Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica – one of the most beautiful towns in Europe

Banska Stiavnica
(Last Updated On: 03/12/2018)

I really believe Slovakia is one of the most underrated countries in Europe! It has so much to offer! Incredible Tatra mountains, amazing castles, great urban destinations like Kosice.

And then there’s this little gem that probably not many have heard of yet it’s one of the most beautiful towns in Europe. I’m talking about Banska Stiavnica!


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Banska Stiavnica

Short history of Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia

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

First impressions of Banska Stiavnica

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 (click to see current rates and book the place), 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!

Banska Stiavnica

Falling in love with Banska Stiavnica

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!

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

The surroundings of Banska Stiavnica

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!

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Stiavnicky Zivy Sach (Live Chess) event

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!

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica Slovakia

Is it worth visiting Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia?

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!

banska stiavnica (4)


PLAN YOUR TRIP TO BANSKA STIAVNICA

With over 15 years of independent travelling I’ve learnt which websites and services are the best when planning a trip. I always use and trust following websites:

Flights – I search for the best deals on either Momondo or SkyScanner. Both search numerous sites to find the best offers. I also really like the “everywhere” option when searching for the flights as it often gives me the inspiration, if not for this trip then for the next time.

Getting to Banska Stiavnica – It wasn’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.

Accommodation – I always book my accommodation thgrough Booking.com. They have really good deals (especially with their “Genius” program that you become a member of after few reservations) and in most of the cases, if you plans change, you can cancel the reservation without any extra costs. I also value them for a really good customer service that I had to use few times.

In Banska Stiavnica I stayed at Hotel Grand Matej and it was good, with clean and spacious rooms and perfect location, few steps away to most of the attractions of Banska Stiavnica. Click here to see the current deals and book the place!

If you’re looking for something different Banska Stiavnica has a decent accommodation scene and you can definitely find something suitable for you. Click here to see all the properties in Banska Stiavnica and book a place to stay for you!

Insurance – I never travel without the insurance as you never know what might happen on the road (I’ve learnt my lesson). I can recommend World Nomads that offer the insurance dedicated to travelers just like you and me. Check the insurance options for your trip here!

Guide books – I do like reading a guide book before and during the trip. Depending on the destination I usually buy either Lonely Planet or Bradt.

Day tours – I do go for a day trips when I travel as often they are the most convenient way to see the place that save you time and money. If you’re short on time and still would love to visit Banska Stiavnica you can go on a day trip from Bratislava – click here for details!


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Disclaimer: my trip was in partnership with Slovakia travel and Region Stiavnica tourism however all opinions remain 100% mine, as always!


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58 Comments

  • Reply
    Natalia Malec
    18/08/2015 at 18:34

    Live chess look really amazing!

  • Reply
    Ron | Active Planet Travels
    18/08/2015 at 20:55

    What an adorable little town. I’ve never heard of Banska Stiavnica before but I think you’ve just thrown it up on my radar. How is the culinary scene there? Would you rather go for the festival, hiking, the food, or just all of the above? haha :-)

    • Reply
      Igor
      21/08/2015 at 07:55

      There is lot of useful information at banskastiavnica.travel. Festivals of classical music & jazz and more mostly off-mainstream culture events during the saison, see event calendar (only in Slovak, events=podujatia). For gastronomy go to ERB brewery&restaurant, Cosmopolitan restaurant or BS Street food, try excelent local wine in ViNOCENTRUM. 24 man-build water reservoirs are hidden in forests around Stiavnica, you can swim there or hike/ mountain-bike from one to another on 250 km of marked MTB trails. Map in the infocentre.

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 19:17

      I think Igor answered all your questions Ron and he did it so much better than I would :) you should definitely visit Banska Stiavnica, it’s amazing!!

  • Reply
    Anna @AnnaEverywhere
    18/08/2015 at 21:25

    It always felt too close to go there and now I live far away and never visit these regions – bummer :( It’s beautiful indeed!

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 19:40

      you should definitely consider going to Slovakia next time you’re in the area, it’s stunning!

