Is Bratislava worth a day trip from Vienna?

Is Bratislava worth a daytrip from Vienna

I’m always seeing the above question on internet forums. I had searched the question myself, wondering if it was really worth doing the 1-hr trip from Vienna to Bratislava.

You’ll see all kinds of answers, from “It’s ok and worth it if you have nothing better to do” to gushing reviews (mostly from other bloggers. Bloggers like to gush). You’d think from reading some reviews that it’s the most beautiful city in Europe.

We decided to go see Bratislava for ourselves.

If there’s a first reason to visit Bratislava (from Vienna) it is to see startling contrasts. Vienna is grand and pristine. The train station is ultra-modern, the train that you enter to get to Bratislava sleek and shiny. The Austrian countryside is tidy, organized and futuristic: you’ll see solar panel farms and lots of gigantic wind turbines. When you cross the Slovakian border everything changes. You’ll suddenly see ramshackled wooden sheds, communist-era train stations in dire need of paint,  and old train carriages lying off to the the side, rusted and covered in graffiti. At this moment you realize that you are in the heart of Eastern Europe.

The train station in Bratislava is your typical Eastern European train station. Soviet style construction, stark and a bit gloomy. No-frills. The people wandering around the station fit right in with the decor. You see none of the wealth displayed so confidently in Vienna. Within an hour you’ve entered a different world.

A ten minute bus ride brings you to the doorstep of the historic center. Even on a dreary, dour day you can seem the charm of Old Town Bratislava. A few photos:

Below: Michael’s Gate, the only existing gate from the city’s medieval fortifications.

Michael's Gate, Bratislava

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Below: St. Martin’s Cathedral (completed in 1452), the largest and most impressive church in town. It was here that Hungarian kings and queens were formally crowned (present day Slovakia was part of the Hungarian Empire). The spire dominates the skyline.

St. Martin's Cathedral, Bratislava, Slovakia

St. Martin's Cathedral interior, Bratislava, Slovakia

St. Martin's Cathedral, interior 2, Bratislava, Slovakia

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Below: Doors, gates and buildings seen walking through the Old Town.

door in bratislava, slovakia

red door in bratislava, slovakia

gate in bratislava, slovakia

ruined buildings, bratislava, slovakia

 

Bratislava won’t win any beauty contests. But it has unpolished charm. You can see it in the photos above. Buildings might be weathered but for the most part you see that people have tried to beautify their space with color. The old streets and sidewalks are uneven, grass growing through cracks in the paving stones. The most important thing that Bratislava has is character which, in hindsight was maybe what was lacking for us in Vienna where everything was, well, too perfect.
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Below: Main Square (Hlavné námestie) with the Old Town Hall and its prominent tower (built in 1370).

Hlavne namestie (main square), Bratislava, Slovakia

Above/Below: Note the statues which are recent and injected to give the old town a bit of life. This post explores more of the quirky statues in town.

Man at work statue, Bratislava

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Below: more scenes from around town.

restaurant in bratislava, slovakia

street, bratislava, slovakia

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Below: Brastislava Castle. It’s honestly the most uninspiring castle we’ve seen in Europe. It has decent views of the Danube river however.

Bratislava Castle, Bratislava, Slovakia

UFO Tower on the Danube, Bratislava, Slovakia

Above: The UFO Observation deck (and restaurant). A good place for a coffee and views of the old town on a nice day.

 

The Church of St. Elisabeth (Kostol svätej Alžbety), nicknamed The Blue Church (Modrý kostolík), Bratislava

The Church of St. Elisabeth (Kostol svätej Alžbety), nicknamed The Blue Church (Modrý kostolík), interior,  Bratislava

Above: The “Blue Church” (officially The Church of St. Elizabeth).

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We spent an afternoon walking around the old town and getting a feel for Bratislava. It was unpretentious and the people we met were friendly.
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So, is Bratislava worth a daytrip from Vienna?

If you’ve spent more than 2 days in Vienna, then I think Brastislava is worth a visit, just because of the contrast and different vibe. We enjoyed the character of the city and the coziness of the very small historic center. In many ways Bratislava reminded us of many of the other Eastern European cities we’ve visited. However, I’m specifying that Bratislava is worth a day trip from Vienna. I wouldn’t put Bratislava my Top-10 itinerary of European cities as a must-see place. If I had to sum Bratislava up in a few words: Nice, unspectacular, relaxing, with charm. Some blogger friends have mentioned that the city is especially lively in the summer when bars and cafes put their tables and chairs outside. We could see that this would be the case. We could even see that Bratislava could be a nice slow travel base, a reprieve from some of the more touristy cities in the region.

