One of the destinations that has charmed me more than I could ever imagine is Bratislava.
Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, came as a surprise to me about how interesting it was and how lovely the people were. I travelled to the capital after visiting Vienna with my family and spent three days exploring the city.
- Bratislava borders two countries, Austria to the west and Hungary to the south – it is the only capital that borders two sovereign states.
- Bratislava was the capital of Hungary from 1536 to 1784.
- It has a clash of old and communist – having the largest Panelák (panel building) communist housing blocks in the world.
- Are you a fan of “Talk Like a Pirate Day”? In Slovakia, you don’t have to wait until September 19th since the term ahoj (pronounced “ahoy”) is actually a common greeting in Slovakia.
Somewhat famous in North America because of the film EuroTrip, the city was showcased as being rural, backwards, and ugly. In reality, the city is a bustling centre with a unique atmosphere of cozy cafes, bars, and restaurants. What I love most is the fact that there seems to be so much life outdoors. Almost every café seems to have an outdoor seating section that draws in a large crowd, so exploring the downtown core is an exciting and vibrant experience.
One of my favourite things to do (if not my favourite) is walking down the streets of old European towns. I love walking down the narrow, cobble-stone roads and viewing the beautiful architecture of the old houses and buildings. Taking a stroll down Bratislava’s oldest street Kapitulska str. is absolutely stunning. Records of the street date back to the early 13th century. The history of the city is evident everywhere you look, from St. Martin’s Cathedral to the Albrecht House, the former home of composer Alexander Albrecht. This road leads to the narrowest street Bastova str. that has well preserved some of its medieval charm. While wandering through the Old Town, there are so many historical buildings that catch my eye. Michael’s Gate (the only city gate that has been preserved) is one of these stunning sights that sneak up on you.
Getting a view over the city to fully capture the growth of the capital over time and the various highlights, is an absolute must. There are two places where you can get a great view, the first being Bratislava Castle as it is located high up on a hill overlooking the rest of the city. But in my opinion, going up the UFO tower located on the edge of the Danube River above the MOST SNP or UFO Bridge. Its observation deck is easily the best place to see the city in its entirety – including the castle.
If you happen to visit in the winter, the city is blessed with a lovely Christmas market (if a city has a good Christmas market, I will find it). The Christmas market here is quainter than that of neighbouring Vienna, but the atmosphere here is perfectly that of Bratislava – cozy, warm, and friendly.
Food and Drink:
The food and prices in general are a lot more reasonable in Bratislava than in other EU countries. So do not be hesitant to eat out and enjoy the restaurants, cafés, and bars in the city.
Some traditional foods that are always worth a taste when visiting include Bratislavsky rozok, a sweet crescent-shaped pasty with a poppyseed or walnut filling, and Bryndzové halušky, potato dumplings in a creamy sheep cheese sauce, sprinkled with pieces of smoked pork.
Most of the traditional foods are not vegan friendly, however Bratislava has a lot to offer vegetarians and vegans alike. I recommend checking out the restaurants listed on Happy Cow, as there is a wide range of restaurants offering various cuisines.
As for drinks, I love having a glass of Slovakian white wine. The Small Carpathian Region, located in Slovakia, is a winemakers dream! Try one of the local tasty wines at restaurants and bars around the city. I recommend Viecha, a small wine bar that offers delicious Slovakian wine at great prices. There are also plenty of local microbreweries in the city centre that are worth a visit. One of my favourites is Zámocký Pivovar. If you are not a big fan of alcohol, I also recommend trying Kofola, a drink similar to Coca Cola, but cooler because it is Slovakian!
Things to do:
- Bratislava has a very charming medieval inner city with winding streets. There is so much to see by just taking a walk through the Old Town.
- Bratislava Castle is located on a hill and offers some spectacular views of the city and the Danube River. It also houses exhibits of the Slovak National Museum.
- Speaking of the Danube River, you can take a stroll along the river (or cycle!). Bratislava actually connects to the EuroVelo route 6, so if you are into cycling you can cycle all the way to the Atlantic Ocean in Nantes, France or the Black Sea in Constanta, Romania.
- Get out of the city and take an adventure to Devin Castle (hrad Devín), located about 10km from the city centre. The castle is one of the oldest in Slovakia and was first mentioned in literature in 864.
- There are tons of churches and palaces in the city centre. Some of my favourites to check out include: St. Martin’s Cathedral (Dóm sv. Martina), St. Clare’s Church (Kostol karisiek), and the Marbach and Pálffy palaces (also home to the Bratislava City Gallery).
- If museums are your thing, Bratislava has a lot of them! From the Bratislava City Museum (Mestske Muzeum) and the Slovak National Gallery (Slovenska narodna galeria) to the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum and the Museum of Clocks, there is something for everyone.
You can fly directly to Bratislava and Ryanair operates a large number of flights to the Bratislava Airport. However, you can also fly into the Vienna International Airport (Wien Schwechat), which is almost just as convenient as it is just a mere 40km from Bratislava. From Vienna, there are a large number of buses and trains that travel between the two cities (note: there is no direct train from the Vienna Airport to Bratislava, you will have to make a connection).
You can also take a number of trains or buses into the city from all over Europe. Depending on where you are coming from and how much travel time you have, these might be your cheapest options.
When I visited Bratislava, I picked up my mom and grandma at the airport in Vienna and carried on to the city via train. The trip from Vienna was just about an hour and cost us about 10 Euros per person. The first thing that happened after arriving to the train station really set the tone for our entire time in Slovakia. Upon exiting the train, we were following the crowd of people heading towards the stairs off the platform when a young Slovakian man came and asked my grandma if he could help her by carrying her bags down the stairs. He not only carried her bags down this first flight of stairs by the platform, but also waited at the next set by the exit to help her again. A small gesture of kindness, but it really alluded to how pleasant our entire trip would be.
Where to stay:
We stayed at the Botel Marina, an old river cruise boat transformed into a hotel. The rooms were rather cozy, but the price and location were perfect for us. No matter your budget, Bratislava has many options that can suit anyone’s fancy.
Bratislava is definitely a walking city. The city centre is a pedestrian area and it is very easy to walk from one side of the centre to the other (my grandma had no issues walking around each day in 30+C heat). Because the centre is so condensed and there are lots of things to take in, I recommend walking as much as you can. There are also free walking tours that take you on an informative adventure throughout the old town.
The Bratislava Card is a 1 to 3 day card that provides tourists with an opportunity to experience the best of Bratislava and the Bratislava Region. Some benefits of this card include: unlimited travel on public transportation, a free 1-hour walking city tour, free admission to 12 museums and galleries, and a ton of other discounts. The price of the card is 15 Euros for 1 day, 17 Euros for 2 days, and 19 Euros for 3 days.
I would also recommend taking the city buses over taxis. I have heard of cases where not taking a registered taxi has led to people having to pay pretty hefty fees. The buses are cheap and ticket prices range from 0.70 Euros for 15 minutes to a 7 day ticket for 11.40 Euros – note that you have to purchase tickets before you enter the bus, tram, or trolleybus.
- If you plan on visiting Bratislava, taking a short trip to Vienna is cheap and easy. The two cities are very different and there are easy and convenient means of transportation between the two. Not to mention Budapest, Brno, Győr, Sopron, are all within 2 hours.
- Ice hockey is the national sport of Slovakia. Check out if there are any matches happening when you visit!
- Don’t be afraid to adventure outside the Old Town. There are some really great places to explore, such as Devin Castle or Zlaté Piesky, a popular local lake, are located outside of the city centre.