49,033 sq km (18,932 sq miles).
5.4 million (2014).
111 per sq km.
Head of state:
President Andrej Kiska since 2014.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Robert Fico since 2012.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are standard.
Like the Czech Republic minus the crowds, Slovakia may sit in the shadows of its neighbour, but the country quietly impresses with its epic alpine scenery, clifftop castles and exquisite capital.
Following the ‘Velvet Divorce’ of 1993, which saw Czechoslovakia split into two constituent parts (the Czech Republic and Slovakia), the nation set about reasserting its independent spirit, and today there’s a humble, creative nature to Slovakia that wins over visitors of all stripes. Enthusiastic about art and music, the country is even home to a burgeoning hip-hop scene.
A small country of just five million odd inhabitants, Slovakia appeals to a broad range of travellers: from backpackers and businesspeople, to skiers and history buffs. It has one or two surprises up its sleeve. It is, for example, quietly gaining prestige as an alternative skiing destination. With its modern skiing infrastructure and new budget flights, Slovakia’s High Tatras mountains are becoming a tantalising destination for winter sports enthusiasts.
As for the capital, it may be compared unfavourably with its neighbour, Prague, but Bratislava is nevertheless an alluring option for a city break. With an air of glamorous Vienna, it is home to gorgeous churches dating back to the 15th century, countless cafes squeezed onto cobblestone streets, and a slew of terrific, sometimes quirky museums.
Part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for centuries, Bratislava’s architecture is grand Central European in style. It was the Hungarian capital for nearly 300 years, with 11 monarchs crowned in the extraordinary 500-year-old St Martin’s Cathedral.
Beyond its stunning capital, Slovakia boasts some impressive natural landscapes, which remain relatively unspoiled and uncrowded. The country has 10 national parks to speak of, which offer sprawling forests, rolling hills and meandering rivers.
Though Bratislava and the High Tatras mountains remain the star attractions in Slovakia, beyond them lies a diverse and decidedly beautiful land, rich in rewards for those bold enough to explore it.
Last updated: 18 October 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There is a risk of petty crime, especially in Bratislava. Pickpockets operate around the main tourist areas, particularly the popular Christmas markets, and foreigners are easily identified and targeted. Take precautions against bag snatching and mugging. Don’t leave valuables unattended. If you put your jacket on the back of a restaurant chair, make sure your wallet is kept securely elsewhere.
Some visitors to Bratislava have been given ‘spiked’ drinks and woken several hours later to find all their valuables gone. Be wary of drinks offered by strangers.
Be vigilant at Bratislava airport. Keep valuables and cash with you, rather than in checked baggage.
For more information on using public transport in Bratislava, visit the DPB website.
Foreign-licensed cars have been targeted by criminals. If you have a breakdown, lock the vehicle if you leave it. Remove all valuables from your car when parking.
Be aware of ‘road pirates’ who target foreign-registered cars. Some will stab a tyre at a petrol station, then follow their target until the car stops; they then offer assistance and rob the target. They might also simulate a breakdown and ask for help. You should not leave belongings in view in your car. If you decide to stop to check the condition of your/their vehicle, stop in a public area with lights like a service station, lock your car and be extremely wary of anyone offering help.
If you’re stopped by the police and asked to pay a fine for speeding or other traffic offences, you should be given a receipt for any money paid. If the officers refuse to give you a receipt, call 158 (police) to make sure you’re dealing with genuine police officers.
Taxi drivers sometimes attempt to overcharge tourists by adding unauthorised supplements or by not setting the meter at the start of a journey. Insist that you will pay only the fare shown on the meter.
When making payments don’t let your credit card out of your sight.
Report the loss or theft of a passport to the closest police department as soon as possible. Ask the police authorities to provide you with a statement or confirmation of the loss/theft.
Don’t leave your passport as a deposit, for example in hotels or with car rental companies.
Make sure you have valid motor insurance for your car.
You can drive using a UK driving licence for up to 6 months. If you intend to drive in Slovakia for longer than 6 months, you should exchange your UK driving licence for a Slovak one before the 6-month period runs out.
Children under the age of 12 must not sit in the front seat of moving vehicles.
Only use registered car rental companies. You can find a list of car rentals on this Slovak Business Directory website.
Road conditions have deteriorated in recent years. Many main roads have only a single carriageway in each direction making overtaking difficult. Road markings are difficult to see in poor weather.
Although in reasonably good condition, many main roads have only a single carriageway in each direction making overtaking difficult. Road markings are difficult to see in poor weather.
The standard of driving is not high and can be aggressive. Beware of oncoming cars overtaking on your side of the road (particularly on bends and hills).
In 2013 there were 223 road deaths in Slovakia (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 4.1 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2013.
In winter, equip your car for severe driving conditions. The use of winter tyres is a requirement by law in Slovakia when there’s snow or ice on the road. All vehicles must have headlights switched on all year round. Speed limits in towns have been reduced to 50kmh.
Drivers with any trace of alcohol in their body will be arrested. There is zero tolerance. If you are involved in an accident while driving the police will give you a breath test regardless of who is to blame.
A new electronic toll system was introduced in Slovakia on 1 January 2010. It applies to all vehicles with a weight of over 3.5 tons. All truck drivers are strongly advised to study the new rules and pay the necessary fees. Failing to do so may result in fines from €1,655 to €2,655.
More information on the toll system and a road network map is available on the website of the toll system operator or from their call centre on +421 2 35 111 111, which is available 24/7 and in English.
See the European Commission, AA and RAC guides on driving in Slovakia.
Foreign students may not qualify for discounted fares even with a student card. Check with your public transport provider for further information. for more on Bratislava and other major towns’ public transport.
Swimming and water sports
You should observe local rules and regulations on publicly accessible lakes, rivers and other water sources. Jumping into unknown waters can result in serious injury, including paralysis or death. Check with local authorities or sporting organisations for further information and advice.
Skiing and hiking
If you ski or hike in the Slovak mountains and need help from the Slovak Mountain Rescue Service (HZS), you will have to meet their full costs. These could range from €116 to €9,960 depending on the size of the operation. Anyone ignoring or violating HZS commands or laws will be liable for a fine of up to €3,320. Make sure you have sufficient insurance to cover any rescue costs. Mountain rescue services instructions in English can be found on the Mountain Rescue Service website
Physically handicapped travellers
Slovakia, in general, does not cater for those who are physically handicapped. Some effort is now being taken to make buildings more accessible, but the vast majority of buildings only have steps rather than ramps.