Even if I’ve never been a big fan of the city I’d had a big sentiment for Bratislava. That’s where I randomly ended up on my first solo trip, a month before I turned 18. It was also the very first destination where I was all on my own, and managed just fine. I was visiting a friend in the nearby capital of Austria and went for a day trip from Vienna to Bratislava before heading back home to Poland. Since then I’ve returned to the city couple of times but always these were just quick, few hours stays on the way to some other destination in Slovakia. Yet I never really connected with the place, didn’t feel this kind of intriguing sparkle that make me fall for the cities.
This has changed last June, when I was returning from my Interrail trip to Romania and Bulgaria. It was a hot Sunday, the weather was more than perfect and as the train was approaching Bratislava central station I could see the city that looked so inviting and nothing than I remembered from my previous visits! It just seemed that the capital of Slovakia has turned into another cool and hip Central European city. On that day I only focused on exploring the amazing Bratislava cafe scene but these few hours made me want to rediscover the city. I promised myself to come back there , to spend more time there, discover best things to do in Bratislava and to give it a proper chance. And so I did, only 3 months later.
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Bratislava – a perfect day trip from Vienna or more?
I wasn’t the luckiest one with the weather this time. It was the weekend in the middle of September and as soon as I arrived on Friday evening it started raining. The next day was all grey and gloomy but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the city. The majority of people visit Bratislava as the day trip from Vienna, giving it just a brief look and focusing only on the major attractions of the Old Town. And while it’s really lovely, with cobbled narrow streets and the castle towering above the city, most of the tourists are disappointed with Bratislava. True, the capital of Slovakia might be not as amazing as Vienna, Prague, Budapest or even nearby Brno (one of the 52 places to go in 2016 by New York Times) or not as cool as Kosice – second biggest city in Slovakia and 2013 European Capital of Culture – but it definitely has its moments and you only need to give Bratislava a chance and let the city surprise you!
The Old Town in Bratislava is really small but oh so charming! The maze of lanes, the beautiful architecture typical for Central Europe, the numerous cafes, restaurants and quirky sculptures. That’s also where most of the people visiting Bratislava as a day trip from Vienna start and end their encounter with the city, without venturing any further. That might be the biggest mistake one can do in Bratislava! Admiring the fine houses, palaces and churches or strolling the lanes and getting lost in them might be a big pleasure but that’s not all the city has to offer! I really liked the Old Town in Bratislava, not only it’s picture-perfect but also has some great hidden cool spots like great cafes, Stara Trznica or Galeria Nedbalka. But while I didn’t really feel any vibe there it took me just few steps further, beyond the Old Town to see the real face of Bratislava. And I enjoyed it so much more!
The center of Bratislava is a peculiar mix of architecture. Modernist town houses stand next to the Soviet blocks, modern buildings neighbor with those remembering Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Few streets seem to be forgotten but at the same time they feel the most authentic. And in the middle of that a structure like from a fairy tale – Blue Church – can be found. It’s really hard to define Bratislava, the city is a little bit of everything and that blend makes it so special. While the Old Town was dominated by the tourists, beyond it I’ve seen only locals. The life seemed to go slow there (could be the weekend or could be the fact that Bratislava is not such a big city, barely over 400.000 inhabitants), no one rushed and people just seemed to be happy there. I think that was the crucial point that made me change my perception of the city.
Even if I’ve spent the whole weekend in Bratislava I still feel like I haven’t seen and experienced all I should. I didn’t go to the other side of Danube river, to Petrzalka – one of the largest borough in Europe. I didn’t go to Slavin – a Soviet memorial. I didn’t have a chance to enjoy the local wine and explore the surroundings of Bratislava (including Devin castle). But that all means I need to return there as there’s still plenty to see and do for me. It took me some 7 visits to Bratislava to finally notice the real face of the city and now I just want to experience more and more of it. Don’t make my mistake, give Bratislava a proper chance right away and don’t visit it only as a day trip from Vienna! And if my words are not enough be sure to check Megan’s 5 reasons why Bratislava doesn’t suck.
And here is a little cheat sheet when you visit Bratislava!
What to see and do in Bratislava
- Explore the Old Town with St. Martin’s Cathedral, the Town Hall, the Slovak National Theatre and Primatial Palace
- Hike up to the castle
- Wander aimlessly around the cute charming streets – some of the most picturesque are Michalska, Biela, Kapitulska or Panska
- Admire the beautiful blue church – St. Elizabeth’s
- Relax in the park behind Grassalkovich Palace – a home to Slovakia’s President
- Look around for quirky sculptures like Cumil
- Enjoy the Danube riverside with the UFO bridge
- Track down the Soviet architecture, with world’s largest post office and the gem of brutalism architecture – Slovak Radio Building
- Chill out at one of the many great cafes
- Just enjoy this great city
How to get to Bratislava
Bratislava airport is served by Ryanair among couple of other airlines, you can fly there from 20 destinations in 8 countries. Much bigger Vienna airport is located only 40kms away from the capital of Slovakia and is well connected with the city. There’re regular daily trains from Bratislava to Vienna (every hour), Prague (every 2 hours), Berlin (3 direct trains), Budapest (6 direct trains) and Warsaw (2 direct trains).
Where to stay in Bratislava
This time I’ve opted for something better than usual and stayed in 4* Lindner Hotel Gallery Central. And it was really good and comfortable, well worth its price (rooms start at 69€ – very decent price for this quality) and with some amazing views over the city. The hotel was located slightly away from the Old Town – for some it could be the downside, I found it a great opportunity to see some regular areas of Bratislava and observe how life goes by there. Also, there’s a big shopping center attached to Lindner Hotel so if you need to go for a shopping spree you’re in the very right place. For a quality weekend in Bratislava I can’t think of a better place to stay in! Check out the prices and details here (click!)
Have you visited Bratislava (and was it a day trip from Vienna or a longer time spent in the city)? Do you give second chances to places? Would you like to visit Slovakia?
If you think of visiting Slovakia look what else I wrote about the country:
- Visit Kosice – a perfect city break destination in Europe
- Banska Stiavnica – one of the most beautiful towns in Europe
- Top 5 places to visit in Slovakia
- and more!
Disclaimer: My stay at Lindner Hotel Gallery Central was made possible by Slovakia.Travel, but I paid for the rest of the trip (and previous trips) to Bratislava myself. As usual, all opinions expressed above are my own.
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