It was back in April 2016 that I first decided to visit Slovakia, a relatively small country in Central Europe. Slovakia’s capital Bratislava, I feel, has been largely overshadowed by the nearby more popular cities of Vienna, Budapest and Prague. This means it’s rather off the beaten path for most European travelers.
My knowledge of the country before I went was minimal, not stretching further than a couple of historical tidbits about its positioning during World War II, or its status as one half of a Soviet satellite state called Czechoslovakia. Since that’s pretty much where my knowledge ended, it meant that I had very few expectations before going. That’s my favourite kind of trip.
What I found in Bratislava did not disappoint. Smaller than a lot of European capitals, what it lacked in size it made up for in character. I felt that there was not only quite a lot to do, but it was also the perfect place to do nothing and sometimes that’s just as good. Bratislava has a lot of the same features as lot of central European countries – a charming old town with cobbled streets and beautiful architecture, surrounded by communist-era tower blocks and Soviet displays of power. But it’s this mix of old meets new which defines this countries troubled past and makes Bratislava a fascinating place to visit.
This post will give you a brief rundown of my time in this fascinating country, as well as a bit of practical information for planning your own visit.
Things to do in Bratislava:
This isn’t an exhaustive list, or a particularly well ordered one, but it does list a lot of the cool things that Bratislava has to offer.
Get to the top of Most SNP (the UFO Bridge)
This ugly Soviet monstrosity is a road bridge across the Danube and the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge to have one pylon. It was extremely controversial in its construction, since it led to a large section of the Old Town being demolished, including almost all of the Jewish quarter. You can get an elevator up to the UFO shaped observation deck and restaurant which offers good views over the city.
Explore the charming streets of the Old Town
Comparatively, it’s a very small old town, but the narrow streets are very charming. Here you can stumble upon St. Martin’s Cathedral, the Town Hall, the Slovak National Theater, the Primatial Palace and many sites with fascinating histories. The Cathedral, for instance, was the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary for almost 300 years.
Visit St. Elizabeth’s – the beautiful Blue Church
Not gonna lie… I get pretty tired walking around average-looking churches when I visit different places across Europe. But there are some churches which are unique enough to warrant a visit – the beautifully blue St. Elizabeth’s in Bratislava is one such church. Apart from the obvious, what makes this church stand out? It’s surrounded by grey abandoned soviet-era architecture.
Check out the Soviet architecture
Speaking of Soviet architecture, Bratislava is full of it. While far from remarkable in itself, taking an overview of the swathes of featureless tower blocks, most notably in the densely populated Petržalka district, is a fascinating comparison to the Old Town featured above.
Hike up the castle and take in the view
You can’t miss the Castle – it’s big, white and rectangular. Apparently it can be seen as far away as the Austrian border too. It offers some brilliant views across the city and the Danube too.
Stroll along the Danube
Sure, you can stroll along the Danube in Budapest and Vienna, but from my experience, it is Bratislava that offers the quieter option. And the cheaper option, if we’re comparing those cities as a whole.
Stumble upon Bratislava’s quirky sculptures (and find out the stories behind them)
Bratislava has quite a few quirky sculptures throughout the city. The most famous of these is probably Čumil, the ‘Man at Work’ who you’ll find peeping out of a manhole in the Old Town. After two careless drivers took his head off, a sign has been erected letting everyone know he’s there. Napoleon’s Soldier in the main square, Paparazzi shooting photos around a street corner and Schöner Náci are the other most popular.
Visit the Slavín memorial
Weirdly one of my favourite places in the city, especially since I arrived at sunset and got a cracking view over the castle. This memorial is the burial ground for the thousands of Russian soldiers who died liberating the city from German occupation during WWII. It’s an interesting walk to the memorial, especially since it’s situated in a very rich area filled with villas and embassy residences.
Get a drink at the top of the Kamzik TV Tower
Another Soviet-era monstrosity, this TV tower now has an observation deck and a revolving restaurant from which you can get some decent views across the city. The restaurant is actually pretty reasonably priced for the quality of the food and the location. The tower is situated in Bratislava Forest Park and it’s a pretty nice walk to get to it and on a clear day, you can see Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
What else? Take a day trip!
Bratislava’s brilliant location means that there are loads of decent day trips you can take from the city. I took 3 myself! The ruins of the Devin Castle stand on the Austrian and Slovakian border, situated on a cliff high above the Danube, while Vienna is only an hour bus ride away. If you want to experience another Slovakian town, I’d recommend a trip to Nitra, which is only 75 minutes by bus. I’ll write another post describing these day trips in more depth shortly.
Costs, accommodation & all that spiel…
Bratislava is cheap. Cheap to get to, cheap to stay in, cheap to eat, drink and be merry. We got out return flights from London for under £50, while our private apartment was about £10 a night through airbnb. You can easily get a meal and drink for around £5, while a pint will cost you about £1.10. The bus to Vienna was under £5, while the bus to Nitra was even cheaper. It’s just a very affordable place.
The word underrated is banded about far too often in the travel blogging community. Not everything that isn’t very popular is underrated, sometimes it’s just a bit shit. That’s not the case with Bratislava. It’s a great place to spend a few days and with many of the same attractions as other European cities, albeit often on a smaller scale, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Considering you can do all this for a fraction of the cost that it’d be invoked in other cities across Europe – what are you waiting for?
If you’ve been to Bratislava, I’d be fascinated to hear what you think.