  • Reply
    Tim Roosen
    18/08/2015 at 21:32

    Looks like a lovely place. Will have to put this on the List. :)

  • Reply
    Marcin Wesołowski
    18/08/2015 at 22:37

    Dzięki za ten wpis! Słowacja to dla osób z Krk super miejsce na weekendowe wypady i z chęcią pojadę Twoimi śladami i skrobnę coś po polsku :)

  • Reply
    Meg Jerrard
    19/08/2015 at 03:38

    Thanks for this feature Kami – It toally agree with you that Slovakia is one of the most underrated countries in Europe! We visited on a contiki tour through Eastern Europe way back in 2007, and we had all recently seen the movie Eurotrip which paints a really bleak and horrible picture of Bratislava. But we went through and spent a day there and absolutely fell in love with how beautiful and charming the city was. Banska Stiavnica reminds me a lot of Bratislava from your pictures, so I’m committing to get back to Slovakia to spend more time exploreing the country than just the one day we had on our tour.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 19:43

      Ah, this movie is terrible to promote Europe (but also pretty funny). Slovakia is amazing and it has so much more to offer than Bratislava. Actually I prefer Kosice over it so next time you’re in the country be sure to visit its second biggest city! And Banska Stiavnica is nothing like Bratislava but so much better! You’d love it as much as I did, I’m sure of that!

    • Reply
      Miro
      05/01/2017 at 21:59

      Yep, I live in Slovakia, underrated, but great for us, great skiing, awarded wines, low cost destination, culture, land of the castles and spas

  • Reply
    Pola (Jetting Around)
    19/08/2015 at 04:48

    I’m definitely adding this to my travel list! Should be an easy trip from southern Poland next time I visit my folks. :)

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 19:45

      Definitely! It’s such a great place it’d be a pity to miss it!

  • Reply
    Pola Henderson
    19/08/2015 at 06:10

    Looks really nice! I hope to visit.

  • Reply
    Tomek Luks
    19/08/2015 at 06:16

    Wygląda zdecydowanie zachęcająco :)

  • Reply
    Marcin - NRWTrip
    19/08/2015 at 07:52

    Nie lubię czytać blogów w języku angielski… taką mamy piękną polszczyznę… Słowacja jest fajna ale w języku polskim albo słowackim ;)

    • Reply
      kami
      19/08/2015 at 08:44

      i dlatego właśnie poświęciłes swój cenny czas, żeby mi napisać, że nie lubisz mojego bloga (i wielu innych, potencjalnie dobrych)? cóż, dziękuję za wyróżnienie :) nie wiedziałam, że fajność zależy od języka w jakim została opisana.

    • Reply
      Ewa
      20/08/2015 at 12:40

      To chyba raczej twój problem a nie autorki..

  • Reply
    Weronika Belczewska
    19/08/2015 at 07:20

    Bardzo urokliwe!

  • Reply
    Agnieszka /Zależna w podróży
    19/08/2015 at 09:32

    One of the towns that are high on my list. Gosh, how I love Slovakia!

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 19:46

      you should go there as soon as possible! It’s incredible!

  • Reply
    Joy @MyTravelingJoys
    19/08/2015 at 09:36

    HI Kami, You’re right…Banska Stiavnica is quite the picturesque town! Great photos! :) I would love to explore Slovakia once we are back living over in Europe!

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 19:47

      Thanks! Any plans of coming back to this side of the globe? There’re so many great places in Slovakia it would keep you occupied for couple of solid days!

  • Reply
    Karolina / OOPS!sidedown
    19/08/2015 at 09:36

    Hey, since you recommend Slovakia so much, I know we’re gonna go there as soon as possible. It’s so close it can’t be wrong. PS. But I partially agree with Marcin’s comment above ;-)

    • Reply
      Hanna
      19/08/2015 at 10:32

      But this blog is in English… :v

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 19:49

      I definitely recommend Slovakia, so many hidden gems there! And well, does every Polish person have to write in Polish, German in German and Norwegian in Norwegian? I don’t think so. This blog has always been in English.

  • Reply
    Toccara
    19/08/2015 at 10:35

    I was just in Slovakia last month for about 2.5 weeks. We visited Bratislava, Kosice, Slovensky Raj, Levoca, and the High Tatras. I have never even heard of Banska Stiavnica, but it now on my list for my next trip to Slovakia, but I will definitely be returning! I love small towns and beautiful views, so this town sounds perfect!

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 19:59

      You visited some of the great places in Slovakia! It’s such an amazing country, isn’t it? And Banska Stiavnica is really such a gem, I’m sure you’d love it big time!! what was your fave place in Slovakia?

