Exploring Bratislava, Slovakia
This year for my birthday I decided to just take me, myself and I away for my first ever solo trip. I also decided as I had been so busy that to take away some of the stress of booking a trip and to add to the adventure aspect of travel that I would use the company Srprs.Me . The premise behind the company is that you pick the dates you want to travel, how long for, quality of the hotel and besides that they surprise you at the airport with where you are going.
Super early on a Friday morning I found myself at Stanstead airport with an envelope that told me I was going to Bratislava in Slovakia. As much as I have heard of, in the very loose of sense of Bratislava, I really didn’t know much about it. Yes, I knew it was the capital of Slovakia, was in Eastern Europe but the only other thing was that it was the new hotspot for stag parties. Therefore, at 6am whilst in the queue to board the plane, I was face with two large stag parties, my hope for the 4 day trip wasn’t high. However I still had a mentality that this was a true adventure and to wait and see what was in store for me, especially as I didn’t know much about Bratislava it would all be new and exciting. I did text a friend before I board for tips as she had been a few months before and a small bit of googling.
I arrived in Bratislava to a chilled but sunny day and my eyes just wide open trying to take in every thing around me. I arrived at the hotel that the company had booked for me a 4* in a great central location, Hotel Danubia Gate. I was given a single room which was nice and had everything I could need. As I wasn’t able to check in straight away I stored my luggage and asked for a map and a point in the direction of the Old Town.
Straight way I could tell that Bratislava had a very old Soviet feel especially with its architecture, a lot of cement functional buildings and blocks of flats. However, it seem that a lot of building work was happening and a number of new modern architectural forward buildings were being put up. It gave a great mix to the city. Add to this as soon as I got out of my hotel there was lots of street art, massive pieces on the side of buildings and they were all truly works of art, it was amazing.
I as this was a hotel with no agenda, I decided that I would take this first day to take it easy and get a lay of the land. So I just wander around the Old Town which is truly beauty, looks at the restaurant and shops and just tried to take in the sun and the new surrounding. I was very surprised with how beautiful it was and even more so where I found a few places advertising their vegan food options.
Me, being me, I also made a list of all the top things that I would like to do with my time in Bratislava – there isn’t much in the city itself but few day trips. I did decide against a day trip to Vienna – which is very possible as only an hour away – the closest two capital cities in the world. I wanted to take it easy this trip and didn’t want to rush experiencing Veinna so that is still on the hit list of places to visit.
What to do whilst in Bratislava?
Walking around the OLD TOWN, it is a tiny little city and the cobble streets are stunning and so colourful. I took a little old trolley tour around the city to get a bit of a guide but there was also walking tours etc. I chose the old town and scenic tour, you get headphones to listen to as you are driven round and we had a very sweet guide so gave us extra little tidbits. You can very easily walk around the whole town and I did that but but good to have the trolley tour to get to some of the places outside of the old town.
Even in low season, you will see a lot of people, as there are group of tourist who are on cruises who came to town just for a day visit. This definitely gave the small town a lot more bustle about it, even in off season.
Here is a list of the top things I enjoyed doing whilst visiting Bratislava city itself (not in any order):
- Slovak National Gallery – very grand building and had a great exhibit showcasing slovakian artists. It was free and not that large but definitely worth a visit.
- St Michael’s Tower – this is the large old clock tower which is right in the middle and really interesting to understand the history to of the town.
- Man at Work – this is a statue which you wouldn’t stop besides that there is lot of tourists around it. There is a variety of opinions on what the man is doing including whether he is looking up women’s skirts. There are a number of great statues hidden away the city that I really enjoyed coming across.
- Nedbalka Gallery – another great gallery to visit, very modern in the fact there give you an iPad so you can look up each of the painting and architectural reminded me of the guggenheim from the inside
- SNP Bridge – This is also know as the UFO bridge (pretty self explanatory for the nickname). I didn’t decide to go up it but there is a viewing deck.
- Bratislava Castle – Really is like a castle from a fairytale looking out every the Danube and the city. The grounds are also so pretty, it does get very crowded, as I went as part of a tour I didn’t have time to go to the state rooms. I just took my time looking up and down the river and taking in all of Bratislava
- Slavin – This is a little harder to get to but was part of the scenic tour – it the soviet war memorial. It was very peaceful and again gave create views over the city and the countryside around it.
- Slovak National Wine Collection – This is hidden off the main town square in the museum of culture, where you can taste 73 (I only got to 70) Slovakian wine – a lot of reislings. Whilst there I paired up with a very nice scottish couple and also a czech wine buyer – I did the self-help tasting and we had such a fun time trying all the different wines – meet lots of people as part of it and just had a great laugh.
- St Martin’s Cathedral – This is the home of all the royal coronations and is a beautiful building and so peaceful inside. I was also lucky whilst visit there was a wedding at the church, and it is always nice to see the bride and groom and they had live music playing whilst they did photos.
