Early in the morning. The first rays of light hesitate to enter the hostel room through the barred windows. Silence reigns everywhere, letting me and my husband sleep peacefully. Unexpectedly, the door opens with a crack; suddenly awake, we see a dark silhouette of a huge man, creeping through the door! I start yelling while glancing around at the bags, trying to find out if he has stolen anything. My husband springs out as he is (naked) and swears in Spanish, running after the thief while I continue screaming, adrenaline pumping in my ears.
In the morning, we realize it was the door-keeper searching for the key, unaware of us staying for another night.
* * *
So much for the adventure. What you need to know about Banská Bystrica in order to enjoy and survive is this:
Drinking in Bystrica:
- Borovička and beer is an all-time Slovak (alcoholic) classic BUT that doesn´t make it a nice drink – it´s more like a Nemesis. Careful with that combo. The more east you go, the stronger the drinking habit. (And you thought you´ve seen heavy drinking in Bratislava…well, you haven´t.)
- The local beer you must try is Urpiner. It is called after the nearby hill, Urpín and is actually very nice. It has different variations – 10 degrees, 12°, even 16° and you can check them out here in more detail. (No, I don´t get
free beerpaid for this. I wish!)
Where is / how to get to Banská Bystrica?
- Banská Bystrica is located in central Slovakia
- You can get there straight from Bratislava for 5 euros (look for the yellow RegioJet buses). No kidding.
- It is in the hills and right under national parks Nízke Tatry (Low Tatras) and Veľká Fatra (Big Fatra) – wherever in Bystrica you are, if you start walking, you end up in a (enchanted) forest within an hour. Probably less.
Pssst! Have a look at my local´s guide to the town of Bratislava with best cafes recommendations and insider tips!
- Nearby towns worth your visit are for example Kremnica (check out their museum; Kremnica is an important coins producer since 14th century, even Colombia ordered their new 1000 pesos coins to be made in Slovakia last year. Read more about that here. – in Spanish. So much for the weird facts.), Zvolen, Banská Štiavnica (in my opinion the most charming town in Slovakia) and (if you wish to enjoy the communist architecture) Žiar nad Hronom (read that “ž” as “zh” for Gods sake).
- Make sure to visit the village of Hronsek. (I didn´t. I was too hangover after drinking borovička the night before.) It is home to one of the unique wooden churches Slovakia is famous for and you can get there by train or by bus which should cost you mere cents.
Where to eat & sleep & drink in Banská Bystrica?
- If you are rich and fancy, you probably don´t want to take this advice from me. Don´t say I didn´t warn you! However, if looking for a budget place to rest your eyes (and that works in other Slovak towns as well), ask for “ubytovňa“. This oobee-tov-nya thing is a hostel of sorts, but also a cheap housing for season workers, students, backpackers and poor people in general. Usually, you can get a room for 10 to 14 euros per person which is not a bad price for Europe. As an extra, you might get the chance to experience the true local spirit and (if you get lucky) listen to a random alcoholic, (probably) unemployed couple argue about him drinking on dept and her having to pay the bill the next day. A sneaky peek: their favored cigarette brand is Mars (or Marsky as they say). #truestorybro Look for the directions here.
- In order to find cheap food, look for something called jedáleň. (Read yedaalen with soft n as the Spanish ñ.) Jedáleň translates as a canteen or an eatery and there is a few of them in Banská Bystrica – one of them offers a lunch for 3€ and is located on the main street. (If coming from the churches, cross the street, turn left and watch out for a sign.) Another one on Robotnícka street, near to one of the ubytovnas, has a lunch for 2,60€ and breakfast for about 2€.
- In any case, if you see pensioned people eating there, it might be a good choice for your pocket – retirees, students (and teachers alike) in Slovakia are notoriously known to be getting by with a ridiculously small amount of money. If you
are scared of hair in your soupfancy something more modern, head towards the Europa commercial center – a restaurant called Kolibka in the food court offers a dish for around 2,50€. There´s a bunch of Chinese and whatever food stalls as well. Or you can step up and have something fancier in the downtown, will you?
