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A Gap Year in Slovakia

Why go backpacking in Slovakia?

Backpacking in Slovakia may not feature highly on many Europe itineraries, but its reputation among travellers is slowly growing, and for good reason.

Home to medieval towns, phenomenal national parks, mountains and an awesome nightlife, Slovakia is one of the most underrated countries in Central Europe. Locked in between Austria, Poland, Ukraine, and Hungary, Slovakia is home to a long history, a mix of cultures and traditional hearty meals.

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What to see in Slovakia

Ski, snowboard or hike the Tatras Mountains in the beautiful Tatra National Park. In the summer, this is an incredible location for climbing up mountain sides to overlook trees and blue lakes, and in the winter the steep mountains are perfect for skiing and snowboarding.  The highest peak, which can be found in the High Tatras region of the mountains, is Mt. Gerlach which reaches over 8700ft.

If being at one with nature is your favourite pastime, you can try and visit all Slovakia’s nine national parks, each with different terrains, sights and activities. The Mala Fatra National Park is filled with jagged hills and is a popular hiking route, and the Slovak Paradise National Park is home to eight nature reserves, hiking trails that include ladders, chains and bridges, and 350 caves, although only 12 are safe enough for the public.

The Dobšinská Ice Cave is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is thought to be 250,000 years old. Not surprisingly, it’s pretty chilly in the cave, and the annual temperature stays around 0°C, keeping thewalls covered in a thick layer of ice which measured at 26.5 metres. You can walk under ice waterfalls, ice stalagmites and other fascinating frosty formations

To experience rafting and canoeing down a river framed by mountain scenery, head to the Dunajec River Gorge in the Pieniny National Park. Lying on the border with Poland, this is the smallest national park in Slovakia, but no less impressive. This NP is famous for its natural beauty which can be seen from down below in the valleys or high up on the mountain side.

After all that hiking, skiing and white water rafting, it’s time to relax in Slovakia’s natural thermal waters. As with most natural spas, these ones have been bought by ‘real’ spas, but if you’ve got the cash it’s worth spending a couple of hours soaking in warm waters and taking in the incredible scenery. Sklene Teplice Spa is the most impressive; here you can soak in volcanic waters inside a Steam Cave, yes an actual cave. There are plenty of other spas in Slovakia but many have built over the natural surroundings, making them look more like an outdoor swimming pool than a natural spa.

Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital is not only a beautiful medieval city, but it also has one hell of a night life. The booze is cheap, paying for entry is rare, and the nightspots are packed. In the summer you can grab a drink from a bar then head on the streets to meet locals and backpackers. As the evening goes on you can visit the night clubs; The Club, Masquerade, and Trafo Music Bar are all spots but there are plenty of other clubs to check out.

Get Medieval

The Medieval towns of Nitra and Trnava are the oldest in Slovakia. Nitra has been a functioning city for 6,000 years, and is great to discover on foot. The places to see in Nitra are the Nitra Castle that looms over the city, the Old Town, and Zobor hill to get a great view of the entire city.

Trnava was first mentioned in the 11th century and is home to 12 churches. Each church resembles a different period of history, representing the different architecture and religions through the ages. The gothic St Nicholas Church is pretty hard to miss and dates back to the Middle Ages, the tower in the centre of Trnava was built during the Renaissance period in the 16th century, and 100 years later the Pualinian Church was built, and so on. It really is a unique place to uncover.

The medieval lessons don’t stop there either. In the Church of St Jacob in Levoca sits the world’s tallest gothic altar, standing at 61ft. The impressive altar was built in the 15th century during the late gothic era, and is made entirely of wood, painted gold, and carved with fascinating religious pictures.

If you’re in the city of Bratislava, a meal or a drink at the top of the UFO Observation Tower should be on the agenda. Offering a 360 degree view, you can look over the whole of Bratislava, from the medieval castles, to the remains of communism. As with most tourist attractions, the drinks and food are terribly overpriced, so if you’re on a budget you can just pay to look out from the observation deck.

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