- St Elizabeth’s aka the Blue Church – I have never seen anything like this church before. Sadly I couldn’t go inside as it was closed when I visited but archictectually it is truly unique and very very blue.
- Old Town Hall and Square – This is a great place in the middle of the Old Town to people watch and take in the city
As I was there for a few days I decided to make two little day trips, both of which you can just take a local bus to get to (thank you google maps for directions).
On doing my research this was one of the places I was excited to venture out to visit. For you don’t go and visit this gallery for the art but for the building and location of the museum itself. It is located on the borders of Slovakia, Hungary and Austria, sits right on the beautiful Danube River, giving great views of the surround landscape. The design of the building is stunning in and of itself but it also offers a great unique backdrop for all the amazing pieces of artwork. There is mix of art from large sculptures to large modern art and even an exhibit on textiles. I truly enjoyed my day there. For is about 30km from Bratislava, which is about an hour on the bus, but that meant I got to see more of the country and the countryside of Slovakia. Then you arrive to this building sitting by itself just with the flora, fauna and water for company – it was so peaceful and inspiring. The art collection too was sublime with such variety and talent on display. I can’t recommend a visit to this gallery more.
I do love a good castle and add in a stunning view and I know I had to go visit Devin Castle. It is just in the borough of Bratislava, so only little bit out of town, a 30 minute bus trip and a little bit of walk up to the castle.
The Castle is surrounding by lovely countryside but the magical part beside the castle ruins themselves is the face it sit right on the Danube river and on the boundary of Slovakia and Austria. So you get a lovely view across both countries. The castle itself is in ruins not surprising as it goes back to the Bronze/Iron ages, but has been kept in great older. I was really surprised to see that in amongst the different parts of the castle were modern sculpture but there were all really delicately placed to add to the experience and not distract from the castle and its history.
I decided to visit on my actual birthday as I knew the views would be beautiful and that I wanted to be away from all the noise and crowds of tourists. Devin castle really delivered, it was a bit of a hike up to the top but the view was breathtaking and I was able to take a few moments to take it all in. I was feeling very lucky and privileged to be there in that moment, and very reflective on where I was personally. It wasn’t where I had picture myself on my birthday, but in a way that was nice that I was in the middle of a truly adventure, my first solo trip and time in Slovakia. I always try to take the time to reflect on my birthday and to try to look forward to what the year ahead hold for me and sitting at the top of Devin Castle was a pretty perfect place for this. I even sat and wrote some of my intentions for the year ahead. It is a really beautiful place and definitely worth the effort to visit.
Where to eat in Bratislava
One of the things I was most apprehensive about in regards to my holiday being a complete surprise was being able to find good vegan plant-based food options. Since going plant-based food whilst traveling has become a lot harder and whilst I did come prepared with a number of snacks etc, part of the enjoyment of visiting a place is trying their food and eating out.
Well I can tell you, I was beyond shocked with how many high quality and varied vegan options were available in Bratislava. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Fach Bratislava – I came across this place just walking around the Old Town, it has both a restaurant and a cafe with lot of vegan options. The cafe has juices, salads and even vegan gummy bears – it also does takeaway so got myself food for the plane home from here. The restaurant is all about being seasonal, local and natural cooking – I treated myself for my birthday to lunch here and had one of the best cocktails, avocado on toast (the additional of radishes blow my mind) and also a raspberry oat cake.
- Re:Fresh Music and Bar – Again stopped whilst just walking around and had lot of vegan options including a monthly vegan burger. Sat outside in the sun and did some people watching whilst have a great ‘chessy’ burger and a glass of wine. It was also really reasonable priced
- Foodstock – This was one of my favourite finds, it was previously a pop-up but not is a stand-alone restaurant and a bit of food fusion from gyoza to falafel, all of which are delicious. Again was a place that was so good had to go revisit.
- Bodka Donut Point – I found these at a stall in a eco-sustainable market which was there was for a day – the flavours were so different from yuzo and teriyaki to pumpkin.
- Arthur Ice Cream – As it was lovely and warm and I was on holiday I had to treat myself to an ice cream and found this amazing dark chocolate sorbet which was so rich and not too sweet – a great little afternoon treat.
Overall I have to say that I had a great time in Bratislava, it is a truly beautiful city. I would say that you don’t need four days unless you are going to go out further a field to the countryside which I wish I had been able to do but was the wrong time of year and needed a bit of pre-booking. I will definitely use the srprs.me service again as its as fun to have a bit of a surprise and I love travel that it was really nice to go somewhere completely new to me and just wander around and get the feel for the place. It also meant I could tick off another item on my bucket list of turning up to the airport and just getting on a flight.
I hope that this post encourages more of you to think of taking a long weekend in Bratislava or a combined trip Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna, as more people need to experience and explore Bratislava – I am very happy that I did.