As I start this post I am on a train heading out of Bratislava, the Slovakian capital. I’m feeling a little bitter-sweet after my weekend and am sitting here wondering if ill ever return to give the city a little more attention.
During our short stay we were screamed at by an over eager museum attendant, had to wait an hour to get our noodles and then was shouted at by the waiter, add the fact that our plans to try all the vegan restaurants in the city was thwarted by it being the weekend and you’d think we had a terrible time. However there is a charm to the little city and on reflection there were plenty of positive experiences. Overall I had a nice time.
An Overview of Bratislava City
Bratislava was a city of industry for much of its communist past but it’s small and beautiful old town has remained intact. This along with the position on the edge of the river Danube and the renovated castle sitting up on the hill create a picturesque scene. Most of the touristic draws are located within this central area including alleys of interesting shops and restaurants to the intimidating churches and splattering of trendy bars.
What to do
For a small city Bratislava hosts a fair few museums and packs some interesting history, if that’s your thing. There are also plenty of places to shop, eat and drink plus the river and all the general activities that come with that.
Sitting up on the hill watching you every move it feels like an obligation to go and see it. Recently renovated the interior houses a treasure room and exhibitions which can be seen for 6 euros (standard price, Jan 2014). Personally I think just going up there and walking around the grounds is enough. The exhibition and treasure room were interesting bit nothing very memorable for me.
We visited the national museum, the pharmacy museum and the armoury museum along with the house of the Good Shepherd (the Museum of Clocks).
I’ll start with our favourite! For a start the House of the Good shepherd is an awesome little building and the quirky 3 storey museum houses some fine clocks. It won’t take you long to peak around and costs 2.50 euros but something about this little place just made me smile!
The Pharmacy museum and armoury museum are small little places which can be entered with a joint ticket costing 4.5 euros.
I didn’t really think the Pharmacy museum was worthwhile although the old cabinets and bottles are pretty cool. It was here that after being followed around by an elderly attendant she screamed at me ‘NO PICTURE’, when I raised my iPhone to snap the beautifully painted ceiling! The young attendant was just a tad embarrassed. Obviously we missed the sign at the entrance!
The armoury museum was a little more interesting and is situated in a turret on one of the old city gates. The best bit though was being able to get out onto the roof and get a unique view over the roof tops of the old town. I took a 360 video below.
For 3.5 euros you can see The Slovakian National Museum.
Situated on three floors it’s not exactly grand but none the less is fairly interesting for an hour or two and has some highlights like various mammoth bones found in the country and this strange creature!
There are plenty of restaurants around with sandwiches, standard burger steak fare and Italian style food on offer. Of course you also find many advertising traditional Slovakian cuisine which may be worth a shot if you want to see what the locals, supposedly, eat.
I’m vegan so was excited to catch the 5 or so vegan restaurants in the city… We hit a snag with this plan though as it turned out the bulk of them close on the weekend. As we arrived late afternoon on Friday we missed almost all of them! We obviously did not research that well enough.
Most of the standard restaurants were open Saturday but things were more patchy on Sunday.
Here is a little look at some of the places we ate.
We are at Buddha Brothers (Hotel Danube / Park Inn, Rybné, námestie 1) where the food was nice enough but a little expensive for the quality, Botel Marina Indian (Nábrežie arm. gen. L. Svobodu) which again was ok but too sweet for our taste and Tokyo Sushi Bar (Panská 258/27, 811 01). We also grabbed a breakfast bagel at Bagel & Coffee Story (a chain with branches round town including one in the main square), standard but nice for a quick bite.
Noodles at Buddha Brothers.
Tokyo Sushi bar had the best food but we had an awful experience involving waiting 45 minutes for our first meal to arrive (just Lara’s soup) and then a further 45 for my meal and our starters to arrive. When asking the waiter when my food was coming (after 1 hour 14 minutes) he started shouting at us and saying he was just a waiter, what is he supposed to do! They took our tea, beer and a starter that never arrived off the bill but we didn’t leave feeling great about the experience!
We were obviously pretty sad about the vegan restaurant situation and we only managed to catch Lucy’s Vegan Food 10 minutes before closing on Friday. Lucy and her partner seemed like really wonderful hosts. We were able to leave with some yummy seed bread and a muffin we were sad we didn’t catch a full meal and longer chat there. Honestly it’s almost enough to convince me to do a mid-week return trip.
