Have you ever fallen in love with a city so unexpectedly? So suddenly? One that you discovered almost accidentally?
Bratislava was that city for me.
Our decision to visit Bratislava was completely spontaneous. We bought tickets to a music festival that was taking place there, and figured we’d stay for 5 days. Enough time to explore AND dance our hearts out at Neon Festival. So we booked our trip!
We knew little of the city or the country of Slovakia, for that matter. But as with every new destination, we approached our trip with way too much excitement and wonder.
We were ready to embrace it all.
5 Days in Bratislava and Slovakia
Day 1: Road Tripping, Bratislava Castle, Cannoli and a Picnic
Our trip to Bratislava started with a quick road trip from where we live in Salzburg. Ever since we bought a car, we’ve been ALL about seeing the countries that surrounds us.
The drive was smooth and really easy. We listened to our new theme song – The Sun by Parov Stelar (who is from Salzburg!) Jamming out literally the entire time!
Then, all of a sudden, we reached the Slovakian border. We hoped to get a stamp in our passports, but of course (as with most countries we’ve driven to), that wasn’t the case! Instead we drove through the border and took the first exit for a gas station that we saw.
Highway vignettes are a requirement in Slovakia, so we had to take care of that right away. Maybe we’ll collect those instead of passport stamps!
We’ve learned to look up highway rules before we travel. It’s something we would have NEVER thought of before our move here, and now it’s become routine. Simply stop at the first gas station after crossing the border to purchase one. There are 7 day, month, year-long passes etc to choose from.
Our vignette purchase took minutes, since they had a kiosk just for that. Before we knew it, we were back on the road and arriving in Bratislava 15 minutes later. It couldn’t have been easier.
At this point, I was immediately digging Bratislava…
First stop: Bratislava Castle
Bratislava Castle was impressive from the minute we saw it! It’s a bright white castle with a red roof. And the sky was SO blue that day. The colors were so vivid!
The castle itself definitely looks redone and updated, they did a really beautiful job. It definitely feels royal.
Tickets only cost 7 euros/person and that gets you into all the sites. But you also have to pay 2 euros to take pictures, so make sure you stop by the ticket desk and pay. You’ll want to take LOTS of pictures…
Inside the Castle
The inside of Bratislava Castle is basically mini museums everywhere!
There’s a section on history, displaying artifacts found in Bratislava. They have a display of past renovations, old statues that were taken from the original castle. You’ll find art galleries, royal gold-painted staircases…
And then there’s the Crown Tower, which was one of the coolest parts.
Views from the Crown Tower
You can walk all the way up to the top of the tower (about 80 steps each way.) Built in the 13th century, this tower housed the crown jewels of Hungary for 200 years! The views up there are more than worth the climb.
From here, you see the true beauty of Bratislava. Hills scattered throughout the city, houses with red roofs (kind of like Prague!)
We love seeing a city from above at at the beginning of our trip. It makes you REALLY excited for the days ahead and gives you a great perspective on how much there is to see.
After we took in the views, we looked through the Art gallery, shopped in the gift shop and headed out – straight for the Old Town!
The Old Town of Bratislava
The center of the Old Town is way too charming! And it’s got a really cool vibe. The picture below shows where the main gate into the Old Town use to stand.
Outdoor restaurants and cafes line the streets. Some trendy, others traditional. Then there are random (and AWESOME) abandoned buildings to peek through.
During our stroll, we made a pit stop to watch the Euro2016 game. (Living or traveling in Europe during Euro2016 = you’ve gotta watch every game) They had TVs set up outside, so we sat down and ordered snacks and drinks. After we felt rejuvenated, we got up and continued wandering.
…and then we literally stumbled upon an ITALIAN FESTIVAL! With every vendor straight from Italy.
So we did what any smart traveler would do…
We bought 3 cannoli, cheese from Sicily, oregano and spaghetti seasoning. And hopped in a cab home with all of our new Italian treats.
For dinner, we stopped at a the Greek spot below our apartment – Bistro Suvlaki. We each ordered chicken souvlaki (for 2.50 euros) and set up a picnic on our Bratislavan balcony. It happened to be the most authentic Greek food we’ve had since our trip to Rhodes!
That, paired with the Italian cannoli for dessert, made for the perfect ending to the most perfect first day.
Day 2: Mini Road trip, Castles and Slovakia’s Oldest Town
Our second day was seriously packed FULL of awesome moments!
We woke up early ready for our mini road trip around Slovakia. Our destinations? The Red Stone Castle, Trvana and Nitra.
The Red Stone Castle (Cerveny Kamen)
Just a quick 45 minutes from Bratislava is the enchanting Red Stone Castle.
