As I sit and write on the Eurovea boulevard, the sun is shining right on my head and the Danube riverbank is packed with young, happy and trendy individuals. Smiling couples walk by, there are dogs and children everywhere, and the bars and restaurants struggle to serve the surplus of customers drinking fresh lemonade and cold beer, whilst soaking up the sun on the outdoor bean bags. Two young men walk past in shorts and flip flops, hand in hand…..times are definitely changing! This country has definitely got character!
I think fate has brought me here …. I am in Bratislava-the capital of Slovakia which was formerly part of Czechoslovakia before both countries became independent nations in 1993. Slovakia’s capital Bratislava, I feel, has been largely overshadowed by the nearby more popular cities of Vienna, Budapest and Prague. This means it’s rather off the beaten path for most European travelers. It’s incredible really. The culture and people are so very different to rest parts of Eastern Europe. The Slovakian capital boasts wonderfully preserved medieval architecture and contemporary buildings alongside remnants of its communist past.
Bratislava is the only capital city that boarders two other countries.
I arrived here from Budapest by flexi bus in 2 hrs 55 minutes and were dropped at “Namestie SNP” and from here you are one step away from the very center of Bratislava’s main square (Hlavne namestie). I never had this city as part of my itinerary and as they say that best travels happen unplanned, I came here on the recommendation of someone I met on my journey and ended up spending three nights. I stayed at The Grand River hotel- by Luxury Collection which was 1 km away from where the bus dropped us and I decided to walk up to our hotel.
What I discovered on the way to the hotel did not disappoint me. Smaller than a lot of European capitals, it might lack in size but it makes up for in character. I felt that there was not only quite a lot to do, but it was also the perfect place to do nothing and sometimes that’s just as good. Bratislava has a lot of the same features as lot of central European countries – a charming old town with cobbled streets and beautiful architecture, surrounded by communist-era tower blocks and Soviet displays of power. But it’s this mix of old meets new which defines this country’s troubled past and makes Bratislava a fascinating place to visit
It is a very walkable city with a quaint downtown area filled with restaurants, cafes, shops, and other landmarks. The old cobbled stoned city is wi-fi enabled and helps you stay connected. Stroll through Old Town to see Bratislava’s medieval culture come to life, while heading up to the city’s impressive castle.
The Bratislava Castle
The Bratislava Castle was first established in the 13th Century landmark. In the 18th century, this historical landmark underwent a huge transformation under the reign of Hasburg Empress Maria Theresa. She changed it from military fortress to her new royal residence as she fell in love with it. in 1811 it was burnt to the ground and was left abandoned for 150 years. It was later rebuilt in the modern style during the communist reign. Located on a giant hill overlooking the Danube River, the Bratislava Castle dates back to prehistoric times, and was later occupied by the Celts and Romans. It can be easily seen throughout the city, and offers amazing views of the river and the largest communist-era concrete block housing complex in Central Europe. Directly across from the castle is the Slovakian parliament building, illustrating the contrast between modernity and antiquity. Head back down the hill to St. Martin’s Cathedral, the largest church in Bratislava, that showcases both Gothic and Baroque style architecture.
The charming streets of the Old Town of Bratislava
Comparatively, it’s a very small old town, but the narrow streets are very charming. Here you can stumble upon St. Martin’s Cathedral, the Town Hall, the Slovak National Theater, the Primatial Palace and many sites with fascinating histories. The Cathedral, for instance, was the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary for almost 300 years.
Visit St. Elizabeth’s –The Blue Church
It is pretty boring and tiring walking around average-looking churches when I visit different places across Europe. But there are some churches which are unique enough to warrant a visit – the beautifully blue St. Elizabeth’s in Bratislava is one such church. Surrounded by grey abandoned soviet-era architecture, makes this church stand out of the rest of the churches
Check out the Soviet architecture
Speaking of Soviet architecture, Bratislava is full of it. While far from remarkable in itself, taking an overview of the swathes of featureless tower blocks, most notably in the densely populated Petržalka district, is a fascinating comparison to the Old Town featured above.
Stumble upon Bratislava’s quirky sculptures and find out the stories behind them
Bratislava has quite a few quirky sculptures throughout the city. The most famous of these is probably Čumil, the ‘Man at Work’ who you’ll find peeping out of a manhole in the Old Town. After two careless drivers took his head off, a sign has been erected letting everyone know he’s there. Napoleon’s Soldier in the main square, Paparazzi shooting photos around a street corner and Schöner Náci are the other most popular.
Street Festivals of Bratislava
In summer, Bratislava is alive with culture. The streets of Old town will see street shows, folk music, traditional handicrafts, theater on the square and amazing display of local food eateries. I was lucky to immerse in extreme local culture during a street festival on Saturday. Going to place where nobody knows you and participating in local fun activity surely brings good mood.
Bratislava is a great stop over if you have a little time, though it doesn’t have enough to do to be the main destination. Now you would think why did I spend three nights here. As much as I love to travel as many places, I crave for slow travel. The main point of slow traveling is to enjoy the journey itself and not only the destination so such stops are must for me to keep up the pace and recharge with nature and quite old town walks.
Do you slow travel?