With Czechoslovakian coins tucked into plastic sleeves of my coin collection book, all I knew about Slovakia was that at some point between collecting those coins as a child and now visiting the place as an adult, there had been a split from the Czech Republic. Before the split, Prague was the capital city of Czechoslovakia. Today, Bratislava is the capital city of Slovakia. First impressions? Bratislava has an easily recognisable communist past with its ‘grey’ parts of town. Explore a little further and you’ll find colourful pockets, both new and old. Bratislava is easy to explore by foot, and walking around makes it easier to appreciate the details on the buildings marking its history. After three days in Budapest, we were ready for a weekend in Bratislava, Slovakia (October 2017) to explore another European city (and country)!
How to get there
We caught the train from Budapest to Bratislava. It took about two and a half hours. Countries are so close together in Europe! Having used all seven trips on our 30 day Interrail passes, we had to book and pay for additional train tickets but they were reasonably priced. Unfortunately we lost our first class seating reservation fees booked in advance because they were attached to our Interrail passes. Tip: there is no need to book first class tickets in advance unless it is peak season.
Where to stay
The VIP Apartments near Michael’s Gate are centrally located and reasonably priced at €173 for three nights. Especially when shared between two people. We booked one of their apartments via Booking.com and found their apartments to be clean, comfortable and modern. We’d happily stay there again except on the weekend. Why? The bass from the music downstairs pulses through the bed so if you’re looking for a good night sleep, this is not the place for you on the weekend. It was in the fine print that we didn’t read fully.
Things to see and do
- Free walking tour to learn the history of Bratislava, previously known as Pressburg
- Ride on a Prešporáčik Old-timer to see Bratislava Castle, gardens and river views
- Michael’s Gate, a well preserved medieval fortress gate including the words Maria Theresia (from the Habsburg family, ruler of the Austrian Empire) above the arch
- Old Town to see the main square, St Martin’s Cathedral and for a picture with Čumil
- St Elizabeth’s Church, also known as the blue church for obvious reasons
Where to eat and drink
- Cafe Verne for traditional Slovakian food (so good we went there twice!)
- Bratislava Flagship Restaurant for more local food and beers
- Urban Bistro for a Melbourne like coffee and breakfast
Day 1 – Arriving in Bratislava
Our train pulled into Bratislava station around 8pm. Instead of catching a taxi to our accommodation, we caught a public bus towards the city centre. It didn’t take long and dropped us just outside the Old Town, a short walk from the VIP Apartments that are only accessible by foot anyway. The sun was almost down and we could only see the outlines of buildings and dim colours. After checking in, despite being tired we thought at the very least we should go for a walk to scope out potential breakfast options for the morning. Unexpectedly, there was a green laser beam shining from Michael’s Gate and ladies invited us into nightclubs as we wandered down the street. After spotting a cafe we decided to call it a night. Turns out this is a place to party! Including directly beneath our accommodation. The bass pulsed through the floor, bed and our bodies, making it near impossible to sleep. May as well have joined the party!
Day 2 – Free walking tour and traditional Slovak food
The cafe we spotted the previous night is called Urban Bistro. Given we had not worked out where anything was in Bratislava yet (other than the nightclubs!), it was the perfect nearby solution to avoid getting hangry on our first full day in Bratislava. Trying traditional Slovakian food would just have to wait. We ordered ‘The Melbourne’ which was avocado on toast, and their coffee tasted as good as what you would get in Melbourne too.
Next we did the free walking tour to learn the history of Bratislava, get our bearings and ask the guide for tips on things to see and do and where to eat and drink. Our favourite sight during the walking tour was St Elizabeth’s Church, the beautiful and unique blue church in the Old Town. It is free entry to see inside if you are there when the church is open. The tip from our local tour guide on where to eat was Cafe Verne. We made our way there for lunch after the tour to try halušky (traditional Slovak dish) which is potato dumplings with sheep cheese and fried bacon. Eagerly taking turns at having a mouthful, the plate was soon empty. Not only was the food good, it was reasonably priced and the cosy interior of Cafe Verne was filled with retro furnishings.
For the afternoon, Harry bought a range of local beers and snacks from a convenience store. It was raining on and off so a good opportunity for us to try them and rest in our warm and dry apartment after walking around Bratislava for the last few hours. When it was time for dinner, we walked to the Bratislava Flagship Restaurant. This place is the opposite of Cafe Verne, it’s massive! This means you have a good chance of getting a table straight away. They also have traditional food, traditional decorations and plenty of local beer options.
Day 3 – Visiting Čumil the man at work in the Old Town
Raining from the time we woke up, we decided against seeing Bratislava Castle today in the grey drizzle. Instead we pulled on our waterproof jackets and set out to explore Bratislava without a plan. For breakfast we stumbled across Mondieu just as the rain started getting heavier. It was busy which was a good sign and after a short wait we were shown to a table upstairs right next to a dog. I opted for the seat in arm’s reach of the dog but wasn’t brave enough to reach out for a pat. Breakfast was good but we were disappointed to be served plastic straws in our hot coffee. This is the only reason Mondieu didn’t make it onto the list of where to eat and drink.
Our highlight of the day, even in the rain and puddles, was seeing Čumil up close and imagining his story. He is a bronze statue in the Old Town that appears to be a worker taking a break, popping out of a manhole in the street and resting his head on his hands. The story our walking tour guide told us was that Čumil brought people back to the Old Town after the communist era. But there are lots of stories about him. They say pick whatever story you like!
For dinner we were unsure where to go so we revisited some of the areas we’d already explored and stopped in at Pulitzer u zlatého jeleňa. It was quiet inside the restaurant but it was late and it had continued to rain all day which may have deterred people from going out. The food was okay but given how long it has taken us to remember the name of this place, like Mondieu I haven’t included it in the list of where to eat in Bratislava. I think it’s because it lacked the atmosphere we had experienced at other restaurants in Bratislava and Europe in general. Perfect if you want some peace and quiet!
Day 4 – Bratislava Castle Tour on a Prešporáčik Old-timer (train)
The Bratislava Castle overlooking the Danube River is a must see. Make sure you take a walk around the back of the castle to see the impressive garden and statues. To get there, we did a Castle Tour with a local tour company departing on a Prešporáčik Old-timer (train) from the Main Square. Cost about €10 each which included one hour of sightseeing from the train, 20 minute stop at Bratislava Castle and return transportation. Tip: don’t be late getting back to the train, we almost missed our ride back! This tour was perfect for us as we had already done the free walking tour and seen some of the city sights.
Being our last day, we decided to go back to Cafe Verne for lunch. That’s how good it was. It was a bitter sweet way to end our trip, not only Bratislava but our three week adventure around Europe. Bratislava was our final destination.
London is where our journey began, and to return there we booked a flight from Vienna instead of Bratislava. This meant we had to catch a bus from Bratislava to Vienna. It only took around one hour and was still cheaper than flying from Bratislava directly. Plus, it was nice to stretch out our trip just that little bit longer!
Other cities and countries visited during our three week Interrail trip around Europe included Bruges in Belgium, Strasbourg in France, Bern in Switzerland, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Zagreb and Pula in Croatia and Budapest in Hungary.