One of things we were most looking forward to in Slovakia was visiting Spiš Castle. We had originally planned to do it as a day trip from our hostel the Ginger Monkey in Zdiar, but we were there over a holiday weekend and the buses weren’t running nearly as often as we would have liked. This meant that it was not likely that we could make it there and back in a day with a reasonable amount of time to spend at this amazing UNESCO heritage site. So, at almost the last minute, we decided to move to Levoča, a town that was quite a bit closer to the castle. We are glad we decided to do this as Levoča is quite a nice, small, not too touristy town.
Where We Stayed
Pension Oaza – We quite enjoyed this pension, especially after staying in the dorm in Zdiar. We had a very large room all to ourselves. We had plenty of space to spread out, a refrigerator and microwave, and our very own bathroom! The woman who owned the pension was kind and offered us homebaked goodies. She also told us to grab some of her many tomatos growing in her garden. It was quite a nice location too, located midway between the main train station and old town.
What We Did
Old Town Levoča and Church of Saint James – We enjoyed visiting this small old town square. We visited in the late afternoon so we didn’t go into any of the museums, however, we did enter the Church of St. James. The Church is UNESCO listed and is famous for having the tallest altar in the world. We paid 4 euros to enter, but were quite disappointed that the altar was under renovation so covered by scaffolding. Also, there were no pictures allowed inside. We did enjoy some of the other carvings though, done by the famous Master Pavol. Levoča is also unique within Slovakia because it is still surrounded by most of its original city wall. We particularly enjoyed walking around town observing the wall and imagining its past.
Spiš Castle – Spiš Castle is the real reason we came to Levoča in the first place. We had to take a bus to the town of Spišské Podhradie which is situated in the valley right beneath the Spiš Castle (this leaves from Levoča regularly). Even approaching the town in the bus, you are struck by the enormous size and majesty of the castle.
The bus drops you off in the middle of town, so you will need to do a bit of walking to reach the castle. We headed out of town, following the signs for Castle parking. Strangely, there were almost no cars in the parking lot, but we did see a path heading up towards the castle. We followed and enjoyed the sights while hiking up the surprisingly steep hill. We also were surprised to see big trucks driving past us on the grass up to the castle. We followed them and entered the castle through a lower back gate. We later realized that we had only been allowed to enter there because it was open for the trucks who appeared to be bringing equipment in to set up some sort of stage. The normal entrance is on the far side of the hill, away from the town.
We were honest though, and still paid our entrance fee even though we had entered through a back door. The entrance fee did include the use of an audio guide (free as long as you returned it within 90 minutes). We walked through the castle and listened to the stories on the guide.
There actually isn’t very much left of the castle. The royals stopped living in it in the early 18th century, and then in the late 18th century it burned down. What’s left has more of the feel of an archaeological site than the other castles we have visited so far. It was built in the 12th century and went through many phases of construction and purpose. It has 3 baileys, which we learned were walls to protect itself. It is really more of a fortress. It went through many owners, but always was an imposing view over the valleys nearby. It is actually lucky that it burned down in 1780 and no one rebuilt it. Therefore it looks more like it did when in use than many of the other castles we’ve seen during our travels.
The grounds of the castle are massive: there are multiple courtyards within the complex. After doing the audio tour, we spent some time just soaking in the ambiance from different places within the structure, The view was great as well!
We really enjoyed the castle and finally had some good weather! The sun was out and it was warm (actually a bit humid), but we were so excited that it wasn’t cloudy! We highly recommend making time for this castle if you visit Slovakia.
Where We Ate
On our first night in Levoča, we found a small place just off the main town square that seemed to have reasonable prices. We ordered some regional specialities:
Bryndzové halušky – a national dish of Slovakia. Halušky are small potato dumplings, similar in size to macaroni almost. Bryndza is sheep cheese, so the dish is potato dumplings covered with sheep cheese. It usually comes with some sort of meet on top, like bacon or sausage. It tastes somewhat like macaroni and cheese, and is very good and filling.
- A pototato pancake filled with a meat mixture
For drinks we had a Šariš beer.
On our second night, we decided to eat at a restaurant was built into the old city walls. Probably a little touristy, but seemed like a fun opportunity!