I ended up in Bratislava as a sort of accident. Not the type where you get on the wrong plane or book the wrong tickets, but more as a sort of convenience. I mean, the first situation isn’t that rare for me – once I booked gig tickets for Nottingham instead of Northampton, seemingly thinking they were the same place (reader: they are not). But going to Bratislava seemed to be the cheapest way of getting to Budapest (my desired end location) and also meant I got to visit a new place en route.
Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, happens to sit only 30 miles away from Vienna and a couple of hours away from Budapest. And, possibly more importantly, my flight there was only £36. So I had to go. I’d decided I wanted to go back to Budapest for a while but flights direct there from Manchester seemed to cost a fortune for my set dates, so I decided to stop off somewhere along the way. And that’s how I ended up in Bratislava.
And while I only spent three days in the city, it’s somewhere I’d recommend you visit. Sure, it’s pretty small, but it’s a great stop off location if you’re travelling through Europe and there’s plenty to see there.
For a start, it’s full of rich history and features buildings that look like something out of a fairytale. The city itself is covered in traditional features and it’s difficult to get far without walking through the gardens of a castle or past old-fashioned buildings. In short, it’s incredibly Insta-able while also making you feel like you’re learning something. And aside the general history of the buildings, Bratislava is awash with myths and legends which, even as someone who doesn’t know that much about history, was incredibly interesting.
It’s also another country in Europe where you’ll easily run into the Danube river. Similar to Prague, the river splits the country in half between the Old Town and Petržalka – the newer part. When the weather gets warmer, which happens pretty early in the year, the river is great to relax next to and you’ll often find hoards of locals chilling by the water with a picnic. But if you don’t fancy eating by the water, Bratislava has several old ships that are actually restaurants where you can get some food.
I had a funny experience here, actually: although I think I’m a reasonably seasoned solo traveler, eating solo is something i’m not great at. So in Bratislava I psyched myself up to eat alone, walked onto one of these restaurant-boats to eat and sat there expectantly for 20 minutes… only to hear that the restaurant only had one meal left and it was dairy based (which I can’t eat). So I had a drink and ended up leaving, after working up the courage for no reason!
But it was wandering around Bratislava when I was looking for a place to eat when I discovered Urban Space. Described as a ‘hipster coffee place and bookstore’ it was filled with comfy sofas, loads of interesting looking books and great food. I had a smoothie and some brunch while sat outside in the sunshine reading a book. Bliss! Urban Space also does great coffee and is very central in the city so it’s easy to get to. I love the concept of a bookstore and sofa-filled coffee shop so it was an excellent place to chill for a while.
As usual, I spent some of my time in the city doing a walking tour. I always try to take one whenever I’m in a new place for two reasons: Firstly, it’s a great way to meet people if you haven’t already. Secondly, it’s so interesting to hear about a new city from the perspective of a local. And the Bratislava walking tour was filled with so much information. I took the tour with a company called Be Free Tours and then also did their bar crawl later in my trip. The walking tour took us all around the centre, through different style buildings and on a virtual trip back through time. Although I expected the city to be hot, I didn’t actually anticipate HOW hot it would be (we’re talking mid to late 30s) and I definitely needed to stop and grab some water on the way.
One of the quirkiest things you’ll notice in Bratislava is the weird copper statues dotted around. And they’re not just there for decoration, but to tell stories about the country’s history. Some are built to represent a rags-to-riches scenario, while others have more intricate meanings.
Some of the statues next to the shopping centre, Eurovea, have a theme: The circus. Eurovea is a great place to nip into and buy any essentials as it has pretty much all of the shops you could need. It’s also a place with many different restaurants and fast food outlets, so you can be as daring or as British as you like when it comes to meal times.
But the most famous statue you’ll see in Bratislava is Cumil the sewer worker. He was installed in 1997 to offset some of the very communist feeling buildings, but no one knows for sure what his intention is as he stares up at you. As a sewage worker, is he on his way down to clean the pipes? Or is he peeking out, up women’s skirts? Another funny fact about Cumil is how he (possibly intentionally) seems to cause havoc just because of where he’s placed. Motorists have cut his head off more than once, and he’s renowned for tripping up tourists who aren’t watching their feet.
And if you need any more convincing as to why you should visit Bratislava, consider how cheap it is. Even if you only stop by for 24 hours (in which time you could technically visit all of the ‘big’ sights, I think) it wouldn’t set you back too much to stop off in a hotel for one night.
When I visited I stayed at the Patio Hostel. My first night was something of a surprise when I turned up at 10:30pm to find all of the lights off in my room and everyone asleep. I somehow managed to make up my top-bed bunk using only the light from my phone and crawled into bed pretty early.
The hostel itself was average. It had a cool outside area to chill in (unlike many Bratislava hostels, apparently) and also a bar, which seems to be rare in the area. Sure, there are loads of places to drink in the city itself, but a hostel bar is always great if you want somewhere to chill in the evenings and don’t want to venture too far. The drinks were cheap (as is the rest of the city!) at around €2 for a cider or beer or slightly more for a spirit and mixer.
My issue with the hostel was that the plug sockets didn’t work and the wifi was pretty terrible, too. The staff were nice and I made some friends but it was a little rundown and could have done with some renovation. It also advertised having its own kitchen, which was non existent. Well – it existed but in the form of a single hot plate in a ‘kitchen’ the size of a single bed.
However, it was centrally located and close by to supermarkets, bars and the centre of the city, so I’d recommend it on that basis if you’re here for a fleeting trip (and don’t need good wifi!).
I’ve saved my favourite part of Bratislava until the end of this post – the Blue Church. Officially known as ‘The Church of St. Elizabeth’, it’s arguably the city’s most appealing art nouveau building. As the name suggests, everything about it is blue – from the brightly coloured exteriors to the pale blue and gold interiors. Even the glazed roof is a shade of blue.
On a sunny day, the church is the same colour as the sky and makes for an amazing sight. I knew I wanted to visit the Blue Church before I got to Bratislava but had a lot of difficulties finding it. In the end, it wasn’t until my walking tour when the local guide took me there to witness it in full properly. With my terrible sense of direction, this was probably the best idea.
The church is in the eastern part of the Old Town on Bezručova Street, which is about a 10 minute walk from the centre. This means that, despite not being able to find it myself, it wasn’t far at all from the hostel.
However, if you’re planning on visiting the church, make sure to check the opening times first. Unlike many churches, it has very specific times and it’s definitely worth having a look inside.
The opening times are: Monday – Saturday: 06:30 – 08:00; 17:30 – 19:30, Sunday: 07:30 – 12:00; 17:30 – 19:30.
The best time to visit Bratislava is from March to October. If you go, make it part of a longer trip, unless you’re just going for a quick weekend. In reality, it’s not a place to spend more than a few days unless you’re intending on travelling around Slovakia as a whole, but it’s a great place to visit en route to another country.
Have you been to Bratislava, or are you planning on going soon? Let me know in the comments!