This small mining town is located in the middle of Slovakia, around 170 kms away from Bratislava and 240 kms away from Kosice (second biggest city in the country). The first settlement in this area was founded in 3rd century BC but it wasn’t until 13th century when the town became really important, in 1238 it even gained the status of one of the first royal towns in Kingdom of Hungary. The local Slavic population was joined by Germans and together they’ve created one of the most prominent places in the area and the main producer of silver and gold in Central Europe. Of course that made Banska Stiavnica a target of enemies and resulted in building well-needed fortifications around the town, including two castles. The town was also known for its innovations in the mining field, one of the local schools – Academy of Mining and Forestry – was named the first technical university in the world. Banska Stiavnica was growing steadily, at the end of the 18th century it was even third biggest city in the Kingdom of Hungary, but since mid 19th century its importance was declaining. These days Banska Stiavnica is just one of the most beautiful towns in Europe, bringing lots of tourists each year who constantly fall in love with the place (I’m not an exception!). It is so stunning and rich in monuments of big value that in 1993 UNESCO put it on its on World Heritage List – this title was really well deserved!
Banska Stiavnica has been on my mind for many years, from the moment I’ve seen some pictures of the town. It just never really was on my way. Finally, after visiting Kosice for few days, I figured I can stay in Slovakia for the rest of the week (that was 4 days) and it’s a perfect opportunity to head to one of my dream destinations. And I wasn’t disappointed! Banska Stiavnica turned out to be even more spectacular than I imagined and saw on the pictures! From the moment I arrived and walked towards the center and my hotel, Grand Matej, I knew it’s a special place and with every step I was more and more impressed! Still it was just a foretaste of what I was about to see in next 3 days!
The next morning I started my first proper day in one of the most beautiful towns in Europe with a visit in the tourist information. It’s located in the main square and a really friendly girl there gave me some maps and brochures in English and recommended some trails around that would help me get to know the place. I spend way too much time sitting in the main square and studying the maps but partly also because it was so pretty I didn’t want to leave! But the rest of the town was even better! The maps I got had few trails marked, both in the town and around, and I made a good use of them. I walked most of the paths in the city, taking some random streets, avoiding the crowds, and enjoying the place more and more! The bad thing about Banska Stiavnica is that the town is located on the hill and you need to walk up pretty much (and sometimes it gets really steeply) but then the good thing about Banska Stiavinca is that the views from the top are breathtaking! Few times I almost had to pinch myself to see if this place is real, I just stared at the picture-perfect place below, not fully believing it exists! And it didn’t matter if I looked at one of the numerous churches, the castle(s), the Jewish cemetery or the 15th century urban architecture – every single thing was just stunning! In the late afternoon I climbed to the upper part of the town again (those wooden steps were a killer!) to see the townscape in the soft light of the sun setting down. It looked magical! I just sat at the bench, with no one around me, and tried to take all in, remember every detail of this spectacular scenery right in front of my eyes!
On my next day in Banska Stiavnica I had a plan to see a little more of the surroundings of the town, as it turned out it’s full of attractions too. A little hike up from the main square through the forest to one of the most surprising and serene places of this trip – to Velka Vodarenska lake. I really don’t know what I was expecting but definitely it wasn’t that! Velka Vodarenska is one of the oldest reservoirs in the area, dating back to 1510. It might not be the biggest one but certainly is a very unique spot due to its unbelievably cyan colour of the water, kind of like in the Adriatic sea. There were few people swimming and sunbathing, just enjoying the place, but it felt like a different world from the town below. I spent quite some time there, relaxing in this beautiful surroundings. From Velka Vodarenska I hiked up a little bit more and got to Glanzenberg. Now the archelogical site, this area used to serve as the old town of Banska Stiavnica. Not much is left from the good old times but it’s definitely worth to go up there as the view is pretty spectacular! On the clear day you can even see Tatra Mountains and Kekes – the highest mountain in Hungary. When I visited the weather was really decent so I was certain I could see something as well!
I was lucky to visit Banska Stiavnica during its annual event – Stiavnicky Zivy Sach (Live Chess). For the whole day the town was in a festive mood, the main square was full of stalls and it was clear that something big is about to happen. In the evening first there was a game when kids were live chess figures – it was so much fun to see how joyful the event was for the little ones! I could understand most of what was happening and I enjoyed the whole game surprisingly much, so much laughs were included there. Afterwards a real treat and one of kind event has begun – a live chess game conducted by chess grandmasters who played with their eyes covered. Stiavnicky Zivy Sach was one of the most unique festivals I’ve ever been to and it is one of the numerous reasons to visit this beautiful town!
I was really sad to leave Banska Stiavnica! It really was one of the most beautiful towns in Europe and I enjoyed it big time, it definitely outgrew my expectations! Even if at first I was slightly worried what I’m gonna do there for 3 days it turned out it was not enough to see everything that this place has to offer and I’m really hoping to return there sometime in future to explore some more. With each visit I’m falling more and more for Slovakia and I believe you too should visit this country as soon as possible! And Banska Stiavnica is a perfect starting point as I’m sure you’d love it as much as I did!
Getting to Banska Stiavnica isn’t the easiest but well worth the effort. There’re 2-3 buses per day from Bratislava and few trains per day from the local junction – Hronska Dubrava. The nearest big town is Zvolen, some 30 kms away.
I stayed in the Hotel Grand Matej and I definitely can recommend this place! It’s located directly in the center, on the main street leading to the town square (5 minutes walking). My room was spacious and had everything I needed! The prices start at 39€ for a single room.
The center of Banska Stiavnica has few decent restaurants and some lovely cafes (however all I visited had a terrible service). There’s also a small grocery store on the main street, just one street away from the main square.
Tourist information is located in the main square, in the yard on the right side (Nám. sv. Trojice 6). You definitely want to stop by there to get maps with the trails and to learn more about the town!
To learn more about the town, its attractions and legends visit the official website of Banska Stiavnica.
Have you been to Slovakia? Would you like to visit Banska Stiavnica? What are the most beautiful towns in Europe you’ve been to?
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