With the increased popularity of river cruising over the past few years, more and more travellers are being introduced to the delightful city of Bratislava and whilst staying in Vienna recently, I too was happy for an introduction to the Slovakian capital. I opted for a day trip to Bratislava from Vienna which I pre-booked before I left home.
The tour started with a 7.30am pick up from our hotel and transfer to the bus depot from where we caught a public bus to Bratislava. I’ll admit I was a little surprised that this was the case as I’d presumed we would be led by a guide all the way from Vienna, however the transfer driver showed us where to wait and told us what time the bus would be departing and we were all set.
After an hour’s drive (on a comfy coach), we arrived at the Bratislava bus depot where those on the day tour were met by our friendly tour guide. A short walk soon had us in Bratislava’s Old Town where our guide ran through the day’s itinerary and handed out maps of the city.
Bratislava is a lovely city of about 500,000 people with some beautifully preserved buildings. Our guide showed us around the Old Town, pointing out the highlights and historical sights and giving us lots of interesting information.
I didn’t know, for instance, that Bratislava was once the capital of Hungary, or that it is the only national capital that borders two independent countries - Austria and Hungary. I also learnt that Bratislava is still very much ignored by most tourists. Our guide told us that whilst lots of tourists come for a few hours during the summer as a stopover on their Danube river cruises, not many stay overnight and during winter there’s barely a tourist to be seen.
The Primate’s Palace, St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava Town Hall, Michael’s Gate and the Slovak National Theatre are just some of the varied examples of architecture around the old town. More modern sculptures are also worth a look. Dotted around the old town you’ll find a number of statues which always draw attention. Most famous, perhaps, is ‘Rubberneck’, a man’s head appearing out of a manhole in the street. After his head was knocked off twice by motorists, the city council erected a nearby sign to save the poor fellow future headaches.
Rubberneck’s friends include ‘Schone Naci’, a popular local who was often spotted sipping coffee at a cafe and would always doff his top hat to the ladies, and Napolean’s soldier, a bronze statue commemorating the French Emperor’s visit to the city after his victory at Austerlitz in 1805.
Other curiosities include Bratislava’s own version of Brussels’ Manneken-Pis (Bratislava’s has four boys peeing!) and Taunter, a small statue of a naked man carved into the facade of a house. The Renaissance Fountain in the courtyard of the Primate’s Palace, is home to a beautiful statue of St. George slaying the dragon.
After an hour and a half, our guide left us at a local restaurant where we were served a set three-course meal. Considering we’d been expecting a boxed lunch, and the day was quite chilly, a hot meal was much appreciated.
With some free time to explore the city, we headed for the imposing Bratislava Castle and its great views over the Danube, before grabbing the obligatory fridge magnet (locally made, I’m told!). We really enjoyed the low-key feel to the city. The pastel coloured buildings, cobblestone streets and quirky touches made it a delight to visit.
Our visit to Bratislava was all too short and before we long we were heading for the ferry terminal to catch the 2.30pm high-speed ferry back to Vienna.
Need to know about Bratislava
- Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is situated on the River Danube, 64 kilometres from Vienna. Public transport options from Vienna include bus (1 hour), train (1 hour 10 minutes) and high-speed ferry (1.5 hours).
- The day tour from Vienna to Bratislava that I did, lasted about 7 hours and included transport to and from Vienna (coach one way and ferry one way), a 1.5 hour guided walking tour of the old town and lunch. Not all tours include lunch so be sure to check what your tour price includes. This tour is almost identical but doesn't include lunch.
- Should you make your own way to Bratislava, day tours can be arranged with the Bratislava Tourist Office.
- Slovakia's currency is the Euro and prices of meals and drinks are similar to those of neighbouring Austria.