Bratislava, Slovakia is worth a couple of days

(I know we can’t travel until COVID is under control, but we can dream. So occasionally, I’ll offer a look at a European capital that isn’t London, Paris, or Rome — in other words, a place you might not be terribly familiar with, but might want to visit.)

By Larry Johnson

So, OK: I have to admit bias when writing about Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital city because I have lived here for most of the past 20 years. As with any place that is a long-term home, there are things that I both like and hate about it.

 But I’m not writing for prospective expatriates. For prospective tourists, the city of 500,000 near the Austrian border can make either a good base for visiting the Prague-Budapest-Vienna triangle of megatourist sites, or a nice place to stop for a couple of days on a European tour.

 Dissected by the Danube River, Bratislava has always played Chicago to Prague’s New York or Des Moines to Vienna’s Chicago. It’s a working city, with good public transportation, a picturesque old town, a castle that houses several museums, and a fairly vibrant nightlife.

(I know we can’t travel until COVID is under control, but we can dream. So occasionally, I’ll offer a look at a European capital that isn’t London, Paris, or Rome — in other words, a place you might not be terribly familiar with, but might want to visit.)

 I has my pocket successfully picked here once, and another guy tried. Other than that kind of thing, crime is fairly rare and the city nearly always seems safe. In summer, throngs of tourists flood the Old Town from Danube River cruise ships. You can also get here by train in an hour from Vienna’s Hauptbanhoff (Main Station) or in three or four hours from Budapest and Prague. Ryan Air flies here from the U.K., and has a varied group of connections onward. It’s a horrible airline, but cheap. Wizz Air’s better but has fewer flights.

Once you’re here, take in the castle with its several museums and excellent view. Spend a day in the Old Town and take a trip by bus across the Danube to Petrazalka, rumored to have the highest population density of anywhere in Europe. Acres of towering paneloks (Soviet-style concrete housing blocks) “grace” the area, which gives you a feel for how life was before the Iron Curtain fell.

Watch out for taxi drivers at the airport and train station: You should insist that they use a meter. If they can’t or won’t speak English to negotiate a price, simply get another taxi Be sure to buy tickets BEFORE you board trams or buses. You can get tickets for 15 or 60 minutes at kiosks at major stops or at automated machines at others. The fine, payable immediately, for failing to punch a ticket is 50 euros, so don’t forget.

Hotels abound in the Old Town. There is a Park Inn, a Sheraton, and a Crowne Plaza, and for the budget-minded, there’s are hostels and the Hotel Kiev. Ten or 15 minutes outside the center, hotels are cheaper, and if you’re just looking for a bed, they’re worth a short taxi ride.

Slovaks are generally a little stand-offish until you get to know them. Shop assistants can be extremely rude. Same with waiters and waitresses. Younger people (say those from 45 years old on down) are relatively welcoming of minorities. Most of them speak at least a little English, and some are highly fluent.

If you don’t have business or school, a couple of days will let you see most of the significant sights in Bratislava.

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