Tuesday, 03 July 2018 - 12:42
This story goes like this. Once upon a weekend, we decided to visit Bratislava again with a two-fold purpose in mind.
One, visit Ilinca's godmother who has lived there for the past five years and take the opportunity to interview her about the best places in town. Now anybody who has lived in Vienna for a while, or even visited for more than three days, got to see Bratislava at some point. The charming capital of Slovakia is a breath of youthfulness and liveliness compared to Vienna, its beautifully grand and stiff neighbor.
Two, look beyond the city itself for possibilities for day trips from Vienna. We are simply not comfortable with the perspective that if you've seen the capital of a country, you have seen it all. How does Slovakia look like around Bratislava? What are we missing out on?
What we managed to do is put together daily itineraries, such that depending on the amount of time you have, you can spend one, two, or three days in Slovakia. We also had the loveliest of times driving around way further than originally planned and ending the day at our favorite location in Bratislava. But more about all that, later. Let's, for now, stick to outlining in detail the daily itineraries we propose.
Additionally, I will end this article with a cheat-sheet for you on Slovakia/Bratislava. Regardless if you only go for shopping or eating, the moment you step foot into a new country you should be aware of the basics in terms of culture/language/location. This is for us a golden rule that we always abide by, even if it means opening up Wikipedia during the trip in the 0,01% of cases when we lacked the time to prepare.
1. One day in Bratislava
A tastefully restored old town, countless modern building projects, the Danube right in the city center, good food, friendly people, are a few of the reasons why everybody falls in love with Bratislava at first sight. The 60 km that separate it from Vienna can be easily covered by car, train, or on the Danube with the Twin City Liner, which runs regularly from March-October. The landing station is very close to the center, making it an ideal location to start exploring the city. The map below shows you roughly the location of the main attractions with regard to the train station/landing station, such that you can plan your walking route through the city.The first thing to see is, of course, the Bratislava castle. You should challenge yourself to climb to the top of the rocky hill on which it is perched, as the views from there are magnificent. The castle also hosts several interesting exhibitions from the Slovak National Museum.
As you descend towards the center, do not miss the House at the Good Shepherd at the foot of the castle hill, the narrowest building in Europe and one of the few original houses in the area. Across the street from it is Saint Martin's Cathedral, a gothic edifice where eleven kings and eight queens of Hungary have been crowned after the capture of Buda by the Turks in the 16th century. You can actually walk the former coronation route from the cathedral by following a series of golden crowns embedded in the pavement throughout the old town.
Once you enter the pedestrian area you should check out the Main Square with the Old Town Hall, the Primate's Palace - now seat of the town's mayor - and the life-size statues scattered throughout town, as you walk your way towards Michael's Gate (Michalska Brana). We recommend to only consider going up the tower of the gate if you are into narrow spaces, otherwise walk on towards the Grassalkovich Palace, current residence of the president. It is here that the Austro-Hungarian crown prince Franz Ferdinand met his wife Zofia Chotek, a couple whose assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 led to the First World War.
If you need to stop for coffee in the city center, your best options are both on Michalska street: Nata Lisboa and Enjoy Coffee. Nata Lisboa is a Portuguese coffee shop where you can find deserts like the famous pastel de nata that pairs perfectly with a glass of galao (café latte) or a cup or bica (espresso). Enjoy Coffee has an atmosphere that reminds of a country house, the fresh décor with flowers and great coffee is for sure an ideal way to boost your energy in the afternoon.
Once your energy levels are restored, it is time to enjoy the Hviezdoslav's Square in front of the Slovak National Theater. It actually resembles a boulevard more than a square with its tree-shaded pedestrian area, and it features souvenir stalls, outdoor restaurants, bars, and cafés.
The one thing you should definitely go to Bratislava for, even if you miss out on sightseeing, is food. There are so many great places around that we simply enjoy discovering something new on our every visit. We compiled below a list for you, vetted and approved by a local.
For breakfast, Moods Bakery & Coffee on Hviezdoslav's Square, or the high-class Altitude restaurant and bar up at Kamzik where you can pair your morning coffee with panoramic views of the surroundings that reach as far as Austria, Czech Republik, and Hungary.For lunch/dinner in the city center consider Bistro Soho on Laurinska street, that serves modern style Asian cuisine which local love, so be sure to reserve in advance if you arrive at popular hours or in a big group. Sladovňa - House Of Beer on Venturska street is another good option to dine out or just stop by for some drinks. It is a big place in an old house in the city center, which also has an outside terrace during summer. Here you can find some of the local specialties including bryndzove halusky (gnocchi with sheep cheese), spare ribs, burgers, vegetarian options and a large range of beers.
Fantastic restaurants a bit off the main path are Phong Nam Bistro (Vietnamese food) in the Mileticova open-air market, Punjabi Dhaba on Sancova street (Indian bistro with authentic food and pleasant service), and the Slovak pub at Obchodná 62.
For anything else you might be wondering about Bratislava, more tips from the locals, sights, and events I wholeheartedly recommend Welcome to Bratislava, a website professionally run by an enthusiastic team.