  • Reply
    Łukasz | Kartka z Podróży
    19/08/2015 at 15:02

    Zawsze miło odwiedzić sąsiadów zza południowej granicy. Nie tylko wygląd, architektura czynią miejsce wyjątkowym. Takie wydarzenia także mają bardzo dużą rolę w percepcji miejsca. A tak na marginesie, czy figury szachowe także walczyły między sobą?

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 20:00

      tak, walczyły :) mam wrażenie, że ta Słowacja jest u nas bardzo niedoceniana, jak już ktoś do południowych sąsiadów jedzie to w większości przypadków są to Czechy. Ale i transport publiczny na Słowację za bardzo nie istnieje :/

  • Reply
    Jenna
    19/08/2015 at 19:38

    I can see why you would have been sad to leave! Banska Stiavnica does look like such a beautiful town–I’d love to visit! I’ll have to add it to my list :) The festival sounds like so much fun too–I always love attending events like that!

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 20:01

      I like being surprised by events like this :) And I hope you will get to visit Banska Stiavnica one day, it’s amazing!

  • Reply
    Lubię podróże - blog turystyczny / Travel Blog of Tourism
    20/08/2015 at 05:22

    Jak widać niedaleko naszych granic jest również bardzo pięknie :)

  • Reply
    Łukasz Przybyłek
    20/08/2015 at 06:01

    WOW – had no idea that this town is listed on UNESCO World Heritage List!!! Impressive

  • Reply
    Jagoda Zawilinska
    20/08/2015 at 07:11

    Mnie Bańska aż tak nie porwała żebym nazywała ją jednym z najpiękniejszych europejskich miasteczek. Ale rzeczywiście jest urocza.

  • Reply
    Dominika Krzysiek
    20/08/2015 at 07:40

    Kiedyś, jeszcze w liceum byłam w Małej i Dużej Fatrze. Taak, Słowacja jest piękna! :)

  • Reply
    Agnieszka Kuczyńska
    20/08/2015 at 07:48

    Uroczo :)

  • Reply
    Zygmunt Kuba
    20/08/2015 at 07:57

    o tak! To jest zdecydowanie ten typ słowackich mieścin co uwielbiam najbardziej :) Lekka prowincja, góry, cudne widoki, sielankowa atmosfera na ulicy :)

  • Reply
    Raphael Alexander Zoren
    20/08/2015 at 10:55

    Great off the beaten path destination!!! It looks like a very charming village, I specially love the costumed characters haha!

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 20:02

      It was extremely charming, I haven’t seen such a beautiful town for a long time!

  • Reply
    Ania Szymiec
    20/08/2015 at 20:39

    Rzeczywiście, Słowacja to piękny kraj – sama przekonałam się o tym w tym roku! Byliśmy akurat na nartach, ale wokół było tak wiele miejsc wartych odwiedzenia, że zatrzymywaliśmy się często po drodze… :) a Bańska Szczawnica wyglada przepięknie! Chciałabym zobaczyć ją na żywo :)

  • Reply
    antonette - we12travel
    21/08/2015 at 06:24

    Very pretty, but you know I love mountain towns. I actually spent some town in the Tatra’s in Slovakia it’s been a while so I don’t really recall which towns it were, not this one for sure. How long would you recommend staying there?

    • Reply
      kami
      07/09/2015 at 20:06

      But there’re some great mountains around Banska Stiavnica, perfect for hiking! I think 3-5 days there would be perfect, you’d have time to enjoy both the town and the surroundings! Also take a look at Igor’s comment below!

  • Reply
    Igor
    21/08/2015 at 08:13

    Dear Antonette: Stiavnica IS in mountains. You can spend a week just hiking the surroundings and swim in the lakes (called tajchy http://www.banskastiavnica.travel/en/what-to-see/stiavnicke-tajchy/) – but it would be pitty. The town is charming and it´s timing with life in the saison. It turns in a lovely quiet place to rest in in spring and autumn. In winter we go skiing (salamandraresort.sk) over the next hill or ice skating on frozen tajchs. It is a fairy – the most beautiful town in Slovakia (for many in the world).

