I’d been toying with the idea of a trip over to Bratislava for a few months now, despite knowing very little about the capital of Slovakia. After some half-hearted google searches that didn’t amount to much, I wondered why I was so fixated in wanting to visit.
Uninspired, I turned to my trusty girl gang of travel bloggers across my social channels; “Ladies! Vac-ay to Bratislava? Any thoughts?”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the response was pretty lukewarm. “Uh, it’s got a cute old town?”, “Errr, it’s super small, you’ll whizz around it in a couple of hours…”, “Day trip territory, try Vienna instead and hop over to Bratislava if you’ve got some time…“, “Pretty castle on the hill!“…
In spite of the city not having many cheerleaders, I couldn’t quite shake the idea of heading over to this part of Central Europe. So when I was given a little nudge by Ryanair in the form of a ‘15% off all flights to Bratislava‘ emailer, I had a ‘oh, why the hell not?’ moment and half an hour later I had booked two return flights to that ‘super small city with the cute old town and pretty castle on the hill’…
I have to admit, taxi-ing through Bratislava on a Friday evening, I did have my reservations about where I’d chosen to holiday for the next three days. The drive up to the town is pretty unspectacular, a little grim even, with its communist high rises to the south and stretches of grey motorway (I’d watched EuroTrip to ‘prepare’ for my trip so I was just hoping it was all a little more cheery than the dog with a severed hand hanging from it’s jaw).
Catching sight of the famous ‘ugly’ bridge, nicknamed the UFO for its spaceship shape, was pretty exciting though, and seeing the white glow of the castle upon the hill to the west was a rather amazing sight, but as we drove across the bridge and lost sight of the castle, Bratislava was all blocks and concrete again; decidedly un-glamorous… and also weirdly quiet (no dog though, and thankfully no body-less limbs!).
After a swift check-in and nosy around our surprisingly spacious room at Ibis Bratislava Centrum, it was time to find out more about this Slovak city!
Heading in the direction of the old town it was still eerily empty, (like, where the hell is everyone?) and taking a steep decline down some stone steps, we might have taken a wrong turn down a narrow alley and sort of got muddled up in a building site that was working on making some serious repairs to the road… and there still weren’t any people around!
It was pretty dim and dingy and after a few minutes of traipsing through muddy sand and caking my converse in dirt, we emerged on Michalska right underneath Michael’s Gate (Michalska Vesa)… almost instantly all doubts disappeared, and with a smile, I immediately knew that I’d love it here in Bratislava!
Michalska was buzzing. It was a pleasantly warm, dry Friday night and locals and tourists were mixing on the streets, dining and drinking at the bars and cafes down the road. Michael’s Gate was the perfect backdrop to the beautiful architecture on either side. Feeling happy, we chose to take a wander and found the main square with the old town hall and the fountain lit up!
This place is beyond adorable! Seriously, why don’t more people visit Bratislava?!
Wandering About the Town, A Hankering for Halusky & drinking the Slovak Pubs dry!
In almost every city I’ve visited they have offered some sort of free walking tour, yet I’d never previously opted into one, choosing instead to venture off independently and explore without a guide. Bratislava however, was a place I had such limited prior knowledge of – I was visiting blind.
Yeah, I’d done the usual research but honestly, there wasn’t the plethora of information you can find on other ‘on the beaten track’ destinations. Even my local bookstore didn’t offer a guide book specifically on Slovakia and instead bunched a few pages on the end of one about ‘Central Europe’… huh!
So… after a fantastic late breakfast of waffles and lavender lemonade at Merica (Instagrammers heaven) we sped off to Hviezdoslavovo Namestie to meet up with the Be Free Tours at 11am to learn more about Bratislava!
Be Free Walking Tour
The entire tour took two and half hours, which sounds pretty intense, but the walk was very easy going, taking us around the major sights across the Old and New Town, and Simona, our guide, who was born and raised in the city and now studies for her Masters at the University was so engaging and funny!
We left with a well-rounded overview of the history of the town; understanding more about its communist era and Slovakia’s breakaway from Czech Republic, finding out more about life in Bratislava today, local delicacy’s, traditions (including one rather bizarre one involving water and whips at Easter!), about how the Slovak’s have a habit of burning their castles (Google it!) and we even had a stab at getting our tongues around the Slovak language (epic fail for us English speakers!).
A favourite of mine from the tour was of course the Blue Church (Church of St Elizabeth), which is as cute as anything, and looks just like a icing topped cake, straight from a fairy tale! We also found Čumil, the statue that pops out of a man hole.
Bratislava Flagship Restaurant
Famished from our walk we made our way to the outskirts of the old town to Bratislava Flagship Restaurant (a recommendation from Simona). It’s an old cinema that has been re-purposed and transformed into a gorgeously grand restaurant with homey grub and excellent beers. The menu is ‘tourist friendly’ with English translations and pictures and offers up everything from pierogi to goulash, to salads and fried cheese. But this was my first meal in Slovakia and I had to try the Slovak staple Bryndzove Halusky!
