Central Europe’s Quirky Capital
Cultural centre and Slovakian economic driving force, Bratislava is currently one of the strongest cities in the European Union. In spite of its valiant economic triumph over the European recession, their capital city remains excluded from the Magic Triangle of Western tourism comprising Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Located no more than an hour outside of Vienna, the city is mysteriously skipped over entirely by backpackers entranced by the rich historical tradition of the once great Ottoman Empire’s twin cities. Recently restored, the medieval Old Town and the stunning Bratislava Castle embody the city’s charmingly laid-back vibe. The absence of tourist mobs leaves the streets ominously free of local vendors hawking trinkety souvenirs, allowing a thoroughly authentic appreciation of the rich cultural history.
The UFO-shaped restaurant strikingly posed over the Most Slovenského národného povstania Bridge greeted us in the distance as we pulled into the city, providing our first insight into quirky Slovakian culture. We wandered through the Old Town, lugging our suitcases along the cobbled stone streets, remarking the inviting nature of the elegant architecture until we arrived at our hostel where the stout and friendly owner, Igor, warmly welcomed us into his cosy Hyde Park Hostel, dubbing it the “perfect place to hide.” And somehow, to us, this seemed to perfectly embody the Slovakian conception of their reputation abroad – historically rich and exciting, yet totally overshadowed and hidden by the region’s larger capitals like Budapest and Prague.
The Old Town (Staré Mesto)
Recently rejuvenated, the historic city centre’s multitude of medieval palaces and towers are teeming with character and intimately huddled together. So close together in fact, that it somehow gives the impression that centuries of grandeur have been squeezed into every square meter. It’s even home to Europe’s skinniest building, no larger in width than a doorway. Unencumbered with cars, the district’s narrow streets are graced with the likes of St-Martin’s Cathedral, Michael’s Gate and the Primate Palace among other notable architectural feats.
The Bratislava Castle
The Bratislava Castle’s striking position atop an isolated rocky hill of the Little Carpathians in the very centre of the city makes it impossible to miss. A walk from the city centre will have you gazing down at the red-tiled roofs from the summit in less than 30 minutes. Originally built in the tenth century, the castle itself has been sieged and destroyed on multiple occasions. Renovations to the castle were, finally, completed in the last year and have left it freshly painted white standing proudly in contrast to lusciously green trees surrounding it.
The world’s largest communist suburb, currently home to over 150,000 people, Petrzalka sits on the banks of the Danube opposite Staré Mesto. Once the site of a WWII labour camp and internment centre for Hungarian Jews, it was claimed as a Soviet housing site in the late seventies. A testament to the city’s diverse history, the soulless yet colourful architecture stands starkly in contrast to the quaintly elegant Old Town. Often referred to as the Bronx of Bratislava, the distant view from the Castle offers a strong impression.
Though small in stature compared to it’s neighboring capitals throughout Central Europe, Bratislava is a quirky little spot well worth the visit. Don’t be fooled by the national inferiority complex, it’s a weird spot worth a few days of exploration.
Madeline Sinclair works at GoEuro in Berlin. This past summer she spent a few weeks backpacking through central Europe where she discovered the joys of goulash and pierogies.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.