While traveling between Vienna and Budapest, we stayed just one day and night in a little town called Bratislava.
This is a great stop over city as it's directly on the way between Vienna and Budapest, and it's a small enough city to get a great feel for it with even just one day. A second day would have been fun, but one day is definitely enough to see most of the city!
We were there in early April and it was rainy the whole day, though it didn't stop us from walking and touring all around. This is the only city out of the 5 Eastern European cities where I did not go on a walking tour. They are available, but all the main sites are walkable within a day so I don't think it is as necessary compared to larger, historic cities.
They have lots of cute restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques. The scenery is gorgeous, with the Danube river, historic buildings, many trees and green landscape, along with visible mountains.
We stayed at a hostel called dream hostel. I cannot recommend this one enough! It was slightly more expensive than some others I stayed in on this european trip, but it was by far worth it. Compared to Vienna and Budapest, the same or similar price in Bratislava will get you much nicer accommodation. It was about a 15 minute walk from the bus station and from most places in town.
Transportation to Bratislava
We took the bus both to and from Bratislava. There are two bus stations so although we booked both trips with flexbus, but one arrived to the new town station and the other left from a different location, by the cemetery. The walk was beautiful and doable from both bus stations to dream hostel.
Another recommended mode of transport is the Danube River cruise! We met some people who took it from Vienna to Bratislava and had a nice time.
Transportation within Bratislava
As I've said, walking around the city is so doable that you probably wouldn't need bus or taxis, but since we only had one day and it was very rainy, we decided to begin the morning with a bus ride. The bus is a very old ticketing system, using coins only. We planned to take the bus up to the top of the castle hill (since its such steep walk) and then after that, walk down and around the city.
Unfortunately, we got on the wrong bus going a different way so our plans changed. Most people don't speak English and the bus driver was unable to help us when we asked. But we did meet someone on the bus that overheard us and helped to point us in the right direction! He was Slovakian but lived in Philadelphia for many years.
Budget & Backpacker Travel
Most of the activities were free so this is a very budget friendly city! Since all the tutoring was at no cost, we stayed at a medium priced hostel $15.50 per person per night. This did not include breakfast but their buffet looked great for the price so we decided to eat from there at $4.50 per person. The only other costs for the day were just lunch and coffee, plus the tea shop souvenirs. The whole trip was under $30!
7 THINGS NOT TO MISS!
The view over the Danube River
Whether from the castle, from the walk up the hill, from various picturesque spots such as the Slavin memorial, or from the UFO tower, you can't go to Bratislava and miss the stunning view over the Danube River! Walking along the river is also beautiful, but you definitely want to get up above to see the panoramic view.
The Castle and gardens
The castle itself does not conjure such a historic and classic european castle. It is very modern due to the rebuilding of most of the castle in the 1960s. It has a mostly modern feel. We did not go inside the castle since it was closed, though I have heard the Slovak museum of history is there.
But the gardens in the back are very beautiful and the overall experience of walking around the grounds was a wonderful experience.
The Blue Church
This is probably the most unique and funky church I've ever visited! It's a must see in Bratislava.
We enjoyed Urban Bistro but there were many others we walked by and had recommended to us. Urban space looked amazing, for example. They have countless cozy coffee shops, each with their own character, which we found especially perfect in the rainy weather!
Traditional Slovak meal
The most recommended restaurant for a traditional Slovak dish and local beer - Bratislava Flagship - did not disappoint! The atmosphere was fun and the food was delicious. It was all very affordable. It is a two story former theatre with lots of character. The place was busy during lunch hour and we were a little rushed, so I would recommend ordering right away when seating down unless you don't mind spending at least an hour.
Bryndzové halušky, Slovakia's national dish, is potato spaetzle/gnocchi topped with a sheep’s milk cheese sauce and fried bacon. It's mouth watering delicious as long as you like a strong creamy, cheesy taste! It's a heavy meal so we were glad to share one portion. I washed it down with their house beer.
Tea house and other local shops
I was over the moon with the specialty tea store we stumbled upon while walking down from the castle on the northern side of the city. The selection was incredible and the prices are very reasonable. The storeowner was so helpful and kind! English was a little challenging here, just to keep in mind.
Wandering around in the streets and other gardens
Stone streets, colourful and historic buildings. We loved wandering around the city! The hill is very steep so a bus is a good option if you aren't up for that walk. There were many gardens, fountains and statues that we saw along the way.
A few sites we saw as walking around that I would recommend to add to a Bratislava travel list: Grassalkovich palace, Maximilian's fountain, Micheal’s gate, Freedom square and Presidential gardens, and The Ondrejsky cemetery.
A few places we missed
If we had a little more time or had planned it out better, I would have opted for drinks or a meal at the UFO tower! The views along the river are beautifully panoramic, so that must be a wonderful experience. Otherwise, we did see the same spectacular views from the castle hill. I also heard great things about the Slovak National Theatre.
Slavin war memorial was another location we planned to go on the way to the castle but then the bus trip changed that. There are said to be great views from the memorial!
Apart from those three, I think we got to see everything I'd hoped for! Overall, we had a lovely day in Bratislava. I would recommend it for any travellers as a great stopover or day trip, but not as a destination city for many days, necessarily.
I hope you enjoyed the 7 things not to miss: with the additional 5 sites to see! Plus the 3 more that we missed but I would recommend for your list. So in all, that's a list of 15 sites, places and experiences!
What would you add to the list?