Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Top 12 Most Beautiful Towns and Villages in Slovakia


Slovakia is renowned for its mountain scenery, national parks and abundance of castles, yet there a number of attractive historic towns which deserve just as much attention from visitors. Banská Štiavnica, Bardejov and Levoča have all received UNESCO world heritage status for their unique and well-preserved buildings and town squares, while the mountain folk village of Vlkolínec has also been given UNESCO status. Most of these towns and villages are far away from the capital Bratislava and require multi-day excursions to visit them, but an overnight stay in any of these towns will greatly enhance the experience of a visit to this country. Even small villages such as Čičmany offer comfortable accommodation and restaurants for tourists. All of these places can be visited by public transport, with most requiring a combination of trains and buses to reach them. As this list focuses on small towns and villages it only includes towns with less than 20,000 population, so cities with historic old town centres such as Banská Bystrica and Trenčín aren't mentioned. The picture above shows the old town cobbled square in Bardejov. Have fun exploring!


1. Banská Štiavnica - A medieval mining town in a forested valley which has managed to retain almost all of its architectural beauty and unique character. Pastel-coloured buildings line the hillsides, with two castles in their midst and a bright red hilltop pilgrimage church within view. Getting there from Bratislava is easiest by bus, there are several direct buses per day taking 3 hours 25 minutes while some connections involve changing buses in Zvolen or Žiar nad Hronom. Trains take longer and require a change of trains in Hronská Dúbrava.



2. Levoča - An extremely atmospheric small town enclosed by a perfect set of medieval walls, gate towers and fortifications. Winding cobbled laneways surround a large central square with 17th-century facades, while a path leads to a nearby hilltop pilgrimage church. The world's largest wooden altar can be seen in the town's church of St. James. From Bratislava, take the train to Poprad and then change to a bus in the bus terminal which is right next to the train station. The total journey takes between 4 hours 35 minutes and 5 hours 30 minutes depending on the connection.



3. Bardejov - A perfectly preserved Saxon town centre, with a cathedral and town hall as the centrepieces on a cobbled square of burgher houses with sgraffito facades. The town's set of medieval walls, towers and fortifications is nearly complete, providing a stunning view from the nearby hills. Bardejov is at the opposite end of the country from Bratislava but certainly worth the trip, the far east offers a completely different atmosphere to experience. Getting there from Bratislava takes between 6 and 9 hours depending on the connection, taking the train to Poprad and then catching a bus to Bardejov is usually the fastest way.



4. Čičmany - A small mountain village of wooden cottages with a very unique feature - most of the dark log homes are covered from top to bottom in white painted folk designs based on the local patterns used on lacework and traditional costumes. Two of the cottages have been converted into a museum, and walking trails in the surrounding hills offer great views of the village. Getting there from Bratislava takes about 4 hours 30 minutes, take a train to Žilina and then catch a bus to the village.



5. Vlkolínec - A UNESCO heritage-listed mountain village of rustic wooden cottages that has remained untouched by modern development. One cottage functions as a museum, and displays of folk art and wood carving can usually be seen in the summer months. Spending a night in one of the traditional cottages here is a highly memorable experience. Getting there from Bratislava takes about 4 hours 15 minutes, first by train to Ružomberok and then a local bus to the village of Biely Potok, where a short trail heads up into the hills to reach Vlkolínec. It's also possible to walk to the village along a network of hiking trails from Ružomberok.



6. Kremnica - This small town lies on the slopes of a wooded valley, dominated by the fortified church and tower at its centre. The national mint is found on the leafy square that sits below the church, while the old stone walls and gate towers that encircle the town centre are an impressive sight when viewed from the nearby hills. The fastest way to travel there from Bratislava is by bus with a change of buses in Žiar nad Hronom, with the total journey taking around 3 hours and 15 minutes. Connections by train are slower, taking about 4 hours 30 minutes with a change of trains in Vrútky.



7. Špania Dolina - A traditional medieval mining village just north of Banská Bystrica. A long covered stairway leads up the hill to the large fortified church, while 17th century miners cottages have been well restored. The surrounding forested hills and mountains offer great opportunities for hiking and mountain biking. The fastest way to get there from Bratislava is by bus with a change of buses in Banská Bystrica, taking around 4 hours.



8. Kežmarok - A Saxon town in the Spiš region with an impressive castle and historic centre, including the most beautiful Evangelical wooden church in the country. The best way to get there from Bratislava is by train to Poprad and then either by train or bus depending on the connection, with the total journey time taking about 5 hours and 15 minutes.



9. Podbiel - A small village in Orava region that has a wonderful collection of traditional wooden folk cottages. Many of the cottages are available for visitors to rent, and an ethnography museum displays local folklore artifacts and costumes. The most convenient way to get there from Bratislava is by train with a change of trains in Kraľovany, the total journey takes about 4 hours and 50 minutes.



10. Spišská Sobota - Nowadays an outer suburb of Poprad, this historic town square is one of the finest in the Spiš region, with many well-restored 17th century merchant houses. Several of the houses offer tourist accommodation, while others have been turned into restaurants. Trains from Bratislava to Poprad take between 4 hours and 4 hours 40 minutes depending on the type of train. Spišská Sobota is in the north-eastern district of Poprad, a 15 to 20 minute walk from the main train station.



11. Skalica - A town near the Czech border with a historic old town and central square. Remnants of the old town walls and gate towers still remain, and the town's highlight is a perfectly preserved Romanesque rotunda from the 12th century. The art nouveau-style house of culture from 1905 is another unique part of the architectural ensemble. Skalica is the only town on this list that can reasonably be considered a day trip from Bratislava; trains take 1 hour and 50 minutes with a change of trains required in Kúty.



12. Stratená - A small village set in stunning mountain scenery at the edge of the Slovak Paradise national park. Trails into the park begin just steps from the village and the Dobšiná ice cave is nearby, so the village makes a good base to explore the southern part of the national park for a few days. The easiest way to get there from Bratislava is by train to Poprad and then by bus (around 5 hours 45 minutes), though there are also connections by train via Banská Bystrica.

3 comments:

  1. I just had an enjoyable Google street view exploration of Banská Štiavnica. What a wonderful town!

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  2. Hi John, yes, it's well worth a visit! The medieval mineshafts can also be visited on a tour, the mining museum is just outside the town centre.

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  3. Sooo beautiful...

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