The castle has tours in Slovak on the weekdays, but offers tours in English during the weekends. Since we were there during the week, they gave us an information sheet in English so we could follow along. It was totally fine and easy to follow. Plus, our tour guide would give us some interesting facts in English as we strolled around amazed.
Tickets to the castle cost 7 euros plus 2 euros if you want to take pictures of the castle. Pay the extra 2 euros – it’s definitely worth it!
The best part about the Red Stone Castle is that it still looks authentic to the time it was built. Every room had the exact decorations and furniture in it, so you feel like you’re stepping back in time! And to think this castle was privately owned by the same family from the 1500s to 1945…(how insane is that?!)
After we admired the inside, we headed down to the cellars, which was the coolest place of ALL time…
The Castle Cellars
The cellars at Red Stone Castle are the largest castle cellars in all of Europe! And inside the cellar is the deepest well in ALL of Slovakia, which is completely hand-dug! Pretty impressive statistics for a privately-owned residence.
The tour ended and we wandered over to the tower. As you walk up the stairs of the tower, there are pictures of the entire renovation process. And then you arrive to the top and the views are absolutely unreal. There is green as far as you can see. That’s one of the coolest parts about this place. Usually you’ll see small towns or at least houses close by. But there was absolutely nothing!
The tower concluded our trip to the Red Stone Castle, and we hopped back in the car ready for Castle #2.
Lunch in Trnava
Between the Red Stone Castle and Nitra (our final destination), we passed Trnava. Also known as ‘Little Rome’ because of all the churches there. We figured we had to stop and take a look at any town referred to as Little Rome!
So we stopped for lunch at Wok and Quesadilla, an Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant in the Old Town center. We ordered Thai coconut soup, chicken quesadillas and rice noodles with coconut curry sauce. It couldn’t have been more delicious. And we had a TON of leftovers (BONUS meal!)
After lunch, we hopped back in the car. Even though our time here was brief, it gave us a nice perspective of the city. We could’ve definitely stayed for longer. All the buildings were intricate and so detailed.
Overall impression? Trnava is a GREAT place to walk around for a few hours. Maybe even go church hopping, if that’s your thing!
Off to Nitra
After lunch, we drove to Nitra for our 2nd castle of the day! Nitra is the oldest town in ALL of Slovakia, with the first Slavs arriving at the end of the 5th and early 6th century. The castle at Nitra has fortifications that date back to 1600 BCE, so that was on our list of must-dos today.
The castle at Nitra sits high on a hill in the center of the town. So we parked our car in town and took the 20 minute walk up. It was pretty steep, but not unmanageable.
Entry into the castle grounds costs 30 cents per person. What a steal!
We took our time, admiring the awesome view and headed up the castle’s church.
St. Emmeram’s Cathedral
I am not exaggerating when I say this church was one of the prettiest churches we’ve EVER seen! The inside was almost entirely made of marble. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Every inch was so intricately decorated.
After we admired St. Emmeram’s, we headed down to the village that sits at the foot of the castle. It was so peaceful up there. You could spend a good hour just walking around, taking pictures and enjoying the stunning surroundings.
We walked the square, then to our car. It was time for dinner.
Dinner with a serious VIEW
Not only is the view absolutely insane (seriously, you’re overlooking the entire city and castle of Nitra right from the balcony), but the food was perfect!
I had a glass of wine, Erin had a mojito and we just chilled out, admiring all the beauty that is Slovakia.
To eat, we had beef tartar and potatoes with sheep cheese, ash and bacon. It was ALL delicious, but those potatoes in particular were out of this world. Who knew a “side dish” like that could be so satisfying as a meal, in every way. OH and before we ate, they brought out homemade bread and homemade butter with sheep cheese and parsley salt. Yes yes and double yes.
Best part? The prices were beyond reasonable! The entire meal cost us 31 euros.
After we chatted with our waiter, got a brief tour of the private cigar bar, we left the restaurant just in time to catch the sun going down.
And that sunset continued for our ENTIRE drive…
Day 3: Devin Castle, Thai Food, and Magical MUSIC
Day 3 was the first night of our big music festival, so we kept the sightseeing light. That’s the beauty in staying here for 5 days. We really didn’t need to rush and could see Bratislava on our own time!
On the agenda was Devin Castle, lunch, casual strolling and lots of relaxation.
But FIRST: breakfast was in order!
And what better place for breakfast on-the-go than Bagel & Coffee Story, right in the Old Town of Bratislava. We enjoyed a kick ass bacon and egg bagel in the car en route to another Slovak castle!
