Low-cost carriers and bachelor parties have put the small country of Slovakia on the map. But putting that aside it is worth visiting Slovakia to spend time in Bratislava, its capital and to visit the ancient castles and traditional villages in the country.
We will first take a look at Slovakia as a whole and then take a look at what Bratislava has to offer a visitor.
Slovakia is a country with romantic castles sat on hills and many medieval walled cities to explore. On arriving in Slovakia buy a detailed map and locate a castle ruin symbol. Make that a starting point and begin hiking, you will find dozens of fortress remains on the public hiking trails.
More than 20% of Slovakia is protected parkland thanks to its natural beauty of icy high peaks of the High Tatras, the jagged mountains and the forested hills.
In my opinion the heart of Slovakia’s charm is the traditional folk arts that range from architecture to music. This is the place to visit to see some striking examples of religious architecture and art such as the sculpted altar at the Church of St Jacob in Levoca.
Those who enjoy sports especially ice-hockey need to visit Slovakia from September through to April. The Slovakian Olympic team may have flagged recently but the fans have had a true perk with the news that the 2011 World Championships will be held in Slovakia with Bratislava getting a brand new stadium to host the event.
Getting to Slovakia
Mr Stefanika Airport (www.airportbratislava.sk) receives many flights from across Western Europe particularly using carriers such as Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) and SkyEurope Airlines (www.skyeurope.com).
To arrive from somewhere other than the European continent then you will use the Vienna International Airport (www.viennaairport.com). This airport is 60km away from Bratislava but there are buses that run hourly.
On to Bratislava
Bratislava the capital of Slovakia is a whole host of contrasts with old castles sharing the skyline with the UFO-like New Bridge that was constructed in the 1970’s.
The city center may be small but it is strollable with narrow streets and pastel colored rococo buildings. There are many cafes, chic bars and restaurants and the city buzzes.
At this point I would advise you to buy a discount card from the Bratislava Culture and Information Center. The card is purchased by days either one, two or three days and included discounted museum admissions and city transport.
Bratislava Culture and Information Center (www.bkis.sk)
Bratislava Tourist Service 9www.Bratislava-info.sk)- The staff here are really helpful.
City Website (http://visit.bratislava.sk)
Bratislava Castle- For a great walk that overlooks the city then this is the place to come. The fortress was destroyed by fire in 1811 and what we see today is a 1950’s reconstruction.
The Museum of Jewish Culture – Here you will se some moving displays about the city’s former Jewish community.
St Martin’s Cathedral – Between 1563 and 1830 eleven ruling Hungarian monarchs where crowned here.
The Slovak National Museum (www.snm.sk) – This museum is great to get an overview of customs and folk culture from across the country.
Events and Festivals
The Bratislava Music Festival (www.bhsfestival.sk) – During this festival, which runs from late September to mid- October classical music takes center stage.
The Bratislava Jazz Days (www.bjd.sk) – Enjoy a long weekend of jazz in September.
For a list of college dormitories that are open in the summer go to the Bratislava Culture and Information service.
Below are few hostels that you may wish to try. All have laundries, kitchens, wi-fi and sell wine and beer.
Hostel Possonium (www.posonium.sk) – This is a new hostel and sleeps 6-10 to a room. It does have the added drawback of street noise.
Hostel Blues (www.hostelblues.sk) – The staff here are friendly and will help you plan your days plus they also organize free sight-seeing tours. Here you can choose a single sex or co-ed dorm.
Downtown Backpackers (www.backpackers.sk) – This is a boozy bohemian classic with red brick walls and tapestries. You do have to walk through some dorms to reach others.
City Hostel (www.cityhostel.sk) – This hostel is more like a hotel offering singles and doubles with tv and bathrooms.
For those wishing to splash out then stay at the Arcadia Hotel (www.arcadia-hotel.sk). This five star hotel was once a 13th century palace and the owners have gone to great lengths to make sure that their guests are aware of this. Luxury is everywhere.
Things to do for free
When exploring a city it is always great when you can see and do something that isn’t going to cost. And here in Bratislava there are some things that cost nothing just your time such as searching the old town streets for statues like The Watcher or The Frenchman. And it costs nothing to browse the crafts market on Hiavne nam.
Books to read
Before traveling to Slovakia a very readable history can be found in A History of Slovakia – The Struggle for Survival by Stanislav kirschbaum.
To find out more about life in the communist’80s then a good read is Year of the Frog by Martin Simecka.
Source: Europe on a Shoestring – The Lonely Planet
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