- Now, as for the drinking. In spite of their bad reputation, Slovak people are quite peaceful; they don´t get into much fights in the pubs nor in the streets and that even though they do drink like hell. That means you can enter virtually any place without much risk – be it a kitschy club with leather couches or a sleazy pub in a parking lot.
- If you wish to explore the kind of a place where local people sip their beer(s) after work, I recommend you to visit a pub called Štiavničky (read shtee-av-neechkee)(it´s hard, I know!). It stands indeed in the corner of a parking lot near to a gas station. (From the Europa shopping mall, take the Tibora Andrašovana street – go straight and you will see a parking lot to your left.) Look for a shack; it used to be a public toilet, nevertheless it is clean inside and they have the local Urpiner beer. The beer costs 90 cents and borovička – 60. (Now you know why everyone drinks it.) Look at the map here.
- In case a loo-turned-bar is a bit too overwhelming for your
nosesenses, you might prefer to stick to the main street – you can (luxuriously enough) eat and drink a special Bernard plum beer in a bar-restaurant called Bernardov dvor (Bernard´s yard – Bernard is a beer brand too). Or you can have a fenix with a stripe of an orange in Smädný mních (Thirsty monk pub) next door – this pub is special because of the paintings on the walls. It was the one I liked the most. (Although a pub in a former toilet is something I find simply irresistible.) Both beer choices are delicious and there are much more to choose from.
Culture and history of Banská Bystrica
- Crossing the river Hron from the downtown, you will get to the Urpín hill very easily. It is a nice (and short) walk
suited for the lazy ass peopleand you will be rewarded by: a) great view of the town, b) a weird red house on the way there and c) endorphins in your blood. (Yey!) Also, there is a chapel on the top of the hill – in Slovak, this kind of places are called Kalvária.
- Check out the Thurzos´ house museum on the main street, near the fountain.
- Ready for some more weird architecture? Head over to the SNP museum – The Slovak National Uprising was fought against the German army in 1944-5, together with the Russians coming from the east. Later on, the Russians stayed a bit longer than expected. If you´re with a German friend, you might want to avoid this, oops. However, the SNP museum is in a shape of (Slovak national hero) Jánošík´s hat, sliced into two halves. If you get cold, you can warm your hands above a fire.
It would be perfect for cooking. The entrance costs 2€ and you can look at the tanks in the nearby park for free.
- Banská Bystrica was important because of its metal minery – it got granted the status of a town (city) in 1255. The best era was the 15.-16. century when the Thurzo-Fugger copper business was blossoming.
Practical links and tips
- the bus station was moved to another place than it used to be (very close though) and the google maps don´t show it yet; you might want to make a point in your map
- if you are planning to hitchhike, take a look at this basic hitchhiker´s guide – it is full of tips and recommendations you might find useful on the road
- look up the location of the place you want to stay at: Hostels on the map and a (not quite complete) list of hostels
- This webpage will tell you the schedules of the buses; it´s a bit tricky though, better ask someone local. The bus to Hronsek is this one. Don´t expect anyone to remember it by its number. It is perhaps easier to take a train.
- looking for a cheap restaurant?
Visiting Banská Bystrica on a budget
Banská Bystrica (read Bun-skaa Beestreetsa) is an inviting town located in the arms of the Slovak mountains. It is so easy to get there that it would be a sin not to visit. Don´t hesitate to look for the local couchsurfers – they all answered my message and although they couldn´t host me (I wrote too late), I got a great tour from one of them. (Thank you, Ivan!)
PS: Have you read all of this until here? Great! Here is an extra just for you: there is an abandoned house in Banska Bystrica, too, which you might enjoy visiting. You will see it when walking to Urpín, right across the street from the weird red house.
Are you traveling on a budget? Did you like this guide? Have you ever heard of Banská Bystrica before? Would you visit it now? I´m curious about what you think!
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We are hitchhiking from Europe to India and we didn´t prepare a shit – stick around to see if we can make it! You can cheer us on if you think we´ll get there, or laugh about us if we don´t.