One of the things I love about Europe is how accessible it is to reach other countries by bus or rail. Take Slovakia, which is boarded by Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and Romania, there is so much opportunity to extend your trip to visit more than just the one city!
Which is exactly what we decided to do on our 3 day trip to Bratislava and Vienna last November.
Where to stay
With our wedding only a few months away, this break had to be a shoe-string. We decided to stay in Bratislava and make a full days trip over to Vienna, which works out a lot more cost effective.
We booked into the LOFT Hotel Bratislava, which is located a 5 minute walk away from Bratislava’s old town and a 10 minute walk from Hlavna stanica (Central Train Station), which allows easy access by bus to Bratislava airport and by train to a number of cities.
We loved everything about LOFT hotel, from the free mini-bar which is re-stocked daily, to the huge, comfortable rooms and on site brewery and popular restaurant, Fabrika. We ate here on two occasions and the food and drink were both moreish.
A comfort room at LOFT Hotel for a weekend in November for two people is around £150.
What to see – Bratislava
As we flew out in late November, we landed on the opening night of the Christmas markets. I’d already been to Bruge’s Christmas markets two years previous and I’m sorry to say Mum and I were quite disappointed. Bratislava’s markets however, where much more impressive, with a large variety of food outlets and lots of Slovakian Christmas gift ideas.
When you visit Bratislava, make your first stop the Old Town. The historic area is probably the most touristic, but with it’s burrows of hidden, graffiti decorated streets it’s certainly not overcrowded. Every corner turned you’ll spy something new and beautiful, such as Capuchin Church and Monastery or the striking green tower of St Michael’s Gate.
I’m a sucker for pastel coloured buildings, so two of my absolute favourite finds were Primates Palace in the old town and the Art Noveau Blue Church, (also known as St Elizabeth’s), around a 10 minute walk east. You’ll also find a statue of St George slaying the dragon in the courtyard of Primates Palace!
Another of the magical sights you’ll find in and around the old town are the human sized statues, which are usually surrounded by tourists grabbing a selfie with them. There are plenty to find and they really add to Bratislava’s welcoming charm.
There is lots of lovely cafes and pubs in and around Main Square to warm you up if the bitter winter wind becomes too much or the summer sun too strong. There is also some gorgeous vintage and gift stores around to pick up a unique souvenir of your trip.
A brisk 15 minute walk up to the main tourist attraction, Bratislava Castle, is an absolute must. Situated on the hill above the Danube, the castle grounds offer stunning views of Bratislava and it’s the perfect place for a romantic stroll.
The beautiful garden area to the rear of the castle only opened to the public in Summer 2016, and has a striking baroque feel. With the winter chill in the air, you’d almost think the stone floor is covered in thick snow.
The UFO building on the SNP bridge, looks somewhat out of place amongst the historical architecture of Bratislava’s old town. But, this place not only has the best views in the city, it’s also the swankest restaurant and bar in town. Make sure you make a reservation before you travel if this is on your to do list!
What to see- Vienna
You can see so much in Bratislava in one well organised day, so on day two why not hop on the train to Vienna!
Travelling from Hlavna stanica (Bratislava central Train Station) a return ticket to Vienna costs around 14 Euro’s, it take’s an hour and their is one train every hour from 5.30am to 10.30pm. So there is no excuse not to add a day in Austria to your trip, or even go further afield to Budapest!
Again, due to the time of year we visited, the city was in full festive spirit and Christmas markets were around every corner. It’s a great excuse to indulge in Gluhwein and apple strudels!
Each of the hot tourist spots and cultural squares hosted their own market, so we did see the areas in a different light to how we would during Spring, Summer or Autumn. But then that’s just a great excuse to head back!
The first architecture we came across after travelling from Wien Hauptbahnhof to Stephanspltaz on the S-Bahn, was St Stephens Cathedral. Ranked as one of the most important and beloved landmarks of Austria, it boasts an incredible view over the city. It also located very close to the cities shopping district- and if you are a designer fan, you are a mere 5 minute walk away from Tuchlauben street, home to Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dolce&Gabbana.
Indulge in a little more culture and meander past Catholic Church of St. Peter on your way to splashing the cash.
Once you are all shopped out you’ll probably find yourself in the spectacular Michaelerplatz. It’s baroque beauty is breathtaking and I could easily spend hours admiring the area.
I’m a huge lover of art deco, and there was dozens of antique stores in the streets off Michaelerplatz who made me stop in my tracks to admire their wares. If the wedding wasn’t on the horizon, I certainly would have arriving back in the UK with some treasured pieces.
Continue your walk through the green Heldenplatz and you’ll eventually find yourself in Maria-Theresien-Platz. Surprise surprise, they had Christmas markets too!!! But the grounds are truly beautiful, and we enjoyed a casual stroll around the area with our second and third gluhwein’s of the day!
It’s a little off the beaten track, but if you have the time and energy, walk to Karlsplatz from Maria-Theresien Platz and take the U4 to Schonbrunn. It’ll take around 20 minutes and then you’ll have a 5-10 minute walk down to Schonbrunn Palace.
There is so much to see and do at the place, so if you are staying on in Vienna, dedicate a morning to all it has to offer. With minimal time on our hands, we stuck to enjoying the scenery, the Christmas market (no surprise there) and the entertainment they happened to have on offer. In better weather you should explore Schlosspark, featuring the palm house, Japanese garden and many, many monuments.
With an little bit of time to kill before our train back to Bratislava, we headed back to Vienna’s city centre and finished our day at Rathaus, the town hall.
Vienna really is spectacular, and I would love to spend more time there in the near future. If you happen to be visiting Bratislava, I couldn’t recommend a day in Vienna more.
Where to eat-
I’ve already filled you in on Fabrika, but you really must try it! Lots of drink choices, aside from their own beer and the burgers are simply delicious!
We started our first night with the tourist favourite- Slovak Pub. The casual, chilled out pub is filled with lots of little rooms, so however busy it may get you’ll always find your own little hide out. After a language mix up which left me drinking red wine and tequila instead of white wine and sambucca, we had a brilliant night and it was the perfect introduction to Slovakian life.
For dinner we stumbled across the Scottish themed Whiskey Bar 44. The staff wear kilts, the carpet is tartan and the food is delicious. We opted for the duck and lamb, both of which were exceptional and very reasonably priced. The bar has a great atmosphere and the addition of a ‘gentleman’s’ cigar room and their wide range of Scotch whiskies was a really nice touch.
During the day we often found ourselves at 17’s Bar . They make a mean latte for your early morning wake up call, their pizzas were a tasty lunchtime treat and it was a nice spot to end your sightseeing day with a beer or two.
Off the beaten track-
You must visit Slavin, the war memorial and cemetery for fallen Soviet Army. As we visited in November, we aimed to visit Slavin for sunset in the late afternoon. However, the 20 minute walk from our hotel turned into 40 minutes of getting lost in the up hill residential back streets of Bratislava and we eventually stumbled across Slavin in the near pitch black with not another soul around us.
I must admit it was a little unnerving, however, I’d do it all again to see the monument in all it’s glory and the houses of Bratislava twinkling below us.
What would we see if you headed out there again? The Catacombs.
For the life of us could we find them?! Rumour has it they are situated below St Martin’s Cathedral.
From inside the cathedral you need to look for a gate, through which is a staircase to the catacombs. We hunted and we hunted. We even scoured the outside areas in case we’d misread the travel guide, but to no avail.
If you find them, I’d love to hear what you thought!