Slovakia is generally safe, even by European standards, and as a visitor you are unlikely to encounter any problems whatsoever. Violent crime is especially uncommon, and Slovakia sees less violent crime per capita than many European countries. However, the biggest fear for a traveler is most probably the roads.
Roads are generally poorly lighted, and are very narrow. If you plan to drive you must not be under the influence of alcohol. Penalties are very severe if you are caught in such an act.
In case of an emergency, call 112, the universal emergency number. For police you can call 158, ambulance 155, and firefighters 150.
It shouldn't be necessary to mention that the 2006 film Hostel, whose plot takes place in 'Slovakia' is a complete work of fiction, and the probability of tourists being kidnapped and tortured is the same in Slovakia as in any developed city in the USA or Western Europe - astronomically low. Slovakia is considered a safe travel destination for all tourists, as is much of Europe. Similarly, the American movie Eurotrip 2004 might prove a sensitive topic, because it portrayed Slovakia as a terrifyingly undeveloped country, which is also false.
When visiting cities, exercise the same caution as you would in any other European city - use common sense, be extra careful after the dark, stay aware of your surroundings, keep your belongings in sight and avoid drunks and groups of young men. Pickpockets sometimes can be found in bigger crowds and at major train/bus stations.
When visiting mountainous areas of Slovakia, especially the High Tatras, let the hotel personnel or other reliable people know where exactly you are going, so that rescuers can be sent out to find you if you don't return. The relative small area and height of the High Tatras is very deceptive - it is steep and difficult terrain with unpredictable weather. Never hike alone and use proper gear. The mountain rescue service is a good source of additional and current information, take their warnings seriously. In an event of emergency they can be contacted by calling 18300 or the universal 112. Make sure your medical insurance coverage includes the mountain activities before you venture forth, as a rescue mission in the inaccessible terrain may prove expensive.
Also note that the weather in the High Tatras is prone to sudden changes, especially during spring and autumn.
Slovakia is one of the few countries left in Europe, where the likes of bears and wolves still live in the wild. While no one has died from a bear attack in the last 100 years, a few attacks occur each year. Your chance of encountering one as a tourist is very low, but the possibility exists. A bear will avoid you if it knows you're there, so the best way to avoid this is by making your presence known by talking loudly/singing/clapping etc, especially in an area where it can't readily see you from a distance. If you see a bear, do not run, but leave the area slowly in the opposite direction. If you see one from your hotel - possibly feeding from the rubbish bins - which is a bit more common, though still unlikely - DO NOT approach or feed it.
No vaccination is necessary to visit or stay in Slovakia although if you plan to visit countryside areas, tick vaccination is recommended. Also Hepatitis "A" and "B" vaccination is advisable as with all European countries.
Ticks can be found in the countryside forests and also sometimes in larger parks, and in some areas they may carry tick-borne encephalitis. As they reside in bushes and taller grass when they fall of the trees. Therefore, when going hiking try to avoid thick undergrowth and always check all over your body when you return ticks tend to seek warm spots. Remove the tick as soon as possible, by gently wiggling it out of the bite by its head never break off or squeeze the body as the head will stay lodged in skin and might become infected. Do not touch the tick at any stage with bare hands, use tweezers and latex gloves.
Most of the food and drink is perfectly safe, the hygiene standards in Slovakia are the same as elsewhere in Western/Central Europe.
Tap water is drinkable everywhere - according to one study, water used as tap water in the Bratislava-Vienna region is the cleanest in the world. If you prefer mineral waters, you can choose from a multitude of brands, since Slovakia has quite possibly the highest number of natural mineral water springs per capita.
The High Tatras might not be the biggest or the most tallest mountain range, but some trails may feature strenuous climbs, rocky terrain, and the weather may prove unpredictable. Take proper gear, do not overestimate your abilities, and use common sense.
If you decide to swim in the local rivers/natural pools/lakes, as many locals do, remember that unless expressly stated otherwise, these activities are not supervised by a life guard, and you are doing so at your own risk.
The standard of health care is quite high, but the language barrier might be a problem as not many doctors speak English. However, this should not be a problem in major towns, which have a FakultnÃ¡ nemocnica.
There are no over-the-counter drugs sold in Slovakia in supermarkets or drug stores, you will need to head to a pharmacy even if you just need an aspirin. In even smaller cities, there should be one open 24/7. Look out for the nearest green cross sign - even if this particular pharmacy is closed, a sign in the door will point you towards the nearest open one. If you need a specific medicine, make sure you have your prescription ready as many drugs require it.
The official and most widely-spoken language is Slovak. Slovaks are very proud of their language, and thus, even in Bratislava you will not find many signs written in English outside of the main tourist areas. Also, most older people except some in Bratislava are unable to converse in English, but most of them knows Russian; most young people speak at least some English, as it has been taught in most schools since 1990. Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible, yet distinctive languages at first, one might think they are dialects of each other.
