48 hours in Bratislava? Where’s that then? The capital city of a country few people could place on a map, let alone name the city, offers a great weekend getaway. Don’t however expect to spend a Monday mooching around a museum, because they don’t open. Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, or the Slovak Republic has an illustrious history even if the country has only existed as an independent state since 1993.
In the 1500s the city was even the capital of Hungary and remained so for 250 years. The city has everything you want from a central or eastern European city. An old town with narrow, winding streets; the last remaining city gate to walk through; a castle overlooking the town; tumbling remnants of a city wall; towering churches and plenty of cafés. If you want to see two capital cities in one trip it is also excellently placed with Vienna only an hour away by train.
Getting into Bratislava from the airport and getting around the city is fairly straightforward. There is a good public transport system of trams and buses. Tickets have to be bought before getting on the vehicle and validated in the ticket machine on board. Many stops have a ticket machine but if you know you are going to make several trips it might be worth getting a few tickets in advance, just in case. The tickets are bought for a certain length journey rather than a specific trip e.g. 15 minutes, 30 minutes etc. For example, Bus 61 will get you from the airport to the main train station for which you would need a 30 minute ticket. If you intend to make a connection to another bus you could get a longer ticket, or if you are worried about how long the connection time would be it might be worth buying two separate tickets. One problem I find with public transport, when you aren’t familiar with a place, is knowing where you actually are and when you need to get off. Handily, if you know the name of the stop you want overhead screens will tell you where you are and some show you a list of the upcoming stops.
The Old Town is a maze of winding, cobbled streets that open up onto the Town Square and is a great place to get lost exploring. Buildings worth a visit are
Bratislava Castle is in an excellent position perched on the hilltop overlooking the Danube River and the Old Town. On a good
Devín Castle, or Hrad Devín, is a ruined castle situated at the confluence of the Danube and Moravia rivers. Perched on the hilltop it offers spectacular views along these two rivers. The original castle itself dates back to the 13th century with many alterations and additions since. In 1809 Napoleon had his army blow up the castle. The castle is easy to get to from Bratislava. The 29 bus runs from Bratislava and takes about 20 minutes to get there.
Part of the border with Austria runs along the Danube and Moravia rivers in Devín which makes the riverside at the foot off the castle the site of the old Iron Curtain. The Gate of Freedom memorial stands here commemorating the people who died trying to cross over into the West during the Cold War. As many as 400 people may have been shot trying to escape. Try and find the heart
Other sites of note
A couple of other sites worth visiting are the Church of St. Elisabeth and the Slavín memorial. The church is better known as the Blue Church and is a beautiful art nouveau building in the eastern part of the Old Town. The name tells you what you need to know about its colour from the plaster to the tiles. Inside it is delicately decorated and not overly grand.
Slavín is a military cemetery and monument on the top of a hill offering a great view across Bratislava towards the castle. It holds the graves of over 7000 Russian soldiers who died liberating the city after the Second World War. As well as the graves there are many statues in a traditional
Food and Drink
If tea or coffee is your thing there are plenty of lovely cafes around the Old Town but two I tried and particularly liked were Mačkafé on Zámocká near the castle and Čajovňa v Podzemí – Podzemíčko in the Old Town.
Mačkafé is the local cat café, and if you love cats as much as I do, then it is a must. The coffee and cake are great but it is the chance to interact with the cats that makes the visit. The cats are laid back and relaxed, clearly not unhappy in their environment. You can also buy T-shirts to help support the owners in their work with homeless and rescue cats.
Čajovňa v Podzemí – Podzemíčko or the Underground Tea Rooms are the perfect environments to enjoy a cuppa or three. The tea rooms are, as the name suggests, underground – apparently in a former bomb shelter. The rooms are decorated in a variety of African and Oriental themes with light relaxing music playing in the background. The tea menu is extensive with, according to their website, over 1000 teas available. After a few hours wandering around the cobbled streets, this really is a great place to mellow out and relax.
If you are looking for something more substantial then try out the Dunajský Pivovar restaurant. This is the restaurant on a boat hotel, docked on the far bank of the Danube a little downstream from the UFO Bridge. The boat has its own onsite brewery, you dine around the tanks, and you have a fantastic view of the river as it flows past the window. I had a salmon tagliatelle with a dark beer which was excellent.
I combined my stay in Bratislava with a day trip to Vienna. The contrast between the two cities is immense. Vienna is a marvel on an industrial scale, full of Imperial buildings from a bygone empire whilst Bratislava compares as a small town neighbour. Despite, or even because of this, it deserves a visit. It lacks the pressing crowds of Vienna and retains its charm along with the many features I described. It is also a lot cheaper to stay and eat out in than its western neighbour. Once known as a stag party destination because if the cheap beer it is now clearly, much more than this.