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Slovakia

Slovakia (Slovak: Slovensko) or the Slovak Republic (Slovenská republika) is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is surrounded by Austria to the west, Czech Republic to the northwest, Hungary to the south, Poland to the north and Ukraine to the east. Slovakia is a modern democratic country and is a member of the European Union.

The main reasons to visit Slovakia are its natural beauty, vivid history and great opportunities for relaxation (and due to the small size of the country, it is quite easy to combine all three).

Slovakia has nine national parks, which cover a relatively big portion of the country and feature the tallest part of the Carpathian Mountain Range, the High Tatras, which offer great opportunities for mountain and winter sports as well as great vistas. Geologically, a sizable part of Slovakia is made out of limestone, which in combination with many springs and rivers has resulted in formation of numerous caves (12 open to the public, several of which are UNESCO listed) and the beautiful rocky formations, canyons and waterfalls of the Slovak Paradise and Slovak Karst. Even outside these areas, there are some beautiful landscapes, and all of Slovakia is covered by thousands of well-marked hiking trails.

For history lovers, Slovakia has the highest number of castles and chateaux per capita in the world, ranging from simple ruins to well-preserved habitable castles with furnishings, so if you are a fan of medieval history, look no further. There are also numerous Gothic and Baroque cities and towns across Slovakia, including the capital. There are also well-preserved examples of wooden folk architecture, including churches made entirely out of wood and the tallest wooden altar in the world.

There are numerous mineral and thermal springs in Slovakia, and around some of these world-famous spas have been built that offer great curative therapies or just simple relaxation. You can also chill out, swim and sunbathe at the shores of several local lakes and pools or try AquaCity waterpark if you are feeling more adventurous. In particular, Bratislava boasts a lively nightlife as well and is a popular partying destination.

Understand

Terrain

Much of the central and northern part of Slovakia is rugged and mountainous. Gerlachovský štít at 2,655 m (8,711 ft) in the High Tatras is the highest peak. The Tatra Mountains in the north, shared with Poland, are interspersed with many scenic lakes and valleys. These areas experience lower temperatures and traditionally people here lived off sheep grazing.

The lowlands are in the south with the lowest point of the Bodrog River being 94 m (308 ft) above sea level. The soil here is much more fertile, especially the area between Small Danube and Danube, and was more agricultural. The weather is gentler and especially summers can get surprisingly warm.

History

The area that is present-day Slovakia has been settled since early Paleolithic era. Before the inward migration of Slavs and Huns, the most important cultures were the Celts and Romans. To this day, artefacts and evidence of the presence of these cultures can be found.

The Slavic tribes that invaded the area in the 5th century created a succession of influential kingdoms here. During this era, lasting until the 10th century when the Great Moravian Empire disintegrated, Slavs adopted Christianity and many medieval fort castles were built, ruins of some of which remain to this day.

In the 10th century, Slovakia became a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, which, after 1867, formed an union with the Austrian Empire and became the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. This union, lasting until 1918, was a great influence on the shaping of the entire region. It was a multinational state with many cultures living together, and forms a common cultural history shared by many Central European nations.

In 1918 the Slovaks joined the closely related Czechs to form the republic of Czechoslovakia. Interbellum Czechoslovakia was also a very diverse state with big ethnic minorities including Hungarians, Jews and German-speakers. There were even more native speakers of German in this country than there were ethnic Slovaks. During WWII, Czechoslovakia briefly split, with the Czech regions being occupied by the Nazis and Slovakia becoming a puppet state that collaborated with the Nazis under the leadership of Father Jozef Tiso. Following the chaos of World War II, Czechoslovakia became a communist country within the Soviet-ruled Eastern Bloc. Soviet influence collapsed in 1989 and Czechoslovakia once again became free.

For many years overshadowed by their north-western Czech neighbors, political representatives of Czechs and Slovaks decided to strike out on their own. The Slovaks and the Czechs agreed to separate peacefully on 1 January 1993 and Slovakia became a country in its own right. This is known as the Velvet Divorce. Both countries remain close culturally and there is a high level of political and economic cooperation between the two.

Historical, political, and geographic factors caused Slovakia to experience more difficulty in developing a modern market economy than some of its Central European neighbors, but now it boasts one of the fastest growing economies in Europe and has been a member of the European Union and the NATO since 2004. Slovakia is now a member of the Schengen agreement, and the country adopted the Euro on 1 January 2009.

Ethnicities

There are some similarities between the Czech and Slovak cultures but the two nationalities remain distinct. One of the most striking differences is that while Czechs are largely atheists, Slovaks are largely Catholics, like their Polish neighbours.

Slovakia was a part of the Hungarian empire for almost a millennium, and a strong Hungarian-speaking minority of 9.7% remains, concentrated mostly in southern Slovakia. Historic German populations were uprooted and expelled after WWII but their historical influence remains.

In the eastern part of the country, there are many Romas/Gypsies and some Rusnacs/Rusins and Ukrainians. There are also some Czechs, Poles and still some Germans living in Slovakia.

Climate

Slovakia has a temperate climate with sunny hot summers and cold, cloudy, humid and snowy winters. The climate is continental, with four seasons, and while the overall climate is mild, there is a considerable temperature difference between summer and winter months.

It is generally warmer in southern regions and the lowlands, where summer temperatures can climb above 30°C (86°F) on hotter days, and where rain is more common in winters than snow, which usually melts in a few days.

Northern, and especially mountainous regions have a colder climate, with summer temperatures not exceeding 25°C (77°F). Especially in the mountains, snow is common in winters and it can get quite cold, with temperatures dropping as low as -20°C (-4°F).

If you are planning on visiting the mountains, please note that, as in any mountainous region, the weather can change dramatically in a matter of minutes and it can rain (or snow!) even in summer. Take appropriate equipment and don't underestimate the weather.

Holidays and Festivals

Slovakia is a predominantly Catholic Country, so major Christian holidays are observed, as well as some other holidays. Unless indicated otherwise, these days are public holidays and banks and most amenities and shops will be closed:

  • Slovak Republic Day - 1 January - Conveniently, Czechoslovakia split into two on the 1st of January, so New Year's Day is a national holiday. It is traditionally celebrated by sleeping until midday.
  • Ephiphany - 6 January - Celebrates the arrival of the Three Magi into Betlehem. Shops and banks are closed.
  • Mardi Gras period ('Fasiangy') - this is not a national holiday, but rather a festival season. Some villages will hold a traditional market with food and drinks offered, and there might be a march through the city in masks, and numerous balls, dances and carnivals are held. 6 January till Ash Wednesday (February or March).
  • Easter - March/April, dates depend on the lunar calendar. Good Friday and Easter Monday are both national holidays. There are a number of different traditions relating to Easter. The traditional food served includes eggs and special Easter Ham, with bread and horseradish.
    • Religious people will go to mass, and it might be the only time when it is likely to see people in traditional clothing in some villages; however, this is increasingly less common. Everyone will be dressed up, though.
    • Throughout Slovakia, kraslice are prepared, which are egg shells adorned with ornaments and painted over with colours. These, along with sweets and money, are given to boys, who visit friends' and neighbours' houses, where it is their job to make sure the women will be healthy and prosperous the following year by spraying them with water or perfume and beating them with a willow wand adorned with ribbons. It is called oblievacka and sibacka. It tends to involve copious amounts of alcohol, food and wet T-shirts, and is not taken seriously by anyone. In recent years it became less popular. If you are female, do not wear clothes you like when venturing outside on Easter Monday as you might have water thrown or perfume sprayed at you. If you want to protest this clearly barbaric tradition, make sure to do so in waterproof clothing.
  • International Labour Day - 1 May - This is celebrated by not working.
  • Day of Victory over Fascism - 8 May - Celebration of the end of WWII in Europe.
  • International Children's Day - 1 June - Not a national holiday, but children might have time off school and various activities will be organised for them, and they usually get treats.
  • St. Cyril and Methodius Day - 5 July- feast of the arrival of the great Christian missionaries to Slovakia ([863]). They translated the Gospels into the slavic language spoken at the time, devised a new alphabet to write slavic specific sounds and translated the liturgical texts(like Missal and the Psalms) thus enabling slavic tongue to be the fourth liturgical language to be accepted by Rome(after hebrew, greek and latin). St. Cyril also wrote the first poem in the slavic language, Proglas, underlining the importance of a written language for every nation.
  • Slovak National Uprising Memorial Day - 29 August - Holiday to commemorate uprising against Nazis during WWII.
  • Constitution Day - 1 September - Children love this one as school starts one day later.
  • Day of Blessed Virgin Mary - 15 September - A patron saint of Slovakia.
  • Vinobranie This is not a national holiday, but a festival that celebrates the wine harvest, usually held in October in wine-making regions. Cities cooperate so it is held on different weekends in different places and you can visit several. This includes open air markets selling street food, drinks (especially young wine), and various handicrafts.
  • All Saints Day - 1 November - This is a day to remember those that have passed away. Halloween is not celebrated in Slovakia, and this is quite a serious religious holiday. All shops are closed and many people will go to the cemeteries to light a candle for their loved ones.
  • Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day - 17 November - Commemorates student demonstration that brought about the end of Communism.
  • St Nicolaus' Day - 6 December - This is not a national holiday, but is seen as a start of the Christmas period. Traditionally, St Nicholaus leaves some sweets (if the child was good) or coal/onion (if the child misbehaved that year) in their shoe overnight (surprisingly enough, most children get sweets, not onion). Celebrations are held in towns, where someone dressed as St nicolaus (think Santa Claus) and his helpers angels/devils help him distribute sweets among crowds of eager kids. Christmas markets open and Christmas lights are turned on.
  • Feast of St Lucy - 13 December - Not a national holiday, but many traditions are connected with this day, varying by the region. For example, you can take 13 pieces of paper, leave one blank and write names of 12 boys on the others if you are a girl. One is burned every day until Christmas Eve, what remains is a name of your future husband (blank = single forever).
  • Christmas - Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (24-26 of December) are national holidays. In Slovakia, Christmas is mainly celebrate during Christmas Eve, when a traditional family dinner is held, after which presents are opened. As Christmas Eve is meant to be a fast in Christian Calendar, no meat is eaten that day. The tradition dinner starts with a thin wafer, eaten with garlic (for health) and honey (for happiness and properity). This is followed by a soup (either mushroom or cabbage soup), and a main of fried carp and special potato salad. Many varieties of Christmas cakes (e.g. gingerbread) are also eaten. Traditions differ, however.
  • Silvester - 31 December - New Year's Eve is not a national holiday, but is widely celebrated, mostly by partying. At midnight, people toast the New Year with a glass of champagne. Many cities will have a firework display to celebrate New Year. Fireworks and drunk people abound.

Regions

Cities

  • Bratislava — capital and the largest city of Slovakia with a beautifully restored historical centre full of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance churches, houses and palaces, cobblestone streets, fountains, pleasant cafes and lively and cosmopolitan atmosphere
  • Banská Bystrica — was one of the most important mining towns of Hungarian part of Austro-Hungarian Empire; beautiful restored square, many churches, castles and museums and memorial of the Slovak National Uprising
  • Košice — metropolis of the east, second biggest city of the country with the easternmost situated Gothic Cathedral in the World, the oldest European coat of arms, a great historical city centre with the Cathedral Complex, numerous churches, palaces and interesting museums.
  • Nitra — the oldest Slovak town, with beautiful castle and number of fairs
  • Poprad — the entryway into High Tatras
  • Rajecké Teplice — very peaceful spa town surrounded by magnificent Mala Fatra National Park
  • Tren?ín — one of the most beautiful Slovak towns with a castle lying above the city overlooking the historical centre and the river Váh
  • Trnava — old Slovak town with the highest number of churches (12) and well preserved baroque architecture
  • Žilina — Fourth biggest city with a well preserved historical city centre influenced by German architecture and unique museum of the tinker´s culture located at the Budatín castle

Other destinations

  • Slovak Paradise National Park — Slovenský Raj consists of deep ravines and canyons created by the water cascading in waterfalls through the limestone.
  • High Tatras — Vysoké Tatry is the biggest national park in Slovakia and a centre of winter sports and hiking.
  • Vlkolínec — UNESCO heritage list village, preserving the character of a traditional Carpathian village
  • Slovak Karst National Park - Slovenský kras, known for it's cave systems, part of UNESCO world heritage
  • Levo?a — magnificent medieval pearl of the Spis region surrounded by town walls with a unique renaissance town hall, burger´s houses, numerous churches and St. James Cathedral where the biggest gothic wooden altar of the world is situated
  • Bojnice — the most visited castle in Slovakia, almost intact with beautifully preserved interiors.
  • Pieš?any — the most famous spa town in Slovakia
  • Bardejov — is a spa town in North-Eastern Slovakia that exhibits numerous cultural monuments in its completely intact medieval town center and is one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Get in

Slovakia is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

  • There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
  • There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
  • Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
  • Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.

Recognised refugees in possession of a valid travel document issued by the government of any one of the above countries/territories are exempt from obtaining a visa for Slovakia (but no other Schengen country, except Germany and Hungary) for a maximum stay of 90 days in a 180 day period.

Slovakia became a part of Schengen area only relatively recently, and local cross-border transport services might be limited in certain areas, though this is improving, and in some places it is very easy to cross over. You should have ID with you anyway, but to avoid hassle, make sure to keep an ID on you in border regions.

If you need a visa, always apply at an embassy beforehand. There are zero chances you will get a visa at a Slovak border, no matter how you enter or what your nationality is.

By plane

Bratislava has its own airport.

Ryanair operates low-cost flights to Bratislava from various European cities, including London, "Milan"–Bergamo, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Dublin, Rome (Ciampino), "Paris" (Beauvais), "Brussels" (Charleroi) and a few others. These flights can be quite cheap, so if you are arriving from outside Europe, you might end up saving up money by flying to a bigger airport and then connecting to Bratislava. They do not always operate daily and sometimes use remote/uncommon airports, so you may be better off flying into Vienna.

Norwegian Airlines operate flights from Copenhagen and Oslo, and there are also flights to Moscow and Tel Aviv with UTAir and Sun d'or Airlines respectively.

The alternative is Vienna Airport (IATA: VIE), which is just 35 km (22 mi) from Bratislava. It provides a more convenient way of arriving to Slovakia by the major airlines, but can be more expensive. It also operates a much greater number of long-haul flights. Buses leave for Bratislava hourly, going from Vienna Airport straight to the main bus station in Bratislava. Alternatively, you can take the airport shuttle, or a taxi which will cost around €70.

