What to Expect When Visiting Bratislava

A little background info...

When it comes to traveling through Europe, Slovakia gets a bad reputation from fictional characters and movies like Hostel. I have literally had people ask me if "people really pay to kill people there." Come on, obviously not (or do they, muahaha!). And as if that wasn't enough, many Westerners avoid the area simply because they still believe that it's part of the USSR. Seriously? 

My dad is Slovak and I spent a good portion of my life growing up in the country's capital. I am fluent in the language and have quite a good grasp on the overall history of the land. So when I came back to California for my high school semester and my teacher asked if I speak Russian... you can imagine I was pretty damn irritated. "No, I do not speak Russian, nor do I have a reason to speak Russian since I am quite fluent in the Slovak language." Then the kid sitting next to me asked where in Russia is Czechoslovakia, exactly? O.M.G.

It is 2015 now. Slovakia is now it's own country for 24 years, it is no longer part of the Nazi regime, nor the USSR, we do not have a dictatorship, and we do not speak Czech. Slovak and Czech are separate languages. Neither of those are Russian.  

What to see...

Phew! Now that I got that off my chest, I'd like to show you some cute little details not to miss while you're in town.

Under Michalská Brána you will find this compass on your feet. Arrows point in every direction around to show how many kilometers distance there is to major cities like Budapest, Seoul, Madrid, and more.

Under Michalská Brána you will find this compass on your feet. Arrows point in every direction around to show how many kilometers distance there is to major cities like Budapest, Seoul, Madrid, and more.

Michalská Brána (above) is the green tower at the highest point of the old town. This is where I do most of my afternoon coffee sipping, since there are a number of great cafés below the tower which serve hot chocolate made from actual chocolate. There are also a number of souvenir shops and tacky restaurants on this street, but if you venture just down the alleyways, you'll find plenty of places to rest your legs with a delicious treat.

Downhill from Michalská Brána you will find golden stars of the coronation trail leading to the adjacent Pánska Street. When facing downhill, to your left you will find several pleasant places to sit and have a cup of coffee, to the right you will find quirky artistic street decor meant to lure you in the constellation of art galleries and monuments. My favorite has always been this now empty building with Van Gogh murals in the windows (below). The recently renovated Dom sv. Martina and its surrounding architecture takes me back to a time when history actually mattered. 

Some unexpected collages of Van Gogh copies in the windows of an unused building. 

Some unexpected collages of Van Gogh copies in the windows of an unused building. 

And of course you cannot skip the main square and it's adorable twin. On the main tower (below) you will find an oddly placed iron sphere. Legend has it that this is in memory of Napoleon's violent visit to the once key city in Austria-Hungary. There are many benches to sit on and free wifi so you can post your pictures of the lovely surroundings to Instagram. 

Just hanging out with Napoleon at the main square.

Just hanging out with Napoleon at the main square.

How long you should stay in Bratislava and why...

In reality, you only need one day to get a feeling for Bratislava's old town. But if you're actually interested in the history of this key European city, I'd recommend a few trips up and down the bus line over the course of a Thursday to Friday. There are many memorials and left over pieces of art that when put in the correct sequence, tell story of a people who for so long were crippled by the rulings of another. It's also not a bad idea to tag along with a tour guide. There are many students who give free tours or tours for tips only. This city has a surprisingly rich history.

Bratislava is not a party city. If you are looking for loud electronic or hip hop music with bright lights and girls in high heels, you have come to the wrong place. Go back to Paris. Or Berlin. Or Amsterdam. Milan, whatever. Here most people have their fun at a local pub or sports bar. Hockey is a big deal. You will also find many hipster cafes and bars scattered along a trail of less exciting venues. Just walk in and make a friend. In my experience Slovaks may seem standoffish, but actually love to have the bragging rights of having a foreign friend. If you do go to a club you best believe it's going to be a retro lover's dream. Early 2000s, Nineties hits, 80's classics, even Abba makes it to the DJ's playlist on a Friday night. 

In either case, I just wanted to say that Bratislava should not be skipped, but appreciated for how important it really is. If not for the history go for the experience of a people who believe in better things out there. 

Have you been to Bratislava? Thinking of going? Tell us all about in the comments below!