We left Vienna by train and in about an hour we were in Bratislava, Slovakia. It was a very quick journey and really didn’t feel like a travel day at all. AirBnBs were surprisingly expensive in Bratislava (we would later find out everything else is very cheap), so we booked a private room and rather then an entire apartment. After arriving at the main train station we got on a tram that dropped us off right in front of the apartment building. After checking in we soon realized that this wasn’t a typical AirBnB listing. It wasn’t a pristine and sterile room but rather just an extra bedroom full of miscellaneous things that someone decided to rent out. In some ways I liked this atmosphere because it felt more authentic than well put together AirBnBs.
Even though our journey was short, we didn’t get started until the afternoon, so after getting settled into our room we decided to head into town for an early dinner. We had the option to take the street car or walk 20 minutes. Given that we wanted to see more of the city on our first day we opted to walk to dinner. We found a great vegan restaurant (one of the few in Bratislava) and took a long dinner to relax. We brought our computer and tablets with us, so after dinner we found a coffee shop with wifi to hang out at and get some work done. Following the cafe we headed back to our room for the night, but this time we took the tram.
The next morning our AirBnB host was kind enough to prepare breakfast for us before we headed out for the day. Even though we only had two full days in Bratislava, we still decided to do a walking tour on our first full day. We scheduled the morning tour so we could get the most out of the day. The size of the tour group was surprisingly large (30+ people) for a city the size of Bratislava. The tour started at 10am in tolerable weather and lasted until just after noon. For as disappointing as the Vienna tour was, this was one was fantastic. Our guide was very friendly and knowledgable and I found all of the information about the city’s history very interesting. This definitely was not a tour where I was just waiting for it to end. Our guide told us about strange Slovakian traditions, such as putting a Carp in the bathtub days before Christmas and letting it swim around before being eaten on Christmas day.
After the tour we took a short walk to a restaurant where we enjoyed sandwiches and soup. Usually vegan restaurants can be pricey, but I noticed that the vegan offerings here were simple and unprocessed, which led to them being cheap but still delicious. After lunch we climbed the hill just outside of the Old Town area and made our way to the castle grounds. We didn’t tour the castle but instead just admired the views of Old Town and the hazy Slovakian mountains in the distance. The castle grounds were quite charming and almost felt like a Game of Thrones set. We were lucky enough for the sun to emerge from behind the clouds while we were at the top of the castle walls. It was the only time there was a break in the clouds that day.
After spending a couple hours around the castle we descended the hill and crossed the bridge that led us to the other side of the Danube. Here was the entrance to Bratislava’s UFO tower. It is essentially a tall viewing platform shaped like a UFO built by the USSR during Soviet occupation of Slovakia. Oddly enough, I enjoyed seeing it in the skyline. We went to the top where we had a decent view of the city and could even see Hungary and Austria in the distance. Also at the top of the UFO is an overpriced restaurant and cocktail bar where we both grabbed a drink before heading back down.
We crossed back over the river and made our way back into Old Town as dinner time was approaching. We settled on a not so traditional restaurant and had amazing ramen and fried dumplings for our meal. I had been craving Asian-inspired food for a while and this really hit the spot. We then headed over to a well-known bar simply known as “Slovak Pub”. Here we enjoyed some house made beer and silvovitz (a traditional Slovakian liquor). After the pub we headed back to the AirBnB via the tram line.
The next day we had originally planned to go to another castle just outside the city. However, upon waking up we were very tired and realized we hadn’t had a rest day in a while, so we just decided to hang out at the AirBnB that day instead. While I had enjoyed our time in Bratislava the previous day, I did not feel like I was missing out on anything by spending the day inside (plus it was a great day for our budget). The next morning our AirBnB host drove us to the train station where we caught a train to take us even further east. All in all I enjoyed Bratislava more than I thought I would. For the price I would consider it a great destination (much better than Vienna), but it is only worth spending a couple days in.
Despite not doing a lot in Bratislava, I enjoyed the city. It seemed more…genuine than Vienna did. The Vienna we saw was bright and commercialized and dripping in luxury. Bratislava felt more like a quieter, more “local” type of city than Vienna did. I would like to visit Bratislava again to get more activities in and see if I enjoy it as much.