After months of traveling and exploring many of Europe’s major cities, this impossibly charming little place remains one of my favorite capitals in the world. The word hidden gem only begins to describe the allure of this city. We visited Bratislava on a whim while staying in Vienna, and we were mesmerized.
Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, and is located along the border with Austria and neighboring Hungary. We took a one-hour bus ride from Vienna (only 37 miles way!) and arrived in the center of the sunny 18th century old town without any idea what to expect… and the blanks filled in quickly!
The old town is adorable and full of little passages and cobblestone side-streets. Wandering around those little alleys is so much fun, and it is common to emerge from a dilapidated passageway into a bright and spectacular backstreet…
^^^…shared only by the nuns attending their errands.
The contrasting nature of the buildings in Bratislava offers a feast for the eyes and makes for an unbelievably photogenic city. The graffiti-covered walls, Communist apartment blocks, and spectacular 18th century church buildings sit side-by-side.
^^^Once a part of Czechoslovakia, this city was under the control of the USSR following WWII, and it fell behind the iron curtain during the Cold War with the United States. Since Prague was chosen as the capital, Bratislava was used as a center of industry for the Soviet war efforts in Czechoslovakia. In 1993 the nation was split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with Bratislava becoming the capital of the latter. Slovakia is now a free nation and is a part of the E.U., but the Communist influence is evident everywhere.
The best part about Bratislava is that it seems like the word hasn’t gotten out yet, and the city doesn’t have the big time tourist draw of neighboring Vienna or Budapest. The city has yet to become a major travel destination despite having everything to offer: a beautiful old town full of contrast, a rich and dark history, delicious traditional food, easy accessibility, friendly locals, and cheap prices. I can’t wait to visit again!