Slovak is written using the same Roman characters that English uses with some added accents or diacritics, so Western travellers won't have any trouble reading signs and maps. While some words are tongue twisters, the knowledge of the alphabet including the letters with diacritics will go a long way as Slovaks pronounce every letter of a word with accent always on the first syllable but it may be on second syllable in some dialects in east.
Since the territory of Slovakia was under Hungarian influence for centuries, there is a significant Hungarian-speaking minority of 9.7%. Most of the Hungarians live in southern regions of the country and some of them speak no Slovak. Other Slovaks however normally do not speak or understand the Hungarian language.
While you can make do with English and German in Bratislava, in smaller towns and villages your only chance is trying to approach younger people that speak some English. Older residents may know some German. People born between 1935 and 1980 will have learned Russian in school, though few Slovaks will appreciate being spoken to in Russian as this language has some negative connotations due to the Communist era. Due to the significant tourism growth in the North and the East of Slovakia, English is becoming more widely used and you may try Polish. Other Slavic languages, especially Russian, Serbian, Croatian, and Slovene may also work. In the east Rusyn, a Ukrainian dialect close to Polish is spoken. It is also intelligible with Russian to some extent. Attempts to speak Slovak will be very appreciated.
If you speak the international language Esperanto, you can take advantage of the network of Esperanto delegates scattered across Slovakia.
Slovaks are friendly and peaceful people living in a free democratic state. There is not a single issue that would provoke hostility or real trouble. Usually the worst thing that could happen is that you would be thought a bit boorish and the history explained to you over another beer. However, it pays to be respectful and sensitive when discussing certain topics.
Remember that Slovakia is a separate nation that has been independent since 1993 when Czechoslovakia split into the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic. It is also a 'young nation', as for most of its history it was a part of other multinational states such as Austria-Hungary or Czechoslovakia. Therefore, some people may be sensitive when it comes to nationality issues. There is no hostility or resentment when it comes to the Velvet divorce that split Czechoslovakia, and the two nations remain very amicable. Do not refer to Slovakia as a part of another state and you should be fine.
Slovakia's position during WWII was quite complex, and this topic is best avoided when speaking to nationalists. Similarly, the decades of Communism left its mark on the country and this can be a sensitive topic. Slovakia, while formerly a part of the Soviet bloc, has never been a part of the USSR or the Russian Empire. Please remember this.
Out of the more current issues, the relations with the Roma/Gypsy minority are sometimes strained and people may hold strong views on the subject. Do not venture into a debate unless you are intimately acquainted with the problem.
Slovaks are quite hospitable, and if they invite you into their home, expect to be well looked after and offered a variety of food and drinks. If you are invited in for lunch, expect a 2-3 course meal just as for dinner, as lunch is traditionally the main meal of the day. It is considered polite to bring a small gift for the host, such as a bottle of wine or good spirit, a box of chocolates, or a small bouquet of flowers. Never money.
Most people do not use their outdoor shoes inside for hygienic reasons, so take your shoes off in the hallway when entering somebody's home. Don't worry, they will find you a spare pair of slippers to keep your feet warm.
When dining in a restaurant with the host's family, it is customary for them to pick the bill. This might not happen, but don't be surprised if they do.
When being introduced to or meeting someone, even of the opposite sex, and even for the first time, it is not uncommon to kiss each other on the cheek once or twice depending on the region instead of shaking hands. It is not common between two males, but is quite normal for women. Do not be alarmed, and remember that this is not a sexual gesture.
The international calling code for Slovakia is +421.
In case of an emergency, call the universal number 112. You can also call directly on 150 for fire brigade, 155 in a medical emergency or 158 for the police.
Slovak phones operate on the GSM standard, which covers most of the country, and 3G is also becoming increasingly widespread. The coverage is surprisingly good, and you will often have signal even in mountain areas, unless you are in a deep ravine. There are three main operators - Orange, T-mobile and O2, and they all use 900 or 1800Mhz standard, which might not be compatible with some U.S. phones operating on 1900Mhz.
They all offer a variety of prepaid cards with various "pay as you go" schemes some market research is advised, if you want the best deal and incentives. If you have an unlocked phone, these are easy to pick up in any phone shop, or you can purchase a cheap phone with a prepaid card included.
There are still some phone boxes available, but with mobile phones now commonplace, they are declining in number. Also note that you might need to purchase a prepaid card to use some of them.
Wifi and broadband can be found more or less everywhere, and there will be an internet cafe/gaming room available somewhere even in smaller towns. Also, hostels, pubs, cafes, and some public institutions such as libraries or government buildings offer usually free wifi.
Mobile internet is available from 6 â¬ / month via O2 provider or 3G prepaid mobile internet at 10-15â¬ for 5 GB. Broadband internet is available in most of the cities and some villages, prices depend on a location, in bigger cities you can get internet as cheap as 16â¬ per 100 Mbit/s downstream and 4 Mbit/s upstream from Orange or slower from T-com or UPC.