Slovakia's castles have changed from sights to culture hubs

Ľubovňa Castle, in the north-east of Slovakia, has risen to become one of the most visited castles. But others across the country do not fall behind.

Spiš Castle. (Source: Pierre Bona/Wikipedia)
Spectacular Slovakia travel guide

British singer Ed Sheeran is not the only one who may enjoy the sunset over the castle on the hill. Visitors to Slovakia can also pick out any of the dozens of castles and castle ruins, built on hills and cliffs, enjoying the sunset and splendid views.

Tourists may visit two castles right in Slovakia's capital of Bratislava: Bratislava Castle, dominating the capital’s panorama, and Devín Castle, located in the outskirts of the city.

The former provides visitors with views of the whole city, and even the three countries neighbouring Slovakia if people walk up the castle’s Korunná veža (Crown Tower). The latter gives a view of the River Danube and River Morava, also a borderline with the Czech Republic, which come together here.

Both castles offer some novelties, as well. Tourists can immerse themselves in the Baroque-style garden at Bratislava Castle to relive the times of Emperor Maria Theresa. The garden was opened after reconstruction in 2016. Devín gives people the opportunity to visit caves in which exhibits are on display.

Slovak castles, in general, enjoy a rising number of visitors. Trenčín Castle received over 100,000 visitors in 2014. A new administrative building opened, replacing the provisional Skleník (Glasshouse). In addition, works on the southern fortification are continuing this summer. Once this reconstruction phase is completed, visitors can use the entrance near the Brezina forest park to enter the castle. Additionally, another third of the castle will be made accessible.

The Spectacular Slovakia tourist guide writers explored new things at other Slovak castles.

Ľubovňa Castle offers tours in nine languages

The historical landmark of Stará Ľubovňa, in the north-east of Slovakia, attracted five times more tourists in 2018 than in 1993. More than 200,000 of them visited Ľubovňa Castle.

The castle museum and the adjacent open-air museum lure visitors to the summer castle festivities, as well as new events and exhibitions. For example, one of the temporary exhibitions during the summer is devoted to women in the history of Ľubovňa Castle.

“We present their lives through the situations they had to go through in the past,” said Františka Marcinová from the Ľubovňa Castle Museum.

Simultaneously, the reconstruction of the 17th century Lubomirski Palace is continuing at the castle. It should be open prior to next summer.

“After reconstruction, there will be eleven new chambers. We are already working on exhibitions,” said Dalibor Mikulík, a head of the castle museum.

In 2012, the renovated five-storey Renaissance palace opened for the first time. Ľubovňa Castle, which once housed the Polish crown jewels, is today 90 percent restored.

Thanks to a sophisticated and user-friendly website, tourists can easily find information they need online, including tours in up to nine languages. The castle tour lasts two hours. In addition, blind people and hearing-impaired visitors can enjoy their trip to the castle and the open-air museum, as well.

Orava Castle hails its vampire

Built on a more than 100-metre high cliff and towering over the River Orava in the village of Oravský Podzámok, northern Slovakia, Oravský Castle is one of the most beautiful medieval buildings in the country.

Everyone will test their health and body when walking around the castle, as there are more than 700 stairs across the three castles, comprising Orava Castle as a whole.

The reward, in the form of a virtual reality world, awaits visitors in the parsonage. The virtual reality and the Nosferatu VR film, through which visitors get to know the history of the castle, is an absolute novelty at the castle.

In 1922, the first silent horror film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, was shot in Orava. Popular Czechoslovak and Slovak films, including Adam Šangala, Kráľ Drozdia brada (King Thrushbeard), Sokoliar Tomáš (Thomas the Falconer), and Láska na vlásku (Love in Your Soul), were also filmed on the site.

Tourists can track stories about and behind-the-scenes moments from these films in the media library and its exhibition, established four years ago in the upper part of Orava Castle, called the Citadel.

This summer, it is the first time the Orava Express takes visitors straight to the castle from the Žilina railway station, making the way to the castle easier for many people.

“We regarded the Orava Region as a sort of cut off,” said Erika Jurinová, a head of the Žilina Region. “When you want to get to Orava, you take a bus, which may end up in a traffic jam. Or you get on a train, but you must change it later."

The train has a capacity of 78 seats and it is free. It runs every Saturday until August 31.

Červený Kameň turns into a theatre scene

By the Little Carpathians, lying between the Bratislava and Trnava Regions, hides the castle named Červený Kameň (Red Stone).

