Famous as the site of the 1944 Slovak rebellion against the Nazis, Banska Bystrica was founded by German colonists in the 13th century as a mining town (banska means "mine"). Today, it's a peaceful town and one of Slovakia's ski centers in winter. In summer, Banska Bystrica—about 100 mi/160 km northeast of Bratislava—makes a good base for hiking the surrounding hills.
Worth seeing any time of year are the town's castles: the Church of Panna Maria, which contains a pretty 16th-century altar dedicated to St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners; the Benicky house, with its ornate arches and emblem; the Town Hall; and SNP square with its 16th-century clock tower. The modernist Muzeum SNP (Slovak National Uprising Museum), one of the city's best sights, commemorates the 1944 insurrection. The Thurzo House, built by wealth from the Thurzo-Fugger Mining Corporation, houses the Central Slovak Museum. We also like to simply walk around this pleasant town. Particularly charming are the bridges across the Hron River and the copper domes on many buildings. There is also a pretty pedestrian zone, lined with old burgher houses painted in soft pastel colors.
From Banska Bystrica, travelers can visit the extensive Demanovska Ice Caves, the national mint and a coin museum in Kremnica, the 15th-century Gothic church in Brusno, a medieval castle at Slovenska Lupca and a Gothic castle at Zvolen, with a collection of European art from the 16th-19th centuries. Nearby spas are at Skelne Teplice, Kovacova and Sliac. Plan a night in Banska Bystrica if you're passing through, two nights if you're seeing regional attractions.