Driving into the town of Zvolen reminds a bit of arriving in the capital Bratislava – what will catch your eye is the castle. This small town with around 43.000 inhabitants (12th in Slovakia) has a surprisingly rich history. It offers a contrast between old and new as well as different building styles that remind of the country’s different rulers.
Zvolen: A Short History
Zvolen received its town privileges in 1243. The history of the town is closely knit to its two castles. These castles are Pustý Hrad (or the deserted castle) and the more modern Zvolenský zámok (Zvolen Castle). You can read more about these two attractions further on in this post.
The Slovak National Revival movement in 1848 and 1849 had a major connection with Zvolen. Ľudovít Štúr – a well-known name for many Slovaks – represented Zvolen in the Hungarian parliament during these years. He was one of the main speakers for Slovak national freedom and the recognition of the Slovak language.
The more modern importance of Zvolen is attributed to the railroad. A railway station was built in Zvolen in 1871 and the town soon became a regional railway hub. The railway is also what gave the town the possibility to make an impact during World War II. It was here that two of the armored trains used in the Slovak National Uprising were built.
5 Things to Do In Zvolen
Zvolen Castle / Zvolenský Zámok
Zvolen Castle stands on a small hill close to the center of the town. Louis I of Hungary built the castle and it was finished in 1382. Today the castle houses the Slovak National Gallery.
Pustý hrad is a large castle ruin on a hill just south of the town. It is accessible from the ice stadium. However, be prepared to make e a shorter hike to reach it. Be aware of the weather, as icy conditions might make it hard to climb the slope leading up to the castle. Pustý hrad originates to the 11th and 12th centuries and it covers an area of 76,000 m², making it one of the biggest medieval castles in Europe. In English, Pustý hrad means the “deserted castle”.
Armored Train Hurban
In the park just next to the castle you find a replica of an armored train from the Second World War. It is the replica of the armored train Hurban, built in Zvolen in 1944. The train was in use during the Slovak National Uprising in the fight against the Germans.
Námestie SNP is the main square in the town. Here you have the chance to visit several restaurants and bars as well as some of the main sights. Here you find:
- Evangelical Church of the Holy Trinity (Evanjelický Kostol svätej Trojice)
- Monument for the Slovak national uprising (Pomník SNP)
- Monument to fallen soldiers of the Soviet Army (Pomník padlým vojakom Sovietskej armády)
- Forestry and Timber Museum (Lesnícke a drevárske múzeum)
- Church of St. Elizabeth (Kostol svätej Alžbety)
- Park Ľudovíta Štúra
- Jozefa Gregora Tajovského Theater (Divadlo Jozefa Gregora Tajovského)
- Old Town Hall (Stará radnica)
Arborétum Borová Hora
This is an arboretum belonging to the Technical University in Zvolen. The arboretum has a collection of trees, roses as well as cacti species. The main aim of the area is educational work. There is also a second purpose, that of research. Last but not least, is also open to the public for cultural and educational activities.
Zvolen: How to Get There?
There are several ways to get to Zvolen. There are both regular trains and buses from the capital Bratislava. Coming from outside of Slovakia? Then it might be easiest to first travel to either Budapest, Bratislava or Vienna and continue from there.
Car: Located in the center of Slovakia, Zvolen is right next to the crossing of two major roads. The north-south connection of E77 and the west-east of E58. Both of these give access to most of Slovakia as well as neighboring countries.
Bus: There are buses from most of Slovakia. It takes around two and a half up to three hours with a bus from the capital Bratislava.
Train: Trains between Bratislava and Košice stop in Zvolen.
The driving distance to Zvolen from 3 major Slovak cities, according to Google Maps:
Bratislava– 196 kilometers (1 h 51 min)
Žilina – 108 kilometers (1 h 37 min)
Košice – 212 kilometers (2 h 49 min)