If you follow me on social media you’ll know that I’ve done a lot of travelling already this year. Although we are only four months in to 2017, I have explored four new countries, and new four cities, and have had numerous days out and weekend stays too. Two weeks ago I headed on a mini European adventure with my wonderful friend, and fellow travel blogger, Lucy. We had booked 2 nights in Bratislava and 2 in Vienna and were so excited to be kicking off our holiday exploring the Slovakian capital. We had the best possible start to our trip as this place totally stole my heart and, in my humble opinion, it’s extremely underrated and is a true hidden gem! When you think of city breaks, Bratislava might not be at the top of your list, but here’s why I really think it should be, and here’s my ultimate guide to this beautiful city…
Get around on foot
Although Bratislava is a fairly big city, pretty much everything you would want to see and do is located in the Old Town and Historical Centre, which is a small area and can easily be covered on foot. If you’re anything like me, you’ll LOVE wandering around on foot, getting lost down side streets and discovering places off the beaten path. You can use trams or buses to get around the city, but to be honest everything is close by and walking along the cobbled streets really helps to immerse yourself in the true Slovak culture. During our trip, Lucy and I planned the landmarks we really wanted to visit and then roughly mapped out our day making sure we ticked off everything we wanted to see during our short time there. We managed to see almost everything we wanted to, but I could have wandered for hours more and really wanted to hike up to the Slovak Monument for panoramic views across the city below… There’s always next time though!
Take advantage of cheap accommodation
Part of the beauty of visiting Eastern Europe is that prices are super cheap compared to back home in the UK, or in other parts of Europe such as Scandinavia, where things tend to be more expensive. Bratislava was hands down one of the cheapest places I have ever visited, along with Prague and Budapest which I found to be really good value for money too. Hotels were inexpensive with top chains like Ibis, Crowne Plaza and Hilton offering fantastic rates on rooms, but in the end we opted for different type of accommodation, and one I had never experienced before! Yep, we booked a hostel!
I was super nervous about staying in a hostel as I’d only ever heard horror stories of unclean rooms, dirty dorms and shared areas, but we booked a private apartment which was actually part of the hostel itself so this meant we got the benefits of a hotel room for the price of a hostel which worked really well. We stayed at the funky Freddie Next to Mercury Hostel which was a 5 min walk from the train station and about a 20 min walk to the Old Town – a little out the way but the apartment was HUGE with great views and for just 36 euros pp for two nights who were we to complain?! I’d definitely stay in a hostel again, as long as it was a private room with private bathroom, and will be using this mode of accommodation to save pennies on future trips!
Purchase a Bratislava City Card
During our trip we were delighted to be working with the fantastic team at Visit Bratislava who were super helpful and gave us loads of tips to help us plan our time in the city. We were treated to complimentary City Cards which also meant we were able to join one of the free walking tours that depart daily from the Tourist Information centre just behind the Old Town Hall. The walking tour lasted for around an hour and a half and we covered all of the main sights and really got to understand the history behind this little known city.
Our tour guide was fantastic, she knew her stuff, had perfect English and was happy to answer any questions we had. Being in a small group of four also meant we could take our time and really enjoy the tour without rushing round, so it was a great way to explore the sights as well as find out all about the places we were visiting. I’d highly recommend purchasing a City Card during your time in Bratislava, but only if you have a good few days to explore as I feel we missed out on a lot of the benefits we could’ve taken purely because we didn’t have the time to do everything we wanted to do! A big thank you to the wonderful team at Visit Bratislava for looking after us!
Explore the beautiful castles
If you see just one thing in Bratislava, make sure it’s at least one of the beautiful castles – seriously these things are sooo princessy and dreamy and I was totally in my element! Hrad Castle, on top of a hill overlooking the city, was the highlight of the trip for me and it was so worth the hike up there from the bottom of St Martin’s Cathedral! The red turrets, the white walls, the black lampposts, everything about it was like something from a Disney film and I just gazed up at it in awe for ages taking it all in!
