A five day city break to Bratislava, Slovakia
The beauty of being based in Europe is the proximity to other countries that make it totally plausible to add on a couple of days to a weekend to create a mini-break. Five days in Bratislava, Slovakia is a really exciting prospect because the city is so close to enticing tourist destinations in its neighbouring countries, especially Vienna in Austria and Brno in the Czech Republic.
I jetted off for a five day trip to Bratislava and combined exploring this city with day trips to both Vienna and Brno in different countries. My city break turned into a three country extravaganza!
In this post I’ll cover what I did during my long weekend stay in Bratislava and I’ll also cover my day trips to Austria, the Czech Republic and Kamzik Tower in separate blogs as there is just so much to share.
A brief introduction to Bratislava
Bratislava is Europe’s only capital city that borders with two other countries: Hungary and Austria. Geographically located at the midpoint of Europe, it is home to 420,000 people. Its small size and rich culture and history make it a great place to spend a few days as it’s easily accessible from many other destinations on your European wanderings.
Five days in Bratislava, Slovakia
I flew from Manchester airport in the UK on a Friday night. Although it was fairly late by the time I arrived at my accommodation (more on that later), there was still time to sneak out for a quick wander around the local area to find a pub or two to quench my thirst…
It wasn’t hard to choose somewhere to soak up the Friday night atmosphere: the streets of the Old Town in the heart of Bratislava’s city centre is a maze of restaurants, bars and cafes to suit every taste and budget. Although it seems to be a destination that’s become quite popular with stag parties, I feel you could quite easily avoid the raucous bars (they were not difficult to spot) and opt in for something a little more sedate.
Day one – exploring the city with a free walking tour
On Saturday morning I met at the fountain in the Main Square (Hlavne Namestie) at 11am to join a free walking tour of Bratislava run by a company called Discover Bratislava. Our guide, Ludo, was a friendly and entertaining local who was clearly passionate and knowledgeable about his city. He kept chatting with interesting facts and anecdotes about Bratislava for the whole morning and his experience definitely made the tour very enjoyable.
My group was roughly 15 people and a mix of ages and nationalities, from solo travellers, groups of friends and couples.
Bratislava City Hall
The first thing Ludo pointed out was the cannonball stuck high up in the wall of the City Hall, which is one of the oldest stone buildings in the city dating back to the 14th century. This cannonball was fired by Napoleon’s soldiers in 1809 and has remained embedded in the wall ever since.
Bratislava’s street statues
Dotted around the city are numerous lifelike bronze statues, each with their own intriguing backstory. Cumil peeks out of a sculptural manhole and is argued to be either a ‘peeping tom’ or a Communist sewer worker at rest!
Schöner Náci is the statue of a famous mid-1900s Bratislava local who walked around in top hat and tails handing out roses to women.
Others are statues of people you may have heard of. For example, you’ll find a statue of children’s author, Hans Christian Andersen in Hviezdoslavovo Square, which was erected to commemorate the 165th anniversary of the Dane’s visit to Bratislava! Holding his finger is supposed to bring budding writers inspiration and luck.
Old City Walls
Remnants of Bratislava’s medieval city walls can still be seen in the city centre. They surrounded the city until the mid 18th century when most of them were demolished (expect St Michael’s Gate – below). Just along the street from the UFO Bridge that spans the river you’ll find remnants of the old city walls. A main road leading down to the Danube separates the wall with the old Jewish quarter across the road, which was apparently partly demolished along with a synagogue. Here you’ll also find a Holocaust memorial statue.
Bratislava Hrad stands on a hill above the city, with views up and down the Danube and across into Austria. Due to Bratislava’s proximity to its neighbouring countries, the castle has been a key strategic site for centuries. This huge square building dates back to the 9th century although it is thought that the hill has been occupied since the Stone Age with many centuries of ruins found on the site.
Inside you can visit the Treasury and Slovak National Museum.
St Michael’s Gate
Our last stop on the free walking tour of Bratislava was the city’s last remaining gate. Although you could be forgiven for not appreciating its significance, it is in fact a medieval gate dating back to 1300 that was once once of the heavily fortified entrance ways into the city.
There is a superstition for students hoping to pass their exams to pass through the gate holding their breath. Whether this is effective, I wouldn’t know, but I strangely found myself sucking in my breath as I walked underneath the solid stone archway!
Walking along the Danube River
On the Saturday evening, after a much needed rest and shower at my city-centre Airbnb, I hit the streets again to walk down to the Danube River that sits on one edge of the city. The Danube is the second longest river in Europe (after the Volga River) and flows through an impressive 10 countries, including: Germany, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and of course, Slovakia.
The New Bridge (Nový Most) or the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising (Most SNP), is a few minutes walk from the Old Town. It is a well-known bridge that spans the Danube in Bratislava, which looks like it has a UFO perched on top of it. You can pay 7.50 Euro to go up into the observation deck, which is 95 metres high, and has great views across the city and castle. I found walking across the bridge leisurely (the road is on the section above you and pedestrians can walk unaffected by traffic on the walkway below).
