Coming to Slovakia´s capital? Skip Lonely Planet and check out these insider´s tips you might find useful while visiting Bratislava for a very first time. As any capital city, it is full of hidden wonders and cool facts that would probably take you a while to discover on your own, or you could read this article.
Either way Bratislava is a city with amazing and colorful history. So even if you don’t discover all the these location and facts about them, it will still be fun.
1. Its location is really convenient
Capital of Slovakia lies some 60 km east of Vienna and about 300 km north of Budapest. Yes, right on the borders with Austria and Hungary, which makes it a perfect day-trip destination if you´re staying in one of the aforementioned cities.
2. It´s not the most populous capital in the Europe…
Bratislava currently houses around 450-thousands official inhabitants so no need to worry about getting squeezed in pedestrian jam on the street. Around 200-thousand of commuters and unofficial inhabitants still make it a bit more populous in reality.
3. It´s rich history is worth exloring
Area over which contemporary Bratislava spreads has been inhabited for thousands of years. Its strategic location on river Danube made it attractive for Roman, Celtic and later Slavic settlers. Later on, Bratislava was an important city of Austro-Hungarian empire. Crowning of some prolific emperors took place in there and some impressive architectonic gems from various periods can be seen in its historical center.
4. It´s historical center used to be much larger than it is today
Bratislava has, sadly, lost large portions of its historical center to the insensible „modernization“ during the Iron Curtain era. When taking your panoramic photos from Bratislava´s castle hill, try to imagine how would it look like were there still lovely narrow streets and historical houses that were destroyed instead of rather scruffy concrete bridge and promenade.
5. Everything (you might want to see) is close
Bratislava is really not that big. Before you hail a cab to take you from one Old Town attraction to another, peak into your map and reconsider, if taking a short walk wouldn´t be a better alternative. Said that, Bratislava´s center is notoriously infamous for its fraudulent cab drivers so be aware, you´ve been warned…
6. Not among the cheapest European cities anymore
Bratislava is not as cheap as you might have heard. The times when cheap-fun-seekers from all over the Europe came to “Partyslava” tempted by pints for less than 1 Euro are gone. Although being still considerably cheaper than, say, London or Moscow, adoption of Euro was followed by steep increase in prices and they don´t seem to drop again anytime soon…
7. You can buy and eat pretty much anything in there
Bratislava is a modern, developed city full of international brand shops of all kinds. If you plan to spend a day, a weekend or a week in there, you don´t really have to bring along anything beside your clothes, money and personal belongings. Whether its medicine, special diet, nappies or, say, junk food, you can buy all you desire right on the spot.
8. Not everyone speaks “your” language
If you plan to visit some less touristy parts of Bratislava, taking a dictionary or downloading some app translator might get handy. Though most of the youngsters do speak considerably good English/German now, older generations still tend to miss language skills (aside from rather lame Russian they were forced to learn in schools). Relying on help from locals might therefore turn out to be a bit tricky…
9. You can perfectly explore it on your own
Want to save some bucks? Skip paying for organized tours of Bratislava. Like most of European capitals, Bratislava has a variety of free walking tours you can join if you´re on a budget – or if you, simply, like to explore cities this way. If you´re happy to spend a bit more (or the weather sucks), you can take funny red “train” that circulates the city center with tourists every day. Or buy a map and explore the city in your own pace. It´s safe, undemanding and you can hardly miss any of its important sights…
10. Want to party? Befriend locals…
Bratislava´s city center offers quite a lot in terms of sightseeing. But if you plan to party, you should seek some hearty advice from locals. Don´t stick to mainstream and overpriced disco clubs in downtown and let someone guide you to much more interesting and authentic establishments you might easily miss on your own.
11. Parking can get very expensive…
Driving your own (or rented car) in Bratislava? Parking in the center might be quite expensive – either you pay for overpriced parking places or you end up paying your way out of a problem with police (they search for unauthorized parking quite thoroughly). But if you don´t mind walking or using local transportation, you might find some convenient and free parking spots just outside the Old town. There are also certain central spots where parking is free on weekends. Use Google and do your homework…
12. National and religious holidays = no shopping
Coming for a short trip? You might want to check Slovak calendar for possible coincidence with religious and national holidays. All (or at least 98-percent) of shops in the country do not open at all and you might have some serious trouble looking for a place to eat or buy some essentials. Of course, stocking up the day before (like locals do) is always an option.
13. It´s a city like any other
Bratislava, just like any other bigger city in the world, has two faces. One is polite and shiny, the other is rather shabby and rough. Though violent crimes are not notably high in the country, pickpockets and scammers never sleep so you better be cautious and wise. Sadly, some foreigners leave Bratislava with unpleasant experience of being harassed or even verbally attacked because of their skin color or obvious non-christian religiousness. If you come across any negative comments of this kind, try to avoid open conflict and keep in mind, that idiots live everywhere and they do not represent overall attitude of the whole country…
14. Slovakia is more than just Bratislava
Slovakia is a small country. Getting from eastern to western borders won´t take you much more than a half of the day. If you have the time, don´t stick to Bratislava for too long and allow yourself to see and learn more about this beautiful, yet often overlooked country. It has a lot to offer.