Few places in the world combine medieval history and natural beauty as seamlessly as Banska Stiavnica in Slovakia. Here, in the central region of the country, the charming town with narrow romantic streets and the medieval spirit is surrounded by the tree-covered Stiavnica Mountains. Banska Stiavnica is perhaps the town you’ve never heard about, but don’t let that fool you. In fact, this idyllic town has something unique that sets it apart from the other Slovak towns. If you are looking for a journey of discovery, Banska Stiavnica – Slovakia’s best-kept secret should certainly be on your list.
Why is Banska Stiavnica so special?
Millions of years ago, this area was the highest volcano in Central Europe. It was more than a huge volcano though. The volcano’s eruption predetermined the destiny of the Stiavnica region. For several centuries, Banska Stiavnica used to be “Europe’s El Dorado”. It was the area with the richest deposits of silver and also gold. The “Silver Town” with a massive network of mining tunnels was one of the richest cities in medieval Europe. For this reason, the rich veins of treasures hidden beneath the Stiavnica’s surface paid for the opulent palaces built in Budapest and Vienna.
Plenty of gems & gorgeous views in Banska Stiavnica
Today, you don’t have to be genius to work out what it is that draws visitors to Banska Stiavnica. Some visit Slovakia’s oldest mining town for its incredible history. The others seek gorgeous views and stunning countryside. Unlike many Slovak towns, Banska Stiavnica attracts especially the Slovaks. A mecca for romantics with plenty of hidden gems is also popular for a weekend getaway.
How to get to Banska Stiavnica
Banska Stiavnica is located about 2 hours’ drive from Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia). In fact, the town doesn’t have a direct connection with Bratislava. However, several trains run to Zvolen, which has direct connections with Bratislava, Prague, Budapest and other Slovak towns. If driving by car, get ready for steep ascent along narrow roads.
When is the best time to visit Banska Stiavnica?
The best time to visit Banska Stiavnica is between May and September when days are longer and the weather is more pleasant. During the summer months, you can swim in the tajchs and museums are open almost every day.
Things to do in Banska Stiavnica
1. Explore Banska Stiavnica’s Town Centre
2. The Holy Trinity Square (Trojicne namestie)
The centre of the town with the Renaissance-Baroque palaces not only offers the chance to see the Church of St Catherine, but it is also home to the large mineralogical exhibition. The first thing you’ll notice about the square is its plague column with the Holy Trinity sculpture. This iconic baroque column is also a popular starting point for tours.
GOOD TO KNOW:
If you want to explore Stiavnica with a knowledgeable tour guide, make your way to the Trinity square. A tourist information centre is located here.
3. “Epicentre of Love” – House of Marina
Banska Stiavnica is home to Sladkovic’s legendary love story Marina.
The Epicentre of Love is surely one of the most popular tourist attractions for lovers visiting Banska Stiavnica. This medieval town is the home to the most famous star-crossed lovers in Slovakia: “Slovakia’s Romeo & Juliet”. However, unlike Romeo and Juliet, their tragic romance is a true love story. A legendary love story of Maria and Slovak poet Andrej Sladkovic still lives on in Stiavnica today. For this reason, a visit to House of Marina is one of the best things to do in Banska Stiavnica.
A love of poor student Andrej and wealthier Maria was, sadly, unfulfilled. Maria’s family was against their love and the poet’s muse was forced to marry a rich gingerbread maker. After her marriage, Andrej wrote the world’s longest poem which is a Slovak national treasure.
“A NEW VERONA”
Today, a house where Maria lived is also known as the “Epicentre of Love”. A museum dedicated to an exhibition inspired by the love poem Marina is, besides, globally unique. Here, you can find the Love Banks – the first safe in a world where couples can store their love. With 100,000 Love boxes, Banska Stiavnica has become a new Verona. There are many unique attractions in Marina’s house, such as a “love-o-meter” measuring the strength of couples love.
If you would like to store your symbol of love, visit the House of Marina and join the Epicentre of Love tour!
The Epicentre of Love is home to 100,000 love boxes, one for each letter, gap and punctuation mark of the original manuscript of Marina.
GOOD TO KNOW:
- The guided exhibition starts every hour and is also available in English.
- Location: Radnicne namestie 18
- Opening times: 10 am – 6 pm (7 pm on Saturday)
- Ticket prices are €12 for adults, €10 for 13-17 years old.
4. Church of St Catherine (Kostol Sv. Katariny)
Every visitor passes by church of St Catherine many times on Banska Stiavnica visit. Take a sneak peek inside the late Gothic church and admire its beautiful architecture. Get your timing right and you will be able to see the precious painting of the Last Judgment.
5. The Old Castle (Stary Zamok)
A short walk from the Trinity Square lays the Old Castle, one of the oldest buildings in Banska Stiavnica. Previously the site of the parish church was due to its strategic location transformed into a fortress. A defensive wall with a tower was added to protect the town against Turkish attacks. The jewel of medieval architecture guarding Banska Stiavnica has never been conquered by invaders. Nowadays, the Old Castle with today’s Baroque appearance houses a museum.
