Falling in Love with Old Town Bratislava

img_8823

Well, we’re back from our whirlwind European tour! When I say whirlwind, I mean whirlwind – three cities in five days. While that might have been a little ambitious, to say the least, we had to make the most of our time because AJ gets so little vacation time. Luckily, his company closes between Christmas and New Year’s, so we decided to take a short hop across the Atlantic and head to Bratislava, Budapest, and Vienna!

If you’ve never heard of Bratislava or don’t know where it is, you aren’t alone. Bratislava is the capital city of Slovakia, which has been separated from the Czech Republic since 1993 (they used to be called Czechoslovakia). We flew into Vienna and then hopped on a direct bus that drove us the short distance (about 50 minutes) to Bratislava. Fun fact: Vienna and Bratislava are the closest capital cities in the world! They’re located about 50 miles apart.

64788-004-e8b81431
Today’s geography lesson!

When you think of Bratislava and Eastern Europe in general, you probably think of communism, right? Maybe you picture grey, nondescript, ugly buildings and a generally depressed vibe? To be honest, that’s kind of what I pictured. However, I knew that this was probably our best opportunity to visit, and with it being so close to Vienna, I wanted to make the most of our chance. When we got off the bus at Bratislava’s main station and headed in what we thought was the direction of our Airbnb apartment, we were…well, slightly underwhelmed. There were definitely plenty of ugly Soviet-era buildings and it was definitely cold and grey, with a side of graffiti. Still, it was something different, and we were determined to make the most of it.

8146253009_796602c221_b
Communist Bratislava in 1975

As it turns out, we walked the wrong way for quite a while and were nowhere near the part of Bratislava we had intended to visit – the Old City Center.  Once we found our way to our apartment, we were stunned by the historic architecture and charm that awaited us. I absolutely fell in love with our apartment – it was perfect!

a652f90e_original
Living room of our apartment! Obsessed.

We arrived a little before lunch and took a quick nap, then headed out to start sightseeing. We joined a free walking tour that was leaving at 3:30, and this ended up being a fantastic way to see the Old Town. The Christmas markets had just ended, so they were being put away, but the lights were still up throughout the city, as were numerous Christmas trees. The buildings in this portion of town are brightly colored and have detailed doors, window, and architecture, and many of the streets are cobblestone. The contrast between what we had seen on our walk from the bus stop and what we were seeing in the Old Town was remarkable, and I quickly fell hard for the city.

img_8823
Like, this is pretty decent, right?

Our guide, Nicoleta, was very helpful in telling us all about the city and acquainting us with its history – the good, the bad, and the communist. Bratislava didn’t suffer much damage in World War II, so unlike other cities, most of the original buildings are still intact. However, the city’s oldest synagogue was destroyed through the construction of a highway back in the 1980s, and the construction also rendered a historic church unusable (fun fact – it’s my job to prevent stuff like this from happening in the U.S.).  However, there will still plenty of beautiful things to see.

fullsizerender8
Lots of brightly colored buildings in Old Town! Jacket from KUHL

The hunt for gluten-free food was on, and I was presently surprised at how many options I found. Unfortunately, the local Slovakian restaurant that advertised gluten free options I had wanted to try was closed for the holidays, so we ended up grabbing gluten-free pizza at Pizza Mizza instead. I was thrilled to have so many choices – you never know when you travel. We also sampled plenty of Slovakian wine and ducked into a few pubs as well!

fullsizerender10
I forgot to take pictures of my food because I mostly hate pictures of food, so here is another stunning picture of Old Town Bratislava

The following day, we finished up walking around the Old Town and then hiked our way up to Bratislava Castle for a view of the city. Portions of the castle date back to the 900s, although most of it was destroyed in a fire and reconstructed.  There are many things America is lacking, but castles are definitely a big one. We need to get some castles immediately.

fullsizerender11
View from the castle!

There were several things that struck me about Bratislava. First, the local people were extremely friendly and kind, and they were happy to have tourists around. Second, nearly everyone we talked to spoke excellent English, which is great since we didn’t happen to brush up on our Slovak before we left. Third, everything was insanely cheap! Beer was 1.50 euro for a big glass, wine was 1.5-2 euro. We had two pizzas and four drinks at dinner for less than 20 euro! If you’re traveling on a budget through Europe, definitely put Bratislava on your list.

img_8911
Love this guy and this cute little city!

Unfortunately, our time in Bratislava was pretty short and we definitely could have spent more time there visiting historic sites and walking around the Old Town. However, we had a train to catch – it was on to Budapest!

LEAVE A COMMENT: Have you ever heard of Bratislava? If so, what were your impressions of it before reading this post? Do you have any interest in visiting Eastern Europe?

