The journey from Cracow to Bardejov takes a little bit over 3 hours but the bus has wifi and the scenery outside is rather stunning all over the way so I didn’t really notice the time passing by. I was lucky as besides me and my friend Jo there were no other passengers and we had the whole bus to ourselves (on the way back, on the other hand, the bus was full). This journey one more time made me realize how beautiful Poland is and how many places I still have to visit or revisit. But this weekend was all about Slovakia! I must admit I was slightly afraid that Bardejov won’t live up to my expectations, that it looks so beautiful only on the pictures, that it has only the market square and that’s all. Well, the moment I arrived I knew there was nothing to worry about!
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History of Bardejov
Bardejov was first mentioned in 13th century but the town was inhabited even before. In the Middle Ages it was one of the most important and prosperous places in Upper Hungary, with trading routes from the Balkans to the North crossing through the town. It was quickly surrounded by the city walls that remnants lasted till now. Back in the 15th century the town within the walls was inhabited by over 3.000 people living in 517 houses! That’s a really good result for that times! There were 64 crafts and 51 guilds. Still the peak of Bardejov’s prosperity came in the 16th century and that’s when the majority of current monuments were built. At that time the city had its own public library, printer or theater. Unfortunately shortly after the series of unfortunate events destroyed the greatness of Bardejov. With the industry boom in the 19th century the town tried to regain its position but with no big luck. Now Bardejov is provincial town in north-east Slovakia where life goes at its own pace. And it just feels good.
First impression of Bardejov, Slovakia
The moment I entered the market square of Bardejov I felt like transforming into the fairy tale. Rows of colorful houses, cobbled ground, cafes hidden in the shadow and the beautiful town hall in the middle looked just too perfect to be true. This view exceeded my expectations so much, no picture can show what a beauty Bardejov really is! The day was crazy hot so in the mid day there were hardly any people around, only few random tourists here and there. I really don’t understand how come people don’t know about Bardejov?!
This has changed couple of hours later when the main square filled with Polish retro cars and numerous passersby who admired those beauties. I must admit that even if I’m not much into motorization it was really interesting to see all the machines that used to be pride of the roads. And this was only one of the events that Bardejov had to offer on that day! For such a small town the culture is really booming there. During my weekend visit in Bardejov, besides sightseeing, I could also attend couple of concerts (from classical to rock music), see the photo exhibition, visit couple of museums or enjoy the fountain show. I really wish I could have done all of that! Not to mention all the quirks around like the street art and the Beatles house!
My favorite place in Bardejov
The market square was my all time favorite place in Bardejov. It was fairly big and look like a rainbow with rows of colorful houses, all of them with bright red rooftops. I’ve spent way too much time there, just hidden in the shadow, sitting at the bench and looking at the people passing by. It was one of these perfect moments that you want to keep with you forever, the world around me was simply beautiful. Already in the medieval times the main square served for market purposes. In the year 1320 the town was granted the privilege to organize 8 days long fair. Later on it was extended to 16 days and eventually Bardejov could organize more than one fair per year. At present times the tradition is still alive and each year at the end of August a Bardejov fair takes place.
There are 46 houses at the market square and every single one of them is the prettiest with its pastel color. At number 21 you can find the tourist information with maps and guide books, so useful when exploring the city. Half way through the market, at number 12 there’s Roland Restaurant – the only restaurant in Bardejov located in the basement of the historic house (this is especially much needed on the hot day like during my visit). And at the corner of the main square and Veterna street, next to the Polish-Slovak house, you will find the best ice cream in the town! Other town houses worth looking at are at numbers 13, 16, 26, 41 and 42.
Bardejov – an UNESCO gem
Bardejov is one of the 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Slovakia (others include i.e. Banska Stiavnica, Levoca + Spissky Hrad or the wooden churches in Kosice region). The town was awarded due to its well preserved fortified medieval look, typical for this region. And even if centuries passed by you can still easily imagine how the city used to look like back in the golden times. The picturesque old town is surrounded by the city walls that back in the Middle Ages were the most modern in Slovakia. Right now it is one of the best preserved fortified systems in Europe hence Bardejov is often referred to as Slovak Carcassonne. Until these days 9 towers and 2 gates remained, giving a perfect picture of the Bardejov’s great and impressive past.