Other options include airports in Prague (IATA: PRG) and Budapest, with both cities about 4 hours away by public transport. There are also direct flights operated between Prague and Bratislava and Prague and Kosice, the latter in conjunction with flights to Prague providing the most convenient access by plane to the Eastern part of the country.

Poprad - Tatry Airport and Košice international airport are the only other international airports in Slovakia.

You can also fly to Kraków if you want to go to the Tatra Mountains. Buses from Kraków run to several Slovak towns around the Tatra mountains and Orava.

By train

From the Czech Republic

As parts of former Czechoslovakia, the trains between the Czech Republic and Slovakia are frequent. EC trains operate every two hours from Prague to Bratislava and Žilina. There is one daily train from Prague to Banská Bystrica, ZvolenPoprad and Košice. All these cities have a direct overnight sleeper car connection from Prague.

Cheap tickets SporoTiket Evropa can be bought at the Czech Railways e-shop, at least 3 days in advance. The price begins at €15 for seat or €26 for couchette. Please note that such e-ticket is valid only on the one specified train!

If you want greater flexibility or cannot buy in advance over the Internet, you can get a significant discount at a railway station if you buy a return ticket called CityStar. Such international return ticket is valid for one month on any train (and cannot be bought over the Internet at all).

From Germany

There are two-hourly daytime and one overnight train from Berlin to Bratislava. Cheap tickets can be bought at the website of the German national railway, even though the night train is now marketed by the Austrian national railways as Nightjet. Tickets start at 39€ depending mostly on demand. Keep in mind that early bird tickets are only valid for the precise train you book. Nightjet trains have further connections from other German cities to Vienna from where you can change onto local trains for the 60 km (1 hour) trip to Bratislava.

From Austria

Hourly regional expresses operate from Vienna to Bratislava. You can use the EURegio ticket for €16 – a return ticket valid 4 days.

From Poland

There is an overnight through car from Warszawa to Bratislava via Czech territory. Direct train connection from Poland is very poor, a bus is generally a better alternative. There are only few local trains going just over the border line – one train Zwardo? (PL)–Skalité (SK). There's no international passenger traffic at Nowy S?cz–Prešov (since Dec 2010) and Lupków-Medzilaborce line (since Dec 2009).

If you really want to travel from Poland by train, prepare for a full-day trip with a lot of train changes. It's cheaper to buy Polish ticket only to border point (Skalité Gr.) and then buy a Slovak domestic ticket at conductor (€1.30 surcharge).

From Hungary

There are EC trains from Budapest to Bratislava running every two hours and two IC trains a day from Budapest and Miskolc to Košice. Unlike trip from Poland, it wouldn't be cheaper to buy the Slovak section at conductor. Instead, there is a bilateral return discount of 60% (i.e. a return ticket is cheaper that a one-way ticket).

From Ukraine and Russia

There is a daily direct sleeper car from Moscow, Kiev and Lvov to Košice, Poprad and Bratislava. The journey is very long – 2 nights from Moscow and Kiev and 1 day and night from Lvov – because of state of the rail network in western Ukraine, the lengthy customs process at the border as well as the break of gauge between Ukraine (Russian broad gauge) and Slovakia (standard gauge).

It is much cheaper to buy a Ukrainian or Russian ticket only to the Ukrainian border station Chop, then buy a ticket from Chop to the first Slovak station ?ierna nad Tisou, and then buy a Slovak domestic ticket from the conductor (€1.30 surcharge). But then you have no berth reservation for the Slovak section and you have to change to seat car in Chop.

Another option is to buy a CityStar ticket in Russia (or Slovakia were its prices are cheaper) which can be however is valid only for group up to 5 members. CityStar ticket than servers as one-month valid two-way ticket between the stations and is offered with a discount for each next passenger on the ticket. Of course you have to buy berth ticket additionally as well.

By bus

Among many others, there are regular services from Vienna, Prague and Budapest to Bratislava; and from Uzhhorod, Ukraine to the eastern Slovak town of Michalovce and from Kraków, Poland through Zakopane, Poland to Poprad.

Taking a bus from Prague to Bratislava is slower but cheaper than train if you buy a ticket in advance, e.g. at Student Agency, Slovak Lines, or using the common bus reservation system AMSBus.

Buses from Poland and Ukraine are the best option, they are faster and more frequent than trains.

From Budapest the travel is 4 hours, the bus stop for 5 minutes at Györ and in a small restaurant in the road.

By foot

  • There's a pontoon ferry accessible to car-drivers and pedestrians between Angern an der March (Austria) and Záhorská Ves (Slovakia). 05:00-22:00.

Get around

CP offers an exceptionally useful website and smartphone app with integrated timetables for all trains and buses in Slovakia, including all intra-city and inter-city transports, even indicating from which lane your bus will depart. It is also useful for international travel from/to Slovakia.

By train

Train is by far the best option to travel across Slovakia, provided you don't have a private vehicle. Frequent fast trains connect all important cities, but there are less local trains, even at main lines. For local transport a bus is generally a better alternative. Trains are fairly priced, with the prices competitive with buses, and cheap by western standards. They are reliable and clean.

Opt for an InterCity service if you want Western-style comfort; IC trains link Bratislava, Žilina, The High Tatras and Košice and have compulsory reservations. These can save you from the crowds: ordinary trains do get crowded, usually on Fridays and Sundays or around holidays. Watch out for pickpockets at major stations and steer clear of money scams. Also, sporadic robberies occur to sleeping passengers travelling the overnight longliners.

Domestic tickets with 5% discount can be bought over Internet at SlovakRail. Internet tickets in electronic or printed form for domestic trains are valid on the selected train and date or on any next train (though you lost your seat reservation) on the same route on the first day of validity (except all IC trains and Ex 1502 Chopok train). Tickets bought at stations are valid for any one journey on the given route within a specified time period (usually one or two days, depending on the distance), and thus very flexible. International tickets, as of 2011, can only be bought at stations.

By bus

Bus connections are usually slower than trains, but can get you where trains cannot, and some private companies also offer discounts for travellers with a foreign ISIC card (state-run companies do not, unless you're a Slovak citizen). Tickets for long-haul routes- 100 km+ (including to/from the Czech Republic or within the Czech Republic) can be bought from AMSBus after compulsory registration (English version is also available). The travel from Bratislava to Nitra is a rare example of a route where buses are significantly faster and cheaper than trains.

Buses are punctual, and it is therefore advisable to arrive at the bus station in advance, the time specified in the timetable is the time it leaves the station. Most tickets are bought directly from the driver, so you will probably need cash. Though the bus driver will give you change, especially for shorter (cheaper) journeys, it is advisable to have some smaller denominations. You can expect to pay a small extra fee if you are carrying a big bag.

Turancar and Student Agency are good examples of private bus companies which are pretty reliable, comfortable (as they use new buses often with on-board entertainment LCD screens), running on time and offering student discounts for foreigners with ISIC.

By car

The road network is extensive and in an overall good condition. Most major roads (especially in the Western parts) are two lane and in good repair, however the majority of the minor roads are one lane, and maintenance standard of this can vary from good to rather bumpy. Along major routes and highways fuel stops and restaurants (odpo?ívadlo or ?erpacia stanica) are quite frequently and in smaller towns, you'll most likely find small kiosks (stánok) or fruit or cheese stands (ovocný stánok for fruit, stánok so syrom for cheese) next to the road, presenting local delicacies at low prices. The driving style in Slovakia is, especially compared to countries in Western Europe, more aggressive and of lower standard. One should be aware of other cars speeding, which is quite frequent, and overtaking on your side of the road, especially in the more mountainous areas of the country.

Driving

Vehicles drive on the right side of the road and the speed limits are in general 50 kmh (31 mph) in a village/town, 90 kmh (56 mph) outside build-up areas and 130 kmh (81 mph) on motorways. However trucks and cars with caravans/trailers are limited to 80 km/h (50 mph) outside build-up areas or on motorways and motorcycles are limited to 90 km/h (56 mph) on motorways.

Wearing seatbelts in cars and vans is compulsory and children aged 11 or younger or lower than 150 cm must be placed on the rear seat.

Headlights must be switched on when driving at all times, regardless of weather conditions or whether it is a night or day, so switch them on.

In winter, snow and ice is common on the roads, and winter tires are recommended. In extreme weather some minor mountain roads might require snow chains.

Slovakia has a zero tolerance policy towards alcohol. Do NOT drink and drive. If nothing else, then because the penalties are severe.

Wearing helmets is compulsory for both driver and passenger on motorcycles of any size, and goggles must also be worn by the driver of motorcycles with engines larger than 50cc.

Police presence is frequent on the roads, and especially the major roads, in both marked and unmarked vehicles.

If you intend to drive on the motorways please note that vehicles must show a mandatory sticker (vignette) covering road toll, in the upper right corner on the car's windshield (mandatory location as this is mostly checked by fixed electronic camera system). The vignette can be purchased from most petrol stations and is valid for ten days (€10), for a month (€14) or longer. Please note that that the vignette is compulsory on all motorways from the point of entry, and if you are caught without one you will be subject to a fine. If you are renting a car, it most likely is included in the rental, but remember to check or inquire when renting/booking.

If you understand Slovak, many private radio stations include a great traffic coverage as a part of their news, which will inform you about any obstructions on the road, car accidents, traffic jams and even police presence so it is certainly worth tuning in. There is also a website called Stellacentrum, where you can find general information about traffic and police patrols (they even inform, where the police patrols actually are).

Parking

Most places offer free parking, however in the central areas of the bigger cities, there may be fees for parking. In the cities outside of Bratislava, the most common method for paid parking, is a closed area, where you enter and receives a slip from a machine. On the way out you'll have to return the slip and pay to a person. The person most likely do not speak English, but if you look confused enough he or she will hand you a handwritten note with the amount. Try to pay the exact amount with cash, and avoid paying with large bills, as these places rarely have much cash at hand. In central Bratislava you can find places, where you have to get a parking slip from a vending machine and pre-pay for your parking. The slip then has to be placed behind the wind shield of the car and must be visible from the outside.

Renting

Renting a car is a convenient, efficient and relatively cheap (prices start at approx. 65€/day at car rental chains with free mileage) way to explore Slovakia, especially if you intend to visit more remote areas, where train and bus services may be more sporadic. Don't expect neither GPS nor road map to be included and remember to check if highway vignette (see above) is included; it most likely, is but not always. Ask when booking and if it is not, then they can most likely easily include it without any handling charges.

Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking in Slovakia is best done by asking around at gas stations. It used to be that most people only speak Slovak (and possibly understand other Slavic languages) so it was difficult for foreigners who don't speak Slavic languages. However, nowadays most of the young people speak English and almost as many speak German.

Keep in mind that trains and buses in Slovakia are cheap for Westerners, and (apart from extremely rural areas where people are generally less wary of hitchhikers) it might take a while for someone to pick you up. You can find some offers if you travel from Slovakia and into Slovakia as well on specialized web pages. The biggest hitchhikers page in Slovakia is stopar.sk. There you can find offers in English, German, French, Polish, Czech and Hungarian language and it is free.

On foot

There is a long tradition of hiking and mountain walking in Slovakia, and it is an extremely popular sport. Most people you meet will have gone on a hike at least once in their life, and many do so regularly, and can give you advice about the most interesting local trails. The trail network is also very well maintained. The quality and efficiency of the sign-posting system is unique in European (and probably World) context.

Every route is marked and signposted, different trails being given a different colour. There are four colours used - red, blue, green and yellow. Longest and most sternous trails are usually marked red, and it is possible to traverse from north-eastern Dukla Pass all the way to the west (Bradlo, near Bratislava) along the Slovak National Uprising Heroes trail (750 km) along one such red-marked path. However, the trails are numerous, suitable for various levels of fitness, and many lead through beautiful scenery. In towns, you will usually see a signpost, with arrows pointing in different directions, marking the colour of the path and the average walking times to the nearest set of destinations. All you need to do is to follow the colour, there will be a mark every hundred metres or so, and consists of a 10-cm-by-10-cm square three-section mark where the edges are white and the chosen path's colour in the middle.

It is also possible (and highly recommended) to purchase 'tourist maps' of smaller slovak regions. These are based on sets of former military maps, have a very good resolution (1:50000) and can be purchased from most kiosks, information centres and bookstores for bargain price of between €1.50-2.50. These are published by the Slovak Tourist Club (KST), which maintains all the trails, and show all the marked trails in the area, including the average walking times, which makes route planning very easy and efficient. You can also use hiking websites such as Freemap Slovakia (based on Openstreetmap data) or HIKING.SK

Talk

See also: Slovak phrasebook

The official and most widely-spoken language is Slovak. Slovaks are very proud of their language, and thus, even in Bratislava you will not find many signs written in English (outside of the main tourist areas). In some parts of the country (esp. in the east), dialects are used which may sound quite different from the codified language. However, understanding the official language should rarely be a problem and attempts to speak Slovak will be appreciated!

Slovak is written using the same Roman characters that English uses (with some added accents or diacritics), so Western travellers won't have any trouble reading signs and maps. While some words are tongue twisters, the knowledge of the alphabet including the letters with diacritics will go a long way as Slovaks pronounce every letter of a word with accent always on the first syllable (it may be on second syllable in some dialects in east).

Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible, yet distinctive languages. At first, one might think they are dialects of each other - older people in both countries tend to understand the other language better than younger people who were born after the breakup of Czechoslovakia.

Since the territory of Slovakia was under Hungarian influence for centuries, there is a significant Hungarian-speaking minority of 9.7%. Most of the Hungarians live in southern regions of the country and some of them speak no Slovak. Other Slovaks however normally do not speak or understand the Hungarian language.

While you can make do with English and German in Bratislava, in smaller towns and villages they are not as widely spoken, though many younger people are usually able to speak English. Older residents may know some German and Russian, as well as tourist area workers. People born between 1935 and 1980 will have learned Russian in school, though few Slovaks will appreciate being spoken to in Russian as this language has some negative connotations due to the Communist era, and these days, English has largely supplanted Russian as the most widely taught foreign language. Due to the significant tourism growth in the North and the East of Slovakia, English is becoming more widely used and you may try Polish. Other Slavic languages, especially Russian, Serbian, Croatian, and Slovene may also work. In the east Rusyn, a Ukrainian dialect close to Polish is spoken. It is also intelligible with Russian to some extent.

