Today, I’m introducing you to Košice (pronounced Ko-shi-tse), one of the most underrated cities and hidden gems in Europe. With a population of over 250,000, Košice is the second largest city in Slovakia, and in 2013 it was the European Capital of Culture. It’s fairly small and easy to get around, especially if you’re staying in Košice center near the pedestrian street, which I recommend.
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KOšICE – THE EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE 2013
As I walked down Hlavna street (the main pedestrian street), I passed dozens of colorful houses, city mansions, bustling cafes and stylish shops. It seemed like a busy city, although not at all crowded by tourists. As far as I could tell, I didn’t see a single tourist there.
Košice is a beautiful city and it has a stunning mix of architectural styles, from Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque to Art Nouveau, Cubist and Classicist.
As I wandered through the streets I saw this raven figure on a mailbox and was later told that it’s the town’s landmark. I found this one across from Palais Jakab.
THE PLAGUE PILLAR
Located right in the middle of Hlavna street is the so-called Plague Pillar, a 14 meters tall Baroque plague column. It was created in the 18th century as an expression of gratitude to Virgin Mary at its top for ending the plague epidemic from 1709 and 1710.
Hlavna street is home to many interesting buildings, but the most charming street in Košice is Hrnčiarska. This little alley has a craftsman shop, bakery, bars, metalworkers and more. It’s also home to the Executioner’s flat; the town’s former hangman, which reminded me of the Swedish Gate in Riga.
ST. ELISABETH CATHEDRAL
Close by is St. Elisabeth Cathedral, the one thing you HAVE to see in Košice. Completed in the 16thcentury, it’s the biggest cathedral in Slovakia and the easternmost Gothic church in Europe.
There’s also a bell tower if you’re interested in seeing Košice from above. It was closed when I got there so I just saw it from inside instead.
Standing next to the Cathedral is St. Urban’s Tower. It was erected in the 14th century and was originally a Gothic prismatic campanile with a pyramidal roof. On the ground there’s a church bell, which was dedicated to Saint Urban, the patron of vine-dressers.
ST. MICHAEL’S CHAPEL
To the south of the Cathedral of St Elizabeth is the 14th-century St. Michael’s Chapel. St. Michael is the patron saint of the dead, and the Gothic style chapel was built as a cemetery chapel inside the town walls.
THE SINGING FOUNTAIN
Between the Cathedral and State Theatre is a little park with benches and a singing fountain and carillon that chimes every hour. It was a nice place to relax for a bit and wait for the sun to set.
THE STATE THEATRE
I walked to the other end of the singing fountain and found the State Theatre, which dates back to 1788. This Renaissance building is home to drama, ballet and opera.
The very first thing I saw when I arrived in Košice was the Neo-Gothic Jakab’s Palace. It’s right next to the train station and I remember wondering what it was. After a little googling, I found out that it was built in 1899 as a private house but later served as the residence of the president of the Czechoslovak Republic, Edvard Beneš.
It kind of looks like a fairytale castle, don’t you think?
KULTURPARK AND STEELPARK
The last place I went in Košice was the Kulturpark, a group of former army barracks that has – under the European Capital of Culture project – been turned into a museum and cultural centre. It’s like a creative sector for contemporary culture and art like music, visual arts, literature, film, theatre and dance.
KOšICE STREET ART
One of the things that struck me about Košice was the street art. And not just the colorful murals, but also sculptures, art installations and plaques. The city is almost like an urban arts exhibition.
Košice hasn’t always looked like this, but when it was chosen as the European Capital of Culture in 2013, it became a hotspot for wall art and attracted mural painters from Europe and Latin America. At first you don’t notice the murals, but the more you look, the more you’ll see.
By the way, did you know that Andy Warhol was Slovakian? He was born in the US, but his real name was Andrej Varchola and his parents were from Eastern Slovakia. To honor him, Košice city has placed a series of Andy Warhol style high-heel shoes around town. This is one of them ↓
COOL, ALTERNATIVE PLACES TO EAT IN KOšICE
During my time in Košice I was so lucky to be shown around by a local from the Tourism Board and she took me to some really fun, alternative places – places I would never have found had I been on my own.
The first place she brought me was the very hipster Tabačka Kulturfabrik. Tabačka is one of the cool hangouts in town, with a buzzy atmosphere, an industrial feel and laid-back vibe. If you’re up for a Pilsner Urquell (around 1.50 euros), the local Opre’ cider, or events like music, movies, workshops or presentations (which happens most days) this is the place to go.
Another alternative hangout is Republika Východu, a cafe with local dialect signs and menus that sound funny and describe locals’ characteristics. You might need to be local to get the humor, but they have their own laws, manifesto and constitution. You get the drill
I just had a soft drink, but there were healthy, gluten-free and vegan options, craft beer and desserts. Plus, they had an English menu as well.
DAY TRIPS FROM KOšICE
Košice is not just a great weekend destination, it’s also a practical base for visiting nearby attractions. Closest by is the towering Spis castle (1,30 minutes) or hiking in the High Tatras mountains (1,50 minutes). You could also visit one of the 9 national parks, like Slovak Paradise National Park (1,25 minutes). Trains are pretty frequent, check timetables here.
A thousand thanks to Visit Kosice for hosting me and to Nika for showing me around Košice. I was a guest, but all opinions are my own as always.
Do you like Košice? Would you visit?
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