The Danube is lined with barges that have been turned into floating bars and restaurants. On the other side of the river facing back towards the city, I boarded one such boat to sit with a drink on the deck and watch the comings and goings of the river.
On the opposite side of the river to the city centre is the large suburb of Petržalka. Right on the water’s edge I discovered a large park called Sad Janka Král’a. It was bustling with locals enjoying their weekend, playing with their kids, cycling and walking. At the time I visited in June, there was a medieval festival on and I wandered through simple wooden and canvas tents amidst many people dressed up in medieval costumes and carrying out traditional crafts such as weaving, woodcarving and even taking part in an archery competition!
Day two – day trip to Vienna
On my second full day in Bratislava it was time to visit one of its neighbours – Vienna in Austria. The Viennese capital city is only a 1 hour 7 minute train ride from Bratislava, so fabulously easy to pop over to explore for one day.
I spent a winter weekend in Vienna more than 10 years ago. The city was making the most of the cold weather with outdoor ice skating rinks and wooden stalls serving hot mugs of gluhwein. I visited the State Opera House to watch an opera, saw a performance at the Spanish Riding School and went for a ride in an open top horse drawn carriage.
The train runs from Hlavna Stanica in Bratislava to Sudbahnhof in Vienna and a return ticket (purchased on the day) cost 15 Euro. Online it says that if you book up to 3 – 6 months in advance you can get them for 11 Euro.
On my summer day trip to Vienna I spent my time exploring the various parks and palaces in the city centre and the main St Stephensplatz square and cathedral.
Day three – exploring the Kamzik Tower
Feeling like I’d spent enough time tramping city streets, today’s adventure took me to Bratislavský Lesný Park or Bratislava Forest Park. This is a forest located within the city at the foothills of the Little Carpathians, a small mountain range in western Slovakia. Sprouting out the middle of this forest is a giant metal pinnacle called the Kamzik Tower. At 70 metres, this tower is the tallest structure in Bratislava and is home to their TV station and a special restaurant, 439 metres above sea level.
The forest is home to many walking and mountain biking trails, picnic areas, a children’s playground, a bobsled track (in the summer) and a toboggan slope in the winter. There’s even a cable car through the trees.
At the top of the tower is a wonderful restaurant called Altitude. The selling point for this place, apart from the delicious lunch, is that the floor revolves (slowly so you don’t feel sick!) and offers you incredible 360 degree views. On a good day you can see as far as The Alps and it goes without saying you get a panoramic view of the entire city of Bratislava and the surrounding area.
If you don’t fancy the walk through Bratislavský Lesný Park, you can easily get to the Kamzik Tower by public transport or by car. The 203 bus goes from the city centre (I used the stop at the Hodzovo Namestie / Parliament House Square) up to Koliba. It’s then a 20 minute walk up to the tower.
To walk through the park, I took Tram 1 to Tchibo Outlet, then the 207 trolley bus to Železná Studnička. Following the marked paths through the forest I ascended the hills and popped out near the Kamzik Tower at the bobsled track.
Day four – a day trip to Brno
Today started early as I planned a day trip to Brno in the Czech Republic, Just like Vienna, this city is an easy train journey from Hlavna Stanica in Bratislava at only 1.5 hours. A return ticket, which I purchased on the day, cost me just under 12 Euro.
Compared to Vienna, which is a huge city to explore by foot in a short space of time, I found Brno to be much more accessible to those who are short on time. The train station was only a short walk from the city centre, and the places of interest were much more compact than in Vienna.
With Prague being the destination that draws the crowds, I hoped that this city would give me a little slice of modern day Czech life.
My highlights of this day included the Castle (Hrad) Spilberk with its views of the city, the lovely ‘Cabbage’ or Vegetable Market (Zelny trh) in the centre of the city with its stalls of luscious fresh fruit and veg and the mind-bogglingly interesting exhibition at the 10-Z Cold War underground bunker. This museum preserves a period of time where the city prepared a hermetically sealed bunker to sustain 600 residents in the event of a nuclear attack.
Day five – last morning of the trip
For me, my final day of my trip involved checking out of my accommodation before a flight home in the late afternoon. A leisurely morning was spent at a place called Urban House, which was a hipster cafe that served a good brunch and cup of coffee.
A quick wander through the city and a look into the We left apartment and went to Urban House for a hipster breakfast. Had our cases so just chilled in shade by cathedral before going to airport on tram 1 and then bus 61.
Visiting Devin Castle
Devin Castle (Hrad) is 10km to the west of Bratislava. It’s built on top of a high crag overlooking the small village of Devin and the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers. Here you’ll find traces of Slavic settlement dating back to the 8th century, although it is said that the site has been inhabited since the prehistoric times.
The castle is open daily from 10.00-18.00 (19.00 on weekends) and the entrance fee is 5 Euro (less in the winter months if some sections of the castle are closed due to snow and ice).
