For our fifth wedding anniversary, we decided to head to Europe. We prefer to go to Europe during the off season to avoid the crowds. We covered three countries during this trip - Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia.
We started our trip at the beautiful capital city, Prague. True to our travel style, we ventured out of the city on our second day in Czech Republic. We did a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, one of the most magical fairy tale small town in South Bohemia. Followed by another trek in Narnia.
After Czech, our next stopover was at Slovakia - for two rather short days. We arrived by train from Czech (because it is efficient and cost effective).
Full disclosure: I had not considered adding Slovakia to our plan.. we could only do two nights here, which wasn’t going to be enough to hike the high Tatra. The hubs then told me the history of the Danube river and I knew we couldn’t leave Europe this time without hiking along the river.
Places you can't miss:
The UFO Tower
Old Town Hall
Devin's Castle and Danube river
St. Martin's Cathedral
St. Nicholas Church
Street Art and local street food
Best time to visit
I would imagine the weather is pretty amazing in the summer but the winters are rainy, gloomy with snow and temperatures in the low 20s (Fahrenheit not Celsius). That being said, visiting Europe during the winter is absolutely magical and something everyone must experience at least once. So if you haven't done that already I would highly recommend visiting Slovakia during the Christmas season to soak in all the festivities.
Luckily when we visited, there wasn't a lot of snow but the temperatures were below freezing during the night.
Flights and Visa
We arrived by train from Czech. The central station is centrally located in the city and I would recommend taking the train to get here, if you are already in Europe.
Schengen Visa required for entry into Slovakia.
The official language spoken in the country is Slovak.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel and Medical Insurance is mandatory to travel to all Schengen countries.
Currency is Euro.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Elisabeth Old Town close to the city center. The rooms were spacious for European standards. The breakfast was nothing to write home about.. that being said, there were quite a few good restaurants within walking distance.
For lunch, we even tried a vegan Indian place called the Thali. You pay according to the weight.. not bad for being so far from India! :)
Cost and getting around
Bratislava was not very expensive, probably because this place is not touristy (yet). Hotels are reasonably priced (during the off season). Cabs are expensive, as you would expect them to be anywhere in Europe. I loved that the buses were running frequently, super convenient and of course, cheap.
A proper meal on average will be around EUR 10 per person.
Had no issues with safety. We felt everyone we met was warm and helpful.
As always, I was able to find lovely vegan friendly restaurants around the area. Yes, there was a cheese loaded Pizza and a lot of junk food at the Christmas markets.
What to pack
Winters are cold. Pack rain jackets, winter jackets, scarves and beanies if you are going around the same time as us.
We spent a day and half. So this itinerary is split into two days.
On day one, we arrived at the Bratislava Central station (aka we took the choo choo train). A quick 20 minute walk took us to our hotel in the Old Town. I was surprised to find lingering fall colors around town.. so pretty. It felt like we had finally arrived in Central Europe - there was a sense of faded beauty here.
After checking into the hotel, we quickly went around old town Bratislava before we lost anymore light.
Our first stop was the The Blue Church. The church is unique and is painted a baby blue with white accents. Even as you are walking down the street, you can't possibly miss this fairy tale church.
As we strolled down the streets of Old Town, we were blown away by the magnificent street art. They were in almost every other building - big, bold and beautiful!
By the time we were done street strolling, it was sun down and the Christmas markets were LIT. I loved how the markets here were more authentic and subdued compared to the ones in Prague. Grabbed all the junk food we could get our hands on and headed back to our room to call it a day.
Fun tip: if you are vegetarian, you must try the Plaka - which is basically like a hash brown but topped with mayo, cheese, onions and jalapeno.
A packed day ahead of us. We started our day at 8 30 by catching a bus to the beautiful Devin's castle. We picked up a one way ticket on Bus 29 for a short 20 minute ride up the hills. This is one of the easiest day trips you can do from the city.
Tip: to pick up the bus ticket, use change and pay at the ticket collection pole right next to bus stops. You will need to know the bus numbers and routes to do this.
The bus dropped us off on the main street, from here, we walked towards the castle. There were clear signs, so we didn't get lost. There is a fee to enter the castle - EUR 3.
There are two parts to the castle, the castle itself and the area outside it. The ruins in the castle date back to the 9th century and are well preserved. The castle hangs on top of the cliff at the confluence of Danube and Morava rivers. It was one hell of a beautiful winter morning and there wasn't another soul in sight. Which meant only one thing - picture time!
We walked through the ruins, soaking in the medieval history mirrored in the castle's ruins. Once we got to the top, we were welcomed by panoramic views of the Danube - the second longest river in Europe. We couldn’t have asked for better weather to see this amazing place.
As we walked down from the castle, we entered the castle grounds which is also home to a small memorial site for the 400 lives that were lost during the war. We did a small picnic since we just didn't have the heart to leave.
This castle is a must do if you want to see the frontier that stands between Slovakia and Austria.
We walked back half way to the city before taking the same bus back to city, getting off close to the UFO tower. This was clearly the most iconic location in the city. You can spend EUR 7.50 and go up the tower for a complete view of the city.
Once we walked back towards the old town, we stopped to take in of the colorful government buildings and of course, more street art. Oh and lunch was thumped down with much gusto at Vegan Kiosk - easily the best meal we had during our trip!
Right next to the Old Town Hall and St Martin's Cathedral, we came across a beautiful Christmas market; everyone was being jolly at 4 in the afternoon. Gosh, I fell in love with the vibes in this place. 'Tis really is the season.
Our last stop for the day was for the sunset views over the Bratislava castle. It was a 30 minute walk up towards the castle from the Old Town. This is a monumental tourist location. You can also see the St Nicholas Church from here. We spent a few hours walking through the castle grounds.
Pro Tip: if you don't want to spend money going up the UFO tower, you can get iconic city views from up here.
Grabbed dinner at the Christmas markets before heading to the hotel.
While researching Slovakia, there was not enough information on doing stuff outside the city. If you want to do something a little offbeat but don’t want to venture too far out, I recommend the Devin’s Castle - the perfect spot to see amazing views of the Danube River (and there is a good chance you’ll have the place to yourself in winter)!
I wish we had more to spend here.. though the capital city is small and can be done in a day, I really wanted to head to the high Tatra mountains for a 2 day hike. Can’t wait to get back to this pretty little country and explore further.
One last fun fact:
Did you know the Danube River originates in Germany but is 1780 miles and actually flows through 10 countries before emptying into the Black Sea? Yup, nature is incredibly fascinating!