Jacky and I were in Austria last month for our wedding party and on this occasion we flew to Vienna instead of Graz. My parents and sister, who had flown over for the wedding were also staying in Vienna for a couple of days to do some sightseeing. Given that we had one full day in the Austrian capital and seeing as how we had explored much of the city on our previous visits we thought it would be a great idea to plan an impromptu daytrip to Bratislava. My father couldn’t have been more overjoyed with this decision since he has made it his life mission to visit all the capitals in Eastern Europe.
Bratislava lies a mere 60 km from Vienna surrounded by the Little Carpathian mountains in the north and farms, vineyards, and tiny villages in the east. We began our journey by bus at 10 am and it took a little over an hour to get there. It was a quick and comfortable bus ride. One of the things I love about travelling in Central Europe is that the scenery is amazing so you get lost marveling at the sights you encounter. The bus dropped us off at the ‘New Bridge’ which straddles the mighty Danube river. We then proceeded towards the ‘Old Town’. We were lucky with the weather that day as it was nice and sunny.
Exploring the Old Town
The first main sight we came across was the Gothic style ‘St. Martin’s cathedral’ which was formerly the coronation venue of several Hungarian monarchs. The Old Town in Bratislava is really small but oh so charming! It is a pedestrian-only zone where the only vehicle permitted is a tiny, bright red retro tourist train. The streets have been refurbished over the last decade which have made it more vibrant again. It’s a cinch to navigate, brimming with old world charm, colourful buildings, idiosyncratic sculptures and lovely inexpensive restaurants and cafes serving regional specialities at half the cost of Vienna.
The centre of Bratislava is a peculiar mix of architecture. The historic district has that distinct eastern feel of an Austro-Hungarian empire-era city. It is anchored by the beautiful neo-Renaissance style Slovak National Theater and Primatial Palace at one end, and the Renaissance and Baroque style Town Hall and spacious main square at the other. In the middle lies the charming St. Michael’s street which leads to the St. Michael’s Gate and its 51 metre tower.
A couple of hundred metres away from the old district, and on the other side of St. Martin’s Cathedral, is Bratislava Castle. The castle lies perched on a rocky hill directly above the Danube river. It’s a rigorous little trek to the top. Since the Bronze Age, Celts, Romans, Slavs and Hungarians have built a succession of fortifications here and it naturally occupies an important piece in Bratislava’s history. The castle has been extensively renovated and looks very modern.
The gardens were very attractive and the views from the ramparts were very good and vast. We were all getting a little grumpy and feeling ravenous by then so we decided to return to the old town for some grub and drinks. We took a different route than the one we took to the castle and saw some other parts of the city.
The whole old town is full of tasty places for a full meal, a cold beer, or sweets and coffee even though most tourist brochures talk about the shops and eateries along St. Michael’s Street. Prices are very reasonable, especially compared to Vienna. The cafes in the Main Square are perfect for people watching. We all heartily downed a plate of spare ribs each and a few pints of excellent local Slovak beer.
Now, what do you think? Have you been to Bratislava before or would you like to visit? What do you think of Bratislava Castle compared to others you have seen? Share your thoughts and pictures with us! Let’s stay in touch!