Nitra, one of Slovakia’s most historically significant cities, is the perfect place to spend the weekend. The city is filled with important locations that will enrich your trip as well as some wonderful spots for leisure activities. Nitra’s tales of Great Moravian kings, a strong man, and a powerful sword will truly capture your attention. Filled with stunning churches, beautiful hilltop views, ancient legends, and exciting history, Nitra is a must-see city that will not disappoint.
Nitra is located about 90 km east of Bratislava. It is best to either access the city by car or bus. There are several buses that you are able to take from Bratislava Bus Station to Nitra Bus Station. Upon arrival in Nitra, walk down Štefánikova trieda to reach the old town.
WHY IS NITRA A SIGNIFICANT CITY TO VISIT?
The city of Nitra has a long history with records of its name dating back to 870. Before this time, a fortification was built on Castle Hill by Madarovce people with Slavic people arriving in the area towards the end of the 5th century. This area then became known as the Principality of Nitra or the Duchy of Nitra in the 9th century. The king, Pribina, is known to be the first Slavic ruler to build a church in the principality. This principality encompassed cities from Bratislava to Tokaj so it is incredibly significant in Slovakia’s history. The Principality of Nitra and the Principality of Moravia then merged to form the Great Moravian Empire. During this time, the fortification on Castle Hill was replaced by Nitra Castle. The Great Moravian ruler, Svätopluk I, created the first diocese in Slovakia and this is when Nitra reached its heyday. After this time, Nitra became part of Lower Hungary and was attacked by Czech, Ottoman, and Turkish armies as well as anti-Habsburg uprisings. Today, Nitra is the seat of Nitra region in Slovakia and is home to several churches, Nitra Castle, Zobor Pyramid, and tasty cafes and restaurants. Whether you are taking a hike along Zobor Mountain, stopping for a bite to eat, or exploring the city center, Nitra’s rich history will be part of your experience.
Nitra Castle is a great place to begin your trip if you are interested in old tales and legends. The castle sits on Caste Hill in the old town and is easy to access. In the center of the castle walls sits St. Emmeram’s Cathedral with a classic onioned-shaped steeple. The legend says that the Great Moravian king, Svätopluk, gave rods to his three sons. Although each rod could easily break on its own, it was impossible to break all three together at the same time. These gifts were meant to teach the sons about the power of unity. Even though Svätopluk explained the importance of unity to his sons, the empire broke up in the hands of the king’s heirs after his death. Even though the empire dissolved, the fortification walls of the castle are still visible.
Today the castle is one of the most popular attractions in Nitra, offering picturesque views of the entire city from one of its highest points. In the summer, the Gothic ravine is transformed into an amphitheater and is the center of various cultural events. It is also worth visiting the Cathedral Tower, which has been open to the public since 2015.
NARROW STREETS BELOW THE CASTLE
Go down the hill through magical aisles that hide cute townhouses with the originally preserved architecture and beautiful colors. Do notice a corner house with a notoriously known muscular man statue that is reminiscent of the famous Hercules. In fact, it is Nitra’s blacksmith Corgoň who, according to a legend, had a tremendous power. Rumours said that when Corgoň hit the anvil with a hammer, the whole city was shaken. His strength allegedly saved Nitra Castle from the Turkish raids. When the castle defense failed, Corgoň came out of his workshop. As he looked like an angry devil with a dirty face from the coal smoke and started tearing rocks out of the castle hill, the Turks got scared and ran away.
THE CITY CENTER
The center of the city has a main, dominant building known as the Theater of Andrej Bagar, which stands in the vast Svätopluk Square. Next to the square is a huge bronze sword in the ground. It belonged to prince Pribina and is a symbol of peace. There are several references to the ancient history of Nitra referring to the times of Great Moravia, such as a granite fountain or a drinking fountain opposite to Pribina’s sword. Both carry symbols and designs from the times of Great Moravia, as well as hatches that cover the shafts created when installing the engineering networks.
If you are interested in learning more about Nitra’s history, we recommend a visit to Nitra Museum. It is located next to Pribina’s sword and holds historical ceramics, coins, and other artifacts. We also recommend exploring Kupecka Street, which hides beautiful cafés that we will describe more closely in the next section.
