Slovakia is a small and colorful country in Central Europe, full of lovely surprises. Let’s explore it together! Read our quick reference guide with basic information about Slovakia.
- Where is Slovakia?
- Tourist info & tips
- History, identity and culture
- National flag of Slovakia
- The Slovak anthem
- Slovak language
- Holidays in Slovakia
- Slovak art
- Slovak legends
- Slovak films
- Famous people
Where is Slovakia?
Slovakia is located in the middle of Europe.
- Czech Republic (west)
- Austria (south-west)
- Hungary (south)
- Ukraine (east)
- Poland (north)
Tourist info & tips
What every visitor should know before coming to Slovakia: Visas and embassies
|Official name||Slovak Republic|
|Name in native language||Slovensko (“Slovakia”), or Slovenska republika (“Slovak Republic”)|
|Phones||+421 xxx xxx xxx / 00421 xxx xxx xxx|
European Union and NATO member state since 2004
Slovak is a western Slavic language, very closely related to Czech and relatively close to Polish and the languages of the former Yugoslavia.
Nationalities: 85% Slovak (western Slavic in origin), 10% Hungarian, 3% Roma. Significant smaller nationalities include Czechs, Ruthenians, Ukranians, Germans and Poles.
Religions: 63% Roman Catholic, 9% Protestant, 4% Greek Catholic, 2% other churches.
Type of government: republic, with parliamentary democracy.
Head of government: Prime Minister, generally the leader of the largest party in parliament, this post holds most real executive authority.
Legislative body: National Council, a one-house parliament elected at least once every four years.
Head of state: President, elected once every five years, largely ceremonial.
History, identity and culture
Modern Slovakia was born as an independent nation-state in 1993, when it peacefully separated from the Czech Republic, splitting from the former Czechoslovakia by mutual agreement. (There has been no organized conflict of any kind in Slovakia since 1945.) Many foreigners still confuse Slovakia with Slovenia of the former Yugoslavia.
No discussion of Slovak culture can take place without a nod to the country’s folkloric traditions. From music and dance ensembles, to handicrafts, open-air markets and festivals, we explore how folk traditions are alive and well in modern-day Slovakia, and continue to receive widespread support.
National flag of Slovakia
Slovak flag consists of white upper strip, the middle is blue and bottom red. These colors are conventional Slavonic shades. They symbolize Slavonic harmony and independence.
The double cross represents Christian tradition and memory of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, the two missionaries who came to Great Moravia in 863 to strengthen Christianity. They created the first alphabet to be used for Slavonic manuscripts and wrote the first Slavic Civil Code, which was used in Great Moravia.
The three hills represent Tatra, Matra and Fatra mountains. (Matra lies in the north of Hungary.)
The Slovak anthem
The name of the Slovak national anthem is Nad Tatrou sa blýska (Lightning over the Tatras). The lyric was written by Janko Matúška in February 1844. The melody came from the folk song “Kopala studienku“.
Matuska and some other students left the prestigious Bratislava´s Lutheran lyceum to protest against the removal of their favorite teacher Ludovit Stur from his position by the Lutheran Church. The lyrics reflected the students’ frustration. Ludovit Stur was an author of the Slovak Literary Language.
When Czechoslovakia fell apart in 1993, another stanza was added to the anthem and it resulted in Slovak national anthem.
There is lightning over the Tatras,
thunderclaps wildly beat.
Let us stop them, brothers,
for all that, they will disappear,
the Slovaks will revive.
That Slovakia of ours
has been fast asleep so far,
but the thunder’s lightning
is rousing it
to come to.
Nad Tatrou sa blýska,
hromy divo bijú. (2x)
Zastavme ich, bratia,
veď sa ony stratia,
Slováci ožijú. (2x)
To Slovensko naše
posiaľ tvrdo spalo, (2x)
ale blesky hromu
vzbudzujú ho k tomu,
aby sa prebralo. (2x)
Currency in Slovakia is Euro (EUR)
Euro is an official currency in Slovakia since 1st of January 2009. Any Euro coin is valid in any country of the Euro area. Slovak Republic adopted the Euro after 16 years of using Slovak Koruna. The conversion rate was 1 EUR = 30,126 Slovak Crown.
Money can be changed at most bank branches throughout the country, or at currency exchange locations (often a booth, situated at airports, larger train stations, tourist areas and most larger towns). Banks are usually open 9:00-17:00.
Slovak alphabet contains 46 letters. As we use diacritic, it changes pronunciation of letters and words. The following phrases are the ones, you may use when you come to Slovakia and want to start and keep simple conversation:
Hello. Dobrý deň. (DOH-bree deñ)
How are you? Ako sa máte? (AH-koh sah MAA-teh?)
Well, thanks. Ďakujem, dobre. (JAH-koo-yehm DOH-breh)
What is your name? Ako sa voláte? (AH-koh sah VOH-laa-tyeh)
My name is ______ . Volám sa______ . (VOH-laam sah_____.)
Pleased to meet you. Teší ma. (TYEH-shee mah)
Thank you. Ďakujem.(JAH-koo-yehm)
You’re welcome. Prosím. (PROH-seem) Nie je za čo. (NYEE_eh yeh ZAH choh)
Yes. Áno. (AAH-noh) Hej (HAY) (informal)
No. Nie. (NYEE_eh)
Help! Pomoc! (POH-mohts!)
Good morning. Dobré ráno. (DOH-brehh RAA-noh)
Good afternoon. Dobrý deň. (DOH-bree deh-NYEH)
Good evening. Dobrý večer. (DOH-bree VEH-chehr)
Good night. Dobrú noc. (DOH-broo nohts)
I don’t understand. Nerozumiem.(NEH-roh-zoo-myehm)
The Slovak language belongs to the languages which are difficult to learn. We decline the nouns and conjugate verbs. The pronunciation is the same like spelling. There are language schools in Slovakia, where you can learn our language. If you cannot find the school in your area, you may use online language courses.
Holidays in Slovakia
State holidays and Sundays
On most holidays and on Sundays, there is little change, although most people have the day off from work.
- Offices of firms, state administration (including post offices) and all other organizations including all schools will be closed.
- Shopping in larger stores and in shopping malls carries on, even if smaller stores often close or have limited hours.
- Culture (museums and performances), recreation, and eating out all continue, often with extra gusto.
- Hotels almost always continue to operate, but if your stay includes a major holiday it’s best to double-check.
- Travel is easy: petrol stations with convenience stores are almost always open 24 hours per day and 365 days per year; and public transportation in cities and between cities continues, though on a limited schedule.
The exception to this rule comes on Slovakia’s major holidays (this is an unofficial distinction): 25 and 26 December, 1 January, and the Easter weekend. In most areas, a few stores and restaurants will remain open (at petrol stations if you’re desperate), but most are closed.
The following holidays are celebrated in Slovakia:
January 1st – Independence Day; New Year Day
July 5th – Holiday of Saint Cyril and Metod
August 29th –Slovak National Uprising
September 1st – Constitution day
November 17th – Day of Fight for Democracy
January 6th – Epiphany
March to April – Easter
September 15th – Our Lady of Sorrows
November 1st – All Saints’ Day
December 24th – Christmas Eve
December 25th – 1st Christmas Day
December 26th – 2nd Christmas Day
May 1st – Labor Day
May 8th – Victory over Fascism Day
August 4th – Day of Matica Slovenská
end of October – start of November – Autumn holidays
end of December – start of January – Christmas holidays
mid February – start of March – Spring holidays
end of March – start of April – Easter holidays
June 29th – September 1st – Summer holidays
To speak of Slovak culture and art is to note a tapestry of traditions, customs, folklore, and on the same breath mention its staging under different regimes, and the European context overarching it. Long steeped in an agrarian life while being subjects under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and then after WWII, as comrades within a Soviet satellite state, Slovaks sought to preserve not only their language but also all those distinctive markings of their culture.
Along the way, Slovaks have also embraced artistic, intellectual, and political movements taking place in Europe, integrating into its particular context. Taken together, all of these influences have left an indelible mark on the “little big country,” offering an impressive array of cultural manifestations with which to represent it.
Anyone interested in Slovak or Central/Eastern European culture and art will find no shortage of folklore and legends, music, films, art, and literature to give voice to the country, its people, and their concerns.
Slovakia is replete with gothic churches, medieval towns, macabre torture inventions, as well as majestic mountains and looming castles along bucolic rural landscapes. Fittingly, legend after legend arose in such surroundings, many of which were based on enigmatic historical figures.