Incredible museum in Bardejov
Inside the city walls there’re rows of narrow cobbled lanes with even more colorful, red roof houses. In one of them, at the corner of the market square and Rhodyho street you can find Museums of Icons. For me it was one of the most surprising and beautiful museums I’ve seen in a while. I’m a huge enthusiast of old wooden architecture and this part of Slovakia, as well as southern Poland and western Ukraine, is famous for old wooden churches. Some of them are even on UNESCO World Heritage List. Yet I somehow didn’t expect to be that impressed by the icons collected in the museum. Oh how wrong I was! From the moment I entered the building my jaw was constantly dropped at the beauty of all exhibits gathered there. They were so unique, so simple and so amazing, a real masterpieces! But the most impressing was the whole altar that was moved into the museum. All the exhibits come from 16th-19th centuries and together they create a real spectacular collection, one of this kind that can be found in Slovakia! Bardejov has few more interesting museums (like the one in the town hall) but for me Museums of Icons was truly incredible!
The best view of Bardejov
Still the most spectacular thing to see in Bardejov is not the city walls or the Museums of Icons. It’s the Saint Giles church, dominating the market square. The current look of the gothic basilica comes from the middle of the 15th century but the church in this place was present already two centuries before. What looks spectacular from the outside is even more magnificent inside. The Gothic interior with its 11 altars really takes the breath away, it is truly amazing! For me however the best was the tower of the church, one of the highest in Slovakia. Climbing up might be slightly challenging but the view is so rewarding. I always enjoy looking at places from a higher perspective and Bardejov was no different. From up there the medieval architecture of Bardejov was best seen, with streets designed like the chessboard and walls surrounding the old town. I spent way too much time at the tower, just staring at the view in front of me. It was kind of hypnotizing, with lush green hills rolling and the red rooftops completing the scenery. Even the concrete blocks of flats, so typical for this part of Europe, didn’t spoil the scene for me, it was so perfect!
Bardejov – one of the most pleasant towns I’ve ever been to!
Before visiting Bardejov I wasn’t sure if there’re plenty things to do and see in those 27 hours I had. I was looking for options to spend the time around the town too (and of course I’ve found many of them, from hiking to seeing famous wooden churches or ruins of the castle). Turned out there was nothing to worry about! The time in Bardejov flew by really fast and I still feel I didn’t give the town as much attention as I should have. On my way back to Poland I’ve realized that for the first time in a while I’ve really chilled out, both physically and mentally. The atmosphere and the slow life of the town was really what I needed at that time and if I have a chance to return to Bardejov, even for more days, I’d do it with no hesitation (especially that I didn’t manage to see all I wanted to). I only felt sorry for all the day trippers who stormed through the city, seeing this amazing place but not really getting to know it and missing what’s the best there – the laid back atmosphere that helps you to relax so much… Together with the beauty of the place they make Bardejov one of the most pleasant and enjoyable destination in Central Europe.
Do you enjoy slow travel? Have you been to Slovakia? What was the most pleasant town you’ve visited?
Bardejov practical information:
- I went to Bardejov from Cracow with Tiger Express. There’re two connections per day, the journey takes 3,5 hours and the tickets start at 9€/one way
- There are couple of accommodation options in Bardejov. You can find and book them here!
- Everything in Bardejov is within a walking distance but if you need to use a city bus the ticket is 0.50€
- Best restaurants in Bardejov can be found inside the city walls and especially on the market square. Prices are very affordable and you can try all the best the Slovak cuisine has to offer.
If you think of visiting Slovakia or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:
- Visit Kosice – a perfect city break destination in Europe
- Bratislava-more than just a day trip from Vienna
- Top 5 places to visit in Slovakia
- and more!
My trip to Bardejov was in partnership with Slovakia Travel but as always all the opinions remain my own.
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