Located on the border between Bratislava’s new and old towns, Hlavna station is the city’s (and possibly Slovakia’s) most important railway station with direct connections to Austria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland and the rest of Slovakia. I arrived into the station just after 1800 onboard the EC272 from Budapest (also known as the Metropolitan) which you can read about here.
My accommodation for the two nights I was in the Slovakian capital was a top floor apartment across the road from the Presidential Palace and next door to the Kazak embassy. About a fifteen-minute walk from Hlavna station it was a great base for my stay and I even got a view of Slavín, a monument and military cemetery for Soviet soldiers who fell whilst liberating the city during World War II.
The hardest part of this trip to Europe had been making sure I followed the various Covid regulations across the five counties I was passing through (Czechia, Hungary & Slovakia plus changing flights in Germany & Switzerland). On my way to Bratislava, I had double checked the guidance, with the UK FCDO website indicating restaurants were closed and there was a 2000 curfew. By the time I’d got to my apartment and settled it was almost 1900 and so I didn’t really want to venture out to find food.
Thankfully, one of the restaurants I had intended to visit during my stay, Slovak Pub, was listed on FoodPanda and so after downloading the app and struggling with some Slovakian translations I had a dinner of Potato Dumplings with Bryndza (Sheep Cheese) & Bacon along with some Cauldron Goulash on its way to me. Whilst I didn’t get to experience the atmosphere of the Slovak pub, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, although I’ve got to admit that Bryndza is an acquired taste.
Waking up to frozen over skylights, my first morning in Bratislava was bright but chilly with the temperature hovering around -5ᵒC with a bitter wind making it feel a few degrees colder than that. With a walking tour booked for 1000, I decided to wander into the city centre to try and find some breakfast and see what the walk in had to offer.
My first stop, the Grassalkovich Palace, home to the Slovakian President, was just over the road from my accommodation and with clear skies looked absolutely stunning. Built in 1760 for a Hungarian aristocrat, it first became home to the president during the first Slovak republic before then being used as the seat of the Council of Commissioners for a few years at the start of the communist era.
Having then been used as an activity centre for Bratislava’s schoolchildren, the palace was in a state of disrepair at the time of the Velvet Revolution with its restoration being overseen Slovakia’s inaugural First Lady, Emilia Kováčová. The gardens at the rear of the palace have now been opened as a public park, however unfortunately my schedule didn’t give me time to explore.
Having found the starting point of the walking tour at Hurbanovo námestie, outside the beautiful Old Cathedral of Saint John of Matha and Saint Felix of Valois, I wandered a little further to find some breakfast and ended up grabbing a coffee and chocolate covered donut (healthy I know!) from Pause Coffee and Sweets. Fuelled with caffeine and sugar I headed back to the cathedral to start what turned out to be a marathon Walking Tour.
Starting at Hurbanove námestie the tour lasted almost three hours and took in a large portion of the old town, including Michael’s Gate, the main square and St. Martin’s Cathedral. Outside the latter, on Rybne namesstie, is a memorial to Bratislava’s former Jewish quarter and The Neological Synagogue which occupied the area until the latter was demolished by the communist regime in the 1970s. A concrete overpass carrying a major road now occupies most of the site of the Jewish quarter.
The tour also took us on the climb up to Bratislava Castle which towers above the city on a rocky outcrop. Having lain in ruins for almost 150 years, restoration of the castle began in 1957 and the castle building itself is now home to part of the Slovak National Museum along with presentation rooms for the National Council of the Slovak Republic and president. The grounds of the castle are free for the public to enjoy, with the southern side providing views out to parts of Austria and Hungary on clear days.
With our tour completing a circular route back to Hurbanove námestie, it was time for lunch and a sit down and, having discovered through chatting to our guide that restaurants were in fact open, headed to another restaurant on my list, Flagship Restaurant. Located in an ornate former theatre, Flagship Restaurant lives up to its name and really does seem to be a Flagship with the grandeur on show.
Opting for the Garlic cream soup served in a loaf homemade bread followed by stewed beef in a creamy dill sauce served with bread dumpling, both of which were excellent, along with a lunchtime beer, I was absolutely stuffed by the time I left Flagship Restaurant, however was suitably refreshed to head to my next stop, Bratislava’s Transport Museum.
Located on the site of Bratislava’s original railway station, entry to the Transport Museum costs just €4 for adults, with an additional €2 charge to be able to take photos. With another branch of the Slovak Technical Museum in Košice focusing on aviation and the Zeleznicne Museum north of Bratislava focusing on the railways, the Transport Museum mostly focuses on road transport with just under 100 motorcars, 25 historical motorcycles and numerous technical accessories.
Despite the focus on road transport there were still exhibits focussed on aviation and rail, with a temporary exhibit on ČSA Flight 001 which crashed into Zlaté Piesky lake in 1976 on display at the museum during my visit. There were also a number of historic locomotives on loan from ZSSK (Slovakian Railways) on display in the museums sidings with these having information in both Slovakian and English (a lot of exhibits didn’t with Google Translate coming in handy).
Whilst most of the exhibits in the Transport Museum weren’t really of interest to me, for €6 including the photo pass it was worth a visit for the bits that did interest me. Having exhausted the museum, I made the 10-minute walk back down to my apartment for a break before heading back out to make the journey down to the Danube for a dinner with a difference.
Located on a boat, Dunajský Pivovar is a brewery, restaurant and hotel that had occupied this spot on the Petržalka embankment of the Danube since 2014. With stunning views of the castle and old town on the opposite bank, along with the Old Bridge over the Danube, Dunajský Pivovar was an amazing location for a meal. Opting for a starter of Whitebait (fish seemed appropriate on a boat) along with another main of meat and dumplings, I finished off the excellent meal with a small portion of pancakes with berry compote.
Having had a relatively late lunch and early dinner, I was almost rolling back along the embankment to the tram stop to take me to my final destination of the day, The Church of St. Elizabeth, commonly known as The Blue Church. With a blue façade, mosaics and a blue-glazed roof, the church is absolutely stunning and whilst I didn’t head inside due to a service taking place, the site of it illuminated in the surrounding darkness was just jaw-dropping.
My second morning in Bratislava meant leaving the amazing city which had helped me regain my travel mojo, as I had a seat booked on the 1006 departure from Hlavna station to Prague (read about that here). Before heading to the station I had time for one meal in Bratislava, with a filling breakfast needed to fuel me for another travel day.
Located just down from the station, on the corner of Štefanovičova and Čajkovského, the Rannô Ptáča Café can be found in a building with a beautiful green façade which appears to be a former townhouse in what is classed as the new town. Its just a five minute walk from the station and so is a great place to wait for your train and I’d certainly recommend the pancakes with bacon, egg and maple syrup if you’re having breakfast there.
I absolutely loved my stay in Bratislava, with the city being quite a small and compact capital, reminding me of Ljubljana in its atmosphere. My stay in the city was also a ‘watershed’ moment for me, with my enthusiasm for travel and exploring returning as I discovered the city and for that reason I have a feeling it’ll remain as one of my favourite cities for quite a while.