8 things you need to know about Slovakia

It is an indisputable fact that Slovakia is still very much unknown among most people on this green earth. Too often I need to correct people’s knowledge about this country and tell them that what they think they know is completely wrong. To make everyone’s life easier, I compiled a list of 8 things you need to know about Slovakia, which will make you for sure the first person to be chosen for the next pub-quiz team.

1# - Slovakia is not Slovenia


Let’s kick it off with one of the most common mistakes. Just as Czechoslovakia doesn’t exist anymore, the capital of Slovakia is not Prague and the national language is not Czech, Slovakia is definitely not Slovenia. They don’t even share a border! Between Bratislava (which is the capital of Slovakia, by the way) and Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia) there is a whopping 450 kilometers, a one hour flight or a 4.5 hour car drive.

Yes, I know, the flags of both countries look eerily similar and the word of both languages (Slovak = slovenčina; Slovenian = slovenščina) are easily mistaken, we should really make an effort getting it right.

Maybe this helps - ask yourself: does the country border a sea? If the answer is yes, you are talking about Slovenia; if the answer is no, you are talking about Slovakia.

2# - Slovakia is in Central Europe

This one is perhaps a bit more sensitive than the Slovakia-Slovenia confusion, as it is very much caused by historical developments. However, let’s get one thing straight: Slovakia is located in Central Europe, not in Eastern Europe. I understand this distinction may be tricky, depending on your source of information and its time in history, but most Slovaks I know prefer to be associated with Central Europe instead. “Eastern” Europe still has a ring of Communism and the Iron Curtain to it, which many young Slovaks try hard to get rid of. Moreover, when entering the Visegrád Group in 1993, Slovakia became part of the V4 alliance of Central European countries, together with Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland.

3# - Bratislava is the only capital in the world which borders two countries

Bratislava, Slovakia

This is more of fun fact for an evening of Trivia board games. It turns out that Bratislava (again, the capital of Slovakia), who shares its borders with Austria (in the west) and Hungary (in the south), is quite unique in the world. Apparently, there is no other capital in the world that shares borders with two countries. With this curious position, it beats cities like Italy’s Rome (Vatican), Chad’s N’Djamena (Cameroon), Paraguay’s Asunción (Argentina) and Laos’s Vientiane (Thailand), just to name a few. Who says Bratislava is not a world city?!

4# - Slovakia has more than 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia

If anyone would need a specific reason to visit Slovakia, I’d say it is the concentration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The exact number of sites is hard to calculate, depending how you categorize them and whether you include both cultural and natural sites in the list. I calculated at least 20, if not more.

The most notable, from my point of view, are:

  • The cities of Banska Štiavnica, Levoča and Bardejov

  • Villages of Vlkolinec and Spišské Podhradie

  • Spiš castle

  • The wooden churches of Tvrdošín, Leštiny, Hervartov and Hronsek

  • The Dobšinska, Domica and Ochtinská caves

5# - Castles come in all shapes and sizes

Chateau Bojnice

Slovakia has a massive amount of castles, manors and chateaux, scattered throughout the entire country. Some have even estimated that Slovakia has the highest concentration of castles and the like per capita, making it truly a “castle superpower”. Imagine this - Slovakia has over a hundred castles (probably not counting every single ruin), countless of manors (also in various conditions) and other lordly houses, with a total population that would comfortably fit within the city borders of London. It puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

I still have the intention to do a castle tour around the country one day. Of all castles, manors and chateaux I have seen so far, these are definitely my most favourite locations:

6# - Slovakia is one of the newest countries in the world…yes, in the WORLD

Orava Castle, Slovakia

Slovakia as we know it was basically founded in 1993, when it split from Czech Republic. Of course, there was a Slovak Republic before 1993 (between 1939 and 1945), however this being a creation of the Nazi’s, let’s just forget about that for a moment. In 1918, the first Czechoslovakia was founded until its split in 1939 by one Adolf. After the war, Slovakia was again integrated in the Czechoslovakia most people know nowadays, until it again split up on 1 January 1993. So, that means that Slovakia is basically only 26 years old.

With this, Slovakia joined a curious list of the newest countries in the world. Currently, Slovakia is the eighth newest country, joined by nations in the likes of (to name a few) The Federated States of Micronesia (1986), Namibia (1990), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992), Czech Republic (1993, obviously), Eritrea (1993), Timor-Leste (2002) and, most recently, South Sudan (2011). An eclectic bunch of countries but curious nonetheless.

7# - Slovakia likes to drink…

This may not be a fact to boost about but it can not be denied that Slovaks do like their liquor. Although I personally consider Slovakia’s relationship with alcohol (exceptions excluded, of course) a very social one, it did result in the country being listed in 2016 by the World Health Organization in the top 10 countries with the highest average alcohol consumption per adult citizen - a pretty admirable 13 liters of pure alcohol.

#8 - Slovakia gave birth to some pretty big names

Ok, this may be a bit of a stretch, but you could say that Slovak genes travelled far and wide, all the way to the top of Hollywood fame and the 20th century rock star art world. Andy Warhol is probably the most known example of famous people with Slovak roots. His parents came from Miková in the Prešov region, emigrated to the US in 1914 and changed their name from Warhola to Warhol. Then you have Angelina Jolie, whose paternal grandfather was born in Košice. Audrey Hepburn, apart from being the daughter of a Dutch baroness, can claim Slovak descent through her grandmother, who was born in Kovarce (north of Nitra). Lastly, there is another great actor, Paul Newman, whose mother was born in Ptičie (south-east of Humenné). There you have it - famous people with Slovak roots.

If this doesn’t win you the next pub-quiz, I don’t know what will. Next time someone asks you how your Czech is improving or whether Slovenia is worth visiting next summer, tell them you have no idea what they are talking about and share this article with them. Slovakia has way more to offer than many people would consider at first.