Save

15 thoughts on “Falling in Love with Old Town Bratislava

  1. I adore Bratislava and now I’m so glad you love it too. ☺ I spent 3 weeks there on a summer course during my studies and loved every second of it. The Slovak people are some of the nicest people you can meet and they know how to make good beer. 😉
    Couldn’t agree more on castles though! Wherever I go, those are first on my list to visit. I love castles! Plus, you can always find some anywhere in Europe. 😉

    1. That’s so awesome that you studied there! Yes, it definitely surprised me! I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I ended up really loving it. AJ really enjoyed the beer, too. Everyone was very friendly and we loved it!

    1. You should definitely go if you have the chance! Everyone was so friendly and kind. Plus the wine was excellent, and they actually don’t export it (interesting fact of the day).

  2. I have to confess that I still mentally think in terms of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia … I should know better. I am not surprised at the mix of old and new – the ugly Soviet-era buildings are awful in all of those countries, but fortunately they didn’t totally ruin the wonderful historical buildings of earlier eras!

    I have definitely heard of Bratislava, and am glad that you got to spend even a bit of time there – not surprised that the locals were very receptive, those spots are supposed to be great but underappreciated.

    I’ve not been to that area – but have been fortunate to visit other areas. My favorite ‘tourism disappointment’ stories is that in the same year, for work, I got to go to England and Germany … which was exciting until it occurred to me I was in Coventry and Dresden – both wonderful places that were utterly destroyed in WWII and were generic modern spots in the late 80s/early 90s.

    Look forward to more great pictures and stories!

    1. I don’t think about Yugoslavia anymore, but for some reason, it seems to me like it was Czechoslovakia literally just yesterday. I think maybe because the breakup of Yugoslavia was such a mess, but Czechoslovakia just kind of quietly separated, so it didn’t seem as dramatic, I guess.

      It seems like they are definitely working on making tourism more of a priority there. Its close proximity to Vienna and Budapest make it a logical stop for people who are doing tours of the broader area like we are. I wouldn’t have planned to go there as a separate trip, but when I saw it was only an hour from Vienna, I thought “Why not?” I’m so glad we went!

      That’s such a bummer that you visited destroyed areas. At least they have local beer, right?!

      1. It doesn’t help that Czechia (Czech Republic) and Slovakia just divided up the name Czechoslovakia so it sounds like it should still be a country. No one kept Yugoslavia (well, Macedonia did in its full name but it’s rarely used in speaking and it’s usually written out as FYROM, so…) or anything sounding remotely like it so it dropped out of consciousness very quickly.

        1. Ok, so it is Czechia officially now? Someone mentioned that to me early last year but I wasn’t sure if that was the “official” global name. But you’re right, that definitely doesn’t help!

          1. It’s confusing, is what it is. It’s Czechia on official English-language documents (e.g. a government trade agreement between the UK and Czechia would say Czechia), and it is the official ‘short version’ of the country’s name (e.g. America or USA instead of the United States of America); but in speaking or in any causal documents, you can use Czechia and Czech Republic interchangeably. It is the slowest (and cheapest) way to switch the name of a country that I’ve ever seen.

  3. I’ve only toured Germany and Poland and I spoke more German when I was with my family in Germany than when I was by myself in Berlin (PS – put this city on your list). And yes, beer was cheaper than water. Haha.

    As much I love beaches (seriously, I live for warm weather) I really want to check out more cities in Europe.

    1. Berlin is definitely on my list! I’ve heard great things about it and actually several of the travel bloggers I follow live there. AJ and I are hoping to move to Germany for his job in the next couple years so I would have tons of time to explore if that actually happened!

      You can always go to Europe in the summer! Although I guess that’s the nice time in Calgary (that’s when the South is trying to escape to literally anywhere else)

  4. I’ve thought about doing the Bratislava Marathon. I love old European cities, and it would give me a chance to see another city on the Danube. It would also give me an excuse to see Vienna again, since it’s so close.

    1. I didn’t know Bratislava had a marathon, but of course, that makes sense! I think that would be a fascinating race – so much to see and so much contrast. Plus, I’m all for anything that gives you an excuse to visit Vienna! We absolutely fell in love with Vienna – that post is coming soon 🙂

  5. I can’t believe you skipped over the most interesting piece of trivia about Bratislava: it is the only national capital that borders two sovereign states. 😉

    That’s three people I know who went to Bratislava in 2016 and they all loved it. Might need to move the Eastern Europe plans a little higher up on the list. 🙂

    1. Hey, I never thought about that! And for some reason, they never mentioned it on our walking tour. I feel like I should leave a comment on Trip Advisor, haha!

      I think it’s just a really surprising place depending on what your expectations are! Plus, I like that it is a really colorful city with a lot of personality (at least, the Old Town is). While there are many European cities that are beautiful, they aren’t always colorful – and I love color!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *