15 Best Things to Do in Žilina (Slovakia)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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In Central SLovakia, Žilina is a manufacturing city with a cute and walkable centre all set off by the immense mountainscapes of the Malá Fatra range. The 19th century wasn’t exactly kind to Žilina as the city burnt down twice in just 40 years, and was rocked by an earthquake in 1858.

Because of these mishaps, the centre of the city is in a decorous Neoclassical style from the end of the 19th century, and stone mansions replaced the timber houses that were here before. So there’s a grand air on streets like National Trieda and the sweeping space of St Mary’s Square. On the other bank of the Váh is the postcard image of Budatín Castle, which has just reopened with a museum about the region.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Žilina:

1. Mariánske Námestie (St Mary’s Square)

Mariánske NámestieSource: Oscity / shutterstock
Mariánske Námestie

Žilina’s main square is a space with real grandeur that has been central to city life since the 1300s.

It’s 100 metres across and 100 metres along, and is bounded by houses with traditional gables and continuous lines of arcades on the ground floor.

Hiding inside these are shops, bars, restaurants and cafes.

The must-see is the Baroque Immaculata, a column crowned with a statue of the Virgin Mary as a symbol of the city’s “recatholicisation” in 1738.

2. Church of the Holy Trinity

Church of the Holy Trinity, ZilinaSource: Shevchenko Andrey / shutterstock
Church Of The Holy Trinity

The cathedral’s story echoes the rest of Žilina, as it has been razed by fire three times.

The most recent reconstruction took place in 1942, but even if not everything is historic inside there’s no denying the charm of its two emblematic spires.

One of these belongs to the church, and the other is the separate belfry, “Burian’s Tower”, which dates to the early 1500s and has burned down and been rebuilt as many times as the church.

Something you might be interested to learn that the church spent most of the 16th century as a fortress after Žilina had been claimed by the nobleman Rafael Podmanický.

Go in for a look at the altar, which has a painting depicting the Holy Trinity from 1697.

3. Church of The Conversion of St Paul the Apostle

 Church of The Conversion of St Paul the Apostle, ZilinaSource: TTstudio / shutterstock
Church Of The Conversion Of St Paul The Apostle

This church dates to 1754, and its pair of 32-metre towers breaks the line of low townhouses on the west side of Mariánske Námestie.

First off, an interesting titbit about this building is that it faces in the wrong direction, with its choir on the west side of the nave instead of the east.

In the facade, the stone image of St Paul wasn’t crafted in Žilina but was actually bought in Munich in 1888 and placed in the niche above the portal.

The Baroque altar is from the church’s earliest years in the first decades of the 18th century.

Meanwhile the stunning frescos and decor were mostly the work of the Austrian painter and etcher, Johann Ignaz Cimbal later in the 1700s.

4. Budatín Castle

Budatín CastleSource: Robert Felcan / shutterstock
Budatín Castle

This castle dates to the 1200s and was constructed to claim tolls at the confluence of the Váh and Kysuca Rivers.

One factoid about the building is that it was in the hands of just two different families from the 15th century to the 20th century, the Suňogs, and then the Csákys who owned it up to the end of the Second World War.

Lots of modifications were made down the years, mainly in the 16th century when it became a Renaissance palace and then in the 1800s following damage in the Austrian Empire Revolutions in 1848. The castle had been closed for renovations most of the last decade but has just begun to reopen and you can now go up the tower and visit the chapel, as well as the museum inside.

5. Považie Museum

Považie MuseumSource: Palickap / Wikimedia
Považie Museum

The castle’s interior hosts a branch of a museum devoted to the history and culture of the Považie region, and like the rest of the building has been overhauled since 2006. The show-stopping attraction is the “tinker” collection of more than 5,000 ornaments made with metallic wire and sheet metal.

This is a craft with deep roots in Žilina and among the pieces are decorations for the home, like coat hooks, birdcages and fastidiously patterned trays.

These are alongside more imaginative creations like sculptures of dragons and crocodiles and even the frame of a locomotive.

There’s also an exhibition of photography from the 19th and 20th centuries, folk art and archaeology.

6. Neological Synagogue

Synagogue, ZilinaSource: Milan Gonda / shutterstock
Neological Synagogue

This synagogue was built in 1928-31 for the Neolog Faction, which made up Žilina’s liberal Jewish community.

It’s a building of huge importance, both architecturally and because it was the last new synagogue to be constructed before the war.

The architect was the revered German Modernist Peter Behrens, who designed this cube-shaped building in the Functionalist style.

The building takes its cues from Rachel’s just outside Bethlehem, and after being used as a cinema after the war has just been restored to its original appearance and hosts exhibitions.

See the beautiful minimalist patterns around the Star of David on the synagogue’s monumental dome.

7. Church of St Barbara

Church of St BarbaraSource: Patrik Kunec (talk) / Wikimedia
Church Of St Barbara

This handsome Baroque church and its minor monastery building were constructed in the first decades of the 18th century by the Franciscan order.

Today it’s in the middle of the city, a few paces from the old centre, but when it was built it was outside of town so the monks could live among simple rural people.

The facade is pleasing enough, but the interior demands to be seen for its decorative pulpit, altarpieces and statues.

Rarest of all are the two organs, which are the last surviving examples assembled by 18th-centruy the Slovak organ-maker Peregrin Werner.

8. Old Town Hall

Old Town Hall, ZilinaSource: Pecold / shutterstock
Old Town Hall

Like most of Mariánske Námestie the Old Town Hall was updated in the 1990s.

The building can be traced back to the beginning of the 16th century and the Gothic vaults in its cellars are from that time.

The rest of the town hall was redesigned at the end of the 19th century when it was given its present Romantic style and stone arcades.

One of the additions in the 1990s was the carillon of 14 bells, which plays a short jaunty melody on the stroke of the hour.

9. Babušek’s House

Babušek's HouseSource: blog.biletbayi.com
Babušek’s House

One of the stately Historicist houses in the centre of Žilina has seen a host of important people come and go.

Babušek’s House is named for the wealthy family that built it in the late 1800s.

But for 10 years at the turn of the 20th century it was the home of Dušan Petrovič Makovický.

He was a medical doctor and thinker, probably most famous for being the personal physician of none other than Leo Tolstoy the Russian writer.

Makovický was followed by Dr Ivan Hálek, another physician who would become a famous political figure in the 1920s and 30s.

And after him came the politician Dr Vavro Šrobár, the central figure in Czech and Slovak affairs in the interwar period.

He lived here at the start of 1919 when Žilina was capital of Slovakia.

10. Považská Galéria Umenia Žilina

Považská Galéria Umenia ŽilinaSource: Juloml / Wikimedia
Považská Galéria Umenia Žilina

On Andrej Hlinka square, which has a panoramic view of the neighbouring mountains is a fine Neoclassical building that houses the city’s gendarme station.

Then, in the intervening years it hosted a vocational school, the State Police in the Second World Water and the editorial offices of the city’s newspaper.

In the 1970s it was converted into an art museum for the whole region, and ten years ago the gallery in the attic was given an award-winning redesign.

Make your way up to view the permanent exhibition of the expressionist Vincent Hložník, arguably Slovakia’s greatest 20th-century painter.

11. Strečno Castle

Strečno Castle, SlovakiaSource: PHB.cz (Richard Semik) / shutterstock
Strečno Castle

To reach this magnificent castle you have to journey east towards the Malá Fatra mountains, arriving at a loop in the Váh that is walled by rugged calcite cliffs more than 100 metres high.

This castle commands that gorge and like Budatín Castle was a toll station in days gone by.

It’s all in ruins now, having been demolished on the orders of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I more than 300 years ago.

But there’s a lot to love, and more than 22 of the buildings in the castle are listed as Slovak national heritage.

With the help of a guide you’ll tour the 15th-century chapel, main tower, the vestiges of a Renaissance palace where the garderobe is still intact.

Another mind-boggling characteristic is the well in the gatehouse, which was sunk 80 metres into the castle’s rocky base.

12. Lietava Castle

Lietava CastleSource: PeterVrabel / shutterstock
Lietava Castle

Medieval historians will be pleased because there’s another proud medieval stronghold no more than 15 kilometres from the city.

Lietava Castle is posted high on a rugged ridge in the mountains to the south.

This is not easy to get to, so you might empathise with Hungarian armies that tried to story this unconquerable fortress in the 14th and 15th century.

Like its neighbours in Žilina it was given a softer role as a Renaissance palace in the 1500s and was also abandoned just over 300 years ago.

The extent and condition of the ruins is astounding: In places you can still identify plasterwork and Gothic ribs in the vaults.

And the scenery is even more uplifting than the pictures suggest, flying above the wooded peaks and grassy valleys around the villages of Lietava and Lietavská Svinná-Babkov.

13. Žilina Dam

Žilina DamSource: www.tikzilina.eu
Žilina Dam

East of the city the River Váh was dammed at the start of the 1990s to build a hydrological plant and supply water to the industrial facilities in the area.

A city district, Mojšová Lúčka, was flooded and its residents were moved into Nová Mojšová Lúčka.

In a crucible of hills and mountains, it’s a scenic place to visit for summer recreation, on land or in the water.

You can wander or cycle around some of the lake’s perimeter, and it becomes wilder and more remote the further east you go.

The Malá Fatra range banks up in the east, cresting above 1,700 and capped with snow well into spring.

On calm mornings these peaks are reflected in the reservoir.

14. Žilinský Lesopark

Žilinský LesoparkSource: Michal Jakubský / Wikimedia
Žilinský Lesopark

No sooner have you left the city’s southern outskirts you’re in a large old growth forest woven with trails.

The Žilinský Lesopark merges with local arable farms, so occasionally you’ll reach a clearing and will be presented with a widescreen view of the Malá Fatra mountains across a rolling landscape.

There are information boards on the trails, documenting the forest’s wildlife, but there’s also a treetop rope park for kids to tackle.

You could cap your walk with a meal at the forest’s restaurant, which was refurbished in 2016.

15. Aupark

Aupark, ZilinaSource: Jan Starec / Wikimedia

If the weather takes a turn for the worse or you’re just up for a spot of shopping, Žilina has a sizeable mall south of the old town.

Aupark is open every day from 09:00 to 21:00 and has most of the shops you’d expect to encountering a major city centre: There’s H&M, Mango and Levi’s, and also an assortment of restaurants, including international fast food chains like Subway.

The mall also has a crèche, gym and a casino with two roulette wheels and four poker tables.

15 Best Things to Do in Žilina (Slovakia):

  • Mariánske Námestie (St Mary's Square)
  • Church of the Holy Trinity
  • Church of The Conversion of St Paul the Apostle
  • Budatín Castle
  • Považie Museum
  • Neological Synagogue
  • Church of St Barbara
  • Old Town Hall
  • Babušek's House
  • Považská Galéria Umenia Žilina
  • Strečno Castle
  • Lietava Castle
  • Žilina Dam
  • Žilinský Lesopark
  • Aupark