In 2008 eight wooden churches of Slovak Carpathians were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as outstanding examples of religious architecture on the crossroads between Latin and Byzantine culture. You can find four of them in northeastern Slovakia in the Prešov Region.
The best way to explore them is on a road-trip around the area. Besides World Heritage churches, smaller, but equally beautiful religious buildings are sprinkled across the region.
Get inspiration for a unique trip in eastern Slovakia.
Day trip exploring the churches
The roundtrip begins in Kežmarok, a charming town underneath the High Tatras, the smallest alpine mountain range in the world. Start your trip early. It’s a long drive to the northeast tip of the country close to the Polish border.
After about two hours, you’ll reach the village of Bodružal. Its World Heritage Eastern Greek Catholic Church of Saint Nicolas (Gréckokatolícky drevený chrám svätého Mikuláša) dates back to the 17th century.
The inconspicuous exterior is made of wooden panels and shingle roof covering three onion domes. Once you step inside, you’ll be overwhelmed by the beauty of the interior, and especially the four-stories iconostasis painted from both sides.
Check out more details here: www.drevenechramy.sk/en/drevene-chramy/svidnik-a-okolie/bodruzal.
After visiting Bodružal, follow the road 3548 for another 2 kilometers (1,2 miles), until you reach the settlement Miroľa with its Church of the Protection of the Mother of God (Gréckokatolícky drevený chrám Ochrany Presvätej Bohorodičky). Although not a UNESCO site, the church set on a small hill inside the village is a real eye-catcher.
More information here: www.drevenechramy.sk/en/drevene-chramy/svidnik-a-okolie/mirola.
Another remarkable sacred building stands in Nižný Komárnik, about 6 kilometers (3,7 miles) from Miroľa. The shrine burnt down during WWI and was rebuilt in 1938 in the Ukrainian Boyko architectural style. Even though the area in northeastern Slovakia experienced heavy fighting during WWII, the church miraculously survived.
More details here: www.drevenechramy.sk/en/drevene-chramy/svidnik-a-okolie/nizny-komarnik.
From Nižný Komárnik, start to return westwards until you reach Ladomirová. In the village, you’ll find another World Heritage Site, the Eastern Greek Catholic church dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel (Gréckokatolícky drevený chrám svätého Michala). The shrine, together with a separate belfry, belongs to excellent examples of eastern rite churches in Slovakia.
For more information, visit: www.drevenechramy.sk/en/drevene-chramy/svidnik-a-okolie/ladomirova.
As you continue to the west, Eastern rite churches disappear, and Roman Catholic and Protestant temples replace them. The tiny village of Hervatov is home to one of the oldest wooden churches in Slovakia, the Roman Catholic Church of St. Francis of Assisi (Rímskokatolícky kostol sv. Františka z Assisi), also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The exact time of construction is still unknown.
It is believed to be dating back to the 15th century. The exterior shows elements of Gothic architecture. Inside, you can admire unique figural motives painted on its wooden walls.
You’ll find more details here: www.drevenechramy.sk/en/drevene-chramy/bardejov-a-okolie/hervartov.
Good to know: The whole road trip is about 300 km (186 miles) long, takes a whole day, and is rather demanding. There’s a good rest stop in Motorest Polana, where you can also stop for lunch. Try the typical Eastern Slovak “Pirohy,” ravioli-sized dumplings filled with potatoes.
How to visit the churches
The churches open on demand. There’s a phone number hanging on the entry of every church, which you should call and ask for a local guide. Most guides will either give you an English commentary or provide you with booklets available in more languages.
Pick two to three churches to visit from inside. For example, only the UNESCO listed buildings, Bodružal, Ladomirová, and Hervartov. Visiting the churches costs 3€ to 5€ (as of October 2019). At the time of our visit, photography was allowed inside the churches for a small fee.
Check out the itinerary of the road trip on Google Maps.
Sightseeing in Kežmarok
After a somewhat challenging day, take it easy in Kežmarok, a little historic town. In the Middle Ages, the free royal city was home to a cosmopolitan mix of Austro-Hungarian nations and religions. You’ll find traces of these different influences everywhere in the town.
There’s a medieval castle on the northern edge of the town’s center, and the streets are lined with Renaissance merchant houses. Of course, there are a few churches in Kežmarok. Just a couple of streets from the castle, you’ll find a gothic basilica with an extraordinary renaissance belfry.
The highlight of the town is undoubtedly the Lutheran wooden articular church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even though Slovakia is a landlocked country, it’s interior reminds visitors and worshipers of a ship’s bow. Legend has it that Swedish sailors contributed to the construction of the nail-free wooden building.
Tip: For opening hours of Kežmarok’s attractions, visit the town’s official website. Be aware of changing opening times during summer and winter months. Kežmarok is also a good base for trips in the area. Spiš Castle is less than an hour away, High Tatras about 30 minutes.
The best time to visit Kežmarok is the second weekend of July when the town hosts The European Folk and Crafts Festival ELRO. The streets are closed for traffic and are filled with craftsmen stalls. Some of them let you try their equipment, and you can blow a glass or forge an iron sword yourself.
Accommodation tip: Kežmarok offers a variety of guesthouses and smaller b&bs. If you like boutique hotels, stay a Hotel Hviezdoslav. Four 17th century historic buildings were carefully refurbished and connected into a hotel in the town’s center.
More Heritage sites of Slovakia