I recently took a short break to Vienna and being the wandering soul that I am, couldn’t resist a hop, skip and a jump across the border to Bratislava. This pair of capital cities are the closest in Europe and are connected by frequent buses, trains and boats.
I chose to travel by bus with Regiojet, 80 mins each way, with more facilities than some European flights (think entertainment system, WiFi, complimentary hot drinks), and all for the bargain price of €5 each way. Tickets for €1 each way are available if you move quick. What a bargain! The bus drops you right at the edge of the old town and as we all tumbled off, this was the first sight to greet us across the Danube…
More of the appropriately named, flying saucer-shaped UFO Tower later!
Bratislava’s Old Town is compact and easily walkable. A beautiful tree-lined boulevard leads you from the bus stop into the heart of the Old Town from where you can stroll in any direction amongst the twisted streets and alleyways offering shelter from the sun. Pavement cafes and small bars present themselves frequently, so be sure to stop by for a thirst-quenching cold local beer or a strong coffee.
Everything about Bratislava is small, but perfectly formed, right down to its cute town square…
A large part of Bratislava’s charm is the ease with which you can get off the beaten path and find some peace and tranquility. I loved the switch from bustling main streets to quiet lanes. When you’ve had your fill of strolling around the centre of the old town, here are three sights not to miss:
1) Bratislava Castle
The castle sits imposingly on a hill overlooking the Old Town and is a short uphill walk to reach. The views are great from its surrounds, but be sure to visit any day except Monday when the castle is closed. Alas, my Monday visit ended slightly fruitlessly!
2) The Blue Church (Church of St Elisabeth)
Located slightly off the beaten track but in Bratislava terms this means walking 5-10 minutes in the opposite direction. It’s worth if for this beautiful art nouveau building adorned in different shades of blue which positively glow with energy under the Slovak sun. Regular readers will know that I like to visit a place of worship in the cities I travel to, not for religious reasons per se, but to take shelter, sit in contemplation and soak up the local ambience. This beautiful church fits the bill perfectly.
3) The UFO Tower
Standing above the Danube like some War of the Worlds-style nightmare from Mars is the actually quite sweet UFO Tower which bills itself as the smallest of the group of big global skyscrapers. It’s a reminder of Bratislava’s communist past and offers a panoramic view of the city. If you have time only to stroll through the Old Town, then a trip to the top of the UFO Tower at the start of your trip will give you all the bearings you need on the network of streets below. It also offers a glimpse of the different sectors of wider Bratislava. Tucked away on the other side of the Danube from the Old Town is another reminder of how life was lived behind the Iron Curtain with rows of tower blocks and factories dotted around…
Yet turn 90 degrees at the top and the view becomes more rural and natural. Even small cities need their lungs…
I also love a loo with a view and yep, you’ll find one of those if you make a trip to the top of the UFO Tower!
In summary I can’t recommend Bratislava highly enough for a side trip from Vienna as Bratislava’s compact charm offers a great contrast to the grandeur of Vienna. And when the sun shines, this gem really sparkles!