Unique castles, caves, hot springs, folk architecture, the European Dead Sea, a famous Celtic town, European wildlife and much more. What are some of the unique Slovak tourist spots that you’d hardly be able to find elsewhere?
Slovakia is a central European country known for its dramatic natural landscape and many castles. Near the Austrian border, capital city Bratislava features a pedestrian-only Old Town with a lively cafe scene. Rising on a hill above the Danube River, Bratislava Castle houses a branch of the Slovak National Museum, with displays ranging from Roman artifacts to 20th-century arts and crafts.
Slovakia is a castle superpower
The smaller the country, the greater the number of its castles. It’s doubtful you’d find another country that has as many castles as Slovakia. The first written mention of Slovakia’s oldest castle Devín dates back to the year 868. Spiš Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the ten largest castles in the world. And the whole world knows the terrifying story of the bloody countess Elizabeth Bathory from Čachtice Castle. Altogether, Slovakia has as many as 220 castles and castle ruins! Not enough? Then add its 425 chateaus to the mix.
The first folk architecture reservation in the world
Travel back in time and see what life in the Slovak countryside looked like in past centuries. The picturesque wooden village of Čičmany at the foothills of the Strážov Hills is actually the first-ever folk architecture reservation in the world! How did Čičmany come into existence? How did our ancestors live? How did they dress? How did they build painted wooden houses that look like fairy tale gingerbread houses? This place has many interesting stories from the distant past to tell. After all, the first mention of the village dates back to the year 1272.
Ochtinská Aragonite Cave – one of only four of its kind in the world
There are only four accessible aragonite caves on the planet. Slovakia is one of two European countries to have this unique natural phenomenon – ours is the Ochtinská Aragonite Cave. It differs from other caves in that there are no classic stalagmites and stalactites, but strange-looking milky white twigs and bushes made from aragonite. A simply unique “freak of nature” that you can only find here, in the Czech Republic, Mexico and Argentina!
The biggest cave dripstone
Yes, Slovakia is a cave superpower too. So far, 7,000 caves have been discovered in the country, and Krásnohorská Cave has the highest sinter column (34 metres) in the world. For a long time, it was considered the biggest dripstone in the world, registered in the Guinness Book of Records!
Fairy tale-like oak grove
Few people know about it, but the oak grove near Dobrá Niva in Zvolen is unrivalled and attracts the interest of scientists from around the world. On an area equal to 120 football fields grow 600 giant, more than 400-year-old oaks. Their bizarre shapes are like something out of a fairy tale!
The centre of Europe
If you hear somebody say that Slovakia is the heart and centre of Europe, it’s not a joke. In a beautiful spot at Kremnické Bane in Central Slovakia, next to the ancient Church of St. John the Baptist, you can find a stone marking the geographical centre of Europe.
Herľany Geyser – a world rarity
The geyser in the spa village Herľany has been jetting forth from under the Earth’s surface for over 140 years. Although at present the spring reaches a height of “only” 20 meters at regular intervals every 32 to 36 hours, in 1874 the water erupted continuously for 10 days at a height of 112 meters! What makes it different from other geysers? While the vast majority of geysers around the world gush hot water, Herľany Geyser is renowned for its low temperatures of 14-18°C. From 1957-2006, it even was the only cold geyser in all of Europe. Today, similar geysers can be found only in Iceland.
The highest altar in the world
It measures 18.6 metres, and its creator, Master Pavol of Levoča, needed 10 years to carve it from linden wood. Made in the 16th century, it still is the highest wooden Gothic altar in the world. You can find it in the St Jacob church in Levoča.
Forever mysterious – the stone balls of Megoňky
In the Klokočovské skálie nature reserve in the Kysuce Region, there are huge stone balls that are comparable to similar world-famous findings in Mexico and Costa Rica. It is in fact the largest known stone ball site in Europe, and it hides a big secret that is millions of years old. The largest one has a diameter of about 2.15m, and it’s been named Mary. So far, no one has been able to explain their origin. Would you dare to try?
Kremnica Mint – a seven-hundred-year-old enterprise
The Kremnica Mint has been making coins since 1328 and is the oldest continuously-operating enterprise in the world. It also manufactures Slovak euro coins and is renowned in the fields of numismatics and the history of art and technology. The Kremnica Mint achieved its highest levels of production during the reign of Maria Theresa.
