Bratislava, Slovakia's capital, is so small that you can see almost everything in just 18 hours. But at the same time, this small city is so charming that 18 hours can feel too short. Its cobbled streets are romantic. Its old churches and buildings will make you feel like you're living in a different era. Its diverse architecture will give you a peek of its colorful history. It's not as crowded as its famous neighbors Vienna, Prague and Budapest. It is the kind of laid-back city where you'd want to chill for a bit.
The best part? Its beer and food are not as expensive as other European cities, that it would make you question why this city is actually the third richest region of the European Union by GDP. Surprise, surprise, I only spent 53 euros here for everything, including a good beer and a private room in a posh neighborhood ;-)
Here's how I managed to survive in Bratislava for 18 hours with 53 euros:
1) Private room = 30.7 euros
I stayed in this private room with two beds and shared bathroom for only 30.7 euros in Airbnb. This is already cheap in this part of the universe. And yup, I had no use for that extra bed :))
I love the clean and homey feel of my room. I only saw my host once, so I felt like I was renting my own house. It's located in a quiet posh neighbourhood with luxury cars everywhere. I think I was the only one walking at night :D The only down side is that going here requires a lot of leg power. Carrying a heavy backpack on a steep hill is no joke.
But I forgot all about the uphill pain when I saw fresh fruits given by my hosts. It was my first time to eat fresh peaches and all I can say is that canned peaches will taste differently from now on.
2) 24-hour transportation card = 3.5 euros
One of the things that I love in Bratislava is its transportation system. It's very tourist-friendly, systematic, simple and cheap. The 24-hour transportation card can be used in buses, trams, trolleybuses and trains. And you can easily buy Bratislava transportation cards in vending machines using coins. The town is very small so you can just walk around to explore.
3) Hrad/Bratislava Castle = 0 euros
One of my planning booboos was visiting Bratislava on a Monday, the only day when this beautiful castle is closed. So I had to settle with taking photos from the outside :( At least, I didn't need to pay any entrance fee ;)
Seeing the castle from the outside in the evening wasn't that bad though. It stands on a hill overlooking the Danube river-- a perfect spot at night to relax and enjoy the courtyard.
This fairy tale castle was built during the 9th century. Its history is as colorful as its ever-changing fortifications and structures. It has always been the symbol of the city. At one point, this castle was the formal seat of the kings of Royal Hungary.
The lighting at night and panoramic views of the city make this place even more romantic :(
Bratislava is just one out of 180 castles in Slovakia. This country actually has the most number of castles and chateaux (per capita) in the world. Amazing!
Be sure to check out this gothic gate called Sigismund gate (Zigmundova brana), built in the 15th century.
The castle is very near the old town. You can easily walk here from the center. And the best part is that it's not crowded at night!
The views from the castle are amazing!
You can see the cathedral, UFO bridge and the old town from here. And don't forget to take selfies, even if the castle will not really look good when you put your big face in front of it :))
4) Blue Church / St. Elizabeth Church = 0 euros
The Blue Church is in my 'top three most beautiful churches that I've seen in this lifetime' list. Maybe because blue is my favorite color, or maybe this church is really breathtaking.
It's small but everything's cute! What I love about this church is that it's not overly grand and it's not screaming for some lavish golden stuccos.
The interiors were also beautiful. Even the benches were colored blue! Mass was ongoing during my visit so I only managed to take one photo inside:
Did you know that you need to book three years in advance if you want to have your wedding here? Yep, the waiting list is that long!
5) Old Town = 0 euros
Walking at Bratislava's old town is for free! And you can see a lot by just walking.
There are so many amusing old buildings and weird architecture everywhere :)
You can also visit Bratislava's chapels and churches for free.
Here is Bratislava's very famous and touristy main square (Hlavne Namestie). You can still see medieval houses from Austro-Hungarian era around the square. Aside from old houses and embassies, you can also find the famous Carlton Hotel here. It has hosted countless famous people including Albert Einstein and King Franz Joseph.
Right behind this fountain is the old town hall, one of the oldest buildings in Bratislava. It's also striking to see Gothic, baroque and Renaissance influences in the design. It sucks that it was already closed when I visited. I heard that it was also beautiful inside the town hall.
Be sure to take photos of Bratislava's Man at Work statues. There are several human-sized Man at Work statues around the city. I didn't have any courage to take a touristy shot at that time so this is my only photo of the famous peeping sewage worker:
6) Slovak National Theater = 0 euros
One of my favorite buildings in Bratislava is Slovak's oldest professional theater. This Neo-Renaissance building was built by architects from Vienna during the Austro-Hungarian time.
7) St. Michael's Gate = 0 euros
St. Michael's Gate was built in the 13th century, as the city's centerpiece of a large fortification system. It is also the only remaining gate of the old medieval fortification of the city.
This medieval gate has also witnessed a lot of historic events. During the coronation of Hungarian kings, this is the place where the new king would pledge his king's oath to the hands of the archbishop.
8) St. Martin's Cathedral = 0 euros
Another historic place is St. Martin's Cathedral. It used to be the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary. It is so grand and you could see how it was expanded from one building to a gigantic church. Its 279-ft spire can be seen from afar.
My favorite part of the church is its exterior wall covered with colorful paintings.
I've never seen a church with exterior walls covered with paintings like these!
The interiors isn't as grand as its history though. It is very gothic with some beautiful wooden carvings.
Aside from being the coronation venue for famous kings, it is interesting to note that Beethoven's Missa Solemnis was performed here for the first time.
9) UFO Tower & Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising = 0 euros
This legendary communist monument is called UFO tower because it resembles a flying saucer-shaped structure on top of the tower :)) I read that the views from its 278ft observation deck (entrance costs 10 euros) are not that outstanding, so I settled with free views of the tower itself from Bratislava Castle.
The Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising is the 7th largest cable-stayed bridge in the world, spanning 431.8 meters across the Danube river. It is 21 meters wide with two decks. This single-pylon steel bridge was built from 1967 to 1972 during Bratislava's Communist era, in honor of the 1944 resistance movement against the Nazi forces.
10) Beer and pork knuckles = 15.5 euros + Snacks & Fruits = 3.3 euros
One of the best things to do in Bratislava is to check out its breweries. My host recommended me to try out Sladovna House of Beer for its Slovak beer and cuisine. I love the trippy outdoor ambiance here. The bar interior is also beautiful, with its very traditional Slovak brick walls and wooden tables.
The beer was worth the price! I also tried a traditional Slovak meal-- roasted pork knuckles with beer sauce and cabbage gnocchi. The meat was very tender and flavorful but it was too heavy for me. After about five bites, I longed for my precious white rice :P
I also bought some fresh fruits and bread for snacks and breakfast. Local peaches in Slovakia are the best!
11) Grassalkovich Palace = 0 euros
This palace, built in 1760 for Count Grassalkovich, is the official residence of the president of Slovakia. It has a garden and public park too. Unfortunately, the palace was closed to the public during my visit :(
You can watch the changing of the guards here every hour.
12) Parks = 0 euros
I also loved relaxing and people-watching in small parks around Bratislava. Fresh air, quiet city, and great weather can never go wrong if you want some alone time :)
Bratislava is definitely more than a stopover. I think that this city is one of the most underrated cities in Europe. Sure, it is a very small capital but its quiet alluring charm is something that shouldn't be missed when you're in Europe. Dakujem, Bratislava! I hope to say Ahoj again soon :)
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