Bratislava was a surprise. I was living in Austria at the time and my friends wanted to do a road trip to a nearby city, since Austria is snuggled between so many countries. Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, wasn’t my first choice. It was two hours away and I never even knew it existed, but my friends convinced me into going and although it took us four hours to arrive, I fell in love with the city.
Why? I really have no clue. Bratislava is small and not much of a tourist attraction. My friends and I were there for a weekend and we would randomly tell each other how much we loved Bratislava throughout the day, but could never explain why. I still have a hard time explaining it to people who ask me about it.
Two words come to mind when I think of Bratislava – calm and beautiful. It’s known for its medieval charm and architectural character. Streets are lined with historical churches and buildings and a few stunning yet run-down communist-era structures.
Bratislava is a very cheap city when it comes to dining and drinking. You can easily spend less than 10 euros on food and drinks. It’s quite difficult to find a place that serves traditional Slovak food, since the streets are overwhelmed with Mexican, Indian and Chinese cuisine. However, after chatting it up with some locals (who truly were the nicest people I had met in Europe,) you can find delicious authentic Slovak dishes.
Head over to the lightly-dimmed, medieval-looking restaurant called Slovak Pub, located in one of the city center squares – Hviezdoslavovo. Try the stuffed dumplings floating in a thin layer of sugary butter with coco powder drizzled on top for only 4 euros. Sounds completely disgusting but you will definitely be asking for another plate. Grab a 50-cent ice cream cone with two scoops during the summer, or buy some snacks at a cheap convenient store and head over to the Danube River for a relaxing picnic overseeing the Bratislava Castle.
Something else I found relaxing was just walking in the old town. It was quiet, and cozy. You can easily navigate Bratislava by foot and there are barely any tourists around. You’re surrounded by locals who are very welcoming and interested in you and your reasons for visiting the city. They will go out of their way to help you find where you need to go, offer to take pictures for you and share insight on the cool places to hangout during the evening.
One of the best things to see in the old town are the bronze statues. To end the greyness and dark nature of the communist-era in Slovakia, quirky statues were installed throughout the old town to add some originality to the country. Have some fun and pose with the man secretly taking photos of passer-by, say hello to the construction worker peeping up from a manhole, sit next to Napoleon’s soldiers, or hug the finely dressed man greeting the ladies with his top hat.
Bratislava was indeed an unexpected surprise for me and worth the long car ride. As corny as it sounds, Bratislava made me happy and I left the city smiling and wondering when it would be possible for me to return.
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