Exploring Bardejov, Slovakia: A UNESCO Gem

Are you looking for an under-the-radar town in Slovakia that is an easy day trip from Košice? Then take a bus or train to beautiful Bardejov.

I loved my day trip to this fortified medieval town in north-eastern Slovakia, one of the country’s eight UNESCO-listed properties. It is jam-packed with attractive buildings, has a rich history and was one of the friendliest places I visited in Eastern Europe.

Curious to find out more? Discover why you should put Bardejov on your Slovakia bucket list, what to see and how to get there.

wooden sculpture of two women standing back to back

A brief history of Bardejov, Slovakia

With a history dating back to 1241, Bardejov is one of the oldest Slovak towns. It flourished after the arrival of German colonists and the decision of Louis I in 1376 to grant Bardejov the status of a free royal borough.

Thanks to its strategic location along a trade route that stretched across the Carpathian Mountains, it developed into an important medieval town. Bardejov prospered under Hungarian and Polish rule, gaining prominence as a centre for trade, craftsmanship and culture.

The town’s golden age ended in the 16th Century, when it fell victim to wars, pandemics and fires. Its fortunes improved in the early 18th Century with a large influx of Slovaks and Hasidic Jews.

Bardejov has one of the most beautiful market squares in Europe

cobbled main square in bardejov in slovakia with pretty gabled houses and basilica

Bardejov is famous for its Gothic cityscape, developed during its medieval heyday, Nowhere is this more evident than its show-stopping main square, Radničné naméstie.

I’ve strolled around many squares across Europe but few had the wow factor of this one in Bardejov. Rows of pastel-coloured burgher houses, some adorned with frescoes, line three sides of this perfect rectangular square.

frescos on the exterior of a yellow painted buildings in bardejov
frescos on the exterior of a grey painted buildings in bardejov

Most of these 46 houses served as trading places and many still bear intricate stone carvings above their entrance portal. Make a beeline for the friendly Tourist Information Office at number 21 for helpful sightseeing advice and a free map.

The graceful former Town Hall occupies a prime position at the centre of the square. This Gothic-Renaissance building dates from the early 16th century and now houses an exposition dedicated to Bardejov’s history.

wooden sculpture of a guard by the doorway of the old town hall in bardejov

As was the case back in the day, the town’s major streets radiated from the square. In the Middle Ages, the square held market fairs a tradition upheld to the present day.

Bardejov’s much-photographed bronze executioner statue is at the square’s southern end.

Back in the day, the town had an uncompromising stand against crime. It was not unusual for people to be hanged for pretty crimes and decapitation was considered milder and less shameful than hanging.

bronze sculpture of an executioner with axe and block

Discovering Bardejov’s spiritual heart

fresco of jesus with crown of thorns

The northern side is Radničné naméstie is occupied by the town’s Gothic parish church, the Basilica Minor of St. Giles. Dating from 1415, this extraordinary church is an architectural feast.

I loved the basilica’s eleven Gothic winged altars and carved wooden pews.

wooden sculpture of a lion on a pew in the basilica in bardejov slovakia
ensemble of painted wooden sculptures of angels and saints
Altar of The Nativity

I confess that I chickened out of the church tower climb. Although it reportedly offers fabulous views of Bardejov, access is via an extremely narrow and steep stone spiral staircase.

Walking along Bardejov’s town walls

sculpture of a soldeir with a spear next to wall in bardejov slovakia

Bardejov was protected by one of Central Europe’s most advanced fortification systems.

In its medieval glory days, the town’s defensive system consisted of 23 bastions and a double ring of stone defensive walls surrounded by a water-filled moat. Three gates led to Bardejov: the Lower Gate, the Upper Gate (Salt Gate) and the smaller Water Gate.

Today, nine of these bastions have been preserved in their original state and a further two have been incorporated into newer buildings. Two gates remain and large sections of its defensive walls have been reconstructed.

bastion and remnants of bardejov's defensive walls
one of the defensive towers with a red tile roof along bardejov city walls

It’s one of the best remaining examples of medieval town fortifications in Europe, sometimes referred to as Slovak Carcassonne. Walking along these defensive walls was one of my favourite things to do in Bardejov.

Bardejov has a park dedicated to John Lennon

house with the signflower power and lyrics to beatles songs

Architectural splendour notwithstanding, this was my top sight during my day in Bardejov, discovered during my yomp along the town’s walls (I’m a huge Beatles fan). There are stones bearing album titles and names of the band members.

memorial stones to the beatles in bardejov slovakia

John Lennon Street and John Lennon Park are the creations of a local superfan, Pavol Zajac. Beatles fans come here to commemorate the assassination of John Lennon on December 8th each year.

Exploring Bardejov’s Jewish heritage

Though no Jews live in Bardejov anymore, 5,000 Jewish people lived here before World War II, comprising nearly 40% of the town’s population.

Bardejov has retained a small Jewish quarter, centred around the Bikur Cholim synagogue. Established in 1829, it has kept the original furnishings in its sanctuary, making it one of the most authentically preserved synagogues in Slovakia.

whitewashed exterior of synagogue with gothic type windows and hebrew lettering

How I visited Bardejov from Košice

I travelled from Košice to Bardejov by train. This scenic journey takes two hours with a change of train at Prešov.

interior of slovak train with rows of red seats
The local train to Bardejov

The train from Prešov to Bardejov moved at a stately pace through the heart of the bucolic Slovak countryside. One station was literally in the middle of a field.

This is agricultural land with small settlements, rolling hills, forests and the occasional curious deer. For the most part, the journey was along a single track with signalling of the human kind – i.e. a man holding up a large paddle board saying “go”. I kid you not.

You can check train times here.

Alternatively, Flixbus will take you from Košice to Bardejov in 75 minutes.

Enjoy your day trip to Bardejov!

It was one of the prettiest towns I visited during my trip through Central and Eastern Europe.

If you have found this article helpful, take a look at my other guides to travel in Slovakia:

Happy travels!

medieval main square in bardejov viewed through two arches
bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.

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