Whether to go on a trip with a guide or without, why go on a chimney tour, how to get to know the city while taking the tram, or get to know the medieval Košice in the shadow of its walls.
In Košice (and elsewhere) we have the best local guides
On Sunday mornings, Košice experiences an invasion of Polish tourists. We always look forward to it. You can recognize their groups by guides dressed in red or because they speak Polish.
One in a red uniform booked me as a guide across Košice a few years ago. While the group listened, he took detailed notes. The next Sunday, he guided the group on his own. I have nothing against it, but they could have gotten an even better tour.
There are significant benefits to going on a tour with a local guide. It’s a walking update. They know which street is currently closed, for how long, and for what reason. They will give you advice on which show not to miss in the theater because they saw all the performances, they were at vernissages, and concerts… They know everything that is happening on a given day because they follow the local news. They have experienced more recent events from the local history firsthand, so they are authentic. They also know about the city’s plans, events, and visions, so that they will invite you for another visit. They know the opening hours of all the cool spots and where to shop for good quality products. Even if they don’t know something, they know who to call to find out.
A good guide will show the Hungarians their history (Rákóczi and Márai), the Poles theirs (Ján Pavol II, Alžbeta Piastowska, …), and the Czechs their first Republic’s gains… They will do a different tour for an international congress, a bus full of pensioners, a different one for company team building, and a more playful one for a group of kindergartens. A local guide is friends with churchmen, guides, building managers, receptionists. This allows them to take you to places that you would not find on Lonely Planet or Google.
I know that a few tens of euros for a city tour may seem a bit high, especially for a family. Finding something on the internet and then looking for it around the city is also an option. Better than nothing. But a local guide will give you a different experience. In addition to being an expert, they are often a local enthusiast whose attitude is contagious.
Alternative tour without a guide
You can also go on a city tour on your own. It has its charm, and one does not even have to be an introvert. In his short story White Nights, the Russian writer Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky did the same in St. Petersburg: “I know the houses too. As I walk along, they seem to run forward in the streets to look out at me from every window and almost to say: ‘Good morning! How do you do? I am quite well, thank God, and I am to have a new story in May,’ or, ‘How are you? I am being redecorated tomorrow;’ or, ‘I was almost burnt down and had such a fright,’ and so on. I have my favorites among them; some are dear friends; one of them intends to be treated by the architect this summer. I shall go every day on purpose to see that the operation is not a failure.” Well, you can talk to houses (trees and other objects) if you wander alone. And to make it easier for you, I have a few tips for you.
1. Take a chimney tour
According to the cult book, KSC code from Východné pobrežie, chimneys represent a new kind of monumentality. They stand tall and highlight industrial points on the horizon – those in the city center now without smoke effects. For example, the chimney of the Košice brewery (65.3 m) was preserved during the reconstruction, which took place in 2007 – 2012. The chimney is also visible in the logo of the Cassovar residence, named after the brand of beer produced there at the time.
You can discover the foundations of a chimney on the premises of the Technical University. It is a remnant of a liqueur factory from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, of which it was a part. Another chimney protrudes from the courtyard of the Old Town Hall, and another beautifies the premises of the Old Hospital complex, which was completed in 1924. It is a national cultural monument.
However, the highest chimney in the territory of Košice is to be found in the former magnesite processing plant (115 m). Two 100-meter chimneys in the heating plant, the wide chimney of the U.S. Steel gas tank (112 m), and other local chimneys (111 m and 3 x 102 m) are still functional today.
The high-altitude champion (the tallest building in Slovakia) is an anchored steel mast of the Dubník transmitter (1961), 318 meters high.
2. Take a ride in a historic tram
You can ride around the city in a historic tram on a pre-agreed route on the occasion of any celebration, teambuilding, or high school reunion. It is especially suitable for those who have not been in Košice for a long time and/or forgot to walk; they prefer to drive. The Transport Company, which has been in Slovakia since 1891, will help you choose the type of tram that will fit everyone. The fair price includes the driver and the fact that you can tell which stop you want to board or get off.
Call the Transport Company of the City of Košice, 055-6407407, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. 130 years of the hop-on-hop-off tour in Košice
In cities where tourism is booming, the hop-on-hop-off buses circulate on attractive routes. You can hop on them at any stop and see everything important from the city and listen to the guide over the headphones.
In Košice, a cheaper alternative to the above is to take tram number 2 (I recommend sitting in the direction of travel and on the left side). Number 2 goes through the most spectacular route, on which you will travel back in time by a century. Starting from The University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy and moving onto Komenského Street, it copies the historic first route from 1891. You will be disturbed from the monotonous straight ride to Marathon Square by a gentle or perhaps more forceful turn to the left, which reveals something about the driver’s temperament. At this point, you will see the Division and East Slovak Museum buildings, between which the tram has stopped. Soon you spot see Main Street.
On Hviezdoslavova Street, you will have time to look at the Art Nouveau building of the Old Town Hall with a clock (on the right side). Then, you will go around the former riding hall – the Sports Hall. Then the tram will quickly swing along Kuzmányho Street, but sometimes, it will offer you momentary views of the city center or the building with the largest post office hall in Slovakia.
It will turn away from the police station, which is based in the two-building building on the corner of Kuzmányho – Moyzesova Streets and provide you a view of the House of Arts when it stops at the next traffic light. Towards the end, it offers a stunning view of St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral. Aupark, especially with its tower, will make you assume that Košice is a big city. The railway station is the final stop, but it is only the beginning of another journey for many.
I hope that one day someone will lend headphones or create an application from which, according to GPS points, the visitors could learn something about the route of this Košice hop-on hop-off tram for the price of a public transport ticket.
4. Walk around the medieval city in the shadow of its walls
Looking at the map of Košice, the city center is bordered by an oval, which copies the walls in the plan. Walk around their perimeter, i.e., below them. You will see them in some places, but you will have to imagine them in most of them. Start in front of the State Scientific Library (Hlavná 10) and head to Vrátná Street, which is curved precisely because it copies the castle wall. It stretched to your left in the 13th – 19th centuries until it gradually got demolished, as the city needed to expand and its artillery got better. In this area, houses have been built on the walls.
Then you cross Alžbetina Street, noticing that a strip of irregular tiles shows the floor plan in the pavement on the sidewalks. It was in those places that the Western (Jozefská) gate of the city fortifications stood. The bridge leading to it is visible – to make it clearer, water flows under it in the summer.
Continue along the increasingly more narrow Vrátná Street and on your right. You will pass the market on Dominican Square until you can see the original torso of a 13th-century castle wall with shooting ranges on Baštová Street.
You will continue by crossing Poštová and then across the Baštová to Zbrojničná Street, and after turning right, you will find yourself in front of the Secondary Industrial School of Transport. The Upper (Northern) gate of the city stood here. Once again, you will discover the marked floor plan of the fortification walls in the paving on Main Street. Then head to Kasárenské Square, where you will see wall pieces to the right of the Kino Úsmev.
Continue to Kováčská because, in this area, it is not possible to go directly along the former walls. You will find them on Hrnčiarská Street. You continue past the Calvinist church, which stands on the site of the Painted Gate. Then head further towards Mlynská Street, where the Mlynská gate stood and then the curved Zvonárská street to the Main Street to the so-called Lower gate, which is already an underground museum, where you can finish your walk.
So you managed to get around medieval Košice in three-quarters of an hour and locate all five in this city gates. You can see what the triple fortifications looked like and the guilds that protected the bastions, in the Craft House on Hrnčiarská Street, to the left of the Calvinist Church.