Bratislava, the quaint capital of Slovakia is a small city only about an hour outside of Vienna. The inner city is dotted with medieval relics and ancient church’s, standing the test of time, older than some of the empires that ruled it over the years. Bratislava, itself has a very tumultuous past being being controlled by some the world greatest empires followed by years of communist Soviet Rule.
Upon my visit, the only preconception of Bratislava I had was that it would be one of those weird Eastern European communist wastelands adorned with ruined graffiti-ed monochromatic buildings and unhappy people glaring at me smoking cigarettes from cold war USSR. It seemed like it would be something out of Euro Trip, where US money is worth its weight in gold, dodgy trance clubs fill the basements of bleak exterior-ed public housing and the cold winter air sucks all life out of foliage and people alike.
Thankfully, Bratislava did not replicate the Leninist nightmare I had pictured in my head and turned out to be quite lovely in many parts of the city, although one can still see the effects of communist architecture on the newer buildings surrounding the beautiful old city.
In Bratislava you are going to use the Euro and everything will be generally fair priced. The old city has become a serious tourist attraction, catering many restaurants to tourists tastes and wants. What was once an old walled city filled with pubs, local businesses and the like has been replaced with big signs coaxing tourists to try “real slovakian cuisine”, souvenirs shops and tourist trap bars. While much of the old city has become like this, I am sure that there are still strong traditional places that have held on tight to their to their roots.
The food in Bratislava was good but not unique, mimicking the styles of nearby Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. The highlights I had were a Schupfnudel type dish, something similar to thick long gnocchi topped with rich goat cheese and bacon. Their food also heavily features cabbage, potatoes and other root vegetables, as does many other Eastern European cuisines. All the food I had in Bratislava was definitely tasty and authentic although be wary of overpriced restaurants in the city center.
Although this is a city that has been around for thousands of years, it hasn’t really expanded much, making it incredibly easy to walk. I stayed at a hostel called Brickyard which was only a ten minute walk from all the action. Although it was close I would not recommend staying in Bratislava during the winter, seriously, don’t do it. During our stay it was below freezing the whole time and although we all have this perfect snowy winter wonderland in our heads, it simply was “damn cold”. The kind of cold that hits you right in the face, reminding you why we developed indoor space heaters and blankets. Brickyard was clean, the staff was nice and they even had functional wifi!
The old city is awesome and I would start there. Since it is pretty small you can walk through the winding cobble-stoned streets in just about an hour. I would recommend making the walk up a large hill to the Bratislava castle, a white behemoth which sits majestically perched overlooking the Danube river. If you are feeling like getting the real taste of the locals head over to the inner city bus station and get one of your favorite beers such as Staropramen for only .80 Euro! You will most likely be served by an angry chain smoking old lady who speaks almost no English, but hey, she wasn’t lacking authenticity right?