A year on from living in Bratislava, we want to take you on a journey to all the places we didn’t get around telling you about, starting with Banská Štiavnica. Slovakia’s prettiest town!
The title bestowed upon this town is entirely apt. It lies in a valley, created by a volcano, deep in the Štiavnica Mountains. This mining town is mineral-rich and feels like a real hidden gem (forgive the gem pun). It offers sweeping valley views and perfectly preserved medieval buildings and streets.
Getting to Banská Štiavnica
The journey to get here was as magical as the place itself! With no car, we take a train from Bratislava through the lush Slovak countryside. We change in nearby Zvolen, then Hronská Dúbrava and arrive at a one-platform station in Banská Štiavnica on a tiny train. We then clamber over the train tracks to get to said platform.
Hoopla Tip: If you don’t have the time to take the slower option then it’s a viable day trip option from Slovakia’s capital city (Bratislava)
Off-Grid Accommodation in Banská Štiavnica
We opt to stay in a small off-grid caravan up in the mountains in the garden of a completely sustainable family home. It takes a while to trek there from the station. We need to make our way through town and up a severely steep hill.
Clearly, we get lost on the way and phone our hosts for directions, but eventually, we arrive. An excitable dog bounds up to us, and we’re greeted by our hosts who are quick to show us the mechanics of their eco-friendly homestead. Instantly the climb is worth the reward! The more comfortable option to get here is by car or taxi from the town centre – bring some cash for this.
Our small caravan has all the mod cons, including a working kitchen and shower room. There is a compost toilet next to the family home and beyond that a secluded woodland area and nearby lake.
The Salamander Days Festival
We accidentally time our trip to coincide with their most significant festival of the year – Salamandar Days. That explains the boisterous crowd we met on the train. It’s for one weekend only, the biggest party in Slovakia. The town is teeming with families, entertainers, markets, shows, and live music stages. After a few shots of Tatra Tea, we knew we had come at precisely the right time.
The history of the Salamander Days festival
The festival itself takes place in September in the first or second week of the month. Famous for its mining, this was initially a festival for students from the town’s Mining and Forestry Academy. It is now a cultural and heritage event representing all of Slovakia for those within the mining and geology industry.
There is a parade that is based on a student ritual, and it depicts the founding of the city, it parodies figures from the town, and miners from across Slovakia and their traditional clothing. Hungarians come because this town is the root of their present-day mining academies.
It has its beginnings in a ritual to celebrate the mining industry, but now it welcomes everyone! There are all kinds of cultural activities, and if you stick around in the evening, it’s a lively atmosphere.
What to do in Banská Štiavnica
The town was established in the 13th century and has UNESCO world heritage status. Famous for its mining history, several activities revolve around geology and mining in Banská Štiavnica. It also has interesting monuments, castles, and something for all you lovers out there!
Visit the Calvary technical monuments
The Calvary church sits atop a hill overlooking Banská Štiavnica. It is part of a complex of lovingly renovated chapels and churches, some of which are built into the hillside. Their baroque style is a massive draw for visitors, and the steep climb up Sharp Hill is worth the view that awaits!
Undoubtedly, this will be one of the first things you see as you enter the town. This architectural icon is home to the Battle of the Turks exhibition with rare weaponry on show. Novy Zamok is described as looking ‘rocket-like’ and was a significant defence against invading Turks in the 16th century. It also has a good view of the town from above!
This is the more impressive castle, although it started life as a church and was turned into a fortress in the 16th century. Inside are exhibitions where you can learn more about the mining history of the town and see baroque sculptures. The Old Castle tower offers one of the best views of the city. Below is the Chapel of St Michal, where there is an ossuary.
Open-Air Mining Museum
There are two parts to this museum, underground and on the surface! There is a geological exhibition, and you can see the tools and equipment they use to mine the materials. Then get dressed up in your safety gear and head down to experience mining throughout the centuries – just remember to wear sturdy shoes and take a jumper! To get here, you need to go a little bit out of town (1.5 km) towards Levice.