It’s not surprising that given its landscape and historical past, countless Slovak legends based on captivating figures arose. Slovakia’s many gothic churches, medieval towns, torture recordings, looming mountains and castles serve as open invitations to the stretches of imagination. But then again, the best legends rely on a least some smidgeon of truth. Here are some prominent historical figures to give rise to the stuff of legends.
Known to many as the “Blood Countess,” Elizabeth Bathory was the daughter of powerful Hungarian aristocrats. Related to warlords, clerics, bishops, she enjoyed nearly absolute power. In her castle of Cachtice, she exercised that power with a sadistic zealousness that eventually garnered her reputation of being the world’s first female mass murderer. Legend has it that, upon accidentally discovering the youthful effect of blood on the skin, she took to bathing in the blood of young women.
The White Lady of Levoča
Slovakia has three White Ladies; one from Bratislava, one from Bojnice Castle, and another from Levoca. The one from Levoca is based on Julia Korponayova, who, when spying for the Hapsburg emperor in Levoca, a town which was presently besieged by the Hapsburg army outside its walls, became the lover of the rebel Hungarian baron. During the night, she stole his keys, and let the army in, leading to the fall of the town. This didn’t stop her from meeting an unfortunate end, however.
Considered the Slovak Robin Hood for reputedly stealing from the rich to give to the poor, Janosik is a beloved figure in Slovak folk art. He gave rise to many legends, myths, and is a constant mainstay of Slovak literature. Noted for his bravery as a soldier and as a symbol of resistence, Janosik is equally esteemed by Poles; but Janosik’s origins lies in Terchova – a town in Northern Slovakia. Legends surrounding him run aplenty, involving his faultless character as an outlaw with a purpose. One of the better known one is Janosik’s Fist, involving his punishment of an arrogant tyrant on a boulder.
After King Philip of Spis Castle killed the son of a Polish monarch, legend has it that the Polish king sought revenge by killing King Philip’s daughter Barbora. While Barbora and her sister Hedviga were alone in the castle, the Polish king seized the castle. Hedviga, believing her sister to be dead, jumped from the castle’s highest tower. After she jumped, a mysterious face appeared on a wall of the castle that is said to bear a striking resemblance to Hedviga.
Other legends include:
- The Virgin Tower, featuring about a certain knight, Nicolas, whose bride met her tragic end from a tower in the Devin Castle.
- Three Twigs of King Svätopluk, about the Great Moravia king’s lesson of strength through unity.
- The Well of Love, involving a Turkish noble reclaiming his love by digging a well for years until it reached water, and how his efforts were rewarded.
- Bratislava Castle, relating to curious facts about why the castle has such curious characteristics.
What better way to get a sense of Slovak life than to watch it; here we point you to some remarkable films and filmmakers to come out of Slovakia since the Oscar-winning Shop on the High Street first gave a hint of the country’s tremendous filmmaking talent.
If you have a soft spot for European art-house cinema, you will want to turn your gaze to Slovak films and their many auteur filmmakers. Ignited by the worldwide New Wave movement which occurred elsewhere in the 60s, Slovak filmmakers together with their Czech counterparts brought an array of classics to world cinema while portraying a unique setting and place.
Slovak film in the 60s gave rise to many innovative films, influencing generations of filmmakers since; these achievements are especially note-worthy considering the restrictive environment in which films were made, relying as they did on state approval. (Unsurprisingly, many lauded films were banned at the time.)
With a penchant for experimentation, Slovak films dabbled in surrealism, magical realism, and avant-garde filming techniques. Dazzling montages, theatrical techniques, puppetry (a Czech and Slovak tradition) and mime are just some of the landmarks of Slovak filmmaking at its best.
Starting with the drama Shop on High Street (1966), which won an Oscar for its humane portrayal of the relationship between conscience and the pressure to go against it during WWII while the country briefly served as a German puppet state, Slovak filmmakers have produced a slate of films that are as poignant as they are visually appealing. What’s really interesting here is how Slovak filmmakers often treat serious topics with a deftness and wry sense of humor that, bit by bit, manages to encapsulate the mood of the country.
Notable Slovak directors:
- Juraj Herz
- Martin Sulik
- Juraj Jakubisko
Slovakia is a small country, but rich in good genes. Let’s see who made himself famous and brought his homeland glory.
Artist, parents from Slovakia
Slovak Robin Hood
King of Great Moravia
Steam and gas turbines
Steam and gas turbines