Anytime you are traveling to a new country, you are bound to be shocked by something. It may be associated with the landscape, the architecture, or even people’s everyday habits. As a foreigner coming to Slovakia, I have experienced all three.

Before I get into what exactly shocked me about Slovakia, I should back up a little bit and say that I am an American. Before deciding to travel to Slovakia and eventually live here, I had done some traveling in Europe. I naively thought that since I had been to some other European countries, I was ready to spend a lot of time in Slovakia. Little did I know that I was entering into a completely new way of thinking, way of behaving, and way of experiencing life in general. I was initially overwhelmed, but many of these early shocks no longer surprise me. I have actually come to appreciate and enjoy most of them. Let me explain.

Shock number 1: CASTLES

Let’s begin with my favorite shock when I first came to Slovakia. Castles. Hundreds of castles, and mansions, and ruins everywhere in the country. It is difficult to go on a road trip and not see one. I love weaving through the hills and picturing what these castles would have looked like when they were built in the Middle Ages. If you are from a country without castles, you will be blown away. They are truly amazing.


As I mentioned earlier, I am from the United States. I live in an area that is filled with hills so for me, the area around Bratislava, Trnava, and Nitra look similar to where I am from. What did shock me though, are the vineyards. They are everywhere in this area and are so beautiful to walk through. I was also shocked to realize that if you drive only a few hours towards central Slovakia, you will reach the Tatras. The landscape is completely different there because of the huge mountains and pine trees. It can feel like you are in a totally new place even though you are only a few hours away from where you started.

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It is time to start getting into the shocks of Slovak culture. For me, this began with learning Slovak traditions. During Christmastime I learned that Christmas markets take place everywhere, people have a special meal and exchange presents on Christmas Eve, and that Christmas lasts for two days (December 25th and 26th). I really enjoy this time of year in Slovakia because of all the festivities that take place for this holiday. (I would also like to give a huge shout out to my mother-in-law for her amazing food.)

More so than Christmas, Easter traditions were shocking for me. Traditionally on Easter Monday, men and boys threw water on the women and girls to bring them health and beauty. They also whipped them with willow branches. This seemed very unusual to me, but today it is a much more lighthearted event. Many women and girls will be sprayed with perfume and will be gently hit with willow branches. It is seen as something fun and many women and girls actually enjoy it and find it fun to run away and hide together. I am still not entirely sure how I feel about this tradition and will need more time to get used to it.

If this is of interest to you, we have articles on Christmas and Easter in Slovakia that go into more detail.

Shock number 4: SOUP, SOUP, AND MORE SOUP

Soup. Every. Single. Day. Most Slovaks enjoy lunch around noon and will have soup before a large meal. This was originally very strange to me since this will happen even on the hottest days. I am now so used to it that I will sometimes have soup twice a day because I like it so much.

The types of soups that are eaten here were also new to me. Many Slovak soups have a watery milk broth and some type of vegetable in it, such as potatoes, green beans, or mushrooms. I had never had a soup like this before coming here so it took some time to get used to, but now these soups are incredibly normal to me.

(source: receptar.zena.atlas.sk)

Shock number 5: FLOWER POWER

It is impossible to go into a Slovak’s home and not see fresh flowers. Most people LOVE them here. Of course, it is normal in the United States to have fresh flowers inside, but Slovaks really take this concept to a new level. I used to think that buying fresh flowers was a waste of money, but now I often have them because they really brighten my day.


In America, many homeowners have beautiful lawns with sprawling green grass. Here, not so much. Instead, it is really common to see houses with production gardens whether it be a few apple trees, some grape vines, or entire gardens filled with onions, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. Many people in Slovakia enjoy gardening as a pastime. They use all of the food that they grow by cooking it right away, making preserves, or giving it to family and neighbors. This concept is not so common in the United States and I really wish that it was. Food grown in your own garden is a thousand times better than what you can buy in the store. This is a huge positive shock for me.

Shock number 7: CONCRETE HOUSES

If you mention wooden houses to Slovaks, they will think about the traditional Slovak homes. If you ask me about wooden houses, I think about my own home in America. In the area of the United States that I am from, most homes are built with wood or brick, but here the main material that is used is concrete. Concrete is used more often here since it creates better insulation and does not burn as easily. When I first came to Slovakia, every building and house looked the same and it was hard for me to remember where things were since I did not see much of a difference between structures. Over time, I have been able to distinguish places more easily.


If you are coming to Slovakia for the first time, you should be aware that Slovakia is a post-communist country. Even though Slovakia has become increasingly more progressive and many new, innovative buildings have sprung up throughout the country, it is important to acknowledge the fact that there are still buildings, monuments, and artwork from the communist era. Although I had traveled to several other post-communist countries before coming to Slovakia, it was still shocking to see this architecture every day. Since I did not grow up with socialist style architecture, this took time for me to get used to. Some of the buildings from this time period are really interesting to me. Others, were and still are incredibly intimidating. I think it is important to keep perspective by understanding the history of Slovakia, while also seeing the steps the country is making to move forward. This way, you are sure to enjoy your experience here even if some of the architecture is not your favorite.