You can get to the castle on bus 28 or 29 from the UFO Bridge – Stop “Most SNP” and get off at Stop “Devin”. It takes 20 minutes.
Where to eat and drink in Bratislava
As you can imagine there were numerous places to eat and drink throughout the city. If you’re spending your time in and around the Old Town area, you’ll not find it difficult to find places to eat. The hardest part will be choosing where to go! As whenever I travel, I was keen to try as much local food as I could, so mixed up a variety of Slovak dishes with a a splurge on a little Asian food…
After the free Bratislava city walking tour on Saturday ended it was time for lunch. I joined up with a couple I had met on the walking tour who were from South Africa and Nigeria although now living in the UK. They were retired and travelling for several weeks in Eastern Europe in their tiny Toyota Yaris. Considering I’ve done all of my long road trips in the comfort of a campervan – like the three weeks I spent in Spain and Portugal – this was very impressive to me!
This traditional eatery on Obchodná 62 is a place that serves up hearty Slovak portions of garlic soup in a bread bowl (reminded me of a chowder), a dish of dumplings and sheeps cheese, sauerkraut and pork and more dumplings filled with cheese and sausage.
On one evening I tried an Asian fusion restaurant called SaSaZu. It was my most expensive meal, but the quality and variety of the food was excellent. It serves up tapas style meals that are designed for sharing, so best visited with a group of friends.
I went for a pre-dinner drink one evening in a small place called Café Studio on Nedbalova 14. After I sat down at a table outside I discovered that the building had an interesting history; it was the old headquarters of first Slovakian music label, Opus, in the Communist era. When I popped my head inside I saw that the walls were adorned with old records and there was a tiny old lady playing a piano in the corner! I noted the place served meals, but I didn’t eat there, just relaxed for a drink before continuing for a stroll through the streets of the Old Town.
I visited one of Bratislava’s many microbreweries called Pivovar Hops on Vilová 4. It is predominantly a restaurant but it also brews its own beers. It’s food is a mixture of what I would call classic pub grub (like burgers) and food that is more local. I ordered a schnitzel, which the waiter was quick to remind me was an Austrian dish! It was served with a little side salad of cold potatoes.
Where to stay in Bratislava
I rented an Air Bnb apartment on Grösslingova, which was a five minute walk from the centre of the old town. It was a perfect location for heading out in the mornings to explore the city and popping back to have a rest and freshen up before an evening meal. The location was so central that I didn’t need to take taxis or public transport to my door.
Planning your trip to Bratislava
I flew with Ryanair from Manchester Airport to M.R. Stefanik Airport in Bratislava, which took 2 hours and 30 minutes. The cost for a return flight in June 2018 was £40 per person.
- The currency in Slovakia is the Euro.
- The voltage is 220-volt AC, 50Hz with two-pin continental plugs, so remember to bring your universal plug adaptor with you.
- The city is well covered with mobile network and partially with 3G/4G internet. O2, Telekom (T-Mobile) and Orange are the best mobile network providers.
What is the best time of year to visit Slovakia?
Autumn (September / October) and Spring (April / May) are recommended in Bratislava. As it is a heavily forested area the foliage around the city showcase their seasonal colours and the temperatures are pleasant for sightseeing.
I visited in June and found the temperature to be ok – up to about 28 degrees centigrade. In the height of summer the temperatures can soar, but it depends on what you’d like to do as to whether that would be an issue. In the winter prepare to wrap up warm!
Public transport in Bratislava
Getting around Bratislava by public transport was incredibly easy. The streets are well connected by criss-crossing tram routes, trolley buses (think a bus that is connected to a wire above it, like a tram only on wheels) and buses.
You can purchase a Bratislava travel card from the platforms of the tram / bus stops dotted around the city. A 1.20 Euro ticket gets you one hour of travel and a day ticket will set you back 3.50 Euro. One week of travel costs you 11.40 Euro and that gets you everywhere within the city travel zones.
Getting to and from the airport
I used the Uber equivalent called Taxify to book a taxi from the airport to the city centre. It cost me 6 Euro for a 15 minute, 10km journey and I was collected from the arrivals entrance and dropped at my door.
This little luxury was needed as I was arriving at night and I would always feel better for getting a taxi or shuttle bus from an out of town airport after dark.
If your plane lands in the day and you have the time, it was really easy to catch Bus No. 61 from the airport to connect with Tram No. 1 to get you into the city centre. On my way home my flight didn’t leave until the afternoon, so I had the time to get from the city out to the airport by public transport at a cost of 1.20 Euro.
So, that’s my five days in and around Bratislava! I will share further blogs on Brno, Vienna and my day trip to the Kamzik Tower so you can take a look at what you can do there as well. What you’ll quickly realise about Bratislava is that it’s an incredible place to base yourself for a European trip.
Have you been to Bratislava? What was your favourite bit about it? Do you fancy visiting Slovakia? Where else catches your eye? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and ask any questions – I’ll try to help.
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