The Banská Bystrica Region, the country's largest in terms of area, lies in the southern part of central Slovakia. With its extensive forests and hilly terrain, it is the least densely settled region, with only 70 inhabitants per square kilometre, compared to the Slovak average of 110.
The terrain varies from the rugged Veľká Fatra and the more tame Nízke Tatry in the north, through the rangy hills and valleys of the Štiavnické vrchy around Banská Bystrica, to the agricultural flatlands south of Levice.
The region has three national parks - the Nízke Tatry (Low Tatras), Muránska planina and Slovenský raj (Slovak Paradise) - as well as five protected natural areas (Cerová vrchovina, the Poľana UNESCO biosphere reservation, Ponitrie, Štiavnické vrchy and the Veľká Fatra mountains).
The Banská Bystrica Region has three main rivers flowing through it: the Hron, which is the largest and originates near Telgárt, flowing through the whole region to join the Danube at Štúrovo; and the Ipel, which forms a natural boundary with Hungary.
The Bratislava Region
The region of Bratislava is the country's smallest in terms of area, but its most densely settled and urbanised, with 296 inhabitants per square kilometre, about three times the Slovak average. Bratislava, the capital, had a population of 426,091, or 70 percent of the total inhabitants of the region.
The Bratislava Region is bordered by the Danube to the south and the Morava to the west. It consists of the Záhorie lowlands in the far west of the country and the Podunajská nížina (Danube lowlands) towards the Hungarian south, divided by the heavily forested Malé Karpaty (Small Carpathian mountains) range.
Its strategic location at the junction of the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary has been a key factor in making the Bratislava Region the most prosperous in Slovakia.
The Košice Region
The Košice Region is a largely flat area in the southeast of Slovakia bordering on Ukraine and Hungary. With a population of 773,000, it is the second largest region while with about one third of the total inhabitants of the region, the capital Košice is Slovakia's second largest city and is the industrial anchor of the east of the country.
The terrain consists of two main land systems - the Eastern Slovak Lowlands and the Spiš and Gemer karst. The western part of this hilly area forms the Slovenské rudohorie mountains, known for their ore deposits, while the eastern half, the Slanské mountains divide the region in two.
The largest river in the region is the Bodrog, which starts at the Zemplínska šírava (Zemplín Sea) manmade lake and drains the lowlands south to Hungary; Hornád, which flows from the Spiš area through Margecany and Košice; and the Slaná, which flows south from Rožňava and the western part of the region.
The Nitra Region
The south-central Nitra Region is Slovakia's agricultural heartland. Flatter and warmer than the rest of the country, its soil and terrain are best suited to farming. It is the least forested region in the country, with only 15 percent coverage, and has the largest proportion of ethnic Hungarian residents, or 30 percent.
The main river in the region is the Váh, which flows from Žilina through Piešťany and joins the Danube at Komárno. The Hron, which originates in the Banská Bystrica Region, flows through Levice to join the Danube at Štúrovo.
The Prešov Region
The north-east Prešov Region is Slovakia's most physically spectacular, but poor and sparsely settled as well. It borders on Poland and Ukraine, and contains five national parks. Less than half of the inhabitants of the region live in urban settings.
The main rivers in the region are the Poprad, which flows north through Kežmarok into Poland, and the Topľa, which flows south from the Polish border through Bardejov and Vranov nad Topľou to eventually join the Bodrog into Hungary.
The region is perhaps the richest in terms of manmade lakes, with the Zemplínska šírava resort near Michalovce, the Veľká Domaša reservoir between Vranov and Svidník, and the Starina reservoir in the beautiful Bukovské vrchy (Bukovské hills) north of Stakčín.
The Trenčín Region
The north-west Trenčín Region is a relatively wealthy and developed part of Slovakia, bordering on the Czech Republic. It is hilly but not rugged, and has an unusually high (55 percent) proportion of inhabitants employed in industry, making it the second most heavily industrialised region after Bratislava.
The western part of the region is drained by the Váh, which also forms the main settlement basin; the east lies in the watershed of the Nitra. The Trenčín Region is girdled by highlands - the Biele Karpaty (White Carpathians) and the Myjava hills to the west, the Považský Inovec range to the southeast, and the Strážovské vrchy (Strážov mountains) and Súľovské vrchy (Súľov hills) to the north.
The Trnava Region
The south-west Trnava Region is a strangely shaped body of land that encloses Bratislava Region and borders on the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary.
The southern part of the region, the Podunajská nížina (Danube lowlands), is separated from the Záhorská nížina (Záhorie lowlands) in the north by the Malé Karpaty (Small Carpathian mountains). It is crossed by a number of rivers, including the Morava in the west, the Váh in the centre, and the Malý Dunaj and the Danube in the south.
It is the second smallest region after Bratislava, and the smallest in terms of area. It is also the second most densely settled behind Bratislava. The most heavily populated districts are Trnava, Hlohovec and Piešťany, and the least Senica.
The Žilina Region
The north-west Žilina Region is a rugged area that borders on the Czech Republic and Poland. It includes no fewer than seven mountain ranges: Vysoké a Nízke Tatry (the High and Low Tatras), Veľká a Malá Fatra (the Greater and Lesser Fatras), and the Choč, Javorníky and Strážovské mountains. The region is also dominated by national parks, with 51 percent of its territory under some form of protection, accounting for 30 percent of Slovakia's total protected area.
The mountain ranges are split by several rivers with fertile floodplains, including the Váh, Kysuca, Turiec and Orava. Nevertheless, only 36.5 percent of the Žilina region is agricultural land, while 53 percent is forested.