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One of the benefits of longer-term travel is that you’re able to take a gamble on a destination. On short trips you have the pressure of trying to make the most of each and every place you go. You can’t just throw a random destination into the mix and see how it goes. But that’s precisely what I was able to do when travelling in Slovakia when I decided to find out if Zilina is worth visiting.
Very little was driving my decision to visit Zilina. It was merely a notable name on the map that was convenient to my itinerary through western and central Slovakia. As is often the case, I didn’t even know if there were many sights to see in Zilina. I like being able to travel places, free from expectations, but I understand that it’s not for everyone. Which is why I post articles like this, so that you can decide for yourself, if the things to do in Zilina that I found make it somewhere you’d like to see for yourself.
City of Žilina
To decide whether or not to visit Zilina, it helps to first know a little about the city. Zilina is the fourth largest city of Slovakia, only slightly larger than Banska Bystrica. The city is found in Slovakia’s northwest , close to the Low Tatras Mountains and but also not that far from the High Tatras Mountains.
Because of its location, Zilina’s main appeal is the selection of ski resorts in the surrounding mountains. Beyond that, it’s a fairly industrial city, which is not uncommon for large cities in Slovakia. That might not sound too interesting for sightseeing, but Zilina does have a small historical centre for tourists to explore with a history that dates back to the early 14th century.
All of this should give you an inkling of what sightseeing in Zilina is like. But let’s actually look at what there is to see when you visit the city.
Zilina’s historical centre is going to be almost your only focus if you visit. And to be honest, it didn’t make a great first impression on me. That’s because the main thing that stood out to me as I walked through it was the dominating presence of the modern Mirage Shopping Center.
Fortunately, once I looked past the shopping centre and began exploring the Old Town things started to improve. Marian Square is one of the main sights to see in Zilina, lined with arcades and restrained, refurbished buildings. The features of Marian Square that create interest on the square is the caged-in well, the fountain and the considerable façade of the Conversion of St Paul Church.
Moving away from Marian Square, there are the surrounding pedestrian streets that are interesting to wander through, even if they are lacking in character. The reality is that much of Zilina’s historical centre looks like it’s from the 20th and 21st centuries. This is likely due to the city’s restoration efforts in the 90s and modern additions since.
Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
One Zilina landmark that really makes a strong impression is the city’s Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. A series of staircases lead up to the church’s elevated position overlooking Andrej Hlinka Square, a wide open plaza that was hosting a small food market during my visit.
The cathedral is wedged between the Mirage Shopping Center and the City Theatre, making it a nice reminder of Zilina’s heritage. While it dates back to the year 1400, there is an even older church in Zilina, the Church of Saint Stephen the King from the 13th century. Unfortunately, that church is out to the southwest of the city centre, so I missed it quite easily during my visit.
Nature never feels far away when you travel in Slovakia, even in most of the cities and towns I’ve been to there. Zilina made it a little harder to find, but I was able to discover a green space down by the city’s Vah River. Walk to the northern edge of the city and you’ll be met with some picturesque riverfront scenery, that offers a nice contrast to the city centre.
The only downside to this area is the road noise, with a major road crossing the only nearby bridge. It’s even worse following the minor walking trail along the river, as it’s bordered by a motorway. Still the riverfront offers a nice change of paces, and really the riverfront is just a stop on the way to …
I’ve left the best of the Žilina attractions to last. Budatín Castle sits across the river from the city, surrounded by a pleasant park. Gleaming white, it’s quite a sight, even though it was midway through restoration (my curse continues). Budatín Castle is another reminder that Slovakia’s castles are not to be slept on.
Like the city, the castle dates from the 13th century, and was built as a toll collection point. Today it hosts the Museum of Považie focusing on local history and natural sciences. Access was partially impaired because of the restoration works, so I can’t really say whether visiting inside is worth it. But as a whole, I’d say Budatín Castle is one of the better reasons to visit Zilina.
Tip for Visiting Zilina
And that’s really it, at least as much as I was able to find. It’s now up to you to judge whether Zilina is worth adding to your Slovakia itinerary. I will say that if you do decide to go, one day should suffice for sightseeing.
Part of the reason why I decided to go there was how convenient it was to reach by train. Direct trains connect Žilina with Bratislava, Banska Bystrica and Poprad, giving you options for how to incorporate it into a trip.
For those that do decide to visit, the other thing to think about is accommodation. As a larger city in Slovakia, it benefits from a decent range of options for places to stay in Zilina. The budget hotel I used is no longer in business, so I can’t provide a personal recommendation.
If you’ve had the chance to travel to Zilina before, would you say the city is worth visiting? What did you like or not like about the city? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.