Slovakia is a country nestled amidst the big daddies of tourism – Czechia (or erstwhile Czech Republic), Hungary, Austria and Poland. It hardly gets the attention that it deserves but with more and more people traveling to Budapest and Vienna, a lot of day trippers are ending up in Bratislava. I wanted to visit Bratislava as a day trip from Budapest, but given that it is almost 2.5 hrs from Budapest, we decided to go onwards to Vienna (which is about 1 hr from Bratislava) and spend couple of nights there. But I would highly recommend to make it an overnight stop as the city has just so much to offer.
We arrived at Bratislava station at around 10am and went straight to the luggage room to leave our bags. The luggage room is to your left as you exit Platform 1 and charges 2 EURs per bag. We then proceeded to buy our tickets for Vienna for the 3.30pm train. We had also reserved our seats for both the journeys, although it may not be necessary. But we were a family of 5 with a good amount of luggage so a reserved seat got us some peace of mind too. These tickets are usually open tickets for about 24 hrs so we could get on almost any train after 3.30pm (I wasn’t sure how the reservation would have worked but maybe you can ask the staff at the counter). With our luggage deposit tickets and our onward journey tickets securely in our backpacks, we proceeded to take a bus into the town centre. A unique thing about Bratislava is that you cannot buy tickets inside the bus/tram from the driver. There are small ticket machines at the bus / tram stops which dispense tickets of different validities starting from 15 mins to 24 hrs. If you are waiting for a bus then the 15 mins validity ticket should be fine for you (costs 0.70 EUR). It took us a while to understand which bus to take but thanks to a friendly group of students who spoke English who helped us with the right bus number to take us nearest to town centre. We took the bus 93 to Hodžovo námestie (the Presidential Palace was on the opposite side of the road) and from there took the underpass to cross the road (but don’t take the exit to the Presidential palace, instead take the one to your right) and came out on Postova street. A little walk on the street and after you pass the cutest post box in the world (me thinks) you will arrive at a junction from where when you take a right you will find yourself in a big square, just like below.
And while we were contemplating on where to start, we were approached by a city tour guide, you know the ones with those funny looking red buggies, just like this one below. They had 3 tour options – The 60 min Castle Tour which included a 20 min stop at the Bratislava Castle, The Old Town Tour and the Great City Tour. We paid EUR 10 each (total EUR 50) for the Castle Tour which was starting in just about 10 mins and hopped onto that funny little bus. It took us to the Slovak National Theatre from where the actual tour starts.
The tour takes you across the new part of the town through the Slovak Philharmonic building, the National bank of Slovakia, the inverted pyramid radio station before it climbs up the hill to the Castle Hrad or popularly the Bratislava Castle. Its a beautiful view from up there, of the Danube flowing by and the UFO bridge in the horizon. We didn’t go inside the Castle as previous reviews from travelers suggested that there isn’t much to see and moreover with only a 20min stoppage it wasn’t possible to do it. Just outside the Castle is the Slovak Parliament which is so unassuming that you might just miss it.
So after an hour our bus reached the main town square from where we started the tour (Slovak National Theatre). The tour continued for those who had booked the Great City Tour which comprised of the Old City tour. But I would recommend to walk around the old city unless you have difficulty walking around. However I would definitely recommend the Castle Tour because you get to cover a lot of the city and know its history (an audio guide is included in the tour) in a very short time.
We grabbed a quick lunch and continued, map in hand and an eye on our watches.
The Old Town is a very compact area with St Michael’s Gate on one end and St Martin’s Cathedral on the other and it would barely take you a couple of hours to see everything. And as you walk by the cobbled streets of this little town, you will come by the famed bronze statues of Bratislava. Don’t miss the statue of Hans Christian Anderson, the famous Danish writer who was so enchanted by Bratislava that it is said to be the inspiration of many of this fairy tales. It is said that rubbing the thumb of this statue brings good luck which, I don’t know how it turns out for the people who believe in it, but surely didn’t turn out lucky for the statue itself, evident in its faded and rather bruised thumb.
And so we wandered around the streets of Old Town Bratislava, eating ice creams, clicking photos and more photos and obviously hunting down souvenirs, completely oblivious to the time. And then when we finally got back to our senses we realised that we didn’t quite know where to catch a bus from for the station. Here my father took the lead and, we at his heels, took us to a junction with a bus station. When my father asked a passerby on which bus would take us to the station, seeing his almost panic stricken demeanor, he almost offered us his bus tickets. We kindly refused and he let us be only when we was completely assured that we definitely knew how to buy tickets from the vending machine and had enough change to get the required tickets. And then after about 5 mins of agonising wait, our bus (or was it a tram, heck I can’t even remember I was so agonised) arrived and took us to the train station well in time. To put the long story short (because there is no dearth of drama when the family is around – we almost lost our luggage tickets and then we almost lost each other at the platform), we did board the Vienna bound train well within time and reached Vienna intact with all our luggage in tow.
What we missed seeing
Of the more important things to see, we missed seeing the St Elisabeth church, famously known as the Blue church and also didn’t get to the top of the UFO bridge (actually MOST SNP).
So that’s how we spent a few hours in magical Bratislava although I highly recommend making it an overnight stay. And then off we went to Vienna, our next stop on this tour. So I leave you guys here but not before I show you a cool thing we found on the train. (These were art displays from budding artists. There were several of them hanging from overhead luggage racks. And these were real fun although the video quality isn’t great here !!)