If you have the time and don’t mind venturing a little out of the city, a day trip to Devin Castle should be on your go-to list and will be well worth the visit. From all the photos I saw on Instagram, and in the tourist brochures, this place looked AMAZING and I am so gutted I didn’t get chance to visit!! With history tracing back to 5th Century BC, the castle and its ruins stand on a cliff over 200m high offering spectacular panoramic views of both the Danube and the Morava rivers. It’ll take you around 20 minutes to reach Devin, and the easiest and quickest way to get there is either by bus from Bratislava’s main bus terminal every half an hour, but if you’re looking to make a day of it why not jump on a boat from one of the nearby ports? The boat service runs twice a day and a comfortable cruise along the Danube will get you over to Devin in no time.
Base yourself at the Main Square
Every city should have a main square, right?! I just love finding central squares to base myself from, it really helps with getting my bearings and knowing where to come back to after a long day of exploring! The main square in Bratislava is really beautiful and boasts some incredible architecture. We spent most of our first morning in the city wandering around the little side streets, eating ice cream, pigging out on pizza and just enjoying the sunshine and the cobbled pathways. The square is also home to cafes, shops and restaurants offering plenty of places to stop and recharge your batteries.
My favourite thing about the main square though was the old town hall with its coloured roof and its impressive tower and spire. We climbed the tower and were treated to stunning views across the rest of the city, catching all the landmarks lit up in the glorious spring sunshine. Looking down towards the square you’ll find the stunning fountain right at the heart of it, and see the surrounding architectural buildings too.
Eat in Hviezdoslav Square
Finding a nice restaurant to eat in after a long and tiring day’s walking can sometimes feel like a chore, especially if you don’t have any recommendations to go on, or if you don’t really know here you’re going! Lucy and I felt a bit like this in Bratislava, we were both exhausted after walking over 18km, and were absolutely starving! After visiting Hrad Castle we’d walked past a few places that took our fancy but it was quite early to eat and, naturally, most places were empty and not yet serving food.
On our walking tour earlier on in the day we stumbled upon the pretty Hviezdoslav Square and so headed back there to see if we could find somewhere to feed ourselves and rest our feet for a couple of hours. The Square is one of the focal points of the city, with fountains, shops, hotels, bars and restaurants dotted along each side of the street. Named after poet and dramatist Pavol Hviezdoslav and located in the Old Town, between the Slovak National Theatre and the UFO Bridge, the Square is the perfect place from which to unwind after a busy day’s exploring. We chose to eat at Carnevalle, a meat restaurant serving steaks, poultry and more, but there were lots of other places to choose from and the Square was lively with plenty going on both during the day and in the evening too.
Ride up the UFO Tower and cross the SNP Bridge
This is another major tourist attraction in Bratislava, and sadly one which I didn’t quite get to tick off my list! Lucy and I trekked down from Hrad Castle, over the SNP bridge and along the river Danube, only to be told that the tower was closed for a private event and no longer open to the public for the remainder of the evening. We. Were. GUTTED! We had planned to watch the sunset there and take in some fantastic views across to Austria and Hungary, but sadly it just wasn’t meant to be. I will definitely return here though and see it for myself, and there’s a fancy restaurant right at the top of the tower with gourmet cuisine and panoramic views which looks right up my street! I’ll be back UFO, I’ll be back.
Discover the charming churches
Anyone that knows me will know that I LOVE churches. I love exploring inside them, I love climbing their towers, and I love gazing up at their ornate architecture and pretty ceilings. Bratislava is home to a number of impressive churches, and you could spend so much time exploring just these buildings alone, but my two favourites were the stunning St Martins Cathedral, and the striking Church of St Elizabeth, also known as the Blue Church. The Cathedral is one of the focal points of the city with its spire standing 279ft tall and dominating the Old Town’s skyline. We were given scarves to cover our bare shoulders inside this Roman Catholic Church and were not allowed to take any photos so instead just gazed up at its beautiful altar, stained glass windows and intricate gothic ceiling. If you have the time you can purchase a ticket to go down to the ancient catacombs hidden beneath the church floors to see the crypts that have been discovered there.
Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, the Blue Church was a special sight to behold and one of my favourite places in Bratislava. Built in the early 20th century and designed by Hungarian architect Edmund Lechner, it’s art nouveau style is absolutely beautiful, and both the interior and exterior are of the building are painted shades of blue all over. The Church also boasts a 36 metre high round tower which I would love to have seen but sadly the building was closed when we went to visit!