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Where has the world’s greatest number of castles and chateaux per capita?

Tucked right in the heart of Europe with no sea in sight, Slovakia (not to be confused with Slovenia further south), has a distinct culture despite the shared history with its closest neighbour the Czech Republic, with whom it was wed until the ‘velvet divorce’ of 1992. It may come as a surprise to learn that this tiny nation not much bigger than Belgium has an inordinate number of castles and chataeux – over 600 at the last count! It also has caves. Lots and lots of caves, many of which are accessible to visitors. In fact the country’s geography is one of its greatest lures. The Tatra Mountains, part of the vast Carpathian range, offer up forested slopes, glacier lakes, canyons and alpine meadows – a breath of fresh air for summer hikers and a playground for winter sports enthusiasts, while the rustic villages sheltering on the mountains’ flanks practice traditions little changed over the centuries. Slovakia also has a vast number of mineral springs, meaning there are spa towns aplenty. The best known is Piestany, popular since the Romans came to town.

Nature aside, there’s the capital, Bratislava, a compact easy, interesting city well worth exploring for a day or two. So travel east to discover this relatively untrammelled land and take time to converse with the Slovakians over a slivovica or two and learn more about this rising star of Europe.

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Things to do

Bratislava

As the capital and largest city in Slovakia, Bratislava has all the museums, galleries and historic buildings you’d hope for in a European city – including the Museum of Wine Production! The most popular part with visitors is the pedestrianised old town, especially Hlavné Námestie, the main square, whose bars and restaurants are always thronging, while the vast monolith of Bratislava Castle invites visitors to climb the hill and explore the museum within.

As with many riverside cities, Bratislava’s old quarter is linked to the new via a bridge, itself shiny and new, and an attraction in its own right. Cross the Most SNP Bridge and pause beneath the ‘UFO’ restaurant to check out the weather for the following day. The top of the bridge will be lit by one of four colours – hope for yellow, signifying a sunny day to come, or get your brolly handy if it’s blue. And if it’s red? Well, just be prepared to batten down the hatches…

Flight time

It takes just over two hours to fly from London to Bratislava. 

Currency

Euro -

The euro is the official currency in Slovakia and ATMs are widely available. Major credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted. American Express, Thomas Cook and Visa traveller' cheques are accepted in banks and at bureaux de change. Exchange rate charges are at least 1% of the nominal cheque value. To avoid additional charges other than exchange rate charges, you are advised to take euro, US dollars or sterling travellers cheques.

Passports and visas

As this is an EU country, British nationals do not require a visa. It is a good idea to take a photocopy of your passport showing your passport number and photograph. Bring this with you on holiday but keep it separate from your passport just in case it gets lost or stolen. 

Phrases

You may find the following words and phrases useful…

Ahoj - Hello,

Dovidenia – goodbye

Prosim – please/you are welcome

Dakujem - Thank you

Ano – yes

Nei – no

Timezone

Slovakia is one hour ahead of GMT (two hours ahead of GMT in British Summer Time).

Electricity

Mains voltage is 230 volts AC (50 cycles). Sockets take small round two-pin plugs. An adaptor is required for most British appliances so you may like to bring one with you.

Language

Slovak -

The official language is Slovak. Hungarian, Ruthenian, Ukrainian and German are also spoken by a minority of people. Most young people now learn English at school but many older people only know Russian or German as their second language.

Tipping

Tipping is not ingrained in the British culture so we often feel uncertain when it comes to offering gratuities, but in Europe a tip of about 10% is the norm, and few establishments include gratuities in the bill. In bars it's common to round up the final bill for drinks, in which case there's no fixed percentage. 

Climate

Slovakia has four distinct seasons and much like Britain, the weather can be quite varied, with typically warm, dry summers and fairly cold winters.

Health

As health information can change at any time, we’d advise you to consult your GP at least 12 weeks before departure.

Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad.

British or EEA nationals are entitled to a European Health Insurance Card – the EHIC – which replaces the former E111. This free card allows you to get state healthcare at a reduced cost within any country in the European Economic Area. If you already have a card, please be aware that it needs renewing every five years. To apply or renew, call 0300 330 1350 or complete the application online on the NHS website.

Population and size

There are around 5.5 million inhabitants in Slovakia – London’s population is one and a half times greater.

Smoking

Smoking is prohibited on public transport and in most other public places.



Climate