 

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Practical Information

There are trains every hour between Vienna’s Hauptbahnhof and Bratislava’s Hlavná Stanica. See the DB website for schedule. A return ticket bought at Vienna’s Hauptbahnhof will include the cost of public transport in Bratislava for the first day of the validity period.

To get into the city center from Bratislava’s train station: take Bus line 93 (exit 2nd stop “Hodzovo nam.” next to the presidential palace or 3rd stop “Zochova” and go through the underpass by foot into the center) or Bus line X13 (exit 3rd stop “Namestie SNP” right by the pedestrian zone).

– Our visit was admittedly brief. We missed sites, especially those outside the old historic center. Have a look at this site for much, much more on Bratislava. Wikitravel also has a very good page on Bratislava.

– The Tourist Information office will give you a good map of the city center. They are located close to the main square at Šafárikovo námestie 3. You’ll see signs for it around the old town. 

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Have you been to Bratislava? If so what did you think of it? 

 

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Comments

  1. You know, since it’s only an hour away, l would probably visit..just to decide for myself like you say. It looks quaint, but if l didn’t visit..l wouldn’t feel so bad. I like the statues though. It’s nice that they’re trying..:-)
    Kemkem recently posted…Awe inspiring Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain & PodcastMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      They’re definitely trying and it’s a nice place. It’s not a spectacular place but a change of pace. Like when you’ve had too much pizza and want sushi instead, that kind of thing. SO different than Vienna which is kind of stiff…and that’s the beauty of Eastern Europe, no pretense.
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Is Bratislava worth a day trip from Vienna?My Profile

  2. Frank and Lissette, I think Bratislava is probably like a lot of other capital cities. For me they are must-sees because that’s where the bulk of the history has happened and the national museums are. I like the little towns. We spent a night in Levoca, Slovakia and it was a charmer! We loved it.
    Corinne recently posted…Adventure Travel Scotland – Shotguns and QuadsMy Profile

  3. Great post, Bratislava looks like a lovely city, even though it lacks the grandeur of many cities in western Europe. We’re considering a flight to Slovakia at some point (Ryanair does cheap flights from the UK), possibly in summer.

    By the way, “ramshackled wooden sheds, communist-era train stations in dire need of paint, and old train carriages lying off to the the side, rusted and covered in graffiti” sound intriguing, I have a soft spot for old, abandoned, shabby and dilapidated 😉

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      You know what? We’ve spent so much time in Eastern Europe over the last year that we’ve found a certain charm with “old, abandoned, shabby and dilapidated”. Much better those adjectives than gentrified, reconstructed and refurbished. Together they equal boring and characterless 🙂
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Is Bratislava worth a day trip from Vienna?My Profile

  4. Frank, very interesting read. I read your last post about Vienna being kinda superficial with no character. I’m glad you went here to see a different side of the country. I don’t think I would visit Bratislava though (even with your recommendation). I like places that are somewhere in between Vienna and here; though, if I had enough time next time I’m in Europe, I could see myself making a trip here (maybe). I much prefer the countryside with more natural settings.
    Hung Thai recently posted…An open invitation to travelers everywhere: Project Alpha charitable book projectMy Profile

  5. I’ve never been to Slovakia. Met a few people from there, during my travels, though.

    “But it has unpolished charm” – Know what you mean, when I find these thype of places, I kind of like them. Many are off the so called tourist routes and a lot more relaxed. There may not be the good transport links, usually no hostels to stay at and definitely not party towns, but – I’ve managed to meet some nice people and tend to enjoy them.
    Ted recently posted…Italy, a different perspectiveMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Ted. Yes, we’ve increasingly gotten to like places like that as well. In the end they just feel more authentic.

  6. Interesting read Frank. As I think you know, we spent a couple of days in Bratislava. Overall, I would agree with your summary but the city does have one thing going for it that you see less and less of in Eastern Europe these days and that’s a healthy dose of Socialist-era architecture. The Slavin War Memorial was the highlight for me but there is also the SNP Bridge (as pictured above) and the wacky Slovak Radio Station which needs to be seen to be believed! In fact we intend to head back to Bratislava next time we are in the area as we want to visit Petržalka (on the other side of the bridge) which is home to the largest socialist-era housing development in Eastern Europe – it takes all sorts!!