The tower also offers excellent views of well-preserved Old Town.
- May – September: every day 9 am – 5 pm
- October – April: Monday and Tuesday closed, Wednesday – Sunday 8 am – 4 pm
6. New Castle (Novy Zamok)
On the opposite hill, you will find the New Castle, which is another symbol of Banska Stiavnica. However, this whitewashed Renaissance landmark is not a castle. It’s another fortification built to protect the locals against the Turks. A fortress with four round towers hosts an exhibition with a collection of rare weapons. Moreover, the New Castle offers stunning views of the historic town.
During invasions, New Castle was a part of a sophisticated system protecting mining towns in Slovakia. Guard on duty used to warn the neighbouring towns of the danger from a watchtower. The signals were passed from a hill to a hill by fire Morse code signals during the night and smoke Morse code signals during the day.
- May – September: every day 9 am – 5 pm
- October – April: Monday and Tuesday closed, Wednesday – Sunday 8 pm – 4 pm
7. Knocking Tower Klopačka
While in the area, don’t forget to check out the charming Knocking tower. The two-storey building with Renaissance and Baroque features called miners for their morning shift. It also gave warnings during special occasions, such as funerals and fires. Today, the Knocking tower is home to a cosy tea house.
8. Visit Botanical garden and the Mining Academy
Over the years, Stiavnica became home to some of the most important engineers and specialist. It is easy to see why Maria Theresa founded here the Mining Academy. It was the first university institute of its kind in the world.
Make the most of the warm summer days and take a break in the botanical garden. The verdant Botanical garden with sequoias and Japanese cedars are located behind the Academy.
9. Calvary of Banska Stiavnica
Approximately 40 minutes walking from the town centre will bring you to the Calvary, one of Banska Stiavnica’s most popular tourist attractions. You can’t miss it. It’s a sight that towers over the town atop the Scharfenberg hill. Built by the Jesuits on the slope of a hill, the Calvary is composed by a set of chapels laid out in a pilgrim’s way. The Calvary can be reached via a steep pathway, but don’t let that put you off. Once at the top, it offers a magnificent view of Stiavnica’s caldera.
Baroque styled Calvary with seventeen stations and three churches is, without doubt, one of the most impressive Baroque Calvaries in Europe. A Christian sacred place with sculptures and frescoes of important moments of Jesus’s life attracts both tourists and pilgrims alike.
After the recent reconstruction, the sacred Calvary has become a must-see attraction for every visitor in Banska Stiavnica.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The churches and chapels are open daily during the summer months, although the rest of the year only on weekends. Don’t miss a small exhibition in the Lower Church. What’s more, you can arrange a guided tour here.
10. Tajchy of Stiavnica
You don’t want to leave Banska Stiavnica without visiting “tajchy”. Artificial water reservoirs supplying energy for the booming mining industry are extremely popular among the locals and visitors alike. Twenty-four out of sixty ancient reservoirs remained, now they are mainly used for recreation. Tajchy are a great place to cool down during the hot summer months when in the area.
A 15-minute walk from Holy Trinity Square will bring you to Velka Vodarenska tajch. Velka Vodarenska tajch located directly above the town is the oldest water reservoir with unusually turquoise waters. From here, you can continue to Cervena Studna reservoir.
11. Open-air Mining Museum in Banska Stiavnica (Banske Muzeum v prirode)
Furthermore, you can’t visit Banska Stiavnica without going into one of many mines located in the setting of the mountains Štiavnické vrchy. Become a miner for a while and see how the silver was extracted from the Slovak mines. Take a popular informative underground tour and learn how mining changed this region. An open-air mining museum is located just 25-minutes walking from the historic centre of Stiavnica.
An Open-air Mining Museum is the oldest and biggest mining museum in Slovakia. It consists of 2 parts:
- A surface exposition with unique mining machines
- An underground exposition where visitors can also walk through the underground Bartolomej tunnel
GOOD TO KNOW:
- don’t forget to wear a jacket and also solid shoes
- visitors need to pre-book guided tours in other than the Slovak language
- Entrance fee: €5 Adults, € 2.50 kids, €12 family
- closed during January and February. For more information visit an open-air mining museum`s website.
Visiting the Silver town with kids? While staying in Banska Stiavnica, make sure you take time to visit Kammerhof. It’s the important Renaissance complex in the region. In Kammerhof’s exhibitions, youngsters can learn more about the history of mining in Slovakia. Visitor can also find here the working models of machines and laboratory equipment on display.
13. Hiking and cycling in the Stiavnica mountains
Make the most of the beautiful Stiavnica Mountains countryside with hiking or cycling. Whether you’re looking for family-friendly rides or more adventurous routes, the Stiavnica Mountains offers something for everyone. The popular cycling routes for novices are Kopanicka osmicka (The Eight of Kopanica) and also Hellov okruh (The Circuit of Hell).
Have you ever been to Banska Stiavnica in Slovakia before or is it on your bucket list? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments about this beautiful destination.
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