Bratislava. Good God, i’m in Eastern Europe!
Alright, it’s time to start with a straightforward confession. I went to Bratislava for the Eurotrip jokes. I’ve seen that movie about 50 times (a conservatively low number) and have always loved the Bratislava part. I also confess that I knew the city didn’t look like it was portrayed in the movie. No cities really do. Nevertheless, only being 45 minuets away by train, I couldn’t pass up the chance.
That idea out of the way, Bratislava was awesome! A mix between old and new, nestled against the side of the Danube, the city has something for everyone. The old section of the city, or tourist central, is a small warren of street side cafes and bars tumbling downhill from the castle to the banks to the river. Along with the castle, which is also awesome, there are a couple of nice churches and an abundance of shops and street stalls. There’s even a museum, if I remember correctly. In truth, I would say that most people end up in Bratislava because it’s definitely the closest “Inexpensive Eastern European City” to Western Europe. It’s so close to Vienna that I took the train back to Vienna and flew out of its airport when I left. The particular flight I wanted was cheaper out of Vienna, and the train was a straight shot there.
Seriously, I am going back to Bratislava some day. I hope beyond hope that it’s as laidback and casual as when I left it. You will definitely have an enjoyable time there.
Old Spice! I found Old Spice! seriously, it’s the little things in life. No one likes a smelly tourist. I ran out of deodorant in Vienna, and didn’t have time to go shopping before hoping the train to Slovakia. As expected, this modern city has everything you would find in any other city of the world.
Weather: I was there in July, and the weather was wonderful. Bright blue skies and hot temperatures. Seriously, summer in this part of Europe is why people travel. no rain, and maybe 85 degrees for highs.
Money: Slovakia is rolling the euro these days. As such, currency while travelling is quite an easy affair. Bank ATM machines are scattered about the city, and really offer the best exchange rate for tourists. As of this writing (September 2021) the euro was trading at 0.84 to the U.S. dollar. It was about the same exchange rate as when I was there in 2019. The prices around Bratislava are very reasonable compared to Western Europe, so the euro goes farther in Bratislava.
Passport/Visa: You definitely need a passport. I mean, How did you get this far without one. Otherwise, as a westerner (read American) you won’t need a visa to enter the country. Since Slovakia is a member of the Schengen Zone, crossing the border is pretty easy. Keep in mind though, if you’re coming from Western European countries or other Schengen Zone countries in Eastern Europe, You only have 90 total days of travel. Plan accordingly. I was literally counting down my remaining days by the time I landed in Bratislava.
Language Barrier: again, I speak not a word of the language and had absolutely no issues here. Though you hear the local language everywhere, English seems to be the default language of the tourist section of the city. Even out in the everyday section of the city, English is almost a 50/50 split with other tongues. I had no problems communicating with anyone while I was there.
COVID Situation: Sadly, DOVID is the state of the land we live in these days. I visited the city pre-COVID. They were better times. Check with the Slovakian government and your local state department before travelling, as different countries in Europe are opening up to different travelers at differing rates.
Getting In and Out
I took the train from Vienna, Austria to Bratislava. It is a straight-line affair, with only one or two stops along the way once you get all the way out of Vienna. I used a EURail travel pass for the trip there and back. The Slovakian rail system was included in the multi-nation pass that I purchased, and crossing the border by train was super easy.
This particular line sees a lot of tourists coming and going. It’s close-enough that day tripping is a practical option, if you are thinking that way. Considering its location on the Danube, there are also a bunch of river cruise options leaving from Vienna. They are lined up along the river and you can find them easily going in both directions.
My headquarters for the stop in Bratislava was the Art Hotel William. Confession, my reasoning was 50% location and 50% money. It was located in the old section and reasonably priced. It was also clean and comfy! a good bargain for the money.
Okay, I do admit it was a good hotel for the money. It was clean and the staff was super friendly. BUT, it was located in this multistory shopping mall like building. The whole set up was very odd. I can’t quite figure out who thought the setup was a good idea. But, again, a good place to stay for a couple days.
As a tourist, what you’re looking for is basically located in the area between the castle hill, the Danube River, and Sturova Street. The old section of the city has many shops, cafes, and bars to waste away your time in. I have no doubt you’ll find a way to amuse yourself while you’re there.
Below is a quick little chunk of what I found noteworthy. I was there a couple three days and it went by fast.
The old downtown section is a little warren of outside cafes and bars. The beer is served cold and refreshing, and the people watching is excellent.
I haven’t stumbled across any Budvar since I was living in Germany. The recognized forerunner to Budweiser, it’s just way-better than the American Standard for super-average beer. Since, after this stop I was on my way back home to look for a real job, I drank a bunch of them.
The city has a great art scene scattered about its streets and parks. In the work-a-day section of the city there are numerous statues and sculptures, many of them leftover from more somber days.
In the tourist area, the street art is much more comical and irreverent. Such is the case with our friend here, just up from the subterranean tunnels of the city for a breath of fresh air. People stop and rub his helmet, wishing him a good day at work. I used to sit outside a pizza place across the street from him, and watch the crowds he attracted. It was quite entertaining.
Bratislava Castle. If you look up from anywhere around the city, you can’t miss the view of the castle. Built in the 9th century, it was in use until around the 18th century. Obviously rebuild from medieval times, due to a fire that gutted the structure in 1811, it is very much worth the long uphill walk to explore. With its ramparts intact, the castle offers great views of both the city and the Danube River which cuts through it.
The tour, plus the up and down hill bit, will chew up about 2-3 hours of your day. It gets good-sized crowds in the summer, so maybe go early.
My favorite part of visiting Bratislava was simply walking around the old town. the old section of the city is a maze of old and dusty streets, straight out of a movie set. The area is, worn, and lived-in. It has a real bygone feel about it.
I was working up a new book idea while I was there, and found myself lost in the possibility that this section of the city provided. It was highly enjoyable, and I wish to return there while actually writing!
Once again, street art. I like a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously. That is Bratislava in a nutshell. they’re just happy to be part of Europe, enjoying life, and doing they’re thing. I am absolutely sure that if you have a bad travel experience here, it’s you and not them.
I LOVED BRATISLAVA! Seriously, I want to go back. The whole city is casual and laidback. Even the work-a-day part of the city that I ventured out into to acquire deodorant was pretty okay for Eastern Europe. The people, without exception, were friendly and welcoming. And, the price is right. The beer is large and cold. The history is on display pretty much everywhere you look. I don’t know what else a destination really needs?
Okay, now that I’m done waxing philosophic, you need to go see it for yourself. Get a plane ticket and a facemask, and get out there. See the sights and drink the beer. And, talk with the locals!