    I also thought Devín Castle, just outside the city, was also worth visiting. You don’t mention it, but I am assuming Bratislava is cheaper than Vienna, especially for important things such as beer??
    Mark Bennetts recently posted…How to Spend a Day in Pristina, KosovoMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Good comment. Yes, if you like Soviet era architecture it’s interesting. We missed some of the highlights, like Devin Castle and the Slavin War Memorial. Honestly, was cold, then it started to rain…we went and had lunch with a beer (which yes, is cheaper than in Vienna 🙂 )

  7. It’s nice you’re giving good, solid advice – yes, Bratislava is worth a daytrip from Vienna, but ONLY if you’ve already spent time in Vienna (i.e., don’t go to Bratislava instead of Vienna!). And you’re right, Bratislava may seem happier and come more to life in the summer :-). Even our home city of Vancouver is pretty dreary and we wouldn’t recommend visiting it in the middle of a dark rainy winter!
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted…Grand Velas Riviera Maya food! aka the 9-step foodie “un-diet”My Profile

  8. I like the statues and the blue church. I think it looks like a cute town.
    Karen recently posted…One Day at Irresistible Ayutthaya- a UNESCO World Heritage SiteMy Profile

  9. Once again, beautiful photos and great assessment. “Unpolished charm” describes Bratislava perfectly and I agree that it’s worth a visit to see the contrast with Vienna.
    Travels and Tipples recently posted…A Tale of Two FortressesMy Profile

  10. there was a budget airline that operated from Bratislava. but i think it’s defunct now cant quite remember the name of it. I really liked Bratislava, it was a change of pace, I was there in August I think it was and it wasnt very busy. has a huge amount of charm. would happily go back. yes the castle isnt up to much is it?
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  11. gsutiger says:

    We visited Bratislava and enjoyed it. It is worth a day’s trip. Originally we were going to spend the night at one of the top hotels, but after much research, I decided a long day trip was best. We bought some great vodka and had a wonderful tour. Your right – totally different from Vienna and that’s why I loved it (not a Vienna fan here).

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Another “not a Vienna fan”. We weren’t either. I’m wondering what that is exactly?
      Any tour with Vodka sounds good! 🙂

  12. Hi,

    This is looking really amazing place to visit with family, and i like the way you have describe about the post

  13. I’m just finishing my trip to Bratislava now. Have to say, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s unpretentious but lively. The large number of hipster ish cafes, modern restaurants etc has made it a really nice spot to chill out. I wish guide books would focus on those good points as while Bratislava falls down on museum or sites to wow about it’s a nice place to kick back, drink a craft beer, eat a vegan ice cream or have some top notch food.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      You’re exactly right Chris. Travel isn’t just about sites, it’s about fun places you feel comfortable in. As full-time travellers we’ve grown to appreciate these (check out Skopje, Macedonia sometime – even more interesting than Bratislava at half the cost. The cheapest place we’ve been in a long time).

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…The place to stay in San Miguel de AllendeMy Profile

  14. I definitely think that the ‘ramshackled wooden sheds, communist-era train stations in dire need of paint, and old train carriages lying off to the the side’ is a large part of Bratislava’s charm. I visited for a day in 2013 (quick stop for lunch en-route from Vienna to Budapest), and really liked the town. I have never fallen in love with Vienna, and actually preferred Bratislava. The city is so lively in the summer – the streets are full of artists, singers, performances and people sitting out in the bars or cafes.

    Three years after I first visited Bratislava, I moved there (in June 2016). Bratislava is small, so people think they know it after a day – but, honestly, I have found it to change from week to week. After the summer tourists moved on, the city was full of locals for the autumn wine and beer festivals. Then it was teeming with people visiting for ‘White Night’ – a night of lights and performances. For the past 5 weeks, the Christmas markets have moved in and it is really busy once more. Not a weekend has gone by without me wandering upon an unexpected performance – a light show across the facade of the palace, or a reenactment of a military parade (complete with cannons!). There are some wonderful underground cellar bars – you would never guess from ground level that a whole maze of people eating and drinking is lying just beneath your feet! And Devin Castle is spectacular, even if Bratislava castle is dull!!

    Bratislava has so much going for it! Sorry to sound like one of those gushing bloggers, but I am totally in love with my new city!
    runawaybrit recently posted…Orava Castle: Inside the Lair of a VampireMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Great comment, thanks for the perspective from someone who’s spent substantial time there.
      We were recently in Belgrade for 2 weeks and it made me think of Bratislava: gritty, not so popular with tourists, but with a lot of charm if you take the time to look for it.
      Thanks for the feedback!
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