See

Slovakia combines all the typical features of a grand European history with highly attractive nature and a traveller-friendly modern atmosphere. Its fairly small capital Bratislava may not have the majestic sights you'll find in some other Eastern European capitals, but it has an energetic vibe to it, a lovely Old Town, Bratislava Castle and endless options to have a great time. The city as a whole is a quaint mix of 18th-century rococo and concrete Communist building blocks. An afternoon coffee in one of the countless street cafés along the famous Danube river is an absolute must and a good chance to people-watch and absorb the ambience. For a touch of grandeur, take a river tour down to Devin Castle, an excellent example of Slovakia's record-high number of castles and chateaux. Some of them are little more than a pile of stones hidden in a deep forest, others are luxurious baroque mansions or citadels in the middle of towns. Other worthwhile examples are Spiš Castle (one of the largest castle sites in all of Europe) and the 19th century Bojnice Castle, a favourite tourism destination for the Slovaks. Almost equally popular is the beautiful Orava Castle near Dolný Kubín, high up on a rock overlooking the Orava river. Other good picks for large historic city centres include the old towns of Košice, Trnava and Levo?a. Banská Štiavnica is a fabulously preserved medieval mining town and one of the country's World Heritage Sites. Where Banská Štiavnica mined for silver ore, the smaller but equally well-preserved medieval town of Kremnica was built above gold mines and boasts the oldest still-working mint in the world.

If you love nature, Slovakia will be great for you. Large parts of the country are covered with dense forests and the abundance of wildlife includes brown bears, wolves, and lynxes. The Tatra Mountains, more specifically the High Tatras, are a prime attraction and offer impressive mountainous panoramas as well as great opportunities for skiing and other outdoor sports. In the large karst areas throughout the country there's an impressive number of caves. A dozen or so are accessible for tourists. The Ochtinská Aragonite Cave near Rož?ava stands out, as it is one of the only three aragyonite caves in the world. Together with other caves of the Slovak Karst, it is listed on UNESCO's World Heritage list. If you enjoy hiking, try the Slovak Paradise National Park, famous for its beautiful canyons and ravines with many waterfalls and rocky formations. For a more relaxing encounter with Slovakia's natural environments, head to one of the many mineral springs and spas. Pieš?any is one of the best-known ones, but your options are countless.

If you get the chance, travel a bit through Slovakia's countryside. It's dotted with historical villages, sometimes seemingly untouched by time, and often a good way to catch a glimpse of the country's folk traditions. The hamlet of Vlkolínec is considered a prime example of folk countryside architecture, but ?i?many and Brhlovce are lovely villages too. Historic churches are impossible to miss, as you'll find them in every village, town and city. Especially well-known are the many wooden churches in the northern and north-eastern parts of the country.

Buy

Money

Slovakia uses the euro. It is one of several European countries that uses this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender within all the countries.

One euro is divided into 100 cents.

The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.

  • Banknotes: Euro banknotes have the same design in all the countries.
  • Normal coins: All eurozone countries have coins issued with a distinctive national design on one side, and a standard common design on the other side. Coins can be used in any eurozone country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
  • Commemorative two euro coins: These differ from normal two euro coins only in their "national" side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country may produce a certain amount of them as part of their normal coin production and sometimes "Europe-wide" two euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. the anniversary of important treaties).
  • Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins of other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, and have entirely special designs and often contain non-negligible amounts of gold, silver or platinum. While they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector value is usually much higher and, as such, you will most likely not find them in actual circulation.

Until January 1, 2009, the official currency was the koruna ("crown", sk) which can still be found and accepted by the central bank until 2017 at a rate of 30.126sk to €1.

Banking

Automatic teller machines (ATM, "bankomat" in Slovak, pl. "bankomaty") are widely available in Slovakia except in smaller villages, and obtaining money there should not present a problem. In most of small villages you can gain money at local postal offices (cashback). Credit cards and debit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, Visa Electron, Cirrus Maestro are widely accepted both in shops and restaurants in bigger cities.

Tipping

Tipping is not compulsory in Slovakia, but in practice it is common in establishments where you sit in (cafes and restaurants), where rounding up the bill or leaving around 10% tip is common. The tip is given directly to the waiter (i.e. tell him/her how much to give you back), not left on the table in most establishments. Tips are not included in the bill, if there is a percentage shown on your bill, this is usually the VAT. Tip is added to the bill and should be handed to the waiter while you pay, before you leave the table. Tipping is not compulsory, so if you are not satisfied with the service, don't feel obliged to tip! You will not be hassled if you don't.

Tipping is not common in over-the-counter establishments, bars or for other services.

Eat

Slovak cuisine focuses mostly on simple and hearty recipes. Historically, what is now considered genuinely Slovak has been the traditional food in the northern villages where people lived off sheep grazing and limited agriculture - in the harsh conditions many crops don't grow, and herbs are more accessible than true spices. Therefore, the staple foods mostly involve (smoked) meat, cheese, potatoes and flour. This does not make the food bland, however, and much of it is quite filling and flavoursome, though can be a bit heavy. As no strong spices or truly exotic ingredients are used, sampling local wares is a safe and rewarding experience.

Some dishes are authentically Slovak, many others are variations on a regional theme. A lot of cheese is typically consumed, out of meats pork and poultry products are the most common, with some beef and game dishes, most common accompaniments being potatoes and various types of dumplings. Since Slovakia is a land-locked country, fish and seafood options are limited (carp is served at Christmas, trout is the most common fish). Soups are quite common both as an appetiser and, as some are quite filling, as a main dish.

If you are a vegetarian, the variety of food in the cities should be decent. However, when venturing out into the countryside, the offer may be limited as vegetables are mostly considered a side and/or eaten mostly raw or in salads. Also, be aware that even though some dishes will be in the vegetarian section of the menu, this merely means that they're not predominanty meat-based and still might be prepared using animal fats or even contain small pieces of meat, so make your requirements clear. Fried cheese with ham or Cesar salad(!) are good examples. Still, almost every restaurant in the country will serve at least the staple choice of fried cheese (the normal, non-ham variety) with fries, which is a universally popular. There should be a good selection of sweet dishes as well, with pancakes, dumplings filled with fruits, jams or chocolate and sweet noodles with nuts/poppy seeds/sweet cottage cheese most common. Seeking out the nearest pizzeria is also a good and accessible option mostly everywhere.

The main meal of the day is traditionally lunch, though this is changing especially in cities due to work schedules, and dinner is increasing becoming the main meal there.

It should be noted that in all but the most exclusive restaurants it is not customary to be shown to your table by the staff. So when you enter, do not hang out by the door, but simply pick a table of your choice and enjoy. Once you are comfortably seated, waiting staff will be over shortly to give you the menu and let you order drinks.

Again with the possible exception of the most exclusive establishments, there is mostly no dress code enforced in restaurants and informal clothing is fine. Hauling yourself into a restaurant for well-deserved meal after a day of hiking/skiing in your sporty clothes might attract a few frowns, but you certainly won't be turned away. Generally, anything you would wear for a stroll in town is perfectly fine. You don't need a jacket or closed shoes and in summer shorts are also acceptable.

Slovak food

Bryndzové halušky is a Slovak national dish made out of potato dumplings and special kind of unpasteurized fermented sheep cheese called 'bryndza'. This meal is unique to Slovakia and quite appetising (and surprisingly filling), and you should not leave Slovakia without trying it. Please note that while this dish will usually be listed in the vegetarian section of the menu, it is served with pieces of fried meaty bacon on top, so if you are a vegetarian make sure to ask for halušky without the bacon. Halušky can be found in many restaurants, however, the quality varies as it is not an easy dish to prepare. If you at all can, seek out an ethnic Slovak restaurant (this can be harder than it sounds), or at least ask locals for the best place in the vicinity. In the northern regions you will find also authentic restaurants called 'Salaš' (this word means sheep farm in Slovak and many take produce directly from these), which serve the most delicious and fresh variety. Sometimes, a variety with smoked cheese added on the top is available. A separate dish called strapa?ky might also be available where sauerkraut is served instead of bryndza, but it is not as typical (this will also come with bacon on top).

A salaš will usually serve also other typical Slovak dishes, and many will offer several varieties of sheep cheese to buy as well. They are all locally produced, delivious, and well worth buying if you are a cheese fan. Verieties include bryndza (primarily used to make 'Bryndzové halušky', but it is a soft spreadable cheese which is very healthy and often used as a spread), blocks of sheep cheese (soft and malleable, delicious on its own or with salt), parenica (cheese curled in layers into a small peelable roll, sold smoked or unsmoked) and korbá?iky (this word means hair braids in Slovak, and korbá?iky are threads of cheese woven into a pattern resembling a basic braid). Some of these cheeses are available to buy in supermarkets as well but these are mass produced and not as good.

Most other dishes are regional, and their varieties can be found elsewhere in Central Europe. These include kapustnica, a sauerkraut soup typically eaten at Christmas but served all year round in restaurants. It is flavoursome and can be mildly spicy based on what sausage is used. Depending on the recipe it may also include smoked meat and/or dried mushrooms.

Various large dumplings called pirohy can be found and depending on the filling can be salty or sweet. Fillings include sauerkraut, various types of cheese or meat or simply fruits or jam. They closely resemble Polish pierogi .

Goulash is a regional dish made with cuts of beef, onions, vegetables and squashed potatoes with spices, which is very hearty and filling. Depending on the thickness it can be served as a soup (with bread) or as a stew (served with dumplings). Goulash can be sometimes found outdoors during BBQs or at festival markets, where it is prepared in a big cauldron, sometimes with game instead of beef - this is the most authentic. A variety called Segedin goulash also exists, which is quite distinct and prepared with sauerkraut. Goulash can be quite spicy.

Apart from kapustnica and goulash, which are more of a main dish, other soups are quite popular as an appetiser. Mushroom soup is a typical Christmas dish in many parts, and there are several soups made out of beans or bean sprouts. In restaurants, the most common soups are normal chicken and (sometimes) beef broth, and tomato soup and garlic broth (served with croutons, very tasty, but don't go kissing people after) are also very common. Some restaurants offer certain soups to be served in a small loaf of bread ('v bochniku'), which can be an interesting and tasty experience.

Other typical streetfood includes lokše, potato pancakes (crepes) served with various fillings (popular varieties include duck fat and/or duck liver pate, poppy seeds or jam) and langoš, which is a big deep fried flat bread most commonly served with garlic, cheese and ketchup/sour cream on top. A local version of a burger is also common, called cigánska pe?ienka (or simply cigánska). This is not made out of beef, however, but instead pork or chicken is used and is served in a bun with mustard/ketchup and (sometimes) onions, chilies and/or diced cabbage. If you are looking for something sweet, in spa cities such as Pieš?any, you will find stands selling spa wafers, which are usually two plate-sized thin wafers with various fillings. Try chocolate or hazelnut.

Especially in the western parts, lokše can be found in a restaurant as well, where they are served as side for a roasted goose/duck (husacina), which is a local delicacy.

Other foods worth trying are chicken in paprika sauce with dumplings ('paprikas'), Schnitzel ('Reze?' in Slovak, very common dish. '?iernohorsky reze?' is a variety that is made with potato dumpling coating used instead of batter and is very good) and Svie?ková (sirloin beef with special vegetable sauce, served with dumplings). From the desert section of the menu, try plum dumplings (sometimes other fruit is used, but plums are traditional); this is a good and quite filling dish on its own as well.

In some parts of the countryside, there is a tradition called zabíja?ka, where a pig is killed and its various meat and parts are consumed in a BBQ-like event. This is a lot more historic celebration than you are likely to find in mostly modern Slovakia, but if you have an opportunity to attend, it may be an interesting experience, and the meat and sausages are home-made, delicious and full of flavour. If you can find home-made húrka (pork meat and liver sausage with rice) or krvavní?ky (similar to hurka, but with pork blood) on offer elsewhere, they are both very good. There is also tla?enka (cold meat pressed together with some vegetables, served similar to ham), which is served cold with vinegar and onion on top, and can be bought in supermarkets as well.Various other type of sausages and smoked meats are available commercially.

A thick fried slice of cheese served with French fries and a salad is also a common Slovak dish. It is served in most restaurants, and worth trying out, especially the local variety made from smoked cheese ('údený syr'/'oštiepok') or 'hermelín' (local cheese similar to Camembert). This is not considered a substitute for meat.

There is a good variety of bakery products, including various sweet pastries- try the local fillings of poppy seeds and/or (sweet) cottage cheese (tvaroh). Strudel (štrúdla) is also popular, try the traditional apple and raisins filling or fancier sweet poppy seeds and sour cherries version. For something savoury, try pagá?, which is a puff pastry with little pork cracklings. Local bread is excellent, but please note that some of the several varieties are sprinkled with caraway seeds. You may or may not like this! Baguettes and baguette shops/stands are very common and you will be able to choose from a variety of fillings.

For dessert, visit the local cukráre?. These establishments, though slowly merging into cafes, exclusively specialise in appeasing your sweet tooth and serve a variety of cakes, as well as hot and cold drinks and (sometimes) ice-cream. The cakes resemble similar fare in the Czech Republic or their Viennese cousins. The selection is diverse and on display, so just pick one you like the look of, perhaps a 'krémeš' (a bit of pastry at the bottom, thick filling of vanilla custard, topped with a layer of cream or just chocolate) or 'veterník' (think huge profiterole coated in caramel), selection of tortas etc.

When you are shopping in the supermarket, remember to pick up Tatranky and/or Horalky, two brands of similar wafers with hazelnut filling and lightly coated in chocolate that the locals swear by.

International Cuisine

Italian restaurants and pizzerias are extremely popular in Slovakia, and have become ubiquitous. Even if you don't go to an ethnic Italian restaurant, there will be a pizza or pasta dish on almost every restaurant menu. Italian (and generally Mediterranean)ice cream is also very popular.

Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine is also becoming more common everywhere, and kebab/gyros (a bun with sliced bits of meat) stands are very common.

In bigger cities, you will find selection of ethnic restaurants including Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Italian, French and many others. Moreover, as mentioned above, many Austrian, Czech, Hungarian and Polish dishes with Slovakian twist are commonplace.

Fast food establishments can be found in Slovakia as anywhere else in the world, McDonalds can be found in many bigger and smaller cities. However, due to the other food being relatively cheap in comparison to the Western prices in fast foods, this is not usually considered the truly budget option. A food in a cheaper restaurant will cost 1-1.5x the price of a meal combo (sometimes even less) and might prove a better value. Still, these establishments are reasonably popular, especially with the younger generation.

Drink

Non-alcoholic drinks

For non-alcoholic drinks try Vinea, a soft drink made from grapes, in both red and white and also non-carbonated. Kofola, a Coke-type soft drink, is also very popular among locals and is available both on tap and bottled. Slovakia is one of three countries in the world where Coca-cola is not the number one in the market.

Mineral waters are some of the best in the World, come in numerous varieties and each has unique positive health effects (e.g. getting rid of heartburn, improving digestion etc.) depending on the type of minerals naturally found in the water. There are many types available from shops and supermarkets, for example Budiš, Mitická, Slatina, Rajec, Dobrá Voda, Zlatá stud?a, Fatra etc. Others are only available directly from the many natural mineral springs common all across the country. As these are true 'mineral' waters, they will invariably contain minerals, and the taste will differ according to the brand/spring. If you don't like one, try a different brand! You may also try mineral waters with various flavourings, ranging from raspberry to 'mojito'.

In contrast to what you might be used to, sparkling water is the default option, so if you prefer still you might have to look for this specifically. The level of carbonation is marked by the label. Dark blue or Red label usually indicates carbonated ones ("perlivá"), a green label indicates mildly carbonated ones ("mierne perlivá") and white, pink or baby blue indicates those without carbon dioxide ("neperlivá"). Due to the excellent local choice and quality of the water, international brands are not as common.

In restaurants, serving of a free glass of water is not a part of the culture, so remember that if you ask for one it is quite likely that you will be brought (most likely sparkling) mineral water instead (and charged for it).

Out of hot drinks coffee is available everywhere, mostly in three varieties (cafes in cities will offer more) - espresso, 'normal' coffee which is served medium-sized, small and black and Viennese coffee which is 'normal' coffee with a dollop of cream on top. Cappuccinos are quite common as well. Coffee is served with sugar and cream/milk on the side. Hot chocolate is popular as well. Tea rooms are quite popular as a place to chill out in major cities. These usually have a laid-back, vaguely oriental ambiance, and offer a great variety of black, green, white and fruit teas. Schisha might be on offer as well. A part of this culture spread to the other catering establishments, most of which will now offer a choice at least between fruit and black tea. Note that black tea is served with sugar and lemon in Slovakia, serving of milk or cream is not common. Some places may offer a beverage called 'hot apple', which tastes a bit like softer hot apple juice.

Alcoholic Beverages

Drinking is very much a part of the Slovak culture and some form of alcohol will be served at most social occasions. However, the locals mostly hold their liquor well and BEING visibly drunk is frowned upon, so be aware of your limits. Note that some locally brewed spirits may be stronger than what you are used to, and that the standard shot glass in Slovakia is 50ml, which may be more than you are used to if arriving from Western Europe. If you order double vodka, you will get 1dl of it! Alcohol in general is cheap compared to Western Europe or the US. There are no special shops, and alcoholic beverages can be purchased in practically any local supermarket or food store. You can legally drink and purchase alcohol if you are 18 years or older, but this is not very strictly enforced. You still might be IDed in some city clubs if you look very young, however.

For beers, there are a great variety of excellent local brews that are similar in style and quality to Czech beers (which are also widely available), and beer is mostly the local drink of choice. Try out the Zlatý Bažant, Smädný Mních, Topvar and Šariš. Šariš is also available in a dark version that is thicker and heavier on your stomach. If the local tastes do not satisfy, "Western" beers are sold in the bigger restaurants and pubs.

Slovakia has also some great local wines, many similar to Germanic Riesling styles. There is a number of wine-growing regions in the south with centuries worth of tradition, including the area just outside Bratislava. If you can, try to visit one of the local producer's wine cellars, as many are historical and it is a cultural experience as of itself. You might also be offered home-made wine if you are visiting these areas, as many locals ferment their own wines. The quality obviously varies. Every year at the end of May and beginning of November, an event called Small Carpathian Wine Road takes place in Small Carpathian Wine Region (between Bratislava and Trnava), where all the local producers open their cellars to the public. Buy a ticket in the nearest cellar and you will receive a wine glass and admission into any cellar in the region, where you can sample the best produce from the previous year.

There are also sweeter wines grown in South-Eastern border regions called Tokaj. Tokaj is fermented out of the special Tokaj grape variety endemic to the region (part of which is in Hungary and part in Slovakia) and it is a sweet dessert wine. Tokaj is considered a premium brand with a world-wide reputation and is arguably some of the best Central Europe has to offer. Other Slovak wines might not be widely known outside the region but they are certainly worth a try. The best recent wine years in Slovakia were 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2006. Around the harvest time in the autumn, in the wine-producing regions, young wine called bur?iak is often sold and popular among the locals. As bur?iak strengthens with fermentation (as it becomes actual wine), its alcohol content can vary quite wildly.

Slovakia produces good spirits. Excellent is the plum brandy (Slivovica), pear brandy (Hruškovica) or herb liquor Demänovka. But the most typical alcohol is Borovi?ka, a type of gin. Czech Fernet, a type of aromatic bitter spirit is also very popular. In some shops you may try a 25 or 50 ml shot for very little money, so as to avoid buying a big bottle of something of unknown flavour, then decide whether to buy or not to buy. International brands are also available, but at a price premium (still cheaper than in most Western countries, however).

If you are a more adventurous type, you can try some home-made fruit brandys that the locals sometimes offer to foreigners. Slivovica is the most common, but also pear brandy, apricot brandy, or raspberry brandy can be found. Drinking is a part of the tradition, especially in the countryside. If you are visiting locals, don't be surprised if you are offered home-made spirit as a welcome drink nor that the host may be quite proud of this private stock. The home-made liquors are very strong (up to 60% alcohol), so be careful. If Slivovica is matured for 12 or more years, it can become a pleasant digestive drink.

In winter months, mulled wine is available at all winter markets and mulled mead is also common. A mixed hot drink called grog, which consists of black tea and a shot of local 'rum' is very popular, especially in the skiing resorts, and really warms you up.

Do

  • Visit the nearest chateau/castle - many are hundreds of years old, some preserved in a habitable state with period furnishings and many guided tours are offered.
  • Go hiking! - the entire Slovakia (except flatlands) is covered with hundreds of miles of extremely well-marked hiking trails, that especially in the national parks lead though gorgeous landscapes. Get the idea here.
  • Visit one of the traditional wooden churches, they're unique to the region. These might not be readily accessible without a car, however.
  • Go spelunking - caves are interspersed around Slovakia and as many are open to general public they are some of the most accessible in the world. Many are UNESCO listed, including Dobsinska Ice Cave (in Slovak Paradise), and Ochrinska Aragonite Cave, Domica, Jasovska Cave and Gombasek Cave (all in Slovak Karst)
  • Visit a local festival - in the early spring 'Fasiangy' (Mardi Gras) is celebrated, especially in the countryside, and in early autumn the end of the harvest period is celebrated in wine-producing regions. The part of the centre of the town will be closed and a traditional market available, mostly with local produce and handicrafts for sale and plenty to eat and drink. In bigger cities, similar Christmas markets open in December/around Christmas.
  • Ski and snowboard in the mountains, especially High Tatras and Low Tatras. Smaller ranges are also very suitable for cross-country skiing
  • Navigate down the rivers Váh or Dunajec on a raft through picturesque gorges. For a more gentle ride, raft down the Small Danube.
  • If you're into railway history or would like to spend a day romantically, Slovakia offers a number of phased-out railway tracks, which were once used for transporting wood, but now transport only tourists in cosy steam trains through forests and valleys. The best-preserved of them all is ?HŽ near the town of Brezno.

Cultural Events

  • International Film Festival Artfilm. Yearly in June/July in Tren?ianske Teplice and Tren?ín.
  • International Film Festival Cinematik. Yearly in early September in Pieš?any. Young and relatively small film festival. Accreditation for the whole festival is less than €7.
  • International Film Festival Bratislava. Forever in December.
  • Comics-Salón - A event dedicated to Japanese Anime & Manga, Fantasy and SciFi and its fans, but not only them! Great atmosphere, friendly folk and lots of fun awaits you there. This events roots stretch back to 2004, when it was held in "Súza" for the first time. Now, once every year early in September Bratislava enjoys the rush of fine individuals from all over Europe to participate in this unique event. For the past 2 years, the location was moved to "Istropolis" exhibition halls due to space constraints.

Music Events

  • Pohoda Music Festival. One of the biggest Slovak music festivals, critically acclaimed and recognised on European scale. Yearly in July in Tren?ín. Hosts mostly alternative music.
  • Grape Music Festival. Another great smaller alternative music festival. Yearly in August in Pieš?any.

Relax

Slovakia offers many excellent spas and water parks. If you enjoy stinking mud and are willing to pay for it, the best, most famous (and most expensive) spa is located in Pieš?any. Important spas are also in Tren?ianske Teplice, Rajecké Teplice, BardejovDudince and Podhájska.

If it's too boring for you and you'd welcome some water slides and fun, try water parks in Beše?ová, Liptovský Mikuláš, Poprad, Tur?ianske Teplice, Oravice, Senec. Significantly cheaper are classical open-air pools, some of the best are in Ve?ký Meder and Štúrovo.

Sleep

There is a wide rangeof accommodation available in Slovakia. These range from AquaCity, based in Poprad, through to budget priced rooms in rental chalets.

The most luxurious hotels can mostly be found in major cities such as Bratislava and Košice and in the major tourist destinations like the High Tatras or the spa towns (the situation here is unique as the price of the hotel usually includes some of the spa procedures). These hotels offer Western style comfort and prices.

There will at least one hotel available in every major town or tourist area, but the quality varies. Some of the mid-range hotels were built during the Communist era in the corresponding architecture style, which might make them look less appealing from the outside, though the interiors might be perfectly adequate.

Budget hostels are mostly concentrated in the major cities, and you can expect typical hostel prices as in the rest of (Central) Europe. If you are venturing outside of cities, there are numerous mountain huts available for short-term rent in the mountain areas. Especially in touristy areas there will be many private rooms available for rent, look out for 'Zimmer Frei' signs. This typically does not include breakfast.

When hiking, official maintained mountain cabins offer cheap accommodation for hikers on trails in all of the national parks and a lot of the national conservation areas. They have a limited number of beds (if any) and generally limited capacity, so for the more frequented places during the high season an advance booking might be necessary and is recommended. If you don't manage to book a bed, you might be allowed to still stay overnight, sleeping on the floor in designated areas. Either way, you will probably want to bring your own sleeping bag. The facilities, due to the location, are limited, but there will be a shared toilet and possibly a shower. There's usually a kitchen that serves several hearty hot dishes and a number of drinks at pretty reasonable prices.

It is only legal to pitch a tent in Slovakia outside national parks and propected natural zones (where should be signposts but there might not depending on how and where you enter these), but camping is reasonably popular in summer. Camping grounds in Slovakia (non-exhaustive list):

Learn

A number of Slovak language courses and/or private tutors should be available in most major cities.

Work

Slovakia is a member of the European Union, so if you are a citizen of another member state, you can legally reside and work in Slovakia without restrictions. The most popular website for job listings is profesia.sk

Most embassy offices will advise European Citizens as well. Average salary in 2009 was €750 a month. Best paid are IT experts with average salary over €1500 a month (construction workers earn around €560 a month and waiters €340 a month).

If you are from outside the EU, you will need a visa to work in Slovakia, and it's best to contact your and/or Slovak embassy for more information. Teaching English as a second language is a popular work option. Note that unless you are applying for certain positions in international firms and similar organisations where English/German might do, you will probably need a working knowledge of Slovak for most other jobs.

Stay safe

Slovakia is generally safe, even by European standards, and as a visitor you are unlikely to encounter any problems whatsoever. Violent crime is especially uncommon, and Slovakia sees less violent crime per capita than many European countries. However, the biggest fear for a traveler is most probably the roads.

Roads are generally poorly lighted, and are very narrow. If you plan to drive you must not be under the influence of alcohol. Penalties are very severe if you are caught in such an act.

In case of an emergency, call 112, the universal emergency number. For police you can call 158, ambulance 155, and firefighters 150.

It shouldn't be necessary to mention that the 2006 film Hostel, whose plot takes place in 'Slovakia' is a complete work of fiction, and the probability of tourists being kidnapped and tortured is the same in Slovakia as in any developed city in the USA or Western Europe - astronomically low. Slovakia is considered a safe travel destination for all tourists, as is much of Europe. Similarly, the American movie Eurotrip (2004) might prove a sensitive topic, because it portrayed Slovakia as a terrifyingly undeveloped country, which is also false.

When visiting cities, exercise the same caution as you would in any other European city - use common sense, be extra careful after the dark, stay aware of your surroundings, keep your belongings in sight and avoid drunks and groups of young men. Pickpockets sometimes can be found in bigger crowds and at major train/bus stations.

When visiting mountainous areas of Slovakia, especially the High Tatras, let the hotel personnel or other reliable people know where exactly you are going, so that rescuers can be sent out to find you if you don't return. The relative small area and height of the High Tatras is very deceptive - it is steep and difficult terrain with unpredictable weather. Never hike alone and use proper gear. The mountain rescue service is a good source of additional and current information, take their warnings seriously. In an event of emergency they can be contacted by calling 18300 or the universal 112. Make sure your medical insurance coverage includes the mountain activities before you venture forth, as a rescue mission in the inaccessible terrain may prove expensive.

Also note that the weather in the High Tatras is prone to sudden changes, especially during spring and autumn.

Slovakia is one of the few countries left in Europe, where the likes of bears and wolves still live in the wild. While no one has died from a bear attack in the last 100 years, a few attacks occur each year. Your chance of encountering one as a tourist is very low, but the possibility exists. A bear will avoid you if it knows you're there, so the best way to avoid this is by making your presence known by talking loudly/singing/clapping etc., especially in an area where it can't readily see you from a distance. If you see a bear, do not run, but leave the area slowly in the opposite direction. If you see one from your hotel - possibly feeding from the rubbish bins - which is a bit more common, though still unlikely - DO NOT approach or feed it.

Stay healthy

No vaccination is necessary to visit or stay in Slovakia although if you plan to visit countryside areas, tick vaccination is recommended. Also Hepatitis "A" and "B" vaccination is advisable as with all European countries.

Ticks can be found in the countryside forests and also sometimes in larger parks, and in some areas they may carry tick-borne encephalitis. As they reside in bushes and taller grass (when they fall of the trees). Therefore, when going hiking try to avoid thick undergrowth and always check all over your body when you return (ticks tend to seek warm spots). Remove the tick as soon as possible, by gently wiggling it out of the bite by its head (never break off or squeeze the body as the head will stay lodged in skin and might become infected). Do not touch the tick at any stage with bare hands, use tweezers and latex gloves.

Most of the food and drink is perfectly safe, the hygiene standards in Slovakia are the same as elsewhere in Western/Central Europe.

Tap water is drinkable everywhere - according to one study, water used as tap water in the Bratislava-Vienna region is the cleanest in the world. If you prefer mineral waters, you can choose from a multitude of brands, since Slovakia has quite possibly the highest number of natural mineral water springs per capita.

The High Tatras might not be the biggest or the most tallest mountain range, but some trails may feature strenuous climbs, rocky terrain, and the weather may prove unpredictable. Take proper gear, do not overestimate your abilities, and use common sense.

If you decide to swim in the local rivers/natural pools/lakes, as many locals do, remember that unless expressly stated otherwise, these activities are not supervised by a life guard, and you are doing so at your own risk.

The standard of health care is quite high, but the language barrier might be a problem as not many doctors speak English. However, this should not be a problem in major towns, which have a Fakultná nemocnica.

There are no over-the-counter drugs sold in Slovakia in supermarkets or drug stores, you will need to head to a pharmacy even if you just need an aspirin. In even smaller cities, there should be one open 24/7. Look out for the nearest green cross sign - even if this particular pharmacy is closed, a sign in the door will point you towards the nearest open one. If you need a specific medicine, make sure you have your prescription ready as many drugs require it.

Respect

Slovaks are friendly and peaceful people living in a free democratic state. There is not a single issue that would provoke hostility or real trouble. Usually the worst thing that could happen is that you would be thought a bit boorish and the history explained to you over another beer. However, it pays to be respectful and sensitive when discussing certain topics.

Remember that Slovakia is a separate nation that has been independent since 1993 when Czechoslovakia split into the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic. It is also a 'young nation', as for most of its history it was a part of other multinational states such as Austria-Hungary or Czechoslovakia. Therefore, some people may be sensitive when it comes to nationality issues. There is no hostility or resentment when it comes to the Velvet divorce that split Czechoslovakia, and the two nations remain very amicable. Do not refer to Slovakia as a part of another state and you should be fine.

Slovakia's position during WWII was quite complex, and this topic is best avoided when speaking to nationalists. Similarly, the decades of Communism left its mark on the country and this can be a sensitive topic. Slovakia, while formerly a part of the Soviet bloc, has never been a part of the USSR or the Russian Empire. Please remember this.

Out of the more current issues, the relations with the Roma/Gypsy minority are sometimes strained and people may hold strong views on the subject. Do not venture into a debate unless you are intimately acquainted with the problem and/or ready to acknowledge position of the local. Many locals will feel that foreigners have incomplete information about the realities of these relations, and you might be reminded of this if you present a counterposition.

Slovaks are quite hospitable, and if they invite you into their home, expect to be well looked after and offered a variety of food and drinks. If you are invited in for lunch, expect a 2-3 course meal just as for dinner, as lunch is traditionally the main meal of the day. It is considered polite to bring a small gift for the host, such as a bottle of wine or good spirit, a box of chocolates, or a small bouquet of flowers. Never money as it would be felt that you are trying to pay for the hospitality.

Most people do not use their outdoor shoes inside for hygienic reasons, so take your shoes off in the hallway when entering somebody's home. Don't worry, they will find you a spare pair of slippers to keep your feet warm.

When dining in a restaurant with the host's family, it is customary for them to pick the bill. This might not happen, but don't be surprised if they do.

When being introduced to or meeting someone, even of the opposite sex, and even for the first time, it is not uncommon to kiss each other on the cheek once or twice (depending on the region) instead of shaking hands. It is not common between two males, but is quite normal for women. Do not be alarmed, and remember that this is not a sexual gesture.

Connect

The international calling code for Slovakia is +421.

In case of an emergency, call the universal number 112. You can also call directly on 150 for fire brigade, 155 in a medical emergency or 158 for the police.

Slovak phones operate on the GSM standard, which covers most of the country, and 3G covers most of the area. The coverage is surprisingly good, and you will often have signal even in mountain areas, unless you are in a deep ravine. There are three main operators - Orange, T-mobile and O2, and they all use 900 or 1800Mhz standard, which might not be compatible with some U.S. phones operating on 1900Mhz.

They all (along with some virtual operators, biggest of which are Funfón and Tesco Mobile) offer a variety of prepaid cards with various "pay as you go" schemes (some market research is advised, if you want the best deal) and incentives. If you have an unlocked phone, these are easy to pick up in any phone shop, or you can purchase a cheap phone with a prepaid card included.

There are still some phone boxes available, but with mobile phones now commonplace, they are declining in number. Also note that you might need to purchase a prepaid card to use some of them.

Wifi and broadband can be found more or less everywhere, and there will be an internet cafe/gaming room available somewhere even in smaller towns. Also, hostels, pubs, cafes, and some public institutions such as libraries or government buildings offer (free) wifi.

Cope

All foreign embassies are located in Bratislava, in the old town part of the city. A list of embassies in Slovakia with contact information can be found on the country's web site [1] If your home country does not have an embassy in Slovakia, the nearest embassy can probably be found in Vienna in Austria, which is readily accessible by train, boat, bus, or car from Bratislava.

Hear about travel to Slovakia as the Amateur Traveler talks to Julie Callahan from TheWorldInBetween.com. When Julie's family moved to Bratislava, Slovakia 3 years ago they didn't have a single friend who knew where this central European country was located. 

Charming cobbled streets and colourful buildings, Christmas markets, an excellent food scene: what isn’t there to love about Prague? The capital of the Czech Republic is one of Europe‘s most popular destinations; if you’re considering a trip to Prague, you might need to know the answers to some of these questions.

1. Where to stay in Prague?

Prague has a full range of accommodation options, from camping by the river to five-star luxury. Stay in the centre (Prague 1) for proximity to the main attractions, or go a little further out if you’d like to be away from the hordes of tourists. Prague is very walkable and has a good public transport system, so you’ll always be able to get into the centre. Check out Hostelbookers for hostels or Booking.com for hotels, or consider an apartment rental if you’re a group.

2. What to see in Prague/Prague attractions?

The top three things to see in Prague are the astronomical clock, the castle, and Charles Bridge. Listen to our Prague podcast for more tips!

3. Is Prague safe?

Yes, Prague is a very safe city. As in most major cities, pickpocketing can be an issue, so take normal precautions with your belongings, especially at the train station and on public transport.

4. What to buy in Prague?

First and foremost: beer. Try a variety of different ones and take a couple of bottles home as souvenirs. If you’d prefer something personal, head to Charles bridge and buy a CD from a busker or have your portrait sketched by one of the artists. Avoid the tacky souvenir shops at all costs, but if you do want something to take home, a handmade wooden toy is a good option.

5. What’s the weather in Prague Czech Republic?

Pin me!Pin me!Prague has a continental climate with warm summers and often snowy winters. You’re looking at temperatures of around 0°C in winter and early 20’s during summer. Although summer is warm, it can be wet — take a rain jacket.

6. Is Prague worth visiting?

Absolutely! It’s a beautiful city with centuries of history. The public transport is good and there’s an excellent range of high-quality food. It’s a very popular tourist destination, but even if you don’t like crowds there’s plenty to do away from the most popular sites.

7. Is Prague on the euro?

No, the Czech Republic uses the Czech koruna (CZK/Kč), also called the “crown”. One euro is worth about 27Kč.

There was a plan to adopt the euro but the plan was suspended in 2005, and now most Czech people would prefer to stick with the koruna.

8. Is Czech Republic part of the European Union? Is Czech Republic part of Schengen?

Yes, the Czech Republic has been part of the European Union since 2004. It is also part of the Schengen Area border-free zone.

9. Which Prague district should I live in?

Consider Karlin, in Prague 8. It’s close to the centre but not full of tourists, and there are a lot of great restaurants.

Map of Prague Czech RepublicPrague is easy to get around.

10. Which Prague castle inspired Walt Disney?

Sources disagree! Prague Castle itself was probably one of the inspirations, and the Tyn Church in the Old Town Square was another of the inspirations for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle.

11. Where is Prague Zoo?

Prague Zoo is located in Prague 7, beside the Vlatava River and to the north of the Old Town. To get there, catch bus number 112 from Nádraží Holešovice metro station on line C.

12. Where is Old Town Square?

The Old Town Square is located in Prague 1, between Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge.

Prague's Astronomical clock in Czech RepublicThe Astronomical Clock is located in the Old Town Square.

13. Where is Charles Bridge located?

Charles Bridge crosses the Vltava River between the Old Town and the Lesser Towns of Prague, in Prague 1. You can cross it to get from the Old Town to the castle.

14. When was Old Town Square founded?

The Old Town Square was used as a market place from the tenth century. Many of its main buildings were built in the 12th and 13th centuries, such as the Old Town Hall and the Church of Our Lady before Tyn. The astronomical clock was installed in 1410 and is the oldest astronomical clock still running.

15. When was Czech Republic founded?

The modern Czech Republic was founded on 1 January 1993 when Czechoslovakia was dissolved into two separate countries: Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The Czech state was formed in the 9th century, and was part of various empires throughout its history (such as the Great Moravian Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918 when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

16. When was Czech Republic dissolved?

The Czech Republic is a modern country, it has not been dissolved!

17. When was Charles Bridge constructed? When was Charles Bridge first opened?

King Charles IV commissioned the bridge in 1357 and it was opened in 1402. It’s the oldest bridge in the city and replaced a bridge that was damaged by a flood.

Charles Bridge in Prague Czech republic is always full of tourists.Charles Bridge is often full of tourists, but it’s a good place to buy souvenirs.

18. Is Prague in Czech Republic?

Yes, Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic.

19. Is Prague in eastern Europe?

That’s a good question! Some sources say Prague is in eastern Europe, but others disagree. Czechs consider themselves central Europeans, not eastern Europeans, so it’s better to say that Prague is in central Europe.

20. Is Prague water safe to drink?

We have always drunk the water in Prague and have never had any problems. You can drink the water from most taps unless there is a “do not drink” label, such as on trains. Water from fountains is usually not drinkable, so fill your water bottle from a tap.

Boat on Vltava River Prague Czech RepublicDon’t drink the water from the river, either!

21. Is Prague expensive to visit?

Prague is a very economical place to visit, much cheaper than neighbouring countries like Austria or Germany.

22. Which Prague guidebook should I buy?

That depends on your travel style. We found that the Lonely Planet Europe on a shoestring has enough information on the city to make the most of a short trip, though it lacks historical background. The Rough Guide worked well for that. Since Prague is such a visually rich city, Eyewitness‘s visual slant is perfect.

23. Is Czech Republic the same as Czechoslovakia?

Nope. Czechoslovakia is a country that existed from 1918 until 1993, when it peacefully dissolved into the two countries of Czech Republic and Slovakia. Don’t call the Czech Republic Czechoslovakia, you’ll sound horribly out of date and will probably offend someone.

24. Is Czech Republic part of Russia?

No, and it never formed part of the USSR either.

25. Is Czech Republic communist?

No. Czechoslovakia was a communist state from 1948-1960 and a socialist republic from 1960-1989. The modern Czech Republic is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic: it has democratic elections.

26. Do I need travel insurance for Prague?

It’s always a good idea to have travel insurance. You might already be covered if you have other insurance policies, so check with your insurance provider before you travel. We use World Nomads because they are great for independent travellers.

Do you have any questions about Prague? Ask in the comments below.

Some of the links in this post are affiliates.

Kate and Javier Ziplining

Every December, I put together a list of my favorite destinations of the year. I love picking out the places that made my heart beat the fastest!

Last year, the big winner was Nicaragua. In 2014, Finland was a memorable standout. In 2013, Japan hit the hardest. In 2012, I loved the Faroe Islands.

This year was far lighter on travel than the past. I only visited four new countries (Colombia, Slovakia, Poland, and Luxembourg) and much more of my time was spent closer to home — something that I think will continue to be a trend.

Furthermore, I don’t think any one destination stands above the others. As a result, this list is in a completely random, unranked order. It may seem a bit weird to include both giant regions and small towns on the same list, but this feels right to me!

One thing: keep in mind that these are destinations I hadn’t visited prior to 2016. So places like Paris, Savannah, and Cape Town are not eligible.

Here we go!

Krakow

Kraków, Poland

Kraków was one of my biggest travel oversights coming into 2016, and I’m so glad I finally made it happen. It’s no big surprise; it has so many qualities that I love in a destination.

A medium-sized city. Absolutely beautiful architecture. Low prices and very good value for money. Delicious food — both Polish and international (I actually ate at a Corsican restaurant one night!). Out-of-this-world ice cream, served in tiny Kate-sized portions. And a beautiful park that runs in a ring around the town that you can circle for hours and hours if you’d like.

Krakow at NightKrakowKrakow FlowersKrakowKrakow Treats

I did luck out in Kraków. I had perfect early fall weather. I met up with a great local-reader-turned-new-friend, Dominika, who took me out to cool places (including the cafe with the dessert above) and showed me her favorite spots. But what I remember most was the light. Just look at that top photo. It’s barely retouched.

The evening light in Kraków was so beautiful, it nearly brought me to tears.

Read More: AK Monthly Recap: September 2016 (full post coming soon!)

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Visiting Puerto Rico was one of my goals for 2016 and I was so delighted when an opportunity presented itself — especially since it came during the doldrums of winter!

What struck me the most was how perfect an all-around destination Puerto Rico is for Americans. You don’t need your passport, there are nonstop flights from lots of cities, English is widely spoken in the tourism industry, and your US phone plan will work. You can lie on a beach, zip-line through the mountains, or explore art and history. Puerto Rico has it all.

Orocovis, Puerto RicoSan Juan, Puerto RicoOld San Juan, Puerto RicoKate in San Juan, Puerto RicoHilton Caribe, San Juan, Puerto Rico

My favorite highlight of Puerto Rico: a day trip to Culebra Island. I was initially skeptical, but Flamenco Beach lived up to the hype — it’s one of the most incredible beaches I’ve ever visited. A wide expanse of soft pinky-white sand, neon turquoise water, and even a few tanks for good measure.

