Get to know Slovakia’s UNESCO sites from a different angle

Experience places you will never forget.

Wooden church near Bardej.  Wooden church near Bardej. (Source: Don Stoll)

Visiting Slovakia’s UNESCO sites can offer a manifold experience to those who know where to look. In Banská Štiavnica, a jewel among Slovak towns, you can mine for your own treasure; in Slovenský Kras you will descend to the underworld like a real speleologist and in Poloniny, you will find the darkest place in Slovakia.

The Spectacular Slovakia travel guide team has found out more about the lesser known attractions for those who are not afraid of the dark, or of stepping into the unknown.

Banská Štiavnica: Find your own treasure

The mining town of Banská Štiavnica and its surroundings have been a UNESCO site since 1993. There is much to see and admire in the town, but those looking for unforgettable experiences are well advised to go deeper underground.

One of the three mines accessible to the public, Glanzenberg, winds directly underneath the main road in the centre of the town. It is not as well known as the other two mines, because it was only open to the public in 2003 and it offers a little official entry a week.

Before the tour, the guide, very often a retired miner, explains about the mining trade and the rich history of mining in the region. You will soon realise you are standing inside an ancient volcano. Before you are allowed into the narrow mine, you will receive a protective coat, a helmet and a torch.

After visiting the cave, the American Dave Rubin said he was happy he did not need to make his living as a miner.

“Down in the mine, you really feel the weight of the whole world on your shoulders,” Rubin said.

Glanzenberg is unique with stairs you wouldn't probably expect in a mine. It was built in 1751, when Francis Stephen Lorraine, the husband of Maria Theresa, visited. Since then, the mine has welcomed several Slovak and globally known statespeople, each of them remembered with commemorative plaques on the wall of the “royal path”.

The real mining experience accompanies the crystal mine, where you can find your own treasure. You will be driven into the depths of the stone quarry, given a little spade and left to your own devices to look for some shiny crystals.

The quarry is still functioning six months out of the year, only becoming a tourist attraction during the spring and summer months. After you find your crystals, you will have a look at the ammunition storage that is used during the mining season. The visit to the Geoclub stone quarry is nice in combination with a 30-minute walk from the centre of the town.

Levoča: Living without eyesight

Levoča's central square is dominated by the town hall and church that houses the famous altar by Master Paul. The town was added to the UNESCO list in 2009 as part of the entry on Spiš Castle and its surroundings.

The inconspicuous Museum of Special Education can be found in the south-east corner of the square. It hails the tradition of the school for the visually impaired in Levoča. The recent reconstruction has brought an element of interaction to the permanent exhibitions of the museum, allowing the visitors to really be in the shoes of a person who cannot see or cannot hear.

Try writing your name in Braille letters with a special table or enter the household in the darkness, where you are asked to do everyday activities relying only on other senses besides sight.

Only when you are pouring water from a bottle into a glass in complete darkness will you understand how hard these everyday tasks are for the visually impaired.

Slovenský Kras: Discover a cave

Few people would name Krásnohorská Jaskyňa if asked which one is the most beautiful cave of Slovenský Kras. But it is here that you can really experience how real speleologists move underground. It is one of the caves on the UNESCO list. In a special outfit, with a helmet and a headtorch, you will descend into the darkness of the unlit underground.

When the torches are switched off and you are standing in the cave in complete darkness, you only hear the sounds of the water coming to you from different parts of the underground in echoes.

That is not the only adrenaline you are in for. Part of the route leads above the underground river. In its most demanding section, you are required to climb above the shallow lake using two ropes. When you overcome your fear, you will feel like an acrobat.

Although many parts of the route are physically demanding, you will surely manage. Guide Jaroslav Stankovič told the Spectacular Slovakia team a story about a physically disabled visitor whose father really wanted to show her the cave. They managed thanks to the resourceful speleologists.

The only moment when lights go on in the cave is in the Hall of Giants, where a generator has been installed especially for the 34-metre stalagmite until recently held the record of being the biggest in the world.

Poloniny: A million-star hotel in the far east

Nová Sedlica, a tiny village that is hard to access without a car, is the easternmost village in Slovakia. Tourists are lured to the border with Ukraine by the primeval beech forests of the Carpathians spread around the national parks of Poloniny and Vihorlat, on the UNESCO list since 2007.

Related articleOn the list: the delights and drawbacks of UNESCO inscription Read more 

If night skies fascinate you, you have one more reason to come here. In Poloniny National Park, there is the official dark sky park, the first of its kind in Slovakia. The park is the darkest place in the country, where the night sky is preserved in its almost natural form, the park states on its website.

There are very few places like this in the civilised world anymore – two more in Slovakia, in the Kysuce region and in the Velka Fatra Mountains.

Make sure to pick the right time, when the sky is clear, to really experience a view full of stars above you.

Bardejov and wooden churches: For passionate collectors

Mediaeval Bardejov is another UNESCO site in Slovakia. The inscription includes the city centre and the old Jewish quarter.

A trip to the north-east of Slovakia is something collectors might enjoy, the Spectacular Slovakia team realised after meeting German tourists who came up with an original activity: they marked all 28 wooden churches in the districts of Bardejov, Svidník, Stropkov and Medzilaborce and the map, ticking them off as they visited them.

These comprise almost half of all the preserved wooden churches in Slovakia. Those in Hervatov, Ladomírova and Bodružal are on the UNESCO list. Make a map of your own and let your own quest begin.

Related articleUNESCO adds eight Slovak churches to Heritage List Read more 

Vlkolínec: Climb high

The last stop on the route around Slovakia’s UNESCO sites is Vlkolínec. You can drive your car up until the parking near the village. Visiting the reservation, even now inhabited by natives, is now complete with an attraction that was first open in 2018 – a lookout tower on Sidorovo Hill.

After about an hour-long hike from Vlkolínec a nice view will open before you, not just of the village but the whole of Nízke Tatry and Veľká Fatra. There is a photo with indications to show which peaks you are looking at and their latitude.

This summer series with tips for trips around Slovakia is based on the information the Spectacular Slovakia tourist guide reporters have gathered on their travels.

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