- 5.4 million
If you’re eagerly searching culture, ruins and amazing food, you’d be well advised to add Slovakia to a European itinerary. Situated right in the centre of the continent and one half of the former Czechoslovakia, it’s a great place to start the grand tour while you decide whether to next go north, south, east or west.
Amazingly, for a country that’s not exactly huge, there are many attractions here you won’t find anywhere else. At Krasnohorska Cave, there’s a 34-metre-high stalagmite. There are nine UNESCO World Heritage-listed Carpathian wooden churches, including an articular Protestant church in Hronsek that was built without nails. If historical architecture is your bag, head north to the village of Čičmany where you’ll find a reservation of 130 traditional houses painted with white geometric patterns. Around the country there are also about 1300 sources of mineral water, and spa towns, like Smrdáky, not far from Bratislava, are popular with those who want to treat illness, skin conditions and all manner of ailments, as well as just relax.
The High Tatras in northern Slovakia is the perfect stop for hikers and photographers. The landscape of rugged mountains, waterfalls and dense pine forests is exquisite and there are 600 kilometres of marked trails to follow on self-guided walks lasting anywhere from 45 minutes to a week.
Bratislava is the small capital that is completely surrounded by nature. Enjoy the eighteenth-century architecture of the old town, head to the top of the crown tower at Bratislava Castle for the best new of the city or jump on a boat and cruise the Danube. Don’t forget to hire a bike while you’re there, so you can take a ride through the forest of the Small Carpathians just outside of town.