Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
Slovakia’s third largest city of Žilina is home to its second most successful football club since independence in 1993. MŠK Žilina won six titles in ten years between 2002 and 2012, reaching the group stages of the Champions League and former UEFA Cup on one occasion each.
The Yellow-Greens also made three cup finals in a row, winning one, in the double year of 2012. A further league title in 2017 sealed Žilina’s special provincial status just as Trnava was beginning the challenge it.
Like Trnava, the city has a long football heritage. MŠK, then just ŠK Žilina, were twice Slovak champions in the 1920s, when only Czech teams were allowed to compete in the Czechoslovak league.
Never able to assert their authority as compatriots Slovan Bratislava and Spartak Trnava could over the big teams from Prague, Žilina then became a big player in the independent Slovak league.
To their advantage has been the all-seater Štadión pod Dubňom, built in 1941 after Slovakia had gained a limited amount of autonomy. Recently, with the rebuilding of the main stadiums in Bratislava and Trnava, and the artificial pitch installed at the ‘Stadium under Dubeň Hill’ in 2016, Žilina lost its status as the de facto home for the Slovak national side.
Over five years or more, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus had all come to Žilina to play qualifying matches, along with Spain. Slovakia’s 2-1 victory over the then European champions in October 2014 is one of the Repre’s great performances, 20 years after the national team’s first international in modern times.
Just before then, Žilina had hosted the U-17 European Championship, both semi-finals and final, where Russia beat Italy on penalties, Slovakia falling at the one from last hurdle.
The ground was also used for AS Trenčín’s home tie with Hull in the Europa League – 2014-15 was the first time since 2006-07 that Žilina weren’t involved in Europe.
The stadium stands the other side of the train station, in a riverside sports complex that also includes the Garmin Aréna for ice hockey, equally popular and successful here.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
The nearest international airport to Žilina is 9km (5.5 miles) north-east of the capital of Bratislava. There is currently no public transport direct from the airport to Žilina 190km (118 miles) away. Trolleybus 61 runs to Bratislava train station (€0.90, every 15-20mins, 25min journey time).
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
Affordable Czech and Slovak beer abounds. On the main square of Mariánske námestie, your first port of call should be the Guinness Pub. Genuinely pub-like, with scarf evidence of Chelsea’s visit in 2010, otherwise decked out in old Slovak beer ads, the GP also features a terrace overlooking the square and a restaurant upstairs. Football on TV, too.
Themed around the comedic duo, Laurel & Hardy becomes a late-night party spot at weekends.
Just off the main square, the Bierhaus Gladiator (Sladkovičova 164/3) is another pub-like venue with an excellent choice of beers (Edelweiss, Starobrno, two types of Zlatý Bažant) and TV football.
Don’t miss the Žilinská piváreň BBC on Makovického, a tremendous local football bar filled with scarves from Ludogorets to Partizan Belgrade, the counter lined with light and dark examples of Belský BBC beer from nearby Belá. The Zina Šport Bar (MR Štefánika 988/12) pumps out loud music but otherwise lacks atmosphere.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the stadium and city centre
The Žilina Tourist Information Office has no hotel information.
Near the stadium, the Holiday Inn is the best hotel in town, with a gym, pool, jacuzzi and tennis court. Its Aquarium Bar by the lobby is handy pre- and post-match, and now serves local ERB craft beer.
Also convenient for the station and stadium, the Hotel Slovan has probably seen better days but the Penzión Central Park in pleasant greenery is a great mid-range choice despite the €18 charged for the use of its spa centre.
Displaying its opening date of 1910 on its stylish façade, the Hotel Grand Žilina offers sauna and watery relaxation a few steps from the main square. Round the corner, mid-range comfort can be found at the Apartments Rákoczi, in a historic house once owned by a Hungarian prince from the early 1700s.
Alongside, by the Bierhaus Gladiator, the Penzión Vix offers five convenient rooms at affordable prices. Even more wallet-friendly, a short stroll from the station, the Penzión Pars feels a world apart, set in its own grounds. The lodgings are modest but perfectly acceptable for a short stay.