2. The Eurovea shopping center
It might sound weird to hear this from such culture, history, and food enthusiasts as ourselves, but we do love shopping. And yes, we did spend a couple of rainy days shopping in Izmir, before we even got to see the city itself. To be quite frank, except for the Shopping City Sud, we are not very happy with what Vienna has to offer on this front. Pair that with a tiny pang of disappointment at the options for entertainment on the Danube bank in Vienna, and you will understand why we are in love with the Eurovea shopping mall in Bratislava. We sometimes drive to Slovakia just to spend the day here. Beside excellent shopping options, the location on the Danube bank gives you the option to sit on a terrace and enjoy lunch, dinner, or a cocktail. The one-kilometer long promenade along the river bank with its many bars and restaurants has a wonderful atmosphere, especially when the weather is good. There are 39 restaurants and 181 shops to enjoy, and stellar facilities for parking, playgrounds, and changing rooms for babies (and yes, these are all very important to us), everything easily accessible on foot from the historic center. This time around we just stopped for dinner on the promenade, and it was the best ending to a beautiful day spent in Slovakia.
Thus, if you are thinking whether it is worth spending more than one day in Bratislava, the answer is yes - enjoy the city in one day, go shopping the next day! And for those who, like us, have lived in Austria for too long - YES, IT IS OPEN ON SUNDAY!
3. The Sunny Lakes in SenecHere's a highly authentic destination, which I discovered since Sinan insisted on spending some time swimming on our weekend trip. Only 25 km away from Bratislava, reachable also by direct train from Slovakia's capital, is the small town of Senec. Now I would really advise you to go here if you want to see a typical town in Slovakia. There are a tourist info center and a small museum, however, the atmosphere is very down to earth and non-touristic. The center is beautifully organized and quiet, as locals go about their daily business. A walk along a pedestrian street lined with cafés and restaurants will bring you to the sunny lakes, a recreational area that comprises five lakes, volleyball and sand playgrounds, opportunities for renting boats and water bicycles, walking routes, restaurants, accommodation facilities, and an aquapark. The photo gallery at the end of this article is meant to give you an impression of the beauty of the place.
Unfortunately, by the time we got there the wind was so strong, we could not swim, but we did enjoy a long walk around the lakes and ended up discovering the next itinerary, which in the end proved quite a gain.
3. The Little Carpathian Wine Route
The Wine Road of Malé Karpaty runs from Bratislava to Trnava, through the picturesque villages Svätý Jur, Pezinok, and Modra. I was aware of its existence, and as we simply had more time on our hands we decided to drive through on our way back to Bratislava from Senec. Unfortunately, our 8 months old was sound asleep during this drive, so we could not stop anywhere, but we are for sure going to go back for an in-depth exploration, and a nice meal in one of the numerous wine cellars. But let me tell you this, it is worth renting a car just for this drive, as the landscape is absolutely stunning. I hope the few pictures I took do it justice, but I felt like during our road trip through Provence, admiring the slow slopes covered in vineyards, the green hills, the winding roads, the colorful villages.
Were you to decide to make this a whole day trip, a place worth visiting along the route is the Červený Kameň Castle. It is one of the best-preserved castles in Slovakia, reachable at the end of a beautiful drive through the forest. The castle is not only a museum for the life of the nobility in centuries past, but its cellars are considered the largest underground complex in Central Europe. Additionally, the oldest pharmacy in the world was established here in 1649.
5. A Slovakia/Bratislava cheat-sheet
As I explained above, knowing the basics about a country is vital for us when we travel. I find this especially important in the case of Slovakia, as Bratislava is often regarded as an appendage destination to visiting Vienna or Budapest. Some people actually only visit for the nightlife and cheap alcohol, which is completely ok as long as you are aware you are in a different country. So here is what I thought was interesting to know about Slovakia, given the premise that you already know where it is located in Europe and that it is different from Slovenia.
One of the youngest European countries (independent since 1993), Slovakia was for nine centuries a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and for 70 years part of Czechoslovakia. Bratislava became capital of the Kingdom of Hungary after the defeat of the Hungarians by the Turks at Mohacs, in 1526, which lead to its rapid development, reaching a peak during the reign of the Habsburg monarchs Maria Theresa and Joseph II. After the First World War, Slovakia was incorporated in the first Czechoslovak Republik, its claim for independence only coming to life during the Nazi period in the form of a puppet state. After the second world war, Czechoslovakia was ruled by the Communist party, overthrown in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution. Since 2004, Slovakia is a member of NATO and the European Union.
- the currency in Slovakia is the Euro, which sets it apart from its neighbors (except Austria), and makes it attractive to tourists
- Bratislava is the only capital in the world that borders two countries, Austria and Hungary
- as opposed to neighboring Czech Republik, religious life and traditions are strong in Slovakia
- the Slovak language is part of the Slavic languages group, and it is sometimes called "Slovak Esperanto" as it can be understood by most speakers of Slavic languages
- Slovakia is a paradise for outdoor sports - it offers skiing opportunities, 3500 km of marked cycling routes, hiking trails, sailing, windsurfing, and water rafting opportunities
- Slovakia has the most castles/chateaux per capita in the world
- the medieval town Levoča (on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites) hosts the highest wooden altar in the world, made without the use of a single nail. Also on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites are 50 wooden churches spread across the entire country.
- the village of Čičmany in Northern Slovakia is the world’s first reservation of folk architecture, displaying wooden houses painted in geographical patterns. Folk architecture, costumes, and traditions are very much alive and present in the daily life of Slovakians, especially in the rural areas.