Bratislava is a city that has borne many identities throughout history but has emerged to be the colourful and quirky capital of Slovakia you see today. The tension and unrest of previous years have subsided and the modern city embodies a unique identity that has only proved to welcome its diversity rather than rebel against it.
This rich character, combined with just being a hop, skip, and jump over the Danube from Austria, means its popularity as a day trip destination from Vienna is growing. But does that mean it’s the right choice for you?
Let’s take a look at the hows, whys, and whats of planning a Vienna to Bratislava day trip so you can plan your time wisely.
Is Bratislava Worth Visiting?
If you’re anything like me, the first question on your mind (after learning of its proximity) is going to be “is Bratislava worth a visit?”.
I’m going to be honest here and mention it’s a city that wasn’t even on my radar until I started to research day trips from Vienna. But once I found out that the capital city of Slovakia – a country that’s only existed in its current configuration since 1993! – was a little more than an hour away by public transport, it was a no-brainer for me.
After a quick Google search, I was curious to see the mark so many changes of power would have left on the city. How it’s held up in spite of being tug-of-wared between countries (did you know it was once the capital of Hungary?), and what the current dynamic was.
Would it live up to the Slovak stereotypes, or would it be a metropolitan city that has embraced its multicultural past and come out fighting?
After a day exploring, I can’t claim to have all the answers, but I will say that although it can still seem a little rough around the edges, it’s a truly refreshing city with a lot to offer.
So if you have at least 4 days in Vienna, it’s probably worth sparing one of those to jump over the ditch to discover Bratislava’s unique appeal.
How to get from Vienna to Bratislava
When planning a day trip to Bratislava you have several options for transport. I’ve detailed the pros and cons of each method below.
=> Catching the Bus from Vienna to Bratislava
Getting the bus from Vienna to Bratislava is the cheapest option. I travelled with RegioJet who offer one-way tickets for just €5! Besides the fact that this is ridiculously cheap, it seems like an even better deal when you learn that they have free WIFI, free in-seat entertainment, and free hot beverages! They will also drop you off right next to the old town so can start exploring straight away.
The total journey time is a little longer than on the train, but not so much if you count the time it takes getting into Bratislava Old Town from the train station.
Eurolines, Flixbus, PolskiBus, and Slovak Lines Express also run this route.
- Journey time: 90 minutes approx
- Price (return): €10
=> Catching the Train from Vienna to Bratislava
Another popular option is taking the train from Vienna to Bratislava. You can buy train tickets from Vienna to Bratislava online in advance from ÖBB, but popular opinion is that this isn’t necessary. Instead, you can buy your ticket right from the machines at Vienna train stations on the day of travel.
The ticket you want to purchase is called the Bratislava Ticket, or the Euregio Slovakia, which will allow you to travel to Bratislava and back, but it also covers public urban transport within Bratislava for the first day of travel. This is important, as the train station is not in town and you will have to take a bus or tram to reach the city centre from the train station (Hlavná Stanica).
- Journey time: 1 hour approx + time to get to the city from the train station
- Price (return): €16
=> Take a Boat from Vienna to Bratislava
Another option for travelling from Vienna to Bratislava is to take a boat. The Twin City Liner travels from Vienna to Bratislava via the Danube. This might be a good option in summer if you want the journey to be a part of the experience, but in winter the sailings are few and far between. So choose the bus or train instead.
To get a ferry from Vienna to Bratislava you can book online at Twin City. The tickets start at €30 per trip and will deposit you near the old town centre.
- Journey time: 75 minutes approx
- Price (return): From €60
=> Driving from Vienna to Bratislava
Originally when I booked my trip to Vienna I thought I’d rent a car in order to take day trips around the country (and beyond). But I soon realised that parking in the city is both expensive and limited, so I chose to take day trips using public transport instead.
However, if you have parking included at your accommodation, driving to Bratislava from Vienna could be a viable option. The journey will take you around an hour by car. Just be aware that you will need to purchase a Slovakia Highway Vignette before you travel, and also ensure your rental car company is aware that you’re travelling out of the country.
How to Spend One Day in Bratislava
Covering all of Bratislava in a day is a little unrealistic. However, many of the city’s main attractions are centred around the old town, meaning they’re within easy walking distance of each other.
I personally managed to cover all of the below attractions in around 6 hours without feeling rushed, but I didn’t linger too long in any one spot either. So when deciding what to do in Bratislava in one day – look no further!
TAKE A WALK AROUND BRATISLAVA CASTLE
Bratislava Castle sits high on a hill overlooking the old town. Indeed, you can see it from almost anywhere so it serves as an attractive landmark when exploring the city.
The castle’s site has been inhabited since the Eneolithic Period and various renditions of a castle have been built, destroyed and rebuilt again over the centuries. Today’s version of the castle is fairly young, having been restored in the mid-20th century in tune with the Baroque style it sported up until flames destroyed it in the early 19th century.
To reach the castle you have to plan your route, as it’s on the other side of the highway that cuts through the edge of the old town. You can either duck under the Most SNP (UFO) Bridge, or take the footbridge from the old city walls behind Kapitulská street.
From either end, the castle is signposted. It’s a short but fairly steep walk up the hill, but the views are rewarding and it’s a very pretty part of town.
Once you get to the top you can enjoy a walk around the castle grounds, or pay admission to enter the museum & treasury. Entrance is €10. I personally chose to stick to admiring the castle from the outside as I’d read mixed reviews of the museum.
On your way back down the hill, pop into Zeitlos for a drink on the terrace.
BROWSE THE OLD TOWN HALL MUSEUM & CLIMB THE TOWER
If you’ve only got an afternoon in Bratislava, you’re probably not going to want to spend the entirety of it diving into the town’s history. But even if you’re not a museum-buff, make sure you head along to the Old Town Hall – because it’s where you’ll find the best view over the historical centre. Which is even more magical at Christmastime!
Standing overlooking the main square in the city centre, the Old Town Hall is the oldest city hall in Slovakia and one of the earliest stone buildings in the city. The Bratislava City Museum is housed inside, and it’s here you’ll find exhibits detailing the town’s history and feudal justice system.
To enter, walk through the old gateway into the courtyard beyond. From here, the entrance to the museum and tower is on your right. Luckily, if you’re short on time, or only want admission to the tower, you can purchase a tower-only ticket for a reduced price of €2.50. You’ll be guided towards a set of stairs, where you’ll start your climb to the lookout.
As you ascend through the floors via the spiral staircase, you’ll pass some stunning architecture, and catch a glimpse of the view to come. Once you reach the top (it’s not a strenuous climb), a narrow balcony encircles the tower and delivers the sought-after viewpoints.
ADMIRE MICHAEL’S GATE
Michael’s Gate is the name of the bell-topped tower at the edge of the old town. The only remaining gate of the city’s medieval fortifications, it was originally bordered by a moat! These days you won’t have to wade through water or over a drawbridge, but the original character has been well-preserved.
Although it was built in a gothic style, the current Baroque style heralds from the 18th century when modifications were undertaken – including the addition of a statue depicting St Michael slaying a Dragon at the top.
Inside the tower, you’ll find a quirky museum telling the tale of the town’s medieval history and eventual destruction of the fortified walls. But the main drawcard here is the viewpoint at the top of the tower which can only be accessed by purchasing entrance to the museum.
To get inside, you’ll find a discreet brown door on the righthand side of the gate (southern side). Entry costs €5 which I thought was a little steep for the petite museum (little more than a series of landings with a few small exhibitions each). And as the view wasn’t the best in town (I preferred the view from the Old Town Hall), I’d suggest just admiring the tower from below unless you have a particular interest in learning about the history of Bratislava & viewing the collection of weapons on display.
WANDER DOWN THE MOST CHARMING MEDIEVAL STREETS
On the edge of the old town, you’ll find two of the most interesting streets in Bratislava. They’re not the most beautiful, but they offer an alternative view of the city for anyone wanting to escape the crowds and venture somewhere a little off the main beat.
Kapitulská Street is one of the oldest streets in the city, as is evidenced by the original cobblestone pavings and medieval façades. Its modest length is bordered by pastel-coloured buildings in various states of disrepair, but don’t let that put you off. There’s a certain element of mystery to this corner of Bratislava, and it’s worth a little detour to explore.
Stemming off Kapitulská Street, Farska Street will deliver you back towards the heart of the old town, but not before enchanting you with its feudal architecture and gothic church.
SPOT STATUES IN THE OLD TOWN
When spending one day in Bratislava, you’ll most probably be spending the majority of your time meandering around the old town. In fact, if you only had a couple of hours up your sleeve, that’s exactly what I’d recommend you do..
The medieval town centre is unquestionably charming and after travelling from Vienna to Bratislava, offers a very different feel to the more polished Austrian capital. Quirky pastel-hued buildings rub shoulders with ornate looking palaces and the medley of styles is mesmerising.
By just following your nose, you’ll no doubt wander past some of the most historically important buildings in Bratislava, an eclectic collection of bronze statues, and a plethora of boutiques and upmarket stores clambering for your attention.
When in need of a rest, simply sink into a café terrace and watch the world go by, or duck into one of the alleyways to discover a hidden courtyard or delicious patisserie.
The old town is relatively petite for a capital city, and although you could get lost for hours if you take your time to savour the shops and scenery, you could also whiz through it in under an hour if in a hurry!
VISIT THE BLUE CHURCH AND PINK PALACE
Bratislava is a very colourful city overall, but as you’re exploring, there are two historical buildings that really stand out from the rest – and not just for their Instagrammable façades!
The famous Blue Church (officially called the Church of St. Elizabeth) rests on the outskirts of the old town, next to a school built in a similar style (the two buildings shared an architect). The early 20th-century church is quite striking from a distance – looking like something out of a Disney movie – but it’s once you get up close you realise the real beauty is in the details.
The intricate paintwork is enhanced by blue mosaics and majolicas, it even sports a blue slate roof! It wouldn’t look totally out of place in Portugal…
Opening hours are limited, but if you do manage to gain entry, you’ll be greeted with – you guessed it – more blue. The ornate interior is enhanced with blue pews and wall accents. Although this time the effect is broken up by golds and reds too.
10 minute’s walk from the Blue Church, tucked behind the Main Square and Old Town Hall, you’ll find the Pink Palace – more commonly known as the Primatial Palace or Primate’s Palace. This 18th-century mansion built in a classical style is stunning from the outside, but the real beauty lies within.
Entrance to the palace only costs €3 and gains you access to several salons, halls and the hidden courtyard. Admire the Hall of Mirrors, the intricate English tapestries and the stately portraits of Hungarian rulers in the picture gallery.
There are several other noteworthy buildings and churches throughout the old town. My particular favourites were this Art Nouveau Building pictured above and the Trinity Church whose mellow pink exterior belies the lavish Rococo style interior.
SCALE THE UFO TOWER AT SUNSET
One of the most iconic sights on Bratislava’s skyline, second only to the Bratislava Castle, is the UFO Bridge (officially called the SNP Bridge). Being the 7th largest hanging bridge in the world might not be a claim to fame, but keep in mind it’s also the world’s longest bridge to be supported by just one pylon. It’s at the top of this pylon that you’ll find the bridge’s main attraction – the UFO-shaped restaurant and viewing deck.
Given the overall appearance of the bridge, it may come as no surprise that it was erected in the 1970s during Socialist Czechoslovakia. The communist style of the bridge is at odds with the historical centre that rests at one end. Indeed, part of the historical centre, including a neologic synagogue, was destroyed in the creation of the bridge and accompanying highway.
Now that the dust has settled and tensions eased, the bridge has become a popular tourist attraction. The observation deck offers unparalleled views of Bratislava and beyond. To gain access you can either pay an entrance fee of €7.40 to ride the elevator to the top or make a reservation at the UFO restaurant (in which case access is granted without additional charge). Just keep in mind that this flying-saucer shaped restaurant charges extraterrestrial prices!
I headed up the slightly claustrophobic elevator in the late afternoon hoping to catch the golden hour hues, and I was mesmerised by the view. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the old town and hilltop castle that kept my shutter clicking, but rather the eerie-looking Sad Janka Kráľa park and on the opposite side, the riverside walkway towards the Most Lafranconi bridge. With the burnt-autumn palette and descending mist, I couldn’t pull my eyes away.
Schedule in around an hour to visit if you’re there for the views, or a little longer if you’re hoping to capture some sunset magic.
BRATISLAVA CHRISTMAS MARKETS
If your Bratislava day trip coincides with the Christmas period, you’re in for a real treat! There are several markets scattered throughout Bratislava so you won’t need to walk far to sniff one out!
The markets are the perfect place to sample traditional Slovakian foods such as potato pancakes or chimney cakes. And a warm mug of mulled wine or a cup of punch will ward off any winter chills.
Where to eat in Bratislava
If there’s one thing that surprised me the most about visiting Bratislava (besides the insanely gorgeous old town and the impressive historical sites), it was the amazing array of restaurants and cafes on offer. Everything from patisseries that wouldn’t look out of place in Paris, to cosy coffee shops and trendy juice bars, it really seemed to have it all.
Many different cuisines were represented on the restaurant’s menus too, from Asian-fusion to Georgian favourites, and of course plenty of traditional Slovakian staples too. With only 1 day in Bratislava you’re not going to be able to sample them all, so here are some of the most interesting places to delight your appetite!
Located in the heart of the old town, Nobile caught my eye straight away. What looks like an upmarket restaurant from the outside is actually a surprisingly affordable dining room serving up organic home-grown Georgian cuisine! After visiting Tbilisi last winter and falling in love with the food, I was yearning for some Lobio and Ajika. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my high expectations. But it was still an enjoyable meal at a ridiculously good price. There’s also a kid’s room out the back to keep little ones busy while you eat.
A French-style bistro in Bratislava, this cosy cafe is just the place to warm up with a hot chocolate if you’re exploring the city in winter. There are several branches of this local favourite. But the original – the one that caught my eye because of it’s floating terrace and bustling atmosphere – is on Panksa Street in the old town.
If you’re looking for where all the cool kids hang out, head to Urban House. This trendy cafe morphs into a wine bar at night and serves all your hipster favourites. From poke bowls to pizza – it’s also a great place to find vegan food in Bratislava.
For authentic Japanese ramen, look no further than Ramen Kazu. The simple menu is paired down to what they do best and served in a zen-like space.
For a late breakfast or brunch, head to Five Points café where you’ll find eggs served in any style and served with a good strong coffee. Skip this one if you’re vegan as there are no obvious options.
Eating cake seems to be the favourite pastime in Bratislava and there is no shortage of patisseries all too willing to indulge the masses! Pollito serves up slices of decadent cheesecakes at any time of the day or night and is a popular choice with the locals.
It’s absolutely doable to visit Bratislava in one day from Vienna. The petite capital is compact and easy to navigate by foot, plus there’s plenty to keep you busy, however long you decide to stay for!
I hope this information has helped you plan your Vienna to Bratislava day trip. Do let me know if you have any questions below…
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