Our stories from Slovakia continue and today we will write about our trip to a cozy town near the northern borders, Žilina. (Slovak has many amazing letters, you pronounce the name of the city like [ˈʒilina], in case you were wondering).
There are very few larger cities in Slovakia, considering that the largest one is the capital Bratislava with a little over 400.000 inhabitants. But there are a lot of medium sized towns that are well worth a visit. Žilina is one of these, with its population of around 85.000 it is the fourth largest town in Slovakia. Situated in the north-western part of Slovakia, it is near the borders to Poland and the Czech Republic.
We visited Žilina for a weekend in late 2013, while living in Bratislava. After a few hours on the train the city welcomed us with a view of the mountains visible from the river valley. Even though we were not so lucky with the weather, we really enjoyed what the city had to offer. We stayed for one night in an amazing hotel with rooms in red velvet and waiters serving us brekafast. Tip: accommodation, food and pretty much everything is cheaper here than in Bratislava. And the service is friendlier.
Žilina: A Short History
Žilina was first mentioned in documents in the 13th century as terra de Selinan. At the time it only consisted of a few scattered settlements. Until the end of World War I the area belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary, although it was inhabited by Slavs. By 1321 Žilina was a free royal town.
The town grew over the centuries and became an important center for trade, crafts and education in the region. It bloomed as a result of the new railways: the Košice–Bohumín Railway was completed in 1872 and the railroad to Bratislava opened in 1883. Because of the new connections new factories saw the daylight.
After Slovakia gained independence for the first time in 1918 Žilina became the seat of the Slovak government and the capital of Slovakia. It remained the capital of the new state for almost a year before Slovakia was included as a part of Czechoslovakia in 1919. After World War II the town grew in size and it became an important industrial and educational center in the country.
5 Things to Do In Žilina
Considering the size of Žilina there is a lot more to do here than in smaller towns. But it is still quite easy to walk to most sights.
- Mariánske Square (Mariánske námestie), this is the center of the town. Here you will find shops, restaurants and also the Town Hall of the city of Žilina. 44 colorful burgher houses surround the square and it is dominated by the Church of St. Paul the Apostle.
- Budatín Castle (Budatínsky zámok). You find the castle where the Kysuca river flows into the Váh river. The castle built in 13th century and it is one of the more historic sights in town. Here you can walk around enjoying the castle park or learning more about the area. The castle also houses three exhibitions of the Považie museum. At the time of our visit there was little to see on the site as it was being reconstructed.
- Try the local cheese, you will find bryndza, korbáčiky and oštiepok in the shops specializing in cheese. Actually, if you like cheese you might end up eating cheese all day.
- Visit a bar and enjoy a glas of Slovak beer, there is more to local beer than Zlatý Bažant. In case you are more into wine, we can recomment that too.
- Enjoy the local and traditional food. The food might not always be of the fancier kind (a better word to describe it is hearty), but it is for sure going to help against pangs of hunger. There are so many dishes to try, have you ever heard about bryndzové halušky? Or Slovak cabbage soup?
Žilina: How to Get There?
The easiest way to go to Žilina is either by road or rail. There are regular buses and trains connecting the town to the rest of Slovakia.
Car: The road E50 connects the town with Trenčín in the west and from there it is possible to continue to Trnava and Bratislava. To the east, E50 connects the town with Poprad, Prešov and Košice. E75 leads you to the border to the Czech Republic in the north, you will find yourself in the vicinity of Ostrava.
Bus: There are bus services connecting the town with most of Slovakia.
Train: by train you can go to Bratislava, Trnava and Trenčín in the west and to Poprad and Košice to the east. It is also very easy to take the train to or from the Czech Republic in the north.
The driving distance to Žilina from 2 major Slovak cities, according to Google Maps.
From Bratislava – 203 kilometers (1 h 48 min)
From Košice – 251 kilometers (2 h 34 min)