I need to go back for more — Vieques is calling my name and I hear the beach on nearby Culebrita is even better!

Read More: Puerto Rico Seriously Has It All

Colmar

Alsace, France

It was actually a struggle for me to choose between Alsace (the region) and Strasbourg (the city) for this round-up. I loved Strasbourg, but did the smaller city of Colmar deserve equal recognition? Or was I being unnecessarily contrarian just again, because SO many bloggers love Colmar and I wanted to be different?

Eventually, Alsace won out. Because the things I loved most were universal to the region. Fresh flowers bursting out of every free inch of pavement. Brightly colored shutters and doors on half-timbered houses. Delicious white wines and fabulous tartes flambées. Decent prices and friendly locals. Obviously French, but also very German, with an interesting history of being volleyed back and forth between the countries.

dscf9862Tarte Flambee in Colmardscf9870dscf9946 Strasbourg Street Sign

As soon as I left Alsace, I knew my time there had been criminally short. Right away, my readers started telling me that I had missed the best place of all — the village of Riquewihr. Apparently lots of people like to go on road trips through Alsace, tasting ciders and wines along the way. You wouldn’t have to twist my arm!

Read More: A Taste of Alsace in Strasbourg and Colmar

Hudson New York

Hudson, New York

“You have to get away from the city at least once a month,” New Yorker after New Yorker told me, and after spending April without leaving the city, I knew I had to be better. I started researching local getaways and the town of Hudson kept appearing.

A small town in the Hudson Valley two hours north of New York on the train. Despite its small size, a town leading a foodie Renaissance in the region, with tons of chefs opening acclaimed restaurants. Filled with boutiques and cozy little shops and cafes. It sounded a lot like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town that I love, only with even better restaurants.

My friend Tess had visited recently and echoed all these things. “Plus it’s so cheap!” she exclaimed. Sold.

Hudson New YorkCrimson Sparrow Hudson New YorkCrimson Sparrow Hudson New YorkHudson OctopusMoto Coffee Hudson New York

Even though I thought I had my finger on the pulse of what made Hudson tick, there were surprises. How so many people had given up city life to move there. How massively LGBT-friendly it was.

The only thing is that I feel like I’ve seen all there is to see in Hudson. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing, though. Small can be good.

Read More: Hudson, New York: The Coolest Small Town in America

Salento Colombia

Salento, Colombia

When I planned my trip to Colombia, I assumed that the whole country would end up on this list at the end of the year. Truthfully, while almost everyone I know who has been to Colombia considers it one of their favorite countries, it just didn’t quite gel for me overall.

Timing was one reason — I was exhausted and it wasn’t a good time for any trip, much less a lengthy trip in a developing country. And I was traveling in my old-school backpacker style (albeit with private rooms) that I now think is becoming part of my past.

But while I didn’t fall madly in love with Colombia, I did swoon for the town of Salento. Small, beautiful, and brightly painted. So many delicious places to eat. A plaza that came to life on Sunday nights. A mirador overlooking the town. And so many coffee plantations.

SalentoCoffee Bean SalentoSalentoBeer in SalentoSalento

Salento was so chilled out, which was exactly what I needed after Cartagena and Medellín. And my day trip to the Valle de Cocora was a major highlight as well. If you’re planning a trip to Colombia, I couldn’t recommend Salento more!

Read More: Traveling in Colombia: The Best Moments

Shinn Estate Vineyards Long Island

The North Fork of Long Island

I had an image of Long Island held from my university days: isolated suburbia, rich privileged kids who flunked out of school and got their parents to buy their way back in, and not the prettiest accents of all time. Not a fair assessment, I know. It never was and I never should have let it cloud my judgment. I was an idiot in college. We all were.

That all ended when my friends and I took a day trip to the North Fork to explore the wine scene. I found a beautiful country escape with vineyard after vineyard, some truly outstanding cabernet francs, great restaurants, and the best strawberry rhubarb pie of my life.

Sparkling Pointe Long IslandLieb Cellars Long IslandKate at Sparkling Pointe North Fork Long IslandBriermere Farm Long IslandLieb Cellars Long Island

There was only one place where the Long Island stereotype reared its head — Sparkling Pointe, where the jewelry was large, the crowd was tipsy, the Yankees hats were omnipresent, and the accents were loud. But it wasn’t that bad.

Long Island is a killer destination. I’m blown away that such a good wine region is just a few hours from where I live. And that’s not all — one of my next goals is to make it to the Hamptons in 2017!

Read More: A Day Trip to the North Fork of Long Island

Coral Bay Sunset

Western Australia

How can WA not go on this list? It was the craziest, most exciting destination of the year by far. Not to mention one that I’ve yearned to visit for more or less forever.

What did it for me? It was the sparse, remote landscape, how you would almost never see other people and would then say hi to them out of disbelief that they were there, too. It was the crazy wildlife — the quokkas on Rottnest Island, of course, but also the manta rays and sharks in Ningaloo Reef. And dolphins and kangaroos. The crazy landscapes: bright yellow pinnacles in the desert, pink lakes throughout the region. Perth’s hip factor. The gorges in Karijini. Man. I could go on forever about Western Australia.

Dolphins Monkey MiaKate at Mount NamelessPinnacles DesertKalbarri NP WA Shark Bay Scenic Flight

Part of me feels in disbelief that this trip even happened. But the memories here are ones that I will cherish forever.

If you want to go somewhere not as many tourists visit, or somewhere that feels off the beaten path, WA will be a very satisfying destination for you.

Read More: My Favorite Experiences in Western Australia

Stellenbosch Vineyard

Stellenbosch, South Africa

It took three trips to South Africa to get me to visit Stellenbosch, the lauded wine region just one hour from Cape Town. What took me so long, seriously? Stellenbosch is amazing!

Beth and I decided to come here after a long, busy trip through Johannesburg, Kruger, and Cape Town, and we basically spent four days in a row doing little more than going from winery to winery, tasting wine with chocolate, tasting wine with cheese, tasting wine with meat, tasting wine with salt, buying reserve bottles to take home (none of which cost more than $11!!!!!), and reminiscing about the rest of our trip.

Wine Tasting StellenboschStellenboschKate in StellenboschStellenbosch Flowers in WinterStellenbosch Wine and Chocolate

I thought visiting Stellenbosch in July, their winter, would be hit-or-miss, but turns out it was a fantastic time to visit. The wineries were far less crowded than they would have been in high season. We had a few sunny days that resulted in beautiful photos. And there’s nothing like cozying up next to a fireplace with a glass of red on a cold day!

Read More: AK Monthly Recap: July 2016 (full recap coming soon!)

Haye-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye, Wales

I had never heard of Hay-on-Wye before it popped up in my South Wales itinerary; uncharacteristically, I hadn’t even Googled it before arriving. But perhaps it was for the best, because I was stunned at how hard and fast I fell for this tiny Welsh town.

In short, Hay-on-Wye is the used bookstore capital of the world. They even have a world-famous literary festival that Bill Clinton called “The Woodstock of the Mind.” Between the bookstores, the cafes, and the many quirky shops (including an antique map shop, where I bought a 150-year-old map of northern Italy!), I could have stayed a week in introverted bliss.

Hay-on-WyeUsed Bookstore Hay-on-WyeHaye-on-WyeChandelier Store, Haye-on-WyeHaye-on-Wye

South Wales was a beautiful place, filled with gorgeous scenery and surprisingly delicious food, but no place stole my heart as quickly or as firmly as Hay-on-Wye.

Read More: A Dreamy Trip to South Wales

Old San Juan Cat, Puerto Rico

And that’s a wrap, folks!

At this point, I have zero trips planned for 2017. Which is fabulous!

I have some vague ideas — I think somewhere in the former Soviet Union could be a possibility for the summer months (Central Asia? Caucasus? Russia and the Baltics?), Putin-Trump situation notwithstanding. My dream destinations of Corsica and Sardinia are very likely for September or so.

I should visit friends in Austin, Las Vegas, and Seattle. There have been a ton of cheap direct flights to Cuba from New York on JetBlue — I’ll be keeping my eye on those. I’m enjoying Christmas markets in Germany so much that I want to come back next year. And of course, there’s this crazy travel blogging business, which could take me to any number of locales.

Anything is possible. This time last year, I had no clue that Western Australia or Colombia were even possibilities!

Now, I want to hear from you!

What was your favorite new destination of 2016? Share away!

My trips to Kraków, Alsace, Hudson, Salento, the North Fork, and Stellenbosch were entirely at my own expense. My trips to Puerto Rico, Western Australia, and Hay-on-Wye were sponsored. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Kate in Bushwick

It’s time for everyone’s favorite post of the year — my worst travel moments! And I love writing this post every year. I think it’s important to reflect the not-so-pleasant times along with the happier moments, and I think that reflects in my coverage here.

In 2012, I drove my car into a ditch in the Faroe Islands.

In 2013, I was extorted for my phone in Cambodia.

In 2014, I got head lice at the age of 29 in New Orleans.

In 2015, I locked myself in a vestibule with a cockroach in Sicily.

Now, what’s up for 2016? Let’s take a look!

Newbury Street, Boston

Starving on the Greyhound Bus to Boston

My sister and I were traveling home to Boston for the Fourth of July. She had already booked a Greyhound bus; I vastly prefer the Megabus, but decided to book the same Greyhound so we could go together.

I don’t like Greyhound because 1) they overbook buses all the time 2) Port Authority, from where the buses leave, is one of my least favorite places on the planet. It’s like a bizarre 90s time warp where technology doesn’t exist, down to the lack of both wifi and phone service. I avoid it whenever possible.

It was the morning and we stopped at a cafe in our neighborhood for some coffee and scones. We sipped the coffee but saved the scones, even though I was ravenous. I have this thing where I can’t eat until I’m perfectly settled and comfortable. I knew I wouldn’t touch it until the bus left the station.

Sarah had booked her bus long before I had, so she had an earlier boarding number. She got on the bus with all the food and held a seat for me.

You can see where this is going.

Sarah’s bus was overbooked, because it was Greyhound. They filled it and it took off. And because Port Authority has neither wifi nor phone service, she couldn’t alert me. She left with all the food.

I felt like crying as I got on my own bus, nothing to eat but gum for the next five hours. The good thing was that after an hour or so, my hunger went into the next level and disappeared entirely.

Passau Christmas in Bavaria

My First Concussion in Germany

This is one of the more serious injuries I’ve experienced while traveling. One night my friend Cailin and I were snapping each other back and forth, playing with the new feature that allows you to create a sticker out of anything.

I snapped myself falling backward onto the bed, but I miscalculated — I hit my head hard on the corner of the bed frame.

(Yes, it was caught on video. Yes, I deliberated sharing it publicly, but sent it to Cailin and Cailin alone. Her comment: “That was a loud thud!”)

I felt fine over the next 20 hours or so. But after that, on the train back to Munich, I started feeling nauseous and a bit dizzy, and a strong headache came on. I couldn’t help but think of Natasha Richardson, who died after hitting her head while skiing (and who felt fine immediately afterwards but took a turn for the worse later). After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to go to the hospital.

The hospital experience was surprisingly decent. I was seen fairly promptly, was given a CT scan (which had zero abnormalities), and though it costs 300 EUR ($311) for people without EU health insurance to visit the ER, I’ll be refunded it from World Nomads, my travel insurance provider. This is one of the millions of reasons why you need travel insurance!

Recovery has taken longer than I expected, but I’ve started to have full days without any headaches, dizziness, or nausea. That’s a big step!

Inverness

Lost Luggage in Scotland

It was a simple nonstop flight from JFK to London Gatwick, but my bag (and lots of other passengers’ bags) didn’t make it. I’ve had lost luggage before, but it was always delivered within 24 hours. Not this time.

This time, Norwegian had no clue where it was.

That’s what made it awful. I hated being at a conference in no makeup and subpar clothing (I supplemented my meager wardrobe with a few M&S finds) but the worst thing was the uncertainty. Would they even find it in time for my trip to Wales? What about Slovakia after that?! It was a simple nonstop flight!

Finally, after two and a half days, I got word that not only had they found it, but it was already in Inverness! I hightailed it to the airport and picked it up with glee.

Between being on the phone constantly with Norwegian, having to buy clothes and toiletries before the shops closed (5:30 PM in Inverness) and having to pick it up at the airport, 30 minutes away, I missed a ton of the conference. But at least everything arrived before I had to go to Wales. And I was dressed to the nines for the final evening.

Kruger National Park

Dropping My Phone in the Toilet in South Africa

All this time, I’ve gotten through life without dropping my phone in the toilet. Until South Africa this summer.

I totally forgot I had put my phone in my back pocket…until I heard the telltale plop.

BUT IT SURVIVED. And you know why? Because I use a LifeProof case. Even though the bottom tabs were open, my phone survived the dip in the toilet without incident. That’s incredible.

AND THE TOILET WAS CLEAN. I feel like I need to add that.

French Laundry Gardens

The Worst Press Trip Companion Ever

I’ve met a lot of people in the travel blogging industry. I’ve gone on press trips with well over 100 people. Most people are decent. Perhaps the top 20% are awesome. And you get a few unpleasant people every now and then. But one woman I met this year was the absolute worst.

It started with, “Well, I hope he at least bought you a drink after,” when I talked about a really nice date I had gone on that happened to not cost anything. It escalated to wanting to pose for selfies with an immigrant worker as a prop in the background. And then came, “We don’t like black guys.”

Looking back, it’s not surprising that this happened in 2016. If anything, the 2016 presidential election emphasized that many reasonable-appearing people will secretly engage in racist behavior. This woman was yet another example.

Mangrove Hotel Broome WA Sunset Roebuck Bay

Getting My Bank Account Depleted for Fraud Reasons

I won’t say where this took place or who it involved, but it started when a company paid me a good-sized check for a campaign. I don’t like getting paid by check, but sometimes it’s necessary.

The check arrived the day before I was to leave on a big trip. I deposited it with my phone. A few hours later, I got the notification that my bank had accepted it. Lovely. I then did my usual routine: shifted funds to different accounts and left enough money in my account to cover the trip. I then got on my plane and flew to another continent.