  • Reply
    Travelguidebuddy
    22/08/2015 at 22:05

    wow – first time i’ve heard of it. But it’s truly a stunning town in Europe

  • Reply
    Vasudha Aggarwal
    24/08/2015 at 21:00

    True, it is stunning and a great find. Its always fun to explore small towns apart from the touristy places.

  • Reply
    Victoria Burdman
    25/08/2015 at 03:13

    sometimes we just “click” with the place (that not to deny any preexisting beaty of the town:)

  • Reply
    Agnieszka Szwed
    27/08/2015 at 21:32

    A nie mówiłam, że pięknie tam :) I miło jest wrócić, choćby wirtualnie ;)

  • Reply
    Julius @ Traveltipy
    10/09/2015 at 19:48

    I was in Banská Štiavnica few times already. It is very nice town, really one of the most beautiful in Europe. Although lots of buildings are in ruins now and would need some reconstructions, there are romantic streets as well as amazing surrounding countryside.

    • Reply
      kami
      14/09/2015 at 15:23

      I haven’t notticed that many ruined buildings to be honest. But I agree about romantic streets and amazing countryside around, I really enjoyed my hike in the hills above Banska Stiavnica! Such a wonderful place it is!

  • Reply
    Jack
    23/10/2015 at 06:07

    BS is great, got married there, medieval and peaceful, there is fairy tale magic around every corner. The entire region has a certain energy of peace even though it is the center of Europe. Drive from Zvolen through Banska Bela and into Stiavnica, fantastic. Check out the best coffee shop anywhere, kinda up the hill, place called Divna Pani, so many cool nooks and places to absorb, make sure to look up in the largest room, unreal glass roof. Good service too. Love BS, kinda off the path but only 35km from Bystrica. Stay at Grand Matej or Kachelmann. Stastu cestu kamaratky.

    • Reply
      kami
      15/11/2015 at 18:30

      Thank you for your comment Jack! I agree there’s some kind of magic in BS, such a stunning place it is! I was in Divna Pani and as much as I loved the place the service was really disappointing! Also I stayed in Grand Matej and it was really good, the location was unbeatable! If anyone is looking for a lovely European town I’ll always recommend BS!

  • Reply
    Valentin
    28/09/2017 at 10:42

    Banska Štiavnica is very beautiful city. I was there a few times.
    For more hiking I recommend highest peak Sitno. For less hiking I recommend Štiavnica calvary, very beautiful.
    I loved the streets in the city. And to drink a coffee in a bar.
    Yet, I haven’t visited Glanzerberg or Vodarenska lake.
    Greets from Osijek Croatia!

    • Reply
      kami
      05/10/2017 at 09:45

      At least you still have reasons to come back as visiting Banska Stiavnica is always a pleasure :) Cheers!

  • Reply
    Sylvie Champoux
    16/01/2018 at 01:23

    Hello Kami, I spent 15 days in Slovenia June 2016 and I felt in love with the country. I wanted to go back this June but Somehow I think I should visit a different country. I am a fit 55 years old Canadian woman and hiking is my main activity when I travel. Maybe Slovakia would be a good place for me. I travel solo and I am on a budget, especially now because the canadian dollar is low co pared to the Euro. I am looking for information about the country but I can’t find any travel guide (lonely planet). Did you find something. Thanks. Sylvie

    • Reply
      kami
      29/03/2018 at 20:03

      I think Slovakia would be really good for you then, the hiking opportunities there are really good and the views are amazing! As for the guide – have you checked Bradt? They have really good guide books and I personally know the person who wrote Slovakia for them, I know she did a great job! In those less popular destinations I always opt for Bradt and they never disappointed me!

  • Reply
    Martin
    27/02/2019 at 01:40

    Thank you Kami for this lovely post. Niesamowite.

    I write this from Banská Štiavnica. Truly a magical place. If anyone wants to see a genuine pocket of “old world” in all its Austro-Hungarian, monarchical glory yet free of pretense and modernity and big-city chaos, this is it!!

    There’s something in the air here. Something very real and honest and unscripted. Like stepping back in time 100 years, before people invented clichés and gimmicks. It feels like it’s just the town and you; nobody else. A budding love affair.

    • Reply
      kami
      05/04/2019 at 14:07

      Thank you for your lovely comment Martin! You described Banska Stiavnica perfectly well, I couldn’t agree with every single sentence!

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