Made of small balls of potato dumplings and stirred with thick sheep’s cheese and bacon. It looked more like some sort of lumpy, stodgy porridge and, in the nicest possible way, it didn’t appear at all appetising (Jamie just sort of wrinkled his nose and played it safe with the fried cheese and chips). But, cheese and bacon guys, CHEESE AND BACON.
FYI: It’s incredible.
My stomach adores me, my waistline… not so much.
Beer in Bratislava!
With the temperature still pushing 30 degrees and the promised storm hanging off in the place of bright sunshine, a slow beer crawl around the city’s best pubs and microbrewery’s (with bread dumplings and goulash to soak the litres up!) was certainly the best way we could spend a few hours. It was perfect weather and it helped being in a town as pretty as Bratislava!
My liver and stomach could only take so much, but we did manage to stop for a few at the Castle Brewery (located under the Castle and conveniently opposite our hotel!) Bratislavsky Mestiansky Pivovar, which is a gorgeous modern brew pub, Beer Palace just off from Hviezdoslavovo Namestie, Slovak Pub (owned by the same people as Bratislava Flagship Restaurant, only a short walk further out and with slightly cheaper prices!) and my favourite, Fabrika Beer Pub which was a short walk out of the town center towards the station, but where I found this excellent Blueberry Wheat Beer and paired it with a personal Czech favourite, beer cheese!
..and for when you can’t stomach another beer, try out the local soft drink ‘Kofola‘ – back in the communist era when Slovak’s couldn’t get their hands on ‘Western’ Drinks like Coca-Cola they produced their own alternative – surprisingly good!
That ‘Pretty Castle On The Hill’, The Best Cheesecake, the UFO bridge and a farewell walk around the Old Town.
After another late breakfast, it was time to explore another of Bratislava’s highlights; Bratislava Hrad (Castle). Simona from our Free Walking Tour had told us that at some point the castle interior had been completely destroyed by fire. According to her, the Slovak’s never did get the bottom of what caused the blaze, but a popular explanation was that it was two Italians to blame. The pair had been working at the castle and stopped to take a break, choosing to cook some food and drink some wine. After a long and enthusiastic session of wine drinking, the pair had completely forgotten about their open fire; the flames took hold and the castle was devastated. You might recall a similar story back in 2012, this time featuring two Slovak boys in the region of Kosice, when they burnt down a 14th Century Castle after their experimentation with cigarettes went quite wrong; with a smile, Simona had commented that she ‘hoped one day Slovakia will be known for more than just burning down their own castles!‘
Bratislava’s Castle has since been re-built inside and now houses a museum which we skipped, but we more interested in the view across the old town and getting a closer look at the building itself.
Taking the winding path next to our hotel the short hike took us right up the castle gates and gave us a pretty amazing panorama of the old town just below and the communist housing blocks to the south, with the UFO bridge cutting a sharp line between the two, marrying the ornate period architecture and the modern concreate forms.
Up close, the castle itself was pretty beautiful as well, and enormous! We spent an hour or so up here before heading back down again for some more Halusky (too obsessed!!).
Blessed again with yet more fantastic weather we seized on the chance to take another walk around the old town and simply drink in the atmosphere.
Grabbing a couple of bottles of Kofola from the Billa near the square, we weaved in and out of the alley ways, making a break at Mondieu café for one of the creamiest caramel cheesecakes I’ve ever tried and eventually pausing again for a couple of wheat beers in Prasna Basta beer garden which wrapped up a perfect lazy day!
Bratislava; who knew?! The city that has gained a poor rep from movies like Hostel and Eurotrip, and often gets side-lined by travellers preferring to spend time in its neighbouring cities, is actually one of the most incredibly charming places; friendly locals, chokka with bars, restaurants and boutiques, a rich and interesting history and full of incredible food. Although petite, like a ‘mini-Prague’ almost, foodies and drink-enthusiasts will not want to miss a long weekend in the heart of Europe.
Who’d have thought this city would be so fabulous?
Go to Bratislava, take the walking tour, eat like kings and revel in this fairy tale city, and if you’re anything like me, leave fat and happy.
You’ve been a gem Bratislava!
For more tourist information about Bratislava CLICK HERE! And Plan your trip.
Flights from London Luton to Bratislava Airport: (£45 return each). Hotel, three nights in a double room at the centrally located Ibis Bratislava Centrum (£120 – £60 each). Transport, pre booked private transfers in an executive car to and from the airport and hotel (£15 each). Spending money for food and tips for the free walking tour (£110 each for three days). One return train fare to Vienna on the third day (£12 each).
Total cost per person (traveling as a couple) for a three day holiday to Bratislava with one day in Vienna (£230 each).
In addition to my two days in Bratislava I spent a day in Vienna, Austria – only an hour by train from Slovakia. Post coming up soon! Subscribe to my blog via email or Bloglovin’ to ensure you never miss a post.