Part of our 7-day Vienna itinerary took us not only out of Vienna, but out of Austria entirely. The Slovakian capital is located a mere 55 km from Vienna, making it easy to take the train from Vienna to Bratislava and back in a day.
Bratislava Day Trip Itinerary
Despite being in a different country, you’ll notice some similarities between Austria and Slovakia. They have a shared history going back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where Slovakia was part of the Hungarian side of the dual monarchy. This manifests particularly in food—you’ll notice when you stop for lunch that many of the “signature” dishes served in Vienna are also served in Bratislava, and taste just as good! (One thing Bratislava definitely has on Vienna, though, is the beer. No Bratislava day trip itinerary will be complete without at least one freshly poured draught Pilsner Urquell.) And of course, because it’s 20++ and everyone is part of the European Union, Bratislava is on the euro.
Arriving in Bratislava
Your train from Vienna to Bratislava will arrive at Bratislava Hlavná Stanica, Bratislava’s main station. From there, you can easily bus, Uber, or walk into the Old City. I recommend walking, though. It’s only twenty minutes, and you’ll have a chance at the halfway point to make your first stop.
As you stroll along the well-marked route into the Old City, a bright garden might catch your eye. Stepping through the open gate, you’ll find yourself in the backyard of the Slovakian President. The garden isn’t super lush, but it’s a nice little photo op. If you go back to the street and follow it up a few hundred meters more, you can take in the front facade of the Presidential Palace, which is pretty impressive. The whole building is currently under renovation, so I imagine it will only look better when you go.
The Michael’s Gate
The Michael’s Gate is the only remaining medieval gate in the city. A fairytale-like entrance into the Old City, it leads right onto a main shopping street. Pedestrians only here, which makes for an easy stroll! We loved exploring the Old City, popping into the little shops to look for crafted souvenirs. Mom particularly loved the handmade cornhusk dolls and ceramics. My favorite stop was Medovy Obschod, a shop specializing in Bratislava honey and beeswax gifts. Two bottles of their honey wine made it back to Berlin with me!
We walked through the Old City past the Opera House (photo op!) and realized we were starving. The avenue fronting the Opera House has a ton of options for food. We opted for a Slovakian kitchen called Zylinder. Our lunch consisted of several things we’d seen to eat in Vienna: lentil soup and farmer dumplings with goat cheese. The portions more than generous, and the flavors bold and satisfying. If you’re in the mood for something more contemporary, Beer Palace is located just a few hundred meters further down, past the Opera House in the opposite direction. We strongly considered stopping there as well, but wanted something that felt more traditional.
St. Martin’s Cathedral
Next stop is St. Martin’s Cathedral. This otherwise modest cathedral is topped with a beautiful jade green domed spire. The interior is more spartan the cathedrals you might see in Salzburg or Vienna—but when the light hits the stained glass windows you’ll see why it’s worth it to stop in for a visit. An adjacent building is host to a number of paintings by local artists, which I found quite charming. The catacombs at St. Martin’s are supposed to be really nice, but as we came by during a service, we didn’t get to pop down.
Now that you’re warmed up, you’re prepped for the hike up to Bratislava Castle. It’s only about a 10-15 minute walk from St. Martin’s, but nearly all of it is up steeply cobbled streets. Never fret! There are plenty of benches when you make it to the top, and taking a break will give you time to soak in the magnificent views. From here, you can see the UFO Bridge, the entire historic town, and an expanse of modern city that took me quite by surprise. If you’ve still got energy, the views from the southwest Crown Tower are supposed to be incredible. I contented myself with a stroll around the outer grounds, including stopping at the Baroque Gardens to appreciate the summer plantings.
Now that you’ve gotten your fill of views, it’s time to get your fill of beer. Head back into the Old City in search of a refreshing cold one. Now’s a great time to head back to Beer Palace, or do what we did and go to Factory, a small brewpub tucked near the Main Square. I was just excited to get Pilsner Urquell, a Czech beer, on tap. To be honest, I could have scuppered the rest of this Bratislava day trip itinerary in favor of simply bar-hopping.
Main Square – Hlavné námestie
To walk off some of the calories, stop and see Čumil, otherwise known as the Man at Work. He’s one of the best-known statues in Bratislava. Peeking out of a manhole cover, he’s so inconspicuous that the city authorities had to install a sign to make sure people (and delivery trucks) didn’t trip over him. The Old Town Hall has a cheerily patterned roof, again looking like something straight out of a children’s book. You can climb the tower to get the opposite view from the Castle. But full on beer and light on time, we skipped that activity and headed back to make our train.
If you’re curious how the rest of our 7-day Vienna itinerary looked, I’ve got all the details for you here!