Several days into that trip, my debit card wasn’t working. I opened my email and realized that the client had voided all of their outgoing checks for fraud reasons — several days after it had been deposited in my account with no issues. “Just go back to the bank with the same check and they should be able to do it again,” I was told.

I immediately got on the phone with the client and got them to issue a transfer through their bank, which I was grateful for.

But I learned my lesson. And this is one that I hope you learn too. Even several days after a check is deposited and accepted by your bank, it can still be removed from your account if the sending bank issues a fraud alert. I’m going to be much more cautious with my checks in the future.

Coral Bay Sunset

Spilling My Diva Cup in Australia

Yeah, this definitely falls into TMI territory. While in Coral Bay, I dropped a full Diva Cup for the first time ever in my six years of using one — and it spilled all over my clothes. Blood was everywhere.

Savannah Bonaventure Cemetery

Getting Haunted by Little Gracie in Savannah

It was my second visit to the very haunted city of Savannah, but my first trip to Bonaventure Cemetery. While there, I came across the grave of Little Gracie.

Little Gracie died of pneumonia at the age of six. Her father owned a hotel and she was a local celebrity, charming every guest who came in.

After she died, her parents buried her at Bonaventure and left town. People say that Little Gracie’s ghost can be seen wandering through town, looking for her parents.

I stood at the gate and made eye contact with the statue. And then something hit me in the chest and went all the way to my back. It was almost like a massive gust of wind whooshing into me. I felt so much fear in that moment and was desperate to find my friend so I wouldn’t be alone.

Something happened that day. I think Little Gracie’s ghost made an attempt to communicate with me. And I didn’t like it.

Bo-Kaap Cape Town

The Worst Uber Ride in Cape Town

I love Cape Town, and South Africa in general, but you need to be on your guard there constantly. One issue is driving at night. Carjacking is still a risk in parts of South African cities. Locals know which areas to avoid; when you’re a visitor, you have no idea. I had no idea.

After doing trivia at Oblivion, Beth and I summoned an Uber to take us home. And as soon as we got in, it was clear that the driver had no idea what he was doing. He didn’t know how to navigate with the Uber system. He almost went into the wrong lane and had to back up. He suddenly hit the breaks, his manual car jerking wildly, then he stayed in place. One minute passed. Then another.

I was scared to death. Not only that, I was trying to hide my fear so Beth wouldn’t be scared.

“You need to get us out of here now,” I told him.

“Yes! Yes! Just one minute, please!”

“No. You need to go NOW. Take us back to the bar.”

He couldn’t even figure out how to get back to the bar. I had to navigate him.

After that, we switched to only summoning from UberX, which sources from professional drivers. It cost twice as much as regular Uber but was still very economical in South Africa.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Accidentally Drinking Undiluted Rum in Puerto Rico

And there was the time I went to the Don Q distillery in Puerto Rico, tasted lots of rums, and I made the grievous mistake of reaching for the wrong glass and drinking undiluted rum.

Undiluted rum.

I’m surprised I still have my teeth enamel.

What was your worst travel moment of the year? Share away!

FamilyBreakFinder put together this map of all the tourism slogans in the world and we’re loving it! Some of them are inspiring, a few are corny, and others are downright funny.

Tourism slogan

Map: FamilyBreakFinder

To be able to zoom in on the map, click here.

Cape Verde

“No stress”

Sounds good to us!

Tourism slogan

Slovakia

“Travel in Slovakia — Good idea!”

Slovakia goes straight to the point and does not enjoy excessive enthusiasm.

tourism slogan

Kiribi

“For travelers”

We’re coming!

tourism slogan

Latvia

“Best enjoyed slowly”

We love slow traveling.

tourism slogan

El Salvador

“The 45-minute country”

We’re not sure what they mean by that, but we heard El Salvador is wonderful!

Tourism slogan

Check out the map and let us know what is your country’s tourism slogan in the comment section. More like this: Mapped: What you did not know about time zones

AT MATADOR Network, we always encourage other travelers to visit museums (even the weirdest ones) and check out street art when they are abroad because we know that art is a window into a country’s culture.

This map of famous European artworks created by Reddit user halfabluesky is not going to please everyone (the choice for The Netherlands is already controversial in the comment section), but it is a great way for all of us to learn more about artists and artworks we would otherwise have never heard about — I personally did not know about anything about Icelandic art…now I do! artworks

Map: halfabluesky

Because some of the artworks can be difficult to visualize on the map, the creator listed them. See below.

  • Albania: Holy Mary holding Baby Jesus in her right arm
  • Andorra: Apse fresco of Sant Miquel d’Engolasters church
  • Austria: The Kiss
  • Belarus: The Fiddler
  • Belgium: The Son of Man
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mountain landscape
  • Bulgaria: Rachenitsa
  • Croatia: Roman Woman Playing A Lute
  • Cyprus: Work by Stelois Votsis
  • Czech Republic: The Absinthe Drinker
  • Denmark: The Little Mermaid
  • Estonia: Half Nude in Striped Skirt
  • Finland: The Wounded Angel
  • France: Impression, Sunrise
  • Germany: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog
  • Greece: Venus de Milo
  • Hungary: The Old Fisherman
  • Iceland: Pingvellir
  • Ireland: Three Studies of Lucian Freud
  • Italy: Mona Lisa
  • Latvia: After Church
  • Lithuania: Tale of the Kings
  • Luxembourg: Stretch of the Moselle at Greiveldange with Stadtbredimus
  • Macedonia (FYROM): Scene from the Paris Psalter
  • Moldova: The Girl From Ciadar Lunga
  • Monaco: Raniero I
  • Montenegro: Our Lady of Philermos
  • Netherlands: The Girl with Pearl Earrings
  • Norway: The Scream
  • Poland: Rejtan
  • Portugal: Fado
  • Romania: Car Cu Boi
  • Russia: Golden Autumn
  • Serbia: The Wounded Montenegrin
  • Slovakia: Work by Albin Brunovsky
  • Slovenia: Pomlad (Spring)
  • Spain: Guernica
  • Sweden: Breakfast Under the Big Birch Tree
  • Switzerland: The Walking Man
  • Turkey: The Tortoise Trainer
  • Ukraine: Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks
  • United Kingdom (UK): The Fighting Temeraire
  • Vatican City: Creation of Adam

The days are getting longer, we’ve already seen people in shorts and the weather forecast is looking a lot sunnier – it can only mean one thing, the end of the ski season is nigh. But fear not, with the end of one winter comes the preparation for the next.

Ski and snowboard holiday operators and companies have begun to release their best early-bird deals, rewarding those who just cannot wait to get another date set in the diary for their next trip to the snowy mountains. Here’s our round-up of the best.

Best for Christmas and New Year

Save 20 per cent on Christmas skiing in Les Arcs with Ski Collection on trips booked before November 2 2017. Seven nights at Le Village residence in the French resort costs from £470 per person. The price includes a four-star luxury self-catered family apartment with ski-in/ski-out apartments and spa access and Eurotunnel crossing, based on five people sharing a two-bedroom apartment, arriving December 23 2017.

Val d'IsereVal d'IsereCredit:ierom

SkiLine is offering free Trois Vallées lift passes for guest this Christmas and throughout January. Christmas week at the four-star Chalet Bonheur in Courchevel, France, which sleeps eight people, costs £999 per adult and £899 per child. The price includes chalet board, flights from London Gatwick and a free lift pass for the Trois Vallées ski area, departing December 20 2017.

Alpine Elements is offering seven nights at Hotel Renardiere in Morzine, France, which has direct access to the slopes and a hot tub, for £645 per person. The price includes half board, flights and transfers, departing December 20 2017.

SNO.co.uk is offering free lift passes for guests booking a Christmas chalet holiday in France and Austria. A week at Chalet Bonneval in Val d’Isère, France, costs £894 per person, including chalet board, flights from Heathrow and transfers, departing December 19 2017.

Alpe d'HuezAlpe d'Huez

AliKats is offering free kids’ places and lift passes on Christmas holidays. A week at its flagship chalet Ferme a Jules in Morzine, France, costs from £975 per person, based on a family of four sharing a family room – the children under 12 stay for free. The price includes chalet board, travel excluded, departing December 22 2017.

The best family ski resorts

Interactive Resorts has a buy-one-get-one-free lift pass offer on early-season holidays. Seven nights at Chalet Louisa in Alpe d’Huez, France, costs £978 per person. The price includes chalet board, flights and transfers, plus buy-one-get-one-free lift passes, departing December 30 2017.

Best for February half term

Erna Low is offering 10 per cent savings on half-term holidays. Seven nights in a two-bedroom apartment at Arc 1950 Le Village in Les Arcs, France, for groups of four to six people costs £2,854 total - reduced from £3,171. The price includes a self-catered apartment, pool access and the residences also has a programme of activities for children as well as a creche, departing February 10 2018. Excluding travel.

Europes cheapest ski resorts | Cost of lift pass, equipment hire, lessons and food and drink

Alpine Elements is offering seven nights at Chalet Haute Neiges in Les Arcs, France, with its own pool, for £871 per person. The price includes half board, flights and transfers, departing February 18 2018. There’s also half-price equipment hire and discounts for groups of six.

Inghams has a number of reduced package holidays for February half term. Seven nights at the three-star Hotel Berghof in Alpbach, Austria, part of Austria’s Ski Juwel area, costs from £534 per person, saving £225 each. The price includes half board, flights from London Gatwick and transfers, departing February 17 2018.

Ski Sunday's Graham Bell skis the Steilste run in MürrenSki Sunday's Graham Bell skis the Steilste run in Mürren 02:03

Jasna Adventures is offering 10 per cent off half term holidays to Jasna, a lesser-known destination in Slovakia. Seven nights at Jasna Adventures’ chalet for a group of 10 adults and six children is £418 per person. The price includes bed and breakfast, lift passes, transfers, in-resort pick-up and drop-off service, daily après drinks and snacks and one day of guiding around the slopes. The price is based on sole occupancy, departing February 10 or 17 2018.

Best for families

SkLine is offering short breaks to French resorts for the New Year, before the children go back to school. Four nights at Chalet Hotel La Foret in Les Arcs, France, costs from £450 per person. The price includes chalet board, flights from London Gatwick and transfers, departing January 3 2018.

Neilson is offering up to 50 per cent off childcare for families staying at Neilson Hotel Aalborg or Le Cret in Les Deux Alpes or Del Clos in Soldeu, Andorra. A week at Neilson Hotel Aalborg costs from £565 per person. The price includes half board, flights from London Gatwick and transfers, departing December 16 2017.

Off piste near La PlagneOff piste near La PlagneCredit:© blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo/blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo

Esprit Ski is offering families the chance to get away at Christmas to its family-focussed chalets. A week at Chalet Justine in Les Gets, France, costs from £2,737 for a family of four – that’s £684 each. The price includes seven nights chalet board, children’s high tea, flights from London Gatwick, transfers, use of the sauna and hot tub, plus a full family Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, departing December 19 2017.

Best for groups

SkiLine is offering £100 off per person when groups of 10 fill a chalet Val Thorens, plus buy-one-get-one-free lift passes. A week at Chalet Clementine costs £785 per person. The price includes soul occupancy for a group of 10, catered accommodation, flights from London Gatwick and transfers, plus the free lift pass offer, which has to be booked separately, departing January 20 2018.

For sale: £2m ski chalet in the land of the midnight sun

Alpine Elements is offering discounts for groups of six or more, ranging from £50 off per person to £125 per person. Seven nights at Hotel Les Dents Blanches in Morzine costs from £549 per person, with group discount added later. The price includes bed and breakfast, flights and transfers, departing March 25 2018. There's also chane to grab half-price lift passes and half-price equipment hire.

Iglu Ski is offering half price lift passes for everyone in a group when they book sole occupancy of a number of its chalets. Five nights at Chalet Le Valentin, which sleeps 12, in Sauze d’Oulx, Italy, costs £539 per person. The price includes catered accommodation, flights from London Gatwick and transfers, plus half price lift passes if booking the whole chalet, departing January 2 2018.

Neilson is offering groups the chance to save up to £150 per person when booking an entire Neilson chalet. A week's stay at Chalet Montagnettes, which sleeps 10 people, in La Plagne, France, costs from £729 per person, before discount has been applied for sole occupancy.

MorzineMorzineCredit:Photo : ©Matthieu Vitré

Powder White is offering an early-bird discount of up to 20 per cent on self-catered apartments - plus an extra 10 per cent for Telegraph readers using the code PWTG2018. Seven nights for four people at Montana Plein Sud in Val Thorens, France costs €1,808 total with an early-bird discount and is reduced further to €1,627 exclusively for Telegraph readers. The price includes a two-bedroom self-catered apartment, departing January 13 2018.

Powder Beds is offering a 15 per cent discount on early bookings. Seven nights in a three-bedroom self-catered apartment at Chalet des Neiges in Val Thorens costs £2,804 total, saving 15 per cent. The price is based on six people sharing and excludes travel, departing March 31 2018.

Celebrities favourite ski resorts

Best for luxury

VIP Ski is offering discounts of £100 per person on all January 2018 departures. A week at VIP Club Aspen in Val d’Isère, France, costs £1,189 per person. The price includes chalet board, flights from London Gatwick and transfers, departing January 7 2018.

Club Med is offering savings of up to 15 per cent on all-inclusive holidays booked six months or more in advance. Seven nights at its four-star La Plagne, France, 2100 residence costs from £1,240 per person, reduced from £1,459. The price includes all-inclusive service, flights from Edinburgh, transfers, lessons and equipment hire, departing January 21 2018.

R&S Chalet Collection is offering the chance to book a luxury Christmas break with 20 per cent off. Seven nights’ exclusive use of Chalet Guytaune in Morzine, France, for 16 guests costs £11,500. The price includes half board accommodation and sole occupancy of the luxury chalet with its own hot tub, sauna and seven ensuite bathrooms, departing December 24 2017. Use discount code TeleGraph04 to redeem discount.

The ultimate ski bucket list

Best budget-friendly deals

Peak Retreats is offering 20 per cent off trips to Samoens, France on bookings made before September 15 2017. Seven nights at Les Fermes de Samoens in a three-star self-catered apartment costs from £202 per person. The price includes Eurotunnel crossing, departing February 3 2018.

Inghams is offering seven nights at its new property Hotel Garni Bracun in Corvara, Italy, from £679 per person, reduced from £1,518. The price includes bed and breakfast, flights from London Gatwick, transfers, departing March 17 2018. Plus, guests who pre-book lift passes will receive two-for-one equipment hire or ski carriage.