As a side note, if you like baroque and neo-baroque architecture (like me) Bratislava is filled with buildings in this style. The beautiful detail-work from the Austro-Hungarian Empire is exquisite. I could go on, but this is not an art history article and we have other things to discuss.

If you are interested in seeing socialist architecture in Bratislava, definitely check out our other article on the topic.


This shock may seem silly since obviously Slovak is the national language here, but Slovak is not really spoken in the United States so it was surprising to hear it everywhere. Other than English, it was more normal for me to hear Spanish in America and it was initially hard for me to distinguish Slavic languages in general. Now, after learning some Slovak, I can often tell the difference between the Czech and Slovak languages.


After deciding to leave my country and become an expat, immigrant, foreigner, whatever you want to call me, I am shocked to say that Slovakia feels more like home to me than any place I have lived before. Even though some people may find my habits and ideas to be weird, I feel a deep connection to the people I know. I truly feel like people are here for me in ways that I did not even know I needed. Of course there are things that I miss about my own country, but I finally feel like this is my home. Living here has really changed me for the better and I would never have it any other way. I would actually like to end this by saying thank you to my family, friends, coworkers, and everyone involved in Welcome to Bratislava, for helping me along my journey in ways that you may not have even realized were helpful. I have never felt more like myself and am forever grateful for my new perspective on life all because I came to Slovakia.

Author & Photo credits: Kathryn Baurhenn 


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  1. Great article, my grandparents were from the Slovakia side of Czechoslivaka. My wife and I plan to visit, I grew up in Chicago but have made contact with family in Slovakia. We plan to stay for a couple months and get a feel for the country.

  2. Totally agree, it’s a beautiful country, my wife is Slovakian so we visit quite a lot. We normally stay with her mum and step father and they take great care of us and our little boy. People are friendly and very hospitable and the food as mentioned before is different to a lot of other countries, but it’s enjoyable. I do enjoy visiting Slovakia and enjoy the sights on our travels when we are there, beautiful landscapes and wonderful cities.

  3. Many details in this are just a picture of a perfect country . People are not nice,do not support charities much and everyone is there for himself.Medical care is horrible,old people are no Value they just let them pass away. Crime is high , corruption is everywhere. So time to wake up. Nice place to visit for 2 or 3 days. James

    Ps. To compare Slovakia to France os a joke

    • I’m sorry but which hole did you come from? Crime is high in Slovakia? Have you ever heard of mass shootings in Slovakia? NO…
      We might tell you how it is without coloring it, but that doesn’t make us mean or not nice as if anyone is In trouble there will be 5 strangers around trying to help. I have never witnessed such a thing in the US…
      LOL yea we let our elderly die on a street.. how about a better one for you. We have so much respect for our elderly we use a different language to talk to them. You would talk like this to only someone you respect and admire. So don’t talk poop about a country you have probably never been to nor lived in.

  4. Thank you for the informative article. I am an American that retired in France 5 years ago. I spend a lot of time touring throughout Europe. For personal reasons I am considering moving to Slovakia. I just returned from a 10-day visit to eastern Slovakia (Kosice). I fell in love with the area. In your article you mentioned castles. My love for medieval European history was one of the main reasons I moved to Europe. During my trip I visited Spis, Bojnice, Trencin, Stara L’ubovna, and Beckov castles. They were awesome. Another thing I enjoyed seeing was fields upon fields of sunflowers. So beautiful.

    • Keith
      Bonjour/Dobry Den! I am going to Kosice in September 17-25, 2022.. my first time ANYWHERE outside of US and Canada.. as it is the birthplace of my maternal starybaba(great grandmother) and grandmother.
      i would LOVE to meet up with an Expat while there and learn even more ! Kindly email me at khapp411@gmail.com if you do indeed move there or have some extraordinary places or events that you normally would not think of going and seeing as a traveler there! Merci beaucoup/Djakujem!- Karen Happnie

  5. Thank you for this article. I am a Slovak living in Chicago and I haven’t been able to visit in a while due to the pandemic. It is nice to see that an American appreciates my home country more than some Slovaks do.

  6. A complete BS. It is a primitive country with population thinking and behaving same as in 18 century with the only difference that now they have cars and cell phones

  7. I loved this article. It brought tears to my eyes as I am a Slovak living in Australia with my American partner and I really miss home. I haven’t been able to travel back home since the pandemic hit. Reading this made me miss my home even more but it also makes me happy to know that you love my country as much as I do. Hopefully, one day I will be able to show my beautiful country to my partner as well.

  8. Lovely article. My mom was born in Bratislava – still at 95 speaks perfect Slovak despite there not being many friends alive with whom she can chat. I’ve tried to learn the language over many years but my capabilities are still very rough

  9. Loved this article. I can really relate to the shocks as I go to Slovakia once a year. There really is a different way of life there and I absolutely LOVE IT! Thanks for reminding me of how wonderful this country is.


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