The dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the close of World War I allowed the Slovaks to join the closely related Czechs to form Czechoslovakia. Following the chaos of World War II, Czechoslovakia became a Communist nation within Soviet-ruled Eastern Europe. Soviet influence collapsed in 1989 and Czechoslovakia once more became free. The Slovaks and the Czechs agreed to separate peacefully on 1 January 1993. Slovakia joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004.
Slovakia is situated in Central Europe, south of Poland.
In 1918 the Slovaks joined the closely related Czechs to form Czechoslovakia. Following the chaos of World War II, Czechoslovakia became a communist nation within Soviet-ruled Eastern Europe. Soviet influence collapsed in 1989 and Czechoslovakia once more became free. The Slovaks and the Czechs agreed to separate peacefully on 1 January 1993.
Slovakia only became an independent state in 1993. Prior to that, apart from a short period as a Nazi puppet state during World War 2 it has had a long history of being part of another country, most recently as half of Czechoslovakia, but prior to that as part of Hungary and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, all the way back to being a border province of the Roman Empire.
After the Czech Republic and Slovakia split in 1993 Slovakians fared much worse than their Czech neighbours; the economy went into free fall and things were not helped by the corrupt Government of Vladimir Meciar which led to Slovakia being ostracized by the EU.
Things are more or less back on track now; the economy is stable, Meciar has gone and apart from the odd politician occasionally coming out with an outrageously racist remark about Slovakia’s Roma (gypsy) population, the political situation is relatively stable too. Slovakia became a member of the EU in 2004.
Getting There and In
Bratislava’s airport is very close to the city centre. Alternatively fly into Vienna (plenty of options) and take advantage of Bratislavas proximity to Vienna.
If you want to arrive in style how about by boat? Although Slovakia in land-locked you can cruise down the Danube from Vienna or up it from Budapest
As of 1st May 2004 Slovakia is a member of the European Union (EU) which means that there are no restrictions on passport holders of other EU countries staying, living, and working in the Slovakia. At the airport or border they’ll just examine your passport and wave you through without stamping it, and probably without speaking to you.
Passport holders of other countries will still get their passports stamped, and may be asked to provide evidence of a return ticket or that they have sufficient funds for their stay. This is unlikely though. It’s always a good idea to contact the Slovak Embassy in your home country to check that you don’t need to obtain a visa prior to your arrival.
Food and Drink
Traditional Slovakian food is more or less your standard central cuisine, typically involving lots of meat (usually pork) and vegetables (usually cabbage, or potatoes). Slovakia’s historic ties with Hungary have left their influences; goulash is still popular in Slovakia, as is the use of paprika in Slovakian cooking. If you get bored of meat fish is also popular, usually trout (and usually served whole) but sometimes carp (generally not served whole; have you seen the size of the buggers?). Vegetarians should just about survive; most restaurants (especially in the big cities) will have at least one vegetarian option on the menu, and you no longer have any problems in finding a decent fresh salad in Slovakian restaurants.
If you don’t fancy Slovak food you’ll be pleased to hear that pizza and pasta places are very popular and widespread throughout Slovakia. They’re nearly always cheap and often excellent too.
Outside of Bratislava you won’t find too much more variety than that, apart from the odd not particularly authentic Chinese place. Bratislava is much more cosmopolitan; you’ll find sushi, Indian, Lebanese, Thai, Hungarian and Irish-British restaurants, among others.
The Slovakian brewing industry is heavily influenced by that of the neighbouring Czech Republic, and let’s face it as influences go that’s a pretty good one. So, Czech pilsners are the most common type of beer, brands I’ve tried and can recommend highly include Saris, Smadny Mnich (“Thirsty Monk”), Zlaty bazant (“Golden Pheasant”), and possibly the best of the lot, Kelt. Nearly all bars and restaurants will have at least one of these, and often more, on draft. Beer imported from the Czech Republic, usually Pilsner Urquell, is also common. Slovak and Czech beer is very cheap and you shouldn’t find yourself paying more than 50 to 60p for a half litre of the stuff.
Other imported beers (commonly Heineken or Guinness) are also available, but are relatively much more expensive. Some bars also have a wider range of international bottled beers.