CITY PARK SIHOŤ
After exploring the old town, you may want to take some time to relax. The city park is a great place to rest. It has a large pond with Nitra River running next to one of the pathways. It is also a nice place for children to stop and see the ducks and get out some energy before continuing with your trip.
When visiting Nitra, it would be a sin to omit Zobor Hill, which rises above the city. It is not that high which makes it perfect for a nice hiking tour. The hill is a great escape from the city to the countryside (you can get up in 30-45 minutes from the nearest parking lot). The climb is quite steep and hiking shoes are recommended. There are several trails to get to the top with various difficulty – the easiest (and recommended by us for families with children) is to follow the trail from the parking lot next to the treatment facility (liečebný ústav) Zobor past Svorad’s spring. The steeper part of the trail starts afterwards, lined with the information boards. You will reach the famous and legendary Svorad Cave open to the public. Continue through the forest until you reach the Pyramid. The view from the Pyramid is breathtaking.
Zobor Hill bears the name of the Duke of Nitra, Zubur, who defended Nitra at the time of the Hungarian raids. When the Slovak army was unable to defend itself against a number of arrows that the enemy shot at them, Zubur came to help them. However, the Hungarians captured the Duke hanged him on the nearby hill as a warning sign. Since then, the hill is called Zobor by the locals.
Another favorite place with a beautiful view is the Calvary. It stands on one of seven well-known Nitra hills. It is an important pilgrimage site for Nitra with twelve chapels. On top of the limestone hill, you will also find a telescope. The best time to visit this place is before sunset so that you can take in the magical golden hour.
By the way, Nitra has 7 famous hills – Zobor, Castle Hill, Calvary, Martin’s Hill, Na vŕšku (On a Little Hill), Šibeničný Vrch (Gallows Hill), and Dražovský Hill.
DRAŽOVSKÝ HILL WITH A GOTHIC CHURCH
Dražovce is one of Nitra’s municipalities and is an important archeological site. You will need to travel to the edge of Nitra to get there. It is known for the beautiful Dražovský Hill that is dominated by the Romanesque church of St. Michael Archangel. It is one of the most famous and Instagram’s most popular monument in Nitra. In addition to its popularity, there is a legend connected to this place. At the time when King Stephen built the church, the locals began to mine a hidden stone in the hill. Legend says, however, that higher magical powers have charmed their pickers. When they clenched them into the rock, blood leaked out of the stone. It was a sign that the place was under the protection of God’s power and no human greed could break it. For many years, the church on the hill became an important pilgrimage site, and the rumours among the locals mention that there is a regular appearance of the Virgin Mary with a little Jesus in her arms.
EATING OUT & DRINKS
This cafe is a tourist spot but is in a very nice location and has good service. Prices are above average. The food is said to be very tasty.
ANTIKVARIÁT POD VŔŠKOM
This is our top pick. It’s an amazing place that sells second hand books as well as new ones. The store has a unique interior with antique furniture and a modern ceiling, which creates great ambiance. The shop serves as both a bookshop and a cafe so make sure to stop in for a nice drink while browsing their selection.
TEA HOUSE OF GOOD PEOPLE
If you are visiting Nitra in a colder month, we recommend stopping for some tea at the Tea House of Good People. It is across from Nitra Synagogue in the old town and has excellent tea to drink in house and also many varieties to take home.
This place is great for families with kids. It is beautifully furnished up to the smallest detail and we were happy with the service. It has a children’s corner that comes handy. We recommend ordering their super soft waffles!
STARÝ BISKUPSKÝ HOSTINEC
Located in a beautiful historical building, this place is great for families with kids since it is within a beautiful park with a vast area for running. The interior is quite modern, combined with works of modern art. The menu does not offer many options, but the food is very tasty (please note that the prices are higher). If you have a sweet tooth, stop in for a coffee and a dessert since they have many luxurious cakes.
REASONS TO VISIT NITRA
The wide array of monuments, historical buildings, green spaces, and spots to stop into for a bite to eat, truly make Nitra an exciting place to visit. The legends of Svätopluk’s sons and Corgoň really bring Nitra to life as you explore Castle Hill and the old town. There is also so much to see when hiking to the top of Zobor, the Calvary, and Dražovský Hill. This weekend trip will be a memorable one as you delve into the historical and modern points of interest Nitra has to offer.
Author: Kathryn Baurhenn and Zuzana Mytna
Photo Credits: Zuzana Mytna, Kathryn Baurhenn