Devin castle is only 15 minutes away from the city center of Bratislava. It was a really easy drive.
To get there you can drive, of course. If you don’t have a car, you can take a bus or ferry. OR there are hiking trails leading to the castle from Bratislava (it takes about 2 hours).
We got there quickly, parked the car at the foot of the castle and were instantly AMAZED! The entire castle complex is in ruins, so it couldn’t be more authentic looking. Like nothing’s ever changed.
The most photographed part of the castle (and also my favorite part) is the Maiden Tower, which is tower built at the top of a tall rock right at the edge of the river. It got its name the many legends about beautiful virgins being imprisoned in the tower and then jumping to her death!
The highest tower of the castle was being renovated while we were there (and will be until April 2017), so we couldn’t go all the way up to the top. But even from a distance, it was still so epic looking.
And the rest of the scenery surrounding Devin Castle isn’t SO bad either…
It sits on a hill overlooking the Danube and Morava River with beautiful hills and villages in every direction.
We’d recommend setting aside about 2 hours to see the castle. Maybe even 3 hours if you want to relax or have a picnic. There are also tons of hiking trails, so you could spend the entire day there if you want!
When we took enough pictures and videos of this beautiful medieval paradise, we headed out, straight for, what we discovered, is the best Thai food on the planet…
Green Buddha – Food of the Gods!
Oh Green Buddha. Still, months after our trip to Bratislava, I’m still dreaming of your Tom Kha Gai soup , Panang Curry, Chicken Satay AND Pad Thai.
When you travel to Bratislava, do your stomach a favor and EAT HERE! The chef trained in Thailand, so it couldn’t be more on point.
Not only did they have seriously tasty food, the drinks were also just as tasty. We ordered ‘Water of Gods,’ which was literally a coconut, flown from Thailand, with a straw and a spoon. A banana ginger smoothie and 2 perfectly crafted mixed drinks. Life was SO good.
Of course we had an entire meal of leftovers, so we packed them up (for post-festival snacks) and took a cab back to prepare for NEON Festival. With our favorites: Above & Beyond.
NEON Festival 2016 – Night #1
Now, this was our first music festival in Europe, so we were beyond excited! Plus, Above & Beyond, Arty and Nora En Purre would be playing over the next 2 days. And if you know anything about electronic music, you know you can’t get much more legit than that!
Arty was ridiculous. And Above & Beyond was inspirational and so beautiful to see, as always.
We danced like old times and it felt amazing to be back at a music festival again together. Since we started budgeting and planning for a move abroad, we’d given up our love for music festivals to save money. It had been far too long since we could feel that excitement and true escape through music.
We were on top of the world, and then we got totally ripped off..
Uber > Taxis
Earlier that night, our Uber ride to the festival cost 5 euros…
Now on our ride home, the taxi driver told us the trip (same route) was 21 euros. He showed us his meter (that had probably been running for a while). So we really couldn’t do anything about it.
Of course we reluctantly paid and took it as a lesson learned.
Lesson: Use Uber or use the taxis that have either 2 euro rides or 5 euro rides advertised on the cab. It’s a set price to anywhere within the city, so you won’t get ripped off. If you click THIS LINK and sign up for Uber you will get your first ride FREE!
After our taxi drama, we brushed it off, reminded ourselves of what an incredible night we had. Ran up to the apartment and warmed up that Thai food for a little 3am snack.
Day 4: Flea Market Finds, SO Much Food and MUSIC
We knew we’d be tired and lazy after partying all night. And there was NO chance we could hop around as overly eager tourists after a night that ended in the early morning. So the plan for today?
Find the best breakfast spot and do…whatever we felt like doing whenever we wanted to do it!
But first? Old Market Hall
Every Saturday, Old Market Hall turns into a market for the day. We didn’t know just how awesome this market would be…
The entire place was filled with vendors. Slovak pastries, wine, cheese, crafts. And the 2nd floor was like a GIANT thrift store. We bought the coolest (and most unique) things. Including old Slovak fashion magazines from the 80s.
Visiting thrift stores in other countries is one of our favorite things to do. You can find real souvenirs – far more original than any of the mass produced stuff in every souvenir shop.
We roamed around, purchased every single pastry that caught our eye. And everyone was so friendly! One vendor even gave Erin a free Star Wars neck warmer because we had bought so much (we spent 8 euros). He was the coolest.
And even though we could’ve stayed for another hour, it was time for that big breakfast we’d been dreaming about.
It was time for Urban House
Our food planning for this trip was ON POINT.We’d researched Urban House and knew this would be our spot for breakfast. And as soon as our waiter handed us the drink menu, we knew our research was a success.