Ski France is offering 10 per cent off its properties across the French Alps. A week’s stay at the four-star Alpina Lodge in Val d’Isère, France, in a self-catered studio apartment costs £587 per person. The price covers accommodation only, departing December 16 2017.

Peak Retreats is offering 10 per cent off selected weeks to Tignes Les Brévières, France. Seven nights at the four-star Santa Terra in a self-catered apartment costs from £311 per person. The price is based on five people sharing a two-bedroom apartment and includes Eurotunnel crossing with FlexiPlus upgrade available, access to the private spa area and equipment rental, arriving January 20 or 27 2018.

Val d'IsereBook early for discounted prices on some of Europe's most popular resorts, such as Val d'IsereCredit:©andyparant.com

Best for venturing further

SNO.co.uk is offering over £600 off trips to North America next season. Seven nights at the Fairmont Chateau in Whistler, Canada, costs £988 per person. The price includes flights from Heathrow and transfers, departing January 13 2018.

Ski Safari is offering early bird prices and deals on trips to Norway, Canada and the USA with over 20 per cent off some packages. Book a seven-night stay at the four-star Vestlia Resort in Geilo, Norway, and only pay for six. The price of £1,025 per person for a family of four includes half board accommodation in a family room, flights and transfers, departing April 1 2018.

Ski Line is offering reduced prices on trips to Club Med’s Tomamu Hokkaido residence to experience Japan’s world-famous powder snow. A seven-night stay in a Club room now costs £2,075 per person, saving £367. Alternatively, the price for a family of four in two rooms (children aged three and four) costs £8,106 total, saving £1,432. The price includes Club Med’s all-inclusive service, flights from Heathrow, transfers, lift passes and equipment, departing March 10 2018.

WhistlerWhistler, Canada, is part of the Epic Pass dealCredit:Coast Mountain Photography

Best for added extras

Neilson is offering half-price lift passes for guests staying in any of its Neilson Mountain Collection hotels or chalets. A week at the Neilson Chalet Hotel Turquoise in La Plagne, France, costs £735 per person. The price includes chalet board, flights from London Stansted, transfers and guiding, departing January 6 2018 – if lift passes are pre-booked guest can save up to £115 per person.

Ski Total, Esprit Ski and Inghams are all running a buy-one-get-one-half-price lift pass offer on six-day Espace Killy adult passes, which covers both Tignes and Val d’Isère. A week at Chalet Colombero in Tignes with Ski Total costs from £774 per person. The price includes chalet board, flights from London Gatwick, transfers and the buy-one-get-one-half-price offer on pre-booked adult passes, departing January 21 2018.

Ski Safari has offers on the Epic Pass, which allows pass holders to ski over 40 resorts worldwide including Vail, Beaver Creek, Whistler, Breckenridge and Park City in North America. The passes start from £360, with different options available.

James Orr Heliski is offering free trips on early-bird bookings. Book a five-day or more heli-ski trip to Canada for eight people by May 31 2017 and receive a complimentary heli-ski weekend for two to Italy. There’s also a three per cent discount on bookings made before May 1 2017.

The best summer ski and snowboard courses

Iglu Ski has launched a new Ski Inclusive deal, which covers all the added extras needed for a ski holiday. Seven nights at the three-star Village Club Du Soleil in Montgenevre, France, costs £903 per person. The price includes full board, flights from London Gatwick, transfers, lift passes, equipment hire, free wine and free kids club, departing March 17 2018.

Best for learning something

The Warren Smith Ski Academy has announced its course dates for next season and is offering an early-bird discount of 10 per cent throughout May - plus prices are currently frozen at the 2016 rate until June 1 2017. The Academy is offering week-long courses in Verbier, Switzlerand as well as in Cervinia, Italy, plus five-day courses in Champoluc, Italy.

Best of the rest

Neilson is offering a £50 discount per person on January 2018 holidays on booking made before the end of May. Seven nights at Neilson Chalet Hotel Casale in Soldeu, Andorra, now costs £539 per person. The price includes chalet board, flights from London Stansted, transfers and guiding, departing January 7 2018.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Czech and Slovak Republics

DK

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: the most maps, photography, and illustrations of any guide.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Czech and Slovak Republics is your in-depth guide to the very best of the Czech and Slovak Republics.

Enjoy all that the Czech and Slovak Republics have to offer with our DK Eyewitness Travel Guide, your resource for exploring this stunning area. Go for a scenic walk or a drive and take in the gorgeous mountain scenery, the stunning cathedrals, and the Gothic, Medieval, and Baroque architecture. Check out the city's best restaurants and cafes, or experience local delicacies and the local beer halls. With tips for everything from hiking and skiing in the High Tatras to finding a hotel to experiencing the area with children, our Eyewitness Travel Guide has everything you need for a wonderful and memorable trip to the Czech and Slovak Republics.

Discover DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Czech and Slovak Republics

Detailed itineraries and "don't miss" destination highlights at a glance. Illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights. Floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums. Guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area. Area maps marked with sights. Insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights. Hotel and restaurant listings highlight DK Choice special recommendations.

With hundreds of full-color photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, and custom maps that illuminate every page, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Czech and Slovak Republics truly shows you the Czech and Slovak Republics as no one else can.

Slovakia: The Bradt Travel Guide

Lucy Mallows

Slovakia is one of the last of Central Europe's secrets to be discovered by travelers, and having joined the European Union in 2004, is now in a better position than ever to show what it has to offer. Impressively situated on the Danube, the capital, Bratislava, boasts stunningly restored baroque, rococo, and art nouveau buildings. Beyond the capital visitors will find a country packed with architectural gems, the renowned wooden churches of the Presov region, imposing fortresses, romantic castles, and medieval ruins--all within easy reach thanks to an excellent transportation system. Features include: *History and culture *Detailed coverage of Bratislava *Slovakia's art and architectural heritage, from restored buildings in Bratislava to historic castles, elegant chateaux, medieval towns and preserved folk villages *Hiking, skiing, cycling, whitewater rafting, wine tasting, and more

Slovakia: Walking Through Centuries of Cities and Towns

Ludmila Husovska

Histories of 27 cities and towns with full-color photos, illustrations, and maps. Bibliography.

Slovakia - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Brendan Edwards

Slovakia has struggled with a low international profile. Often overlooked as the Czech Republic’s little sister, it is a young country with an old culture and history, and a people who are proudly Central (not Eastern) European. Although for much of the twentieth century Czechs and Slovaks lived together in one state, there are important differences between them, differences that ultimately contributed to separation in 1993 and the rebirth of a sovereign Slovak state. Generally speaking, the Slovaks are more “Slavic” than the Czechs—their pace of life is slower, and their spare time is more often filled with friends, family, and music. They are known to be resistant to change, yet change has been a constant in the state’s short economic and political history—from the fall of communism in the Velvet Revolution of late 1989, to the Velvet Divorce of Czechoslovakia in 1993, to widespread economic diversification, expansion, and global influence, to European Union membership in 2004, and the adoption of the euro in 2009— and they have adapted with quiet optimism. Slovakia has been referred to as the economic “tiger” of Europe, and now that it has EU membership and a healthy industrial economy, Europeans are starting to take notice. Its popularity as a tourist destination has been growing rapidly in recent years. Slovaks call their country the Heart of Europe—a term that describes not only their geography but the Slovak character, which is warm, deeply hospitable, and immensely proud. Visitors who step outside Bratislava’s Staré mesto (Old Town) and take the time to explore the country beyond will discover a landscape of plains, meadows, mountains, natural spas, and hundreds of ancient castles, and a people at once modest, stoical, humorous, and responsive. This book captures the essence of what makes the Slovak people unique and explains something of the quirks and memorable aspects of their lifestyle. It opens a window onto their inner world, their customs and celebrations, and describes what to expect and how to behave in different situations. While the country is not without its frustrations for foreigners, most visitors succumb to its charms. Few have left without yearning to return to “the little big country.”

Slovakia (National Geographic Adventure Map)

National Geographic Maps - Adventure

• Waterproof • Tear-Resistant • Travel Map

National Geographic’s Slovakia Adventure Map is designed to meet the needs of adventure travelers with its detailed, accurate information and user-friendly design. Cities and towns are easy to find with the map’s helpful index. Motorways, expressways, and other roads are clearly designated and include distance in kilometers so travelers can easily plan their best route. Specialty content such as hundreds of diverse and unique recreational, ecological, cultural, and historical destinations make Adventure Maps the perfect companion to a guidebook. Among the many diverse points of interest are museums, skifields, spas, viewpoints, campsites, zoos, archaeological sites, and more.

Slovakia's snow-capped mountains and lush valleys making up almost a third of its area making it a great place for adventure whether you are on a solo holiday, travelling with a partner, or with a family group. Use side one of the print map to trek through the Alpine peaks of the High Tatras on the northern border with Poland. Afterward, explore some of central Europe's largest castles, go underground to visit ethereal ice caves, and visit the marked UNESCO heritage sites. The reverse side will take you through Slovakia's lively capital, Bratislava, and its charming Old Town. Explore the largely undeveloped countryside of northern Slovakia by bike, foot, or river barge.

Every Adventure Map is printed on durable synthetic paper, making them waterproof, tear-resistant and tough — capable of withstanding the rigors of international travel.

Map Scale = 1:295,000Sheet Size = 37.75" x 25.5"Folded Size = 4.25" x 9.25"

Coloring Book of Slovakia.

K.S. Bank

24 coloring photo of Slovakia.

The Slovakia Fact and Picture Book: Fun Facts for Kids About Slovakia (Turn and Learn)

Gina McIntyre

Turn & Learn presents: The Slovakia Fact and Picture Book The Slovakia Fact & Picture Book will allow your child to learn more about this world we live in, with a fun and exciting approach that will trigger their imagination.

We're raising our children in an era where attention spans are continuously decreasing. Turn & Learn provides a fun, and interactive way of keep your children engaged and looking forward to learn, with beautiful pictures, coupled with the amazing, fun facts.

Get your kids learning today! Pick up your copy of Turn & Learn's Slovakia Fact and Picture book now!

Slovakia Road Map (Country Map)

Cartographia

Folded road and travel map in color. Scale 1:500,000. Distinguishes roads ranging from motorways to other roads. Legend includes railways, mountain railways, chair/ski lifts, scenic roads, border crossing points, National Parks, tourist/natural sights, picturesque towns, international/domestic airports, airfields, churches, monasteries, fortresses, castles, ruins, tourist hotels, camping sites, World Heritage Sites, antique sites. Legend in 6 languages, including English. Index on back of map.

Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Petty crime (mugging, pickpocketing and purse snatching) occurs, especially in crowded areas and particularly during summer months. Foreigners are often targeted. Be vigilant in shopping centres, Christmas markets, public transportation stations, trains, hotels and major tourist attractions, including Bratislava's Old Town area. Remain vigilant in the presence of street children.

Exercise extra caution on trains, particularly on Prague-Bratislava-Budapest or Budapest-Warsaw routes, and especially when travelling overnight.

Thefts from parked cars have increased.

Avoid public parks in city centres and railway stations after dark.

Road travel

Aggressive drivers and poorly lit and narrow roads pose hazards, especially in winter. Avoid travelling after dark in remote areas. Horse-drawn and slow-moving agricultural vehicles are common in rural areas.

Public transportation

Public transportation is well developed and reliable.

Officially marked taxis are generally reliable, safe and economical, but it is advisable to pre-negotiate the fare. Beware of taxi drivers who try to overcharge by not switching on the meter.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Scams

Individuals posing as plainclothes police officers may ask to see your foreign currency and passport. If approached, decline to hand over personal belongings. Offer instead to go to the nearest police station or seek assistance from a local contact.

See our Overseas Fraud page for more information on scams abroad.

Spiked food and drinks

Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances, as they may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.

General safety information

Exercise normal safety precautions. Ensure that personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Do not show signs of affluence.

Emergency services

Dial 112 for emergency assistance.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Tick-borne encephalitis

Tick-borne encephalitis is a viral disease that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread to humans by the bite of an infected tick. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to tick bites (e.g., those spending time outdoors in wooded areas) while travelling in regions with risk of tick-borne encephalitis.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Eastern Europe, food and water can also carry diseases like hepatitis A. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Eastern Europe. When in doubt, remember…boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!


Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Eastern Europe, certain insects carry and spread diseases like Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, snakes, rodents, and bats. Certain infections found in Eastern Europe, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities are adequate and are improving. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Canada and Slovakia are signatories to the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. This enables a Canadian imprisoned in Slovakia to request a transfer to a Canadian prison to complete a sentence. The transfer requires the agreement of both Canadian and Slovak authorities.

Identification

Carry adequate identification at all times, such as a photocopy of your passport.

Illegal activities

Photography of military installations and personnel is prohibited. Offenders may be arrested and equipment confiscated.

Driving laws

An International Driving Permit is required.

A vignette (toll sticker) is required to travel on highways. These vignettes can be purchased at border crossings, gas stations or post offices.

The use of cellular telephones while driving is prohibited, unless they are fitted with a hands-free device.

The use of anti-radar devices is also prohibited.

Headlights must be on at all times. The use of seat belts is mandatory.

Vehicles must be equipped for emergency situations: a first aid kit, warning triangle, tow rope, functional spare tire, and high-visibility vests for all passengers.

Children under 12 years of age are not allowed to sit in the front passenger seat. Car seats are mandatory for all children under 150 cm in height.

Fines for traffic violations must be paid on the spot.

There is zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol. Penalties are strict.

Money

The currency of Slovakia is the euro (EUR).

Credit cards are accepted in most major hotels, restaurants and shops. Few gas stations accept credit cards. Automated banking machines (ABMs) are available in major cities. Traveller’s cheques may be exchanged at major banks and post offices.

When crossing one of the external border control points of the European Union (EU), you must make a declaration to customs upon entry or exit if you have at least €10,000, or the equivalent in other currencies. The sum can be in cash, cheques, money orders, traveller’s cheques or any other convertible assets. This does not apply if you are travelling within the EU or in transit to a non-EU country. For more information on the EU legislation and links to EU countries’ sites, visit the web page of the European Commission on cash controls.

Climate

Heavy rains are frequent in the spring, sometimes resulting in flooding. Severe flooding in early June 2013 caused considerable damage. Exercise caution, monitor local media and follow the latest instructions from local authorities.