When you live in Budapest the topic about the surrounding cities often comes up: “Vienna is stunning”, “Prague is magical”, “Belgrade is up and coming” but when I mentioned I was going to Bratislava the usual reaction is “Why?”
At first, it seems like the obvious choice – it’s a capital city in a different country that’s a train ride away and accessible in under three hours I hadn’t been to, but after spending a weekend in the Slovakian capital I became defensive about this small, nearby city. Bratislava might not have Vienna’s grandeur and it may even be much smaller than Budapest, but it has its charm.
Perhaps the most famous site in Bratislava is its castle, a whitewashed building topped with red turrets, the castle offers romantic views that sweep down over the Danube. The castle itself has a museum inside, but even the hike up is worth it to enjoy the views over the city’s rooftops, which even in the rainy winter weather was quite colourful.
The Blue Church
I love art nouveau architecture and if there is a Lechner building I’m there. The Hungarian architect may have most of his famous buildings in Budapest, but Bratislava’s Blue Church, officially known as the Church of St Erzsébet, is one of Lechner’s most beautiful works. The church earns its name from the blue colour that manifests in a variety of hues, from the turquoise and pastel blues from the exterior to the interior of the building.
The Café Culture
One of the things that pleasantly surprised me about Bratislava was its trendy café scene. While Vienna has the classic café culture, Bratislava has embraced the new-wave coffee scene with gusto. You’ll find classics like Café Verne, set in a basement with a cosy and vintage feel, to modern cafés like Urban House, Urban Space and U Kubistu, which not only has coffees but great gastro delights, among other trendy caffeinated hangouts. In fact, it was very easy for us to spend most of our time hopping between Bratislava’s cafés on a cold December morning.
Bratislava is a small city, and while the suburbs are filled with austere brutalism, which has its charm for certain architecture lovers, its historic centre has that Central European chocolate box feeling that makes it charming to visit. Its cobbled streets, church spires and a maze of hidden lanes, or Obrazáreň pri Dóme, whose windows are filled with contemporary art.
Its cobbled streets, church spires and a maze of hidden lanes, or even church featuring unique, contemporary art makes Bratislava a place where you’ll want to stop and look at the details. If you look carefully, you may even find unique sculptures, like the bronze Cumil the Sewage Worker poised to climb out of a hole.
Bratislava is a city that may not be the most spectacular or famous as its neighbours around it, but it’s a friendly city where it’s easy to get pleasurably lost and find something unique and special. It also serves as a great base to explore this beautiful country and the surrounding regions. Give Bratislava a chance if you’re in the area. Don’t expect to be wowed by iconic monuments, but rather slow down, saunter around its cobbled streets, sip coffee in one of its lively cafés and just be in the moment in this charming and underrated European city.