We ordered chamomile lavender iced tea, some crazy Dill drink (that tasted like you’re drinking a salad in the most delicious way possible) and a glass of frozen Mango heaven.
For food we had their famous avocado toast, pulled pork toast, salmon and wasabi mayo toast and a goat cheese salad…
And for dessert? Just the best coconut cake in existence!
Conclusion: Urban House is where it’s at for creative food and drinks.
Knighting Ceremonies and wine?
As we left Urban House we literally walked into a knighting ceremony taking place in the main square. We stayed and enjoyed the show, even though we couldn’t understand a word they were saying! When the ceremony ended, the Queen, her knights, and royal court started parading around the city. So, we followed… (of course!)
After we marched with the parade around the Old Town, we ended up at a Wine Festival. It’s then that we realized this was their opening ceremony! Next time you see a parade, FOLLOW IT, we have never been disappointed at where it ends up.
The Blue Church
Unfortunately, we had to pass on the wine for a second. It was time to see The Blue Church, another must-see in Bratislava. It literally looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale. We’d never seen a church this color before!
And the inside was even more adorable. There was a wedding about to go down, so we didn’t have much time to explore, but we snapped as many pictures as we could and headed out.
NOW it was time for wine!
And for that – the Grand Cru Wine Cellar. It was hot outside, and you can always rely on cellars to be cool! So we headed there. We found out that is this wine cellar was actually a Catacomb from the 12th century!
There’s an upstairs, where you enter from the street and a cellar. Go to the cellar! You’ve probably never drank wine in a place like this…
The owner is also the best. He asked us what wine we like, took away our menus and said he would take care of us. We didn’t have to make any decisions– it was perfect! My favorite kind of wine tasting.
And after a total of 6 glasses of wine, a cheese platter AND a bottle of white wine to take home, we spent only 34 euros. SO affordable and such a great experience.
We skipped joyfully (it may have been the wine) back to the apartment and got ready for NEON Festival Day 2!
NEON Festival 2016 – Night #2
Day 2 of a festival is always the best. You know the routine. You know where things are and you’ve adjusted to the crowd and scene. And tonight was all about Nora En Pure and her music – my new idol and serious #lifegoals! She was unreal and way too cool.
After we spent 90 minutes straight dancing, we grabbed a hot dog, did our rounds for a few more hours and then headed out. It seemed like a storm was coming, and we wanted no part of that, whatsoever!
Taking our lesson from last night into consideration, we ordered an Uber and were on our way home.
DAY 5: Scavenger Hunts, Soccer games and Slovak Dumplings
This was our last full day in Bratislava and it was time to properly do the Old Town!
We knew we had some key places to see. Of course we had to watch the Euro2016 games (Slovakia was playing!). And now that we found out Bratislava is a foodie’s paradise, eating was definitely on the agenda.
Before we got into in our exploration – breakfast was in order.
More Urban House
We decided to head back to Urban House. Since we’d originally read about it as a breakfast spot and never actually ordered breakfast, we had to go back. (Plus we totally wanted more of their drinks!)
I got the Melbourne breakfast (avocado toast, poached egg, bacon and potatoes) and Erin got the English breakfast (beans, bread, poached egg, bacon, sausage). To be honest, we weren’t the biggest fans. The non-breakfast menu was a lot more unique and tasty.
Lesson: at Urban House, forget breakfast and go for the real stuff. It is BEYOND satisfying.
While we were at breakfast, we put together a mini scavenger hunt. When the Old Town was reconstructed, they placed really fun statues around the square. It was time to catch them all!
Bratislava Statue Scavenger Hunt
Of course every statue warranted a photo shoot…
The Napoleon Soldier
The Cumil or the Man at work Statue
And the Schone Naci – the only one modeled after a real person (Ignac Lamar)
Then it was time to take this scavenger hunt to the next level…
Our Euro2016 Bar Scavenger Hunt
Today we had to watch the Euro2016 games! Especially since Slovakia was playing later that day. So the rest of our Day 5 was dedicated to find the best places to watch them!
The first spot was easy to choose: House of Beer.
We sat in their beer garden, ordered the house beer (light, fresh and delicious) and chicken wings (which were really good!) and watched the first half of the game.
After that, we picked a random bar near Michael’s Gate, which is one of the oldest buildings in Bratislava and part of the original city walls.
We watched some of the 2nd half of the Ireland vs. France game, but then decided it was time for more Thai food.
Green Buddha: We meet again.
We had to go back. It was THAT delicious. We ordered our Tom Kha Gai soup and chicken satay again and the total bill was 11 euros!
