Bratislava is shedding its communist heritage and emerging like a butterfly from its chrysalis. Modern architectural gems are sprouting up around the city, replacing the grey and drab tenements of yesteryear. It’s an exciting time to visit, as the city blends baroque beauty with the sleek and chic. First time visitors may uncover a few surprises but to help you get the most from your visit, I’ve compiled these eleven tips for a Bratislava weekend trip.
Locals and travel guides alike reference the fact that taxi drivers will routinely rip off foreigners. Jumping in a cab on the street is almost a surefire way to pay over the odds, especially if you pick up a cab at the airport.
Uber is allegedly available, but I could never get any cars using my Uber app. Instead, download the Hopin app, which works in the same manner as Uber, but is a local app. You can pay card or cash and fares are reasonable. Unlike Uber, I also found the cab drivers had good area knowledge, were very prompt and helpful. Don’t expect them to speak too much English however!
2. Public transport
The public transport system in Bratislava is incredibly impressive, and if you plan to use it, I recommend you read my guide to public transport in Bratislava. Once you get the hang of it, it is incredibly easy, but the system can seem daunting at first. Instructions are not in English and I did not manage to find any comprehensive network maps.
An invaluable app to help you is the imhd app. I used this repeatedly throughout our stay, and although it took a little getting used to, much of the information is offline which is a godsend.
There is an area south of the Danube known as digital city, and it seems this youthful capital is embracing the digital life.
3. Free WiFi
You are rarely more than a few hundred yards from free WiFi in Bratislava. If you are addicted to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, you will be in your element, as you can post your snaps directly to your chosen media platform. You can send your friends green with envy as you pose for photos by the Danube, sip ice cold beers or indulge in delicious gelato.
4. Bratislava app
In addition to the apps I’ve mentioned above, another essential download for your trip is the Visit Bratislava app. Once you download this free app, you will be able to access details of local restaurants and bars. It uses GPS to determine your locations and indicates the number of metres to your chosen destination.
It also provides details of upcoming events, maps and accommodation options. You can even add items to your trip and favourite things for later.
Now, I confess I am not a big foodie and do not make a big habit of trying local delicacies. I cannot therefore give you insight into must try dishes, but I can say that the food was good value and tasty. This meal was an absolute delight and cost just over £15 for two courses and a large beer!
Menus are rarely in English (other than in the tourist areas) and given the language is Slavic, there’s little chance of deciphering it. I recommend either downloading a language app, or using Google translate. Although WiFi is widely available, there are WiFi free zones so the former might be wiser.
We visit in June and I’m surprised by the heat and humidity. Thunderstorms are quite frequent, albeit mainly in the evening. Mornings may start overcast, but don’t forget the sun lotion as it hots up later in the day. You can take advantage of spray stations dotted around the city if you are desperate to cool down!
Take note, temperatures vary dramatically throughout the year so for year round temperatures, visit World Weather.
7. Google maps
Google maps has good coverage of the city including public transport options. I used the app repeatedly to get my bearings and check distances.
8. Street signs
On lampposts throughout the city, you will see yellow signs. These indicate the name of the streets and are a useful navigation tool, particularly if you are using Google maps.
9. An interesting fact
Slovakia produces the most cars per person of any country in the world. What? Who would have thought this small nation would be able to claim this manufacturing record!
When I mentioned to people I was visiting Bratislava, the responses were mainly derisory. Comments such as ‘there’s nothing to do there,’ ‘skip it all together’ or ‘it’s boring’ seemed the norm. There may not be tons of sights to keep you entertained for days on end, but there is definitely enough in the city and surrounds to keep you busy for a few days.
10. Local trips
There’s some nice excursions close to the city centre. Castle lovers can take bus 129 or N29 to Devín castle on the Austrian border. It’s a dramatic ruin, perched high on a hillside above the river.
Nature lovers, seeking an escape from the city, can head to Zelezna Sudnicka. It’s a bit of a challenge to get there on public transport, but is well worth the visit. It’s in the foothills of the little Carpathian Mountains and has miles of running and hiking trails though forests. There’s also plenty of activities for children, including play parks, barbecue stations, and the chairlift up to the TV tower for incredible views of the city and beyond.
11. International trips
For those visiting for longer, Vienna is just an hour away by train or 90 minutes by river catamaran. I highly recommend the latter, as the Danube is stunningly unspoiled.
In the opposite direction, Budapest is just 2.5 hours by train, and you could easily combine all three cities during a week trip.
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What do you think of Bratislava?
Have you been to the city, and if so what did you enjoy? I’d love to know, but if you have any top tips that my readers might welcome, please pop them in the comments below.