The castle has been attracting tourists not only for its well-preserved appearance and its beautiful surroundings as well as for its theatrical tours, designed to always give repeat visitors something new to look forward to.

This year, the Corpse Bride show, inspired by the Tim Burton movie, continues at the castle among other performances.

"It takes place up in the world of the living and down in the world of the dead, so you also get to see the famous castle cellars," says Veronika Peštová, one of the actors.

In the second half of the summer, on August 24, theatre fans can look forward to a night-time tour, named Kmotra smrť a zázračný lekár (Death the Godmother & Miracle Doctor), which was inspired by fairy-tale writer Pavol Dobšinský.

Moreover, the spirit of the Pálfi Family, who used to own the castle, will return on the last evening of August. During the Mysterium Exitus tour, the life of brothers Stephen and John and their mother, Mary Magdalene, shortly before their death, will be recounted. The triple burial took place in Bratislava in 1646.

Until September 15, visitors can go see the unique Dragons & Dragon Slayers roving exhibition in the castle courtyard. With the help of sound effects, children and others will encounter life-size dragons and many more.

Beckov comes to life

The ruins of Beckov Castle, near Trenčín, prove that life can return anywhere. Children can ride a pony, feed animals, and create pottery at the ruins during the summer.

In addition, the atmosphere of a vivid castle is amplified due to a farmer, who cuts the grass on the nearby slopes and has his horse pull a wagon full of grass back to the castle.

Beckov also offers a tour of the area within one tourist circuit. Two special tours, the Beckov Castle Children's Circuit and the Sacred Tour around Beckov, are designed for organised groups.

One of the most interesting events going on at Beckov Castle is the game called Tri kľúče pre Katarínu (Three Keys for Catherine). Searchers must visit not only Beckov but also Plavecký Castle and Čachtice Castle by mid-September to obtain copies of the royal documents and help Katarína, the underage daughter of deceased ruler Stibor Junior, regain her heritage.

Nitra Castle: Up the tower in the dark

On the other hand, the castle in Nitra has served as a bishop's residence for many years, and nothing has changed in this regard. The Bishop's Palace and St Emmeram's Cathedral dominate the castle area.

The cathedral tower was destroyed during the Second World War. Yet, it was reconstructed and opened to the public in 2015. Walk-ups are possible only with a guide. Night tower visits take place during the summer, always on Friday from 20:30.

Another interesting castle feature are the casemates, or a room in the wall of Nitra Castle from where guns could be fired. An exhibition is also housed here.

The overgrown Gothic moat at the castle was restored in 2011. It serves as an amphi-theatre and art-gallery today. It is also a point from which visitors walk up the castle walls.

As of February 2017, the castle includes the modern Castellum Café, which won the CE.ZA.AR architecture award in the same year. Like the cathedral tower, the café under the castle wall offers scenic views of the Nitra vicinity.

Spiš Castle welcomes living statues

A beautiful view of the High Tatra mountain range offers Spiš Castle, indeed one of the largest castles in the world. It enjoyed one of the highest number of visitors last year, 211,500, although it is a drop by a thousand.

Since September of last year, the castle has been under reconstruction, including the Captain's House and utilities. Furthermore, the lighting, first installed 16 years ago, was changed.

In addition, it has been three years since visitors have been able to explore the castle using the Spiš Castle mobile application.

Every Saturday in August, people can enjoy night tours of the castle. Castle employees are planning dance and theatre performances, as well as performance of historical fencing.

One of the biggest attractions this summer is a night performance titled Tajomná noc na Spišskom hrade – Živé sochy (Mysterious Night at Spiš Castle – Living Statues). It takes place on August 29, starting at 20:00, 21:00 and 22:00.

Bojnice Castle on your own

The fairy-tale castle with a park, which conceals a 700-year-old lime tree of King Matej's, came up with several novelties during the summer.

“Every day at 10:00, children discover life in the past and compare it to the present through the story of Mr Bartolomej,” said Petra Gordíková from the Bojnice Museum.

In another tour, called Hra na minulosť (Game of the Past), children get to know the fates of the former castle owners, with the help of the servant Betka.

One of the new things at Bojnice Castle is the new arrangement of the guided tour. Visitors can choose from two circuits: a castle tour with a guide or a gallery tour without a guide. The former presents the life of the nobility, the latter presents the museum's treasures.

What is more, a survey is underway at the castle, the findings of which may result in new premises to be discovered.

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