Many more European travelers are heading east for favorable exchange rates. Tourists have started trickling into Bratislava and western towns on the Czech border, but much of Slovakia is still off-the-beaten path, with prices to match. Kosice, the nation’s second-largest city, is the gateway to east Slovakia. Here in this cosmopolitan and diverse city you will find sharp contrasts– the skyline features urban billboards and Communist-bloc apartments competing with gothic spires and terracotta roofs. Contemporary music spills out from sidewalk cafes alongside medieval burgher’s homes.
If you are already planning on visiting Prague, Bratislava, or Vienna, a stop-over in Kosice is affordable and convenient. Kosice’s Barca Airport (KSC) is only 6 miles outside of the city. Czech Airlines, SkyEurope, and Austrian Airlines run daily flights from Prague, Bratislava, and Vienna, respectively. Each of these flights takes just over an hour. There is also a railway and bus station in Kosice’s city center, with connections, through Bratislava, to and from other European capitals.
Kosice’s medieval Old Town is well worth the trip. The historic Old Town is easy to navigate on foot– Hlavna Ulica (Main Street) runs north to south, with most major attractions along a six-block stretch. Touring Kosice’s major landmarks can be squeezed into an afternoon if you’re short on time.
At the southern end of this route you will find the Archeologicky Komplex, an underground museum tunneling under the main square. Here you can descend into dim and cool stone passageways to tour the original city walls, moats, and fortifications, dating back to the 13th century.
When you emerge back into the sunlight, gothic St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral towers overhead, the largest cathedral in all of Slovakia. The athletic and adventurous can climb one of the steep towers for a panoramic view; claustrophobics would do better to relax out front in the Singing Fountain and surrounding park. The fountain fascinates adults and children alike with rhythmic jets of waters that shoot up in time to piped music, accompanied by colored lights at night.
Next door is Urban’s Tower, originally the city’s bell tower, which now houses a wax museum of famous Slovaks. Continuing north, visitors can stop by the Tourist Center inside the Old Town Hall for assistance with accomodations or bus and train schedules.
Turning right and traveling two short blocks will take you over to Hrnciarska Ulica (Craftsman Lane), which runs parallel to Main Street. During holidays and throughout the summer, guides in medieval dress entertain the crowds, while craftspeople, including an Old World potter, wood carver, shoemaker, and blacksmith, fashion handmade souvenirs and crafts. Nearby is Miklus Prison, which allows you to sit in a medieval jail cell and tour an underground medieval torture chamber.
Retracing your steps back to Main Street and continuing north will allow you to view many other architectural and cultural attractions–the National Theater, historic burgher’s houses, and a handful of minor palaces. At the northern tip of this route is the East Slovak Museum, featuring the Golden Treasures of Kosice, a collection of golden coins and medals dating from the 15th century.
When you turn around and head south you’ll pass many small cafes and pubs, including a hard-to-find vegetarian establishment. If you’ve worked up an appetite, you can opt for more traditional Slovak fare, such as sweet jam-filled pirohy or tangy bryndzove haluskyat at restaurants off the main drag like Sedliacky dvor or the picturesque Villa Regia. At even the most upscale eateries, a hearty meal and a beer amount to less than 250 crowns, or under $10 USD, so you can afford to splurge after your stroll.