House of Marina: Love Locks and Love Museum
The House of Marina is dedicated to the world’s longest love poem written by a wonderful Slovak writer Andrej Sladkovic. It’s a poem all about the unfulfilled love between himself and Marina, his muse. The museum has an interactive exhibition with parts of the poem being read aloud. There are tours in English too. It’s also home to the world’s first LOVE BANK, where you can pay to store symbolic keepsakes of love or friendship. A museum and house dedicated to love is a brilliant idea!
We stumbled upon this gallery on our way from New Castle to the Old Castle. Founded in 2013, in a renovated 16th-century building, this beautiful contemporary art gallery runs an amazing exhibition program for young and established artists.
Gallery of Jozef Kollar
Do you have a love for historical pieces and old art? The Jozef Kollar Gallery offers a cross-section of art from the 13th to the 20th century. Its namesake is Jozef Kollar, who was a Slovak modernist painter who came from Banská Štiavnica. His artworks perfectly encapsulate the beauty of the town and surrounding area.
Spa Sklene Teplice
Sklene Teplice is one of Slovakia’s oldest spa towns and can be found at the bottom of the Štiavnica Mountains between Hliník nad Hronom and Podhorie municipalities near Banská Štiavnica. Enjoy thermal pools and famous spas and don’t miss Parenica, a natural cave with thermal water at a temperature of 42 degrees, followed by a body wrap and massage. The spa town is suitable for all the family, and it’s a sweet little escape!
The Kammerhof is the Court of Exchequer Chamber and is the biggest complex of buildings in the town. It hosts an exhibition of the history of mining with working machine models, so it’s perfect for the kids!
Hiking in Banská Štiavnica
The Štiavnica hills are a vast nature reserve with forests, reservoirs, and meadows. A holiday here is not complete without clambering uphill for astounding views and perhaps a dip in one of its lakes!
Milan Kapusta to Terezia Ore Vein Trail
An educational trail to tell you all about the life of the miners and is suitable for all ages and levels. It takes around 2-3 hours to complete. To get here, go from Cervena Studna, which is 3km above Banská Štiavnica.
Our accommodation is nestled just above this reservoir. It is such a beautiful hike – although it does get ferociously steep at one point, it’s still worth it! Walk past a cemetery in town and through a wooded area which brings you to Klinger – a scenic reservoir where you can swim, and there is a small restaurant here too. It’s also close to the Open-Air Mining Museum.
Sitno Hill and Počúvadlo Lake
A must-see for anyone in the area! If going by foot, go from the Town Hall Square and stick to the red trail until Klinger then switches to the blue path in the direction of Sitno. Alternatively, take the yellow trail from Krížna which brings you around Počúvadlo Lake and through Tatar Meadow. The lake itself is a lovely place to hire a boat or hang out, and from Sitno, you will have amazing views over the region.
What to see in Banská Štiavnica
As well as its attractions and gorgeous hikes, Banska Štiavnica has beautiful architecture, gardens, and spots to discover!
Academy and Botanical Gardens
We always try to visit botanical gardens. They offer a tranquil setting to gather your thoughts and perhaps relax those leg muscles after climbing up and down the hills of Banská Štiavnica. The gardens surround the Mining Academy, which was the first of its kind, founded in 1762 by the empress Maria Theresa. It claims to be the first institute of technology in the world! It’s also a forestry academy, so very well suited to its surroundings.
Places of Worship
There are some beautiful examples of architecture in town. One of our favourites is the muted yellow Protestant Church designed by a Viennese architect, J.Thaller. Inside is a gorgeous baroque organ made in Bratislava. The stand-out church is the gothic St Catherine’s, also called ‘Slovak’ as there have been sermons in the native tongue held here since 1658. In the Town Hall square, there is an old Jewish synagogue banned from holding services during World War 2. You can still see a plaque that tells you about the former synagogue.
The Holy Trinity Square
The main town square was built in the 16th century and is surrounded by palatial townhouses in a Renaissance/Baroque style. Now, these houses host museums, galleries, bars, and restaurants. There are also events and markets here. In the middle of the square is a dominating column with a Trinity sculpture on top. You will also find the house of Dežo Hoffman, the Beatles photographer in the upper section of the square.