Slovakian wine is almost impossible to find outside of Slovakia but we sampled the stuff extensively while we were out and were pleasantly surprised by the quality (the price wasn’t something to complain about either, at around Ł3 to Ł4 a bottle in a decent restaurant). Frankovka is probably the most common variety and that seemed to go down well with just about everything we ate, but we also had a bottle of Svatovavrinecke and that was fine too. The only white wine we drank was several bottles of Tokaj. Tokaj is a very sweet, intense white wine that is normally only produced in Hungary but when the borders of Hungary and Slovakia were being drawn up after World War 1 a few small villages of the Tokaj region ended up in Slovakia and they’ve been there ever since so Slovakia now produces a small amount of its own Tokaj. It’s quite a bit more expensive than most other Slovak wines (a result of the labourious production process), around Ł10 for a 50 cl bottle, but it’s definitely a luxury that’s worth paying for, and if you want to you it keeps for centuries.
The Tesco store in Bratislava has an extensive (and cheap) wine section, including a very wide selection of Slovak wine. There are also a couple of classy and well stocked specialist wine shops in the Old Town.
If you want to get hurrened in a hurry, try the local spirit slivovice, a suicidally strong plumb brandy. It’ll burn a hole in the back of your throat and make you blind. Demanovka is a sort of herbal liqueur, similar to the Czech Becharovka (i.e. alcoholic cough medicine). Imported spirits like Scotch whiskeys, English gin, tequila, Jack Daniels, and a wide variety of vodkas are also easily obtainable. Sadly we didn’t get around to buying the bottle of Tesco Saver’s vodka that we saw in their shop window.
Various Useful Facts
The official language of Slovakia is Slovakian. It’s extremely closely related to Czech but not quite identical; if you speak either Czech or Slovak or even just know a few phrases of one you won’t have any problems making yourself understood in the other.
Some useful phrases include Dobry den (“hello”), Kolko mate rokov (“How old are you?”), Mam pohlavnu chorobu (“Pleased to meet you”), Som slobodnyl (“I’m single”), Hladam verejne zachody (“I’m looking for a public toilet”), Ja som neurobil (“I didn’t do it”), mam smad (“I’m thirsty”), and osem piva, prosim (“Eight beers please”).
English seems to be fairly widely spoken as a second language, at least in Bratislava. Every restaurant we went in had an English translation of their menu, and every restaurant or bar we tried had someone who spoke English. Given Slovakia’s proximity to Austria German is the most widely spoken second language. Slovakia has a sizeable Hungarian minority, although the use of this language tends to be confined to the extreme south of the country. There’s also a smaller Ukrainian minority in the east.
The currency of Slovakia is the Koruny (crown). Although it’s freely convertible I wouldn’t count on being able to buy or sell any in the UK. As of December 2003 there are 58 crowns to the pound (41 to the Euro), and the rate has been relatively stable for a while. We saw a few places in Bratislava that accepted Euros and in Bratislava credit cards are accepted in most shops and many restaurants. You’ll find plenty of Bureaux de change in the major towns but rates and commission charges vary wildly. You’ll probably get a better rate at banks but the easiest way of getting hold of your cash is from an ATM; they’re pretty much everywhere in Bratislava and widespread in the rest of the country. All of them will give cash advances on credit cards, and most of them take Cirrus cards too.
The climate in Slovakia has cool summers; cold, cloudy, humid winters.
The terrain in Slovakia consists of rugged mountains in the central and northern part and lowlands in the south.
More information on our website:
- Excite Travel: Destinations: Slovakia – Includes a country fact sheet, a what to do guide, accommodation information and news.
- Lonely Planet – Slovakia – Comprehensive facts and advice for traveling along with background material on the culture and history of the country.
- OnTheSnow – Slovakia ski resorts, snow reports and weather conditions. Information about skiing holiday and wintersports.
- Slovakia Traveller’s Guide – Independent source of information and recommendations on travel in Slovakia.
- Slovakia.travel – Official Slovak National Tourism Portal with information, contacts, maps, product packages and photographs.
- Slovakiatravels – Information about cities, regions, routes, accommodation and travel solutions.
- Spectacular Slovakia – Features travel guide around the country with pictures, stories, and travel tips.
- World Travel Guide – Slovakia – Tourist and business travel information with facts on climate, visa, health, passport, currency and customs requirements.