If you’re staying in Austria for a few nights it would be a crime not to venture an additional 60 kilometres to Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava. As a born and raised Sydney girl, when I travel roughly the same geographical distance from my CBD, I still find myself in suburban Sydney. I am sure you can appreciate my excitement when I discovered that I could venture to not only another city but another country in such a short time. Growing up I never knew much about Slovakia until my twin brother moved to Europe a few years back and told me about this little place called Bratislava and I added it to my list of places to visit should I ever find myself near the border.
The Quick 5
How did you get there?
Bratislava is easily accessible by either train, bus or ferry for those coming from Vienna. Its proximity to the Austrian capital is a blessing for those traveling on a Eurorail pass, like myself, as your ticket is already bought and paid for. As it is considered a local train, no seat reservation is required, all you have to do is jump on board the air conditioned carriages and present your pass to the conductor when he or she makes the rounds. For those travelling independently you are looking at being set back 15€.
Trains to Bratislava depart hourly from Vienna Hauptbahnhof, just ensure you are headed to the central station known as Hlavna Stanica. So if you sleep in and miss the 7.21am don’t panic because the 8.21am will be waiting for you or the 9.21am should you be extra tired. Please note these time references are circa July 2015. The journey takes roughly 60 minutes and the return journey is just as easy with trains operating to Vienna hourly. For more specific information regarding arrivals and departures download the rail planner app which is a necessity when traveling on a Eurorail pass and an lifeline for the solo traveller.
For those wanting to take the more scenic route, a ferry up the Danube would be my recommendation and literally brings you to the base of the old city. I was tempted to take this option but thought it would be more budget friendly to use my eurorail pass… damn fiscal responsibility. Ferry prices range depending on company and travel time, however please note this form of transport operates seasonally, so for winter travellers (inclusive October to March) you will need to organise your visit by plane, train or automobile. For those tempted to take the more scenic route you will only need to add a further 15 minutes to your travel time if using Twin City Liner, making your journey to Bratislava not only picturesque but efficient.
How easy is it to access the old town from the central station?
Upon entering the main hall of Hlvana Stanica look out for the information point in order to get your bearings and a free map. Public transport will take you into the city within minutes and the bus terminal is situated right outside the station. However for those who want to walk, the city centre is no more than twenty minutes away and easy to find. Despite high temperatures I was determined to walk in order to burn off the Viennese pastries I had been gorging on the day before. As such, upon leaving the station, you pretty much head straight past the bus terminals then follow the signs that point toward the ‘historic centre’ until you’re meet the outer skirts of the old city. Guys if I can do it with my terrible sense of direction, soaring summer temperatures and lack of glasses you can to. Nothing to be afraid off.
How long should you spend in Bratislava?
Naturally this is entirely up to personal preference, budget, taste and schedule. For me however, a day was suffice as the old centre is very small and quaint. Be on the lookout for day tours that depart from Vienna for those wanting a guided experience and an opportunity to learn about the history of the city from a professional. For budget conscious individuals, when compared to Vienna, Bratislava is slightly cheaper so you might be tempted to use Bratislava as your main base and travel back and forth from Vienna. This was something I considered, however given that trains fares start from €15 return and hostel prices almost on par between the two cities, I would not advise this option and am satisfied with my decision to use Vienna as my base.
Tips, tricks and advice?
The best advice I can give is to visit Bratislava with an open mind. It is not Vienna and it is not Prague, it is Bratislava and is beautiful and quaint in its own way. If you are expecting it to be like the aforementioned cities, you will be disappointed so don’t compare, just let the experience be what it is… a new adventure in a new town.
After walking through the cobbled streets of the old town, Bratislava is the perfect place to find unique gifts to present to loved ones upon your return home. In the summer there are plenty of pop markets where vendors sell typical souvenirs, but if you’re after something more artisan I implore you to explore the winding alleys of the old town.
Did you feel safe as a solo traveller?
I am quite accustomed to travelling on my own but being young, female and unfortunately an obvious tourist I do worry when going somewhere new or to a place I know little about. Overall I felt safe in Bratislava and though I always guard my belongings I didn’t feel threatened by pickpockets. This is not to say that you shouldn’t exercise caution but due to significantly smaller crowds I experienced in Bratislava I was able to be more aware of my surroundings without feeling overwhelmed. Please note I visited on a weekday so weekend experiences might be different. On a final note, I do recommend exercising caution at Hlavna Stanica. It is a busy station and like all busy stations they attract people from all walks of life and unfortunately the security and staff presence during my time of travel was lacking therefore, I would not travel when dark.