A picturesque old town, a great location on the banks of the Danube, a relaxed atmosphere and an exciting nightlife: Bratislava has it all. In the centre of my travel report is an interview with my mate Geoff, an Australian who has been living in the capital of Slovakia for 14 years.
I visited Bratislava for the first time in 2016 during my annual city trip with my boys. If Reto’s Little Travel Blog had existed at that time, I would have described the most important sights: the medieval old town (Staré Mesto; with a lot of Gothic and Baroque), Bratislava Castle, the futuristic bridge Most SNP (with the UFO restaurant/bar on top), the Blue Church built entirely in Art Nouveau, the Slavín war memorial (and viewpoint), the castle ruin of Devín at the confluence of Danube and Morava.
I would have written even more about the relaxed atmosphere. In the alleys and squares of the old town there are countless cosy cafés and pubs. Also the bank of the Danube invites to stay and take a walk. And finally, the nightlife of the city with the nicknames “Bratvegas” or “Partyslava” would have come up. (My personal recommendations for restaurants, cafés, bars, and clubs can be found at the bottom of this article.)
But I really grew fond of Bratislava because of the friendships I have built up since my first visit. That was also the reason why I revisited Bratislava at the end of July 2019. Geoff invited me to his 40th birthday. I used this opportunity to ask him about “his” Bratislava:
Geoff, how did you as an Australian end up settling in an Eastern European city and starting a business?
Great question because I agree it is unusual. After university in Sydney, I moved to London to work and travel as many people do. After a few years in London, the company I was working for at the time had an option for people to move to other international offices and I chose Prague. After a few years with them in Prague, they asked me to start an office for them in Bratislava. That was now over 14 years ago. After a few years with them in Bratislava, myself and another Australian friend decided to start up our own international business and we decided to do that from Bratislava.
What characterizes Bratislava as a place to live, work, but also to visit?
I love living in Bratislava. The city’s official brand slogan is “Little Big City” which I think is very true. It’s a small city of only about half a million residents, so it has many conveniences of small size, but it also has a lot of the benefits of a much larger city. For example, a few weeks ago I needed a Russian tourist visa, so I just walked 4 mins to the Russian visa office, as Bratislava is a European capital city. Bratislava is generally very convenient. It is not congested compared to much larger cities and the attractive, historic old town centre is a walking-only district. So, no cars, very few tourists and in warmer months there are hundreds of outdoor tables available at restaurants, pubs and cafes, to soak up the atmosphere. There is also a lovely atmosphere along the fast-flowing Danube river, whether it’s going for a walk or also chilling out in a café, especially at the ultra-modern and classy Eurovea riverside shopping and entertainment centre. I also very much appreciate Bratislava’s central location in Europe, in fact the city itself borders both Austria and Hungary. It is just a 1 hour drive to central Vienna, about 2 hours to Budapest, 3 hours to Prague. Also, the Austrian Alps are just a few hours away, or the Slovenian/Croatian coast is only about 5-6 hours away, too. With a car you can go far and see a lot! Train is another realistic option to many locations, or from Bratislava and nearby Vienna airports you can fly to just about anywhere. Basically, Bratislava has a pretty cool and relaxed vibe. Did I mention the cheap beer?:-)
What are your personal favourite places to which you take all your visitors?
Of course there are the typical tourist locations like the Bratislava Castle and the large old town squares (Hlavne and Hviezdoslavovo), the National Theatre. The district around the Blue Church is also very pretty and historic. Personally though, I love walking along the Danube and crossing the bridges to the other side and admiring the view of the castle. As mentioned, the Eurovea shopping and entertainment centre has many restaurants and bars along the river front, which I think has a stylish and “world class” atmosphere. They are even extending that along the river significantly as we speak. I also recommend a 25min bus ride to the suburb of Devin which is an old, cute village with an amazing, large ruined castle. Devin Castle is on a dramatic cliff-top overlooking where the Morava River flows into the mighty Danube. Both rivers also serve as the Austrian border, which during communism, was also the Iron Curtain. There is a poignant memorial there to the hundreds of people who were shot trying to cross and escape. The village has a historic atmosphere but the views from the top of the castle looking far along the Danube, is spectacular. There are many other recommendations, depending on how much time someone has to spend in town. If possible, the best way to arrive or leave Bratislava is via the speedy ferry which leaves/arrives from central Vienna (Twin-City Liner) and takes just over an hour, which is impressive!
Bratislava also has a reputation as a party city. Rightly so?
“Partyslava?” I think that is the reputation, especially amongst foreign stag parties, yes! However, I think it is better for those not looking to go all night clubbing, but rather those who prefer great pubs and bars and a chilled out atmosphere. If someone is visiting in warmer months, the atmosphere on the streets in the old-town centre is charming. My favourite pub/restaurants with excellent central-European style food (not recommended for vegetarians or people on a diet!) are: 1. Mestiansky Pivovar. A bohemian style beer hall and beer garden (Dunajska Street). 2. Kolkovna, a riverfront modern microbrewery with a great atmosphere outside and in. 3. Dunajsky Pivovar, a floating brewery on the banks of the Danube with amazing views of the castle and old town. Those places are all unique and quite special. Tourists love them, especially as beer prices are no more than 2 EUR for half a litre!
Geoff Cable is originally from Sydney, Australia. He co-founded an international business intelligence and events company in the field of life sciences in Bratislava in 2004, after working and living in both Prague and London for several years. He’s a family man, interested in military history and probably does a hell lot of other interesting stuff. I first met Geoff in Lebanon in 2007 when he visited his brother Ross, with whom I served as a UN military observer. Since then I have repeatedly met him in Bratislava and Zurich.
My own recommendations for Bratislava:
- Hotels: Even though there was nothing wrong with the Mercure Bratislava Centrum Hotel (2019) or the LOFT Hotel Bratislava (2016), hotels, I recommend that you take a hotel in or in the immediate vicinity of the old town.
- Restaurants: Meštiansky Pivovar (beer hall, typical Slovak specialities), Srdcovka Reduta (beer hall), Zeleny Rodrigéz (Slovak specialties) Modrá Hviezda (Slovak specialties, we sat on a small terrace outside on the castle hill)
- Café: Five Points – coffee specialities, breakfast all day and light snacks, good service, stylish interior
- Bars: countless…
- Nightclubs: The Club Bratislava (not to be confused with Le Club), Trafo, Luna Bar (post-communist chic)
Travel period: May 5-8, 2016 and July 26-28, 2019
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