The Journey from Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic to Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia takes quite a lot longer than expected on public transport! Easy enough by car, 4 hours, according to google maps. Unfortunately I made the mistake of booking accommodation before properly researching transport options. Most travellers would not take this entire route but Cesky Krumlov – Bratislava and Bratislava to Banska Stiavnica are are both popular routes and there are a multitude of options for each, so I’ve explained them separately as others may find this info useful. It also gives me an opportunity to talk about two of my favourite towns in Central Europe.
A trip to the Czech Republic is not complete without a visit to Cesky Krumlov. A picturesque old town with its Castle at the heart and a twisted river running through the town. We spent two days here, taking a free walking tour from Svornosti Square. This helped orient us around and to all the major things to see, while learning about the history of this medieval town that dates back to the 1200’s! I loved to simply wander here, every street is picturesque. We bought a Trdlenik, a Czech/Slovak pastry from one of the traditional stands (with plum jam..yum!). Once the daytime crowds dissipated, we sat in a beer garden by the river, listening to local live music.
Despite its place on the tourist map Cesky Krumlov is a small town with limited public transport options. See Czech Republic transport here We arrived by bus from Prague (there is no direct route by train you need to change at Cesky Budejovice). To reach Bratislava, the fastest way is to drive straight through Austria. (The Austrian border is 30 minutes away). This is the option we took. We hired a shuttle service (CZ-Shuttle) to Vienna (30 Euros each) because we were limited on time and it takes only 2 hours and 45 minutes. I researched some alternatives, including taking a bus back to Prague where you have access to direct international connections. The other option is to take a train or bus (which can take 7 or more hours and multiple changes) include buses running from Cesky Krumlov – Cesky Budejovice – Brno – Bratislava or trains from Cesky Krumlov (České dráhy ) – Cesky Budejovice – (Kaplice) – Linz – Vienna – Bratislava. From Vienna it takes 1 hour by train or bus to Bratislava, buses are cheaper (5 – 7.50 Euros) if booked ahead. We chose the train (14.40 Euros but you simply buy a ticket at the station), to Bratislava-Petrzalka station, from there we took the 93 bus to Bratislava-Hlavna Station (for our onward journey). The 93 bus runs through the city centre if your stopping in Bratislava.
You can take a train or bus (or a combination of both) to Banska stiavnica. There appears to be a myriad of options, all convoluted and confusing! From looking at the timetable at Hlava station there’s an early morning direct train from Bratislava to Banska stiavnica. There is also a direct bus leaving Bratislava at 4:40pm. We arrived at Hlava at 12:25pm and decided on the next available train at 2:01pm going to Banska Bystrica. We disembarked at Zvolen (around 3hrs, 12 Euro), walked across to the bus station directly opposite and caught the 5:45pm bus to Banska Stiavnica, which takes around 45 minutes.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can take the train all the way to Banska Stiavnica, which is what we did for the return journey. The train station is quite a walk from the main town, however thoroughly worth it for the experience. The station was almost deserted and unchanged since the Soviet era. It also doubles as an art gallery and worker space for the artist community BANSKÁ ST A NICA. A small proceed from the ticket contributes to the project. Getting on the small single-carriage diesel train is more akin to boarding a bus, as everyone casually crosses the tracks and is greeted by the driver. The views are spectacular! We changed trains at Hronska Dubrava for a short train ride to Zvolen. This leg takes about 1 hour. See info on Slovakia’s public transport system here
Banska stiavnica is walkable and there are some very interesting sights. The Old Castle, a 13th century church turned fortress in the 1500’s, with later Gothic and Baroque additions. It’s quite impressive and well preserved. It costs a couple of Euro to enter. Tours run regularly, although only in Slovak language. There is a museum in the Castle and you can walk up to the bell tower. The New Castle was built in 1526 as a defence against the Turks after Buda collapsed. It also houses a museum, and a trumpet can be heard sounding regularly from its tower. We also ventured to Lake Vodarenska to swim, stopping at the open-air mining museum along the way. From here are many access points to hiking trials around the hills.
Banska Stiavnica is mostly frequented by local tourists. Weekends are busy but during the week it was quiet and the few international tourists we saw were at the Kalvária, the most significant Catholic pilgrimage site in the former Kingdom of Hungary and present day Slovakia. There are three churches and twenty-two chapels housing beautiful frescos. Ongoing restoration continues to improve the site.
Other places worth visiting are the Pivovar ERB is a craft brewery housed in a historical building and if you prefer tea, the Teahouse Klopačka inside the Tower Klopačka, the tower had a knocker on a wooden board that woke miners for their shift.