Shopping in Banská Štiavnica
On Ruzova Street, the central street that runs the length of the old town down towards the train station, there is a charming promenade with local boutiques and a vintage shop. The most enchanting independent shop is Antikvariatik, a second-hand bookstore that also sells old maps and antiques. You can even sit with a coffee on the terrace and admire the quaint streets of Banská Štiavnica, or people watch! Our lasting impression of this town is how friendly everyone is, so don’t be afraid to speak to the locals as you shop or eat out.
Where to eat in Banská Štiavnica
Whether you want to try some traditional Slovak food like halusky or sample a local beer, this town has so much choice for foodies like us!
Pivovar ERB Restaurant
As well as mining Banská Štiavnica was famous for its nine breweries and is home to ERB. They have a restaurant and brewery here in the town centre. It’s good food and beer, but not the cheapest in the area. It is also a hotel, so this might be a good option for an all-inclusive stay.
Below the lovely Schemnitz gallery is this restaurant, which has a beautiful outdoor area for dining. If you’re looking for traditional Slovak food with vegetarian options, then this is an excellent option!
If you need a good burger, then look this up. It’s just off the main square in the heart of the town, and everything is homemade. Also fantastic for an Instagrammable coffee – be it a flat white or espresso tonic.
This is such a cute little café that also doubles up as a bar. It has friendly staff and luscious cakes!
A Scandinavian inspired concept restaurant where the owners cook the meal for their guests, then everyone sits down and eats together – kind of like being at your friend’s house for dinner.
Stara Skola (Old School) Café
The best coffee in Banská Štiavnica is served right here! Hanging out here feels no different to being in Bratislava. It’s a modern space with great coffee and lunch and brunch options.
4 Sochy (4 Statues)
Finally, this is a restaurant that serves Slovak food with a modern twist. It has a charming little courtyard and fantastic food! It’s a tad pricier but well worth the cost.
Where is Banská Štiavnica?
It’s not far from a town called Zvolen in the middle of Slovakia, close to Banská Bystrica. It’s in the Štiavnica mountains. Whether you are arriving from the east of Slovakia or west, you will have to change at least once if you’re coming by train. You must take a small train from Hronská Dúbrava, which is a scenic ride! There is a direct bus from Bratislava, which takes around three hours. The easiest way is by car. It’s a two-hour drive from Bratislava and three hours from Košice.
Do I need to bring cash?
There are ATM’s in the town centre, you can also use a card in some places, but we really would recommend coming with cash for cafes, taxis, museums, and shopping. FYI, the currency in Slovakia is the Euro.
Can I speak English in Banská Štiavnica?
Yes, we found most people we spoke to have a level of English. We do try to use Slovak, but what we couldn’t express, we did so in English with no issues. A cultural note – the younger generations will tend to speak English if they have a public-facing job. Still, you might find older generations don’t.
What clothes do I need to bring to Banská Štiavnica?
It will be snowy in the winter and hot, hot, hot in the summer. If you bring one thing, make sure its hiking boots or shoes that can handle a lot of walking. If you’re here for an outdoorsy holiday, bring appropriate clothes – you can go mountain biking, hiking and do water sports here.
Is Banská Štiavnica wheelchair accessible?
The town centre has cobbled streets and is very hilly. It’s on one big hill, so do go in prepared for that. The hotels and eateries on the main road are accessible, and cafes like Stara Skola have sufficient space. There are taxis too if you don’t have a car. Otherwise, if you are driving, you can drive through the town centre up into the hills quite easily and take in those gorgeous views.
Mindful Travel Tip – Banská Štiavnica
Our goal is to be better and more mindful travellers when we visit places, which is why we opted for an eco-home caravan stay. We can recommend that as an option – they also throw in a vegan breakfast for a bit extra! We sat and had coffee and spoke for hours just before we left.
Another tip is to go to the smaller galleries, support the small boutiques you see by buying a souvenir. Buy tickets to go inside the museums and attractions, and eat in an independent restaurant. Fortunately, this town has all the above, and it’s all found quite easily.
The best part about leaving Banská Štiavnica? It’s all downhill! Still, it’s tough to leave such a pretty place!