January has been a no alcohol month for us so we didn’t go out and party into the wee hours but the bars looked pretty fun although nothing stand out or unique in passing. Trendy fare, wooded older style and the odd themed bar such as The Cuban style bar (Casa Del Havana, Michalská 1484/26) next to the Pharmacy Museum where we did grab a soft drink.
One thing to note is that smoking seems to be allowed in bars so some are just very smokey, some have specific smoking rooms and some seem to be smoke free.
Slavin, Red Army Monument and Graveyard
On Sunday morning the skies were clear so we took a short walk to the highest point in the city. The Red Army monument is named Slavin and is in place to remember the Red Army soldiers who liberated and died during the 1945 liberation of Bratislava . This obelisk and cemetery gives the highest and possibly best view of the city as a whole. On a good day you can see three countries. Slovakia, Hungary and Austria.
Amongst the graveyard and grounds we spotted some of the amazingly cute red squirrels and interesting birds hopping around the trees.
Walking the old town
For us I would say simply wandering the old town, exploring arcades and alleyways and peaking through interesting doorways provided some of the best time spent in Bratislava. The ornate buildings sometimes impeccably restored / up-kept, sometimes worn and covered in graffiti can provide hours of visual candy. Meld that with a stops in a few coffee shops and bakeries, looking in some of the touristy shops and taking photos and you have yourself an affordable and carefree day in a lovely little town.
If you have ever played the video game Fable then you may have felt like you have been to Bratislava’s old town already!
A short city bus ride or river cruise (April-Sept only http://www.lod.sk/en/) out of Bratislava sits the ruins of the once grand Devin castle. For those who like clambering around ruins it’s probably worth a visit and we sadly did not get the chance. Maybe next time.
Wikipedia tells you about all you need to know about Devin here.
Bus 29 can be taken from the bus station below the New Bridge (Novy Most) near the bottom of the old town on the castle side .
Sculptures, Graffiti and Modern Bratislava
Walking around you’ll notice a lot of sculptures, statues and graffiti. Many of the statues and sculptures are forgettable and likewise the graffiti is ugly. However there are some awesome sculptures and graffiti so just keep your eyes out!
There are also some interesting new modern additions such as swanky boat-shaped buildings and the tower on the New Bridge.
A short walk into the suburbs will also give you a glimpse of the industrial and communist past.
Where we stayed
We stayed at an aparthotel / hostel with the odd name Freddie Next to Mercury. For 72 euros (including obligatory city tax) we had a spacious apartment for two nights. It’s situated very close to the train station around 15 minutes walk to the main old town square.
The staff was friendly, the hostel clean and wifi fairly reliable. I’d be happy to stay there again.
In the summer season I imagine this place gets quite lively but when we stayed it was pretty quite. They have a nice breakfast room with a kitchen but we had a kitchenette and fridge in our room so did not need to make use of it. There is also a common room in the basement but it was locked when I went to have a peak.
We booked our stay at Freddie Next To Mercury through Booking.com. <– affiliate link, we earn a small commission if you book through this link, so thanks a million if you do!
How to get there
The easiest connection is by train from Vienna which takes about an hour and costs around 15 euros return. We took a very comfortable and easy train from our home in Budapest and only paid 5250 Hungarian Forints (17.50 euros) each for an open return valid for 3 months. It took approx 2,5 hours. We purchased this from the Keleti railway station a few days before travel. Trains also pass through from Poland and Germany.
Buses are also available from nearby major cities are also available and you may be able to find an even cheaper deal with these.
Note: Prices as of January 2014.
My quick tips
- If you can, visit in the summer.
- Make your trip from Tuesday to Friday. Most attractions are closed on Mondays and Sundays are very quiet. Some restaurants close on the weekend too!
- Enjoy the city with a group of friends and you could get bored alone unless you are an expert at making new pals!
- Don’t feel guilty if you skip the interior of the castle and most of the museums.
- Beware that smoking is allowed inside to check the bar or restaurant before entering of this is a bother.
- Grab some vegan food at Lucy’s!
- Look out for the blue Church on the edge of the old town, here’s a pic!
I liked Bratislava but I didn’t love it. A few negative experiences have led bad marks on the canvas of memory.
However I know it’s a fun little place that could be really enjoyed and if friends were arranging a trip if be happy to join them. If you are staying in nearby then a day trip or overnight trip may be plenty so you can put the pin in the map and say you have been there! Of course I am sure, like any place, there is also a lot to be discovered if you stay longer and really dig into the beating heart of the place.
Have you been to this little city or do you have plans to go?
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More Bratislava resources: