Hidden in the heart of central Europe, Slovakia’s second largest city is shaking off the cobwebs and undergoing one of the coolest revivals yet. The vibrant young metropolis is laced with rich medieval history, effortlessly fusing old with new to create the ultimate hipster’s paradise. Formerly part of the Hungarian Empire, Kosice offers the best of slow-travel alongside a fully immersive cultural experience with urban art projects, Instagram-approved cafes, striking architecture and natural escapes like you’ve never seen before. Here’s eleven reasons why Kosice is Europe’s best kept secret.
Running through the centre of the city, the pedestrianised historical promenade features most of Kosice’s dominant monuments on one single strip. Start your exploration at the Kosice coat of arms and wander along the cobbled streets marvelling at the majestic St. Elizabeth’s cathedral, Lower Gate, State Theatre, Historical Town Hall and the singing fountain. No matter the season, a walk through time down the longest promenade in Slovakia is an essential part of any visit.
Apart from being the biggest place of worship in Slovakia, St. Elizabeth’s cathedral is one of the last remaining examples of true Gothic cathedrals in Europe. The intricate details of the exterior are replicated on the inside with the magnificent altar of St. Elizabeth herself, the rare gothic double spiral staircase and the crypt to Hungarian hero, Francis II. Rakoczi. Officially recognised as a pilgrimage site by the Pope, the cathedral has a hidden feature well worth exploring. Find the key-master and climb the 160 steps in the high northern tower for spectacular panoramic views over the entire city.
A rather unexpected event held in the city centre every year, is Kosice Peace Marathon – the oldest of its kind in Europe and second in the world. On the first Sunday in October, over 12,500 runners take to the streets to the enthusiastic cheers of thousands of spectators. With an electric atmosphere and relatively flat route, the Kosice marathon should be the next event on your bucket-list of best things to do in Kosice.
Gateway to Eastern Slovakia, Kosice is the perfect place to set up camp and visit all the UNESCO sites the region has to offer. All within 100 minutes of the town centre, the unique concentration makes accessing these cultural and natural wonders easier than ever. Plan a couple of day trips or stay a few nights in the countryside and explore the wooden churches built without a single nail, the famous Spis Castle and the city of Bardejov. Dust off your hiking boots and spend a few days in Slovak Paradise National Park, crawling through the ice caves and crossing gorges. Release your inner adrenaline junky and witness some of the most spellbinding natural attractions from new heights.
Visit the Eastern Slovak Museum and gaze at Slovakia’s largest golden treasure collection. The Kosice Golden Treasure is a huge display of 2,920 gold coins from across the globe. Discovered in 1935, the collection is one of the most significant on a European and global scale and is showcased in the museum as part of an interactive exhibit in an underground safe. So ingrained in Kosice culture is the treasure, there’s even a hotel room themed after it hidden in the city.
World-renowned for its special Tokaj wine, the region offers an immersive experience, wandering through cellars and hills of active vineyards whilst sipping on natural sweet wine, made only in four other areas in the world. Historically served at French Royal Court in Versailles, live like kings when you escape to Slovakia’s smallest wine region. Intimate and peaceful, the origins of cultivating wine here date back to the Roman Empire, so you know you’ll be in good hands!
On the eve before Kosice Peace Marathon, watch as the city transforms into a sea of cultural festivities and bustling activity. The ‘White Night’ symbolises a chance to rediscover the urban side of the city and give it a new dimension through art exhibitions and various inventive displays. For one night only the town is transformed into an interactive space where sleep is forgotten and the party goes on until the sun comes up. A highlight of the festival is the large display cultivated in the regenerated Kunsthalle, a former swimming pool turned exhibition arena, with previous years featuring a massive moon and impressive mounds constructed from old CDs.
One thing you’ll notice when strolling through the streets of Kosice is that there’s not a single Starbucks or a Costa in sight. This is because the city decided against chain coffee shops and focused on creating niche, artsy spaces serving your favourite flat white with a flare of individuality. The winding lanes and hidden alleyways are bursting with Instagram-worthy coffee spots decorated with bicycles hanging from the ceiling and floral arrangements growing out of the walls. Settle into vintage settees in Halmi Café, drink in the chic picture-perfect ambiance at San Domenico and become part of the furniture in the rustic surroundings of Pogo Urban Café.
The underground art scene in Kosice is slowly rising to the surface, taking over the city one mural at a time. You can’t help but see the massive street art plastered on most of the buildings as part of the award-winning O.M.G – Open Mural Gallery and the plethora of art exhibitions doesn’t go unnoticed either. In an attempt to bring communities together, a number of both independent and state run projects have popped up emphasising the expression of creativity. Head to Kulturpark, a former army barracks restored as a modern multicultural centre and spend the afternoon taking in some of the exhibitions and interactive displays in the area. If you’re a real art fanatic, you’ll love the East Slovak Gallery, home to many works by Slovakian and Hungarian artists specially curated in unique exhibitions. Whatever you’re after, this city is bound to have something to suit your tastes.
Hosting the home games of HC Kosice, Slovakia’s ice hockey champions, the Steel Arena is a sacred site in the global ice hockey community. The location has been used as the playing field for the Ice Hockey World Championships twice and attracts thousands of hockey enthusiasts every year.
Kosice is a buzzing hive of creativity. Not only is the region the birthplace of Andy Warhol’s parents, but Kosice was also named the European Capital of Culture in 2013. Explore Tabacka Kulturfabrik, the former tobacco factory turned biggest centre for culture and creativity in Slovakia and have a drink in Kino Usmer, a cool, vibrant retro cinema showing alternative films in a vintage setting. The question you’ll face here is not what to do in Kosice but where to start!
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Flights to Kosice from Southend
- Lucy Norris