A stop in Bratislava, Slovakia was not originally on our itinerary. We planned to take the 8-9 hour night train from Budapest to Prague (spoiler alert on the next/final destination coming), but as we got closer to finalizing our trip itinerary, I realized that the arrival time in Prague wasn’t optimal, in the 4 and 6 a.m. hours. We were still game for doing it since we needed to get from Point A to B anyway and a night train ride is on my bucket list, but after looking at the map, I realized we could add another city/country to the itinerary AND break up the journey between Budapest and Prague. So adding in a visit to Bratislava is what we did! This was by far our shortest stop along the way, as we arrived just after 2 p.m. and departed around 10 a.m. the next morning.
Here’s what happened in our approximately 20 hours in Bratislava.
Day 1 // 2:15 – 2:45 p.m.
I couldn’t believe how packed the Bratislava train station was upon our arrival! We had arranged a pick-up from the station via our hotel, but were a little overwhelmed seeing SO many people shuffling around the station (way more than any other station we were at), and no sign of our driver. We were on a bit of a tight schedule with needing to check into our hotel and make it to the meeting point of our first scheduled event, so it was even more stressful, making two international phone calls to our hotel trying to figure out what the deal was with the transportation (it was already arranged/included on our room bill, so we couldn’t just hop in another cab), but finally, we did, and rushed to get checked in at the Tulip House Boutique Hotel (who kindly covered our transportation due to the mishap), and drop our bags before running out the door!
Day 1 // 3 – 5:30 p.m.
The only planned activity during our time in Bratislava was a free walking tour. We did a walking tour in almost every city we visited, and being there for such a short time, it’s really the best way to learn all about the city and see most of the main sights. Due to our transportation mishap from the train station, I was pretty nervous we’d be late for the tour and miss it, but fortunately, we got there in time and were able to join in!
The tour started at Hviezdoslavovo namestie (LOL at me trying to pronounce that to the hotel concierge to find out the quickest way to walk there), which was one of the main squares, and also where one of the Christmas markets was. The U.S. Embassy also had prime real estate right here, which was neat to pass by!
We passed by the UFO Bridge & Tower, which was built in the 70s and something that seems very odd amidst the rest of the buildings and overall look of Bratislava. And just around the corner, St. Martin’s Cathedral, one of the oldest churches in Bratislava, and where Queen Maria Theresa (the only female ruler of the Hapsburgs) was crowned in the 1700s, and 18 other rulers (primarily for Hungary) were coronated between 1563 and 1830!
We also came across my favorite statue, “Man at Work,” which was my favorite, especially considering the name and the statue’s action. There are so many quirky statues all around town, but this one was understandably, the most famous!
There wasn’t time to do a tour/close-up visit of the Bratislava Castle, but we did catch a glimpse of it along the way. Supposedly on a clear day, you can see Hungary and Austria out in the distance!
Another big stop? Church of St. Elisabeth, more commonly known as “The Blue Church.” Unfortunately it was closed by the time we arrived, but we were still able to peek through the gates to check out the inside. It was gorgeous! It seemed kind of like a fairytale church! This building also stuck out big time among the others on the outside, because there really isn’t too much color on buildings in Bratislava.
I can’t help but share this a photo of this creepy, abandoned building across the street from the beautiful church. Apologies that the quality isn’t the best, but does this look like something that would be on The Scariest Places on Earth or what?! At one point it was a hospital, and with the way it looks now, I can only imagine how haunted this place is!
Our tour ended at one of the most monumental places in Bratislava’s history, where we learned a lot more about the communist period in the country, which Bratislava is still recovering from, even decades later. I felt like out of all the walking tours we did at this point in our trip, this one was the best at combining history, culture, and personal family/friend traditions, giving us a glimpse at life in Slovakia. Definitely do this walk if you visit Bratislava and have the time!
Day 1 // 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
At this point, we were legitimately frozen. My mom had forgotten her gloves so I gave her mine to wear for the majority of the walk, the sun had long set, and the wind was quite strong. Since the tour ended close to our hotel, we decided to go back to the lobby area to warm up and determine our next plan of action.
We received a recommendation from our tour guide and the hotel concierge to grab dinner at The Flagship Bratislava Restaurant for a good meal and to try some local fare. When we arrived we saw an older British couple from our walking tour there, and they flagged us over to join them. Mom and I both opted for the potato pancake (I make them at home all the time, yum!), but when they arrived we saw it was definitely something we could’ve shared! Also, have you ever seen a potato pancake THIS big?!
Day 1 // 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.
After dinner, it was really just wandering the streets of Bratislava and exploring the Christmas markets. It was also a Friday night, so the city was especially hoppin’ with locals and tourists, and we even saw a Great Gatsby-themed party taking place! We briefly discussed party crashing, but in a foreign country, that might’ve been tougher to do! Ha!
To end the night, we found a little cafe to stop in for dessert. The menu seemed pretty solid, but there were only a handful of desserts left by the time we arrived, but after ordering 3 different foods/drinks, they finally came back with a “yes, we have that.” We weren’t crazy about them, but we knew our hotel had some delicious warm Christmas wine waiting in the lobby, so of course, we grabbed a couple classes on our way back to the room before retiring for the night.
Day 2 // 8:30 – 9:30 a.m.
In usual fashion, the morning was a bit of a scramble for us. We packed our bags, scarfed down some breakfast, and then headed to the train station. This experience was a bit stressful (yet again), but a little moreso because it involved us making a train! We followed the signs to our platform, but there was already a train stationed there, that wasn’t ours. Luckily for us, there were a few other English speakers that were all headed in the same direction as us, so we all kind of huddled together to figure out our plan of action and were ready to dart to another platform (down stairs, up stairs, etc.) if needed. These trains only stop for a couple minutes to let passengers off and the new ones on, so there’s really no time to spare when it comes to the trains in Europe, especially the local ones! Technically this is where the Bratislava story ends, but if you’re wondering if we made our train? Yes we did! And off to Prague we went!