(Editor’s note: Slovakia is the destination for Pt. 1 of travel-writer/photographer Jackie Harding’s three-part series on post-pandemic travel destinations.)
I need to think about something other than Coronavirus and the impact it has had on our lives, especially my travel adventures! To keep myself from going insane, I have been thinking and researching the Top 3 European destinations I would like to visit for the first time when travel is an option once again.
As Christmas is on its way, I thought maybe Santa/Father Christmas/Sinterklaas might like a heads-up about what I would like in my travel stocking next year.
My No. 3 travel destination – Slovakia
As a frequent visitor to Vienna, I have always wanted to visit Bratislava via the Danube and its frequent riverboat sailings. The trip is about one hour and 15 minutes, and takes you from downtown Vienna to downtown Bratislava.
There is also a train or bus, both of which take around an hour, have less inspiring views but are a little less expensive than a river cruise.
As in Vienna, Bratislava’s café culture is a big part of the city lifestyle, and there is no better way to get a feel for a city than by sitting at one of its cafes watching the world pass by.
Slovakia is literally in the heart of Europe and is chock full of alpine landscapes, forests and castles. Part of Czechoslovakia until 1993, the smaller, quieter country of Slovakia wins fans for its unassuming, lesser-known tourist destinations.
• Bratislava: Bratislava, the capital, is often compared to its close neighbor Vienna as it was once also part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its architecture is very similar to the grand style of Vienna. The city is close to the borders of Austria and Hungary. As Pozsony, it was once the capital of Hungary and saw the coronations of 11 monarchs. It is popular now for its nightlife, for its accessibility to Vienna and for its affordability.
Bratislava is a quieter city compared to other European capital but nevertheless has some interesting places to visit once you have woken up after your night spent dancing at the many clubs.
• The Primates Palace is celebrated as one of the most beautiful classicist buildings in Slovakia and the interior – with its Hall of Mirrors, rare tapestries and ornate rooms – is worth a visit. If you visit on St. George’s Day (23 April) you might be lucky enough to witness the statue of St. George coming to life and his horse bowing to the city’s residents.
• Bratislava Castle was first mentioned in 907 and has gone through several reincarnations, the last being in the 17th century when Queen Maria Theresa instigated another rebuild in order to house the art collection of her son-in-law.
Those paintings are now housed in The Albertina in Vienna. Bratislava Castle houses the Slovak National Museum.
• Michael’s Gate: The 51-metre high baroque tower through which monarchs passed after their coronations now offers superb views and photo opportunities of the Old Town.
• UFO: If you are searching for great vantage points, the restaurant UFO – perched on a pillar of the Novy most (New Bridge) at 85 metres – offers fantastic views whilst eating at this elegant restaurant. If you really want to challenge yourself, you can walk, tethered to a safety line, the 360 degree rim of the restaurant. Probably best if you do this before lunch!
There are numerous other places to visit, along with several theatres and galleries.
• Cycling is popular in Bratislava, and you can “bike share” by borrowing a bike from any of the 73 docking stations around the city.
• Water sports: The Divoká Voda, a water sport complex, offers kayaking, canoeing, rafting and “surfing.” Wakelake at Zlaté Piesky also offers the chance to wakeboard with its own “lift.”
• Shopping: There are three main shopping malls: Eurovea, Aupark and Central. All are reasonably close to the city centre and, unlike Vienna, open seven days per week.
The High Tatras are the mountain range that borders the Slovakian Polish boundary and are part of the Carpathian Mountain range. The highest peak is 2,655 metres and is accessible by cable car. The mountains are a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and are home to a plethora of wildlife, and the area is popular during winter for skiing and in the summer for hiking.
There are 600 kilometers of hiking trails and, while some of the hikes are demanding, (some even require guides) there are plenty of easier hikes and beautiful crystal clear lakes to explore. The area also makes it easier to get to the trailheads with an efficient and reasonably priced electric train system.
You can get to the area by car (around a 4-hour drive from Bratislava), train or bus and there are several towns that offer places from which to base your visit including Tatranská Lomnica, Štrbské, and Poprad.
Here are some additional sources with detailed travel information:
• “Hiking in the High Tatras“: Travel -–See–Write
• How to plan your visit: Earth Trekkers
• The Ultimate Guide: 10 Adventures
Slovakia is full of mineral water sources and therefore has some wonderful spa towns to explore. The best-known town is Piešt’any, a spa island in the middle of River Váhworld, famous for its treatment of arthritis and rheumatic conditions. It’s been a spa town since the 1700s and averages 40,000 patients each year.
There are many other spas to visit in Slovakia, which treat various conditions and offer a relaxing vacation opportunity.
All activities are dependent on local coronavirus restrictions. Obviously, visiting Slovakia since 16 November has been problematic due to official requirements for 10 days self-isolation on entry and a COVID-19 test after five days. But when this is all over and travel becomes appealing again, this country is definitely on my list.
About the author:
Photographer/Writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past ten years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.
She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.