While living in Europe, Margaret’s parents came to visit and we all went on a Central European trip visiting the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria. Although we had both been to Slovakia before we had not been able to visit Bratislava yet and made this a definite stopping point on our trip. Margaret and her family had visited Bratislava in the early 1990’s and were excited to see the changes since then. In the early 1990’s Bratislava had just seen the end of communism. When Margaret and her family visited the streets were desolate and little seemed to be going on, but when we visited over the summer Bratislava seemed to be rejuvenated and full of life. There were new developments, modern architecture, people bustling about, and cafes filled.
We took the train from Prague to Bratislava and it took only about 4 and a 1/2 hours. Trains in Europe are fantastic-they are cheap, reliable, and quick. Since the rest of our hotels were further from the central historic district or Old Town, we decided to be more centrally located in Slovakia. Bratislava like many other European cities is located alongside a river, the Danube, so we had some fun with our hotel and stayed the night in a botel-a hotel that is a boat on the water. We stayed at Botel Garcia and absolutely loved the unique botel experience. Although the botel only included the absolute basics of a hotel, it was fun to sleep on a boat for the evening and catch the Danube’s breeze.
The Old Town in Bratislava only encompasses a few blocks, but it is full of culture and life. Like Prague and Vienna the Old Town consists of beautiful old architecture, cafes, shops, and restaurants. After arriving and checking in we headed up to Bratislava Castle. Bratislava Castle, or Bratislava Hrad, overlooks the Old Town and is primarily a renovation of the castle that once stood. The castle is beautiful and full of different exhibits allowing visitors to spend a short time or several hours exploring. Afterwards we strolled up and down the Old Town seeing Michael’s Gate and walking into the local shops. We sat down at a Slovak restaurant and enjoyed hearty Slovak cuisine. Then we walked through the Old Town, stopping at Roland Fountain and strolling alongside the Danube. The evening was absolutely delightful and we decided Bratislava is among our favorite European destinations.
Bratislava is smaller and therefore less touristy. Strolling down the pathways of the Old Town one could truly soak up the European experience, but in such a relaxed setting since there weren’t masses of tourists. Prices of course are a little bit more expensive in the Old Town, but simply venture outside a little further to find things a little more decently priced. Europe and Central Europe especially are great for budget travelers, because there are plenty of cheap places to stay and the main attraction is often the city itself. While traveling we do a few things to ensure we save money:
1) Book hotels that include a breakfast and definitely make it to breakfast!
2) Find a local grocery store and buy snacks. You can bring some snacks in your day pack to save on buying while out and exploring.
3) If you have a kitchen, you can buy more food at the grocery store to plan on eating one meal at the hotel and treating yourself to one nice authentic meal a day.
4) If you don’t have a kitchen, you can buy a small lunch while out and about, and remember you have snacks!
Overall, we both loved the charm and laid back nature of Bratislava. Although we were only able to spend a day there we both agreed we would happily return to explore the rest of Bratislava. There is plenty of other places to explore including, several palaces and museums, and particularly the Bratislava Zoo and Devin’s Castle. Having traveled throughout other parts of Slovakia, we definitely recommend Slovakia and Bratislava in particular for a European trip. Vienna is a common tourist destination and Bratislava is only a short train ride away, so if you are in Vienna we highly encourage you to day trip over to Bratislava and experience Slovakia. Bratislava has definitely changed since Margaret and her family visited in the early 1990’s, the city has come alive and now feels so vibrant, historic, beautiful, and full of life. Although Central Europe is not on visitor’s common European destinations, some of the best trips we have had are in Central Europe including Poland, Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. We are both ready to visit Bratislava again!