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Bratislava: The Best Thing About Vienna

I came to Vienna with a lot of optimism. I liked the idea of the grand Baroque city, home to Mozart and Freud, and the scenes of the Sound of Music (which turns out was actually filmed in Salzburg, so that’s my bad). I took the walking tour, like I do in every city, and enjoyed learning its history of royal kings and queens, the impact of numerous wars over the years and the stories behind its prettiest buildings.

We did go to the Austrian National Library which was beautiful and probably one of my favortie things in Vienna.

And that’s about when I stopped loving Vienna. It wasn’t quite big enough to have a big city vibe, it wasn’t quite small enough to feel charming and cozy. Most frustratingly, it felt like nowhere in the entire city had functioning wifi. It’s an art city with lots of high-brow activities, like the opera and art museums, so if that’s your thing, Vienna is probably great! It just wasn’t the place for me.

So we left! We bought a train ticket to Bratislava, Slovakia.. It was an hour away and a world apart. Bratislava won us over instantly the second we walked through the city’s gate and into its old city.

The view of the Danube River from Bratislava Castle.

I mentioned this is my Krakow post, but this is where we realized that we really just love walled, old cities. Inside the walls, you’ll almost always find a church and a square, cobblestone walkways, street vendors selling crafts or fresh produce and (relatively) over-priced restaurants with patio seating and delicious local cuisine. We love everything about old cities!

The Blue Church we passed during the walking tour was the most beautiful church I’d ever seen (I think).

Here’s how we spent our prefect day in Bratislava.

Taking the Train from Vienna

The train to Bratislava from Vienna only costs 16 Euro, which is a round-trip ticket and includes public transportation in Bratislava. It’s also probably the cheapest ticket you can buy to do anything in Vienna. You can buy the ticket online, but then you usually need to select your date and time of travel in advance. Alternatively, you can buy the ticket from an OBB agent (we got ours from the ticket office at Wien Mitte), and then you will just have to chose your departure date. You can then board any train (departing hourly from the hauptbahnhof) on the date of your ticket. Bratislava local transit is also only good for that day. You then have three days to use your return ticket. The train ride is about an hour and 10 minutes.

Getting to the Old City

There is a bus (maybe a street car too, I’m not sure) that will take you from the Bratislava train station to the old city. You can also walk, which we did, and it took us about 25 minutes.

As you walk from the train station to Old Town, you’ll pass the Presidential Palace.

Things to do in Bratislava

Take the free walking tour

It takes place daily at 11 AM and 4 PM. If you take the 9:16 train out of Vienna, you’ll make the 11 AM tour perfectly (assuming you walk at a normal pace). We almost always take free walking tours on our first day in a city, so this was an obvious choice. We liked this one more than most, though! Bratislava is a smaller city, but a very old city with a roller-coaster of government and country changes. Because of this, the history of the city had a lot of interesting elements that ranged from its role in protecting royals to strange Easter traditions involving dumping ice cold water on people. It was super enjoyable and informative. It’s about three hours and you tip what you feel it’s worth at the end (about 10 Euro).

A park near the start of the free walking tour of Bratislava.

Eat the local food

We’re vegetarians, and local cuisine around the world is so often meat-based (guinea pig in Peru, plates of meats piled on other meats in Colombia and Chile, bratwurst in Germany, you get it). It’s rare that someone tells us to try something in a country and it’s something we can actually eat. This wasn’t the case in Bratislava, though! The local dishes included Krémová cesnačka, a creamy garlic soup served in a homemade bread bowl, and Bryndzové Halušky, a potato dumpling covered in cheese sauce and green onion (also bacon, but we got it without that). It was all so delicious and carby and amazing.

Bryndzové Halušky in Bratislava – YUM!

Explore the castle

I adored the Bratislava Castle. We had just left Prague, which is known for the world’s largest castle complex, which of course was beautiful, but just like everything in Prague, it was packed with tourists. On contrast, we had the Bratislava Castle and grounds almost to ourselves in Bratislava and enjoyed it so, so much! Granted, the museum part of the castle was closed that day (always closed on Mondays) and we were approaching the end of summer tourist season, so I bet it can get crowded, but it wasn’t when we were there. The castle grounds are always open and we loved wondering through them, soaking in the view over the Danube River, and admiring the gardens. It was all just so lovely.

Bratislava Castle

Wander the cobblestone streets

The small streets of Bratislava’s old city curve and wind and always bring you back to the main square. Many of them are original 15th century streets, too! You’ll find churches, some dating back 750 years, artisans selling handmade crafts, cozy underground bars and the cutest cafes. There’s also a small open-air museum along what remains of the castle walls that is fun to walk through and great for photos.

The main square in the old city of Bratislava.

Leaving Bratislava

We had the best day in Bratislava, but all good things must come to an end. And as much as we loved it, one day there really is all you need. We walked the 25 minutes back to the train station and headed back to Vienna. When we got back to the Vienna main train station, we grabbed our last vegetarian McDonalds McChicken and jumped on our overnight train to Krakow.

Bratislava was the best way to spend our last day in Vienna.

The square only gets more adorable at dusk.