Slovakia is a country of its own, wholly separate and not to be mistaken with the other country, Slovenia :)

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    2. As a Slovak I feel deeply offended :D

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  9. Wonderful post – and especially from your perspective of living there – beautiful images! We’ve not been to Europe and this is a fabulous testimonial for part this type of traveling and the opportunities to explore the entire area!

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    1. Well actually my guest writers are locals of Slovakia so they really know their stuff ;)

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