Dead Sea in the heart of Europe – the magic waters of Podhájska
Did you know that the water from the hot springs in Podhájska has even more beneficial effects than the world famous Dead Sea water, which people have been writing odes about for centuries? The water of Podhájska is unique throughout all of Europe, and its composition is truly a world rarity!
There are only a thousand of them left. A completely unique species of chamois evolved for thousands of years after the Ice Ages in a totally isolated environment, and it differs from the related chamois species of the Alps and the Apennines. This endemic species can’t be found anywhere else on the planet but in the High Tatras!
More expensive than gold – the oldest and largest opal mines in the world
Few people know that in the Slanské Hills, there are deposits of precious opal. This is an extraordinary phenomenon of a global perspective, as nowhere in the world was opal mined in such a large scale. The biggest known piece of precious opal also comes from Slovak opal mines. It was found 236 years ago and weighed 607 grams. Because of its unique colour, it was named Harlequin. It is stored in a museum in Vienna, and its price is estimated at five hundred thousand US dollars. Opal gems from Slovakia also adorned the family of Napoleon, with the famous Trojan Fire opal being worn by Empress Josephine. The scale of opal mining from 150 years ago is comparable to only one place in the world today – Australia.
Bethlehem in Rajecká Lesná
Master carver Jozef Pekara needed more than 15 years to finish the Bethlehem in Rajecká Lesná. It is a true rarity, since it’s the largest wooden moving Bethlehem set in Europe. Pekara’s Bethlehem includes about 300 figures, half of which are movable. The piece is 8.5m long, 2.5m wide and 3m high. The beautiful exhibition not only depicts the birth of Christ, but also the history of the Slovak nation. For a long time, it was considered the largest Bethlehem in the world.
Banská Štiavnica – a world rarity
A beautiful town in absolute harmony with the surrounding nature. There are historical landmarks, the Calvary, dozens of picturesque settings, and the tajchy, artificial water reservoirs built to provide energy for the mines. Banská Štiavnica was one of the most important cities of medieval Hungary and is truly unique from a cultural, historical and architectural point of view.
More than 1,600 mineral springs
No other country has, compared to its size, as many mineral springs as Slovakia. There are 1,657 officially-registered springs, but there probably are many more yet to be discovered. The mineral water of Smrdáky is unique for its hydrogen sulphide content. The largest number of springs in Slovakia can be found in Bešeňová, with 33 springs that reach temperatures of up to 61 °C.
Wolf Mountains – a wilderness and lost paradise
It is said that the European wilderness ceased to exist centuries ago. But you can still find it in Slovakia! Do you ever wonder what the wilderness looked like when man did not rule over nature? In the Poloniny National Park on the border with Poland and Ukraine, there is an untouched wild forest called the Wolf Mountains with trees over a thousand-years-old. This wild European nature can be just as amazing as the African Serengeti. In a single area, where there are no people far and wide, this beautiful wilderness is home to many endangered animal species, such as the lynx, wolf, bear, beaver, wild horse and the huge prehistoric European bison.
Carnuntum – the mythical town of the Celtic Kingdom
The “City on the Rock,” i.e. Carnuntum, which archaeologists had searched for for several decades across Europe – that mythical town of the Celtic kingdom of Noricum, built by the Romans in 100 BC when Paris and London were still only swamps – has been recently discovered by archaeologists at the Bratislava Castle. The historic buildings are even 200 years older than Rome’s Colosseum!
UNESCO Cultural Heritage
Three localities from Slovakia were inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List already in 1993: Castle of Spiš and its environs, Banská Štiavnica and Vlkolínec. In 2000, the historic town Bardejov was added, in 2008 wooden churches of the Slovak part of Carpathian Mountain Area and in 2009 town Levoča.
UNESCO Natural Heritage
Unique natural heritage of Slovakia is represented in the UNESCO World Heritage List by caves and abysses of Slovenský kras karst and by Dobšinská ľadová jaskyňa cave. In 2007 the Carpathian primeval beech forests of the Bukovské vrchy and Vihorlatské vrchy Mts. in the east of Slovakia were added to this list.
UNESCO Intangible Heritage
Fujara is the most typical Slovak musical instrument. It was included by UNESCO in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The list was founded in 2001.
Second on the UNESCO intangible heritage list is the Music of Terchová – the “heavenly“ archaic folk music characteristic of Terchová and neighbouring villages, typified by multi-voice singing.