After we finished, we said goodbye to our new favorite restaurant and headed out for our next (and final) stop on the Erin & Erin Euro2016 Bar Scavenger Hunt.
The Slovak Pub
The Slovak pub was THE traditional restaurant we’d read about all over TripAdvisor. Apparently it’s a true locals spot, so we were pumped. Plus, this was the Slovakia – Germany game, so what better place than a traditional Slovak restaurant for the game?
We picked a table right next to the TV, ordered a sampler of all of the traditional Slovak dumplings and a cheese platter. Ready to watch the big game!
The food was SO. GOOD. The restaurant has their own organic farm that they use to make their dishes extra delicious.
And I can’t even explain how good these dumplings were. The classic Slovak dumplings dish, called bryndzové halušky, is served with sheep cheese and bacon. The others on the platter were dumplings with sauerkraut and ham, and dumplings filled with cheese – topped with bacon, sour cream and sheep cheese.
The game ended, and we finished up, headed back to our apartment and watched the last game while packing up. We were definitely gonna miss this place…
Both the apartment AND the city!
DAY 6: ‘MERICAN Waffles and a Road Trip Home
Day 6 was our departure. But we couldn’t leave the city without waffles from Merica. Apparently the best waffle spot in Bratislava. (We’ve missed waffles SO much since we moved abroad, so were excited!)
We ordered the salted caramel waffle and the banana Nutella waffle. It comes with 2 waffles – perfect for sharing and definitely filling. And the entire bill was 12 euros (with coffee too!) Waffle happiness achieved.
After we ate, we hit the road. There was a 3 hour drive ahead of us, and we were making a pit stop at the…
Vienna Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn)
We planned a day at the Zoo in Vienna on our drive back. Vienna is literally on the way from Bratislava back to Salzburg, so why not? Plus, the Tiergarten Schonbrunn is the oldest zoo in the ENTIRE WORLD!
We’d done the Most Northern Zoo in the world (Finland) and now it was time to conquer the Oldest.
Of course we had an absolute BLAST during our day at the zoo, and after a full day of hanging with pandas and other cuddly zoo animals, we got back in the car and drove home.
What a trip!
Why Bratislava was such a HUGE success
This trip was our biggest travel success so far. We were perfectly prepared, fully researched, and had the flexibility to do what we wanted to do, when we wanted to do it. But how did we ensure this flawless experience?
1. Pre-trip planning – CHECK.
Researching Bratislava and Slovakia heavily before we left gave us the perfect idea of what we wanted to see and when it made sense to see it.
We NEVER over-plan (because that’s no fun), but thorough research here was key. With that research, we created a list of everything we wanted to do and used it as an ‘A la carte’ menu to plan each day spontaneously. We never felt pressured to do any specific thing, but we didn’t miss out on anything either.
Perfect ingredients for a perfect trip!
2. We anticipated how we’d feel at every point of the trip…and planned accordingly.
By now we can predict things that frustrate us or make life easier. For example, right when we arrive at a destination, we’re usually ready for a delicious meal. And nothing is more annoying them finding out which one’s worth your money. So we did that all ahead of time! We knew exactly where we’d go right when we got there And knew what breakfast spot would meet our post-festival needs.
Anticipating moments like that did wonders for our morale!
3. Our interests were top priority.
Sometimes you read too many blog posts or guide books and your list of to-dos becomes more about checking sites off rather than sticking to what YOU want. And you can lose site of the present moment.
As soon as we discovered Bratislava’s innovative restaurants and cuisine, we took full advantage of that. There were definitely some things we didn’t do in the city, but we did everything that WE wanted to do. Not what other people told us to do. That includes the many castles we saw, our thrift store shopping and watching Euro2016 games whenever we could. The trip was truly about us.
4. We kept our schedule flexible.
Never once did we HAVE to do anything. We went with the flow, but had the research to back up any spur of the moment decisions or interests. Spending 5 nights here definitely allowed us to do that too.
5. We got out of the city!
Driving through Slovakia was the perfect way to truly understand the country and all the beauty that exists here. Even if you don’t have a car for your trip, you can find a way! And it’s always worth it. That’s how you get a true feel for a new destination.
It’s no surprise that we absolutely loved Bratislava and Slovakia. Everything about this city (and country) drew us in. The people couldn’t have been nicer, the overall vibe was seriously cool. There’s nature, a little bit of edginess, affordable everything, creative cuisine and great spots for site seeing and taking in views of Slovakia.
As a celebration of this awesomely successful experience, we’ve put together our (FIRST EVER) Surviving Europe music video. To Parov Stelar’s “The Sun” Press play and fall in love with Bratislava right along with us…