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Bratislava in Slovakia is a country filled with all the charming traits a tourist could want from a budget Eastern European city break destination.
Christmas markets, mouthwatering snacks, cheap beers are just dome of the reasons you should visit Bratislava in winter.
As someone who loves winter city breaks and had already seen Krakow, Poland at the same time the previous Winter I’d hoped for the same magically chilly experience in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Visiting Bratislava in winter
If cheap flights aren’t enough to get you to Bratislava than the ease and simplicity of travel throughout Europe should be. I booked a winter break to Bratislava randomly as a gift and surprise for Jamie’s 21st birthday.
We travelled from Liverpool to Bratislava, Slovakia’s Capital, for under £50 and arrived in Slovakia to a cold but captivating capital city welcome.
Typically, (and to be expected) our taxi driver charged us double the average going rate for tourists from what the internet told us we should be paying. Sometimes in travel you just have to take the hit and this was definitely one of those times
Travel in Eastern Europe
There’s something about the ease of travel and way of life that attracts me to Eastern Europe in the winter. I’m a beach girl and I love the warm but I find nothing more attractive than the idea of a weekend away in a winter wonderland.
Bratislava was everything I expected from an Eastern European capital with extra charm and added travel opportunities. From Bratislava it’s very easy to visit the neighbouring countries Hungary and Austria.
Both Budapest, Hungary and Vienna, Austria are popular destinations to visit from Bratislava and each take under 3 hours with tickets costing the same as a meal in MacDonald’s,
I’ve mentioned it previously but I love a trip within a trip. It adds so much more excitement and adventure to a weekend away and I often plan destinations that have accessible routes to other key European cities.
Where is Bratislava?
Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, a landlocked Eastern European country bordered by five other countries including Poland and Austria.
The city of Bratislava is a small capital, quieter and less talked about than its European neighbours such as the popular Budapest and Krakow.
Situated on the banks of the River Danube and overlooked by the Castle of Bratislava, the main city is a picture. Everything you can see is medieval and Gothic in style, only occasionally do you stumble upon more modern architecture.
Although Bratislava is the biggest city in Slovakia, as a city break destination it never leaves you feeling lost unlike many other European capitals.
If you plan to visit Bratislava then getting around on foot is the best way to see the city. However, cabs are usually cheap and because temperatures can drop below zero during the winter in Bratislava you might want to take the occasional cab.
Bratislava in Winter
A winter city break to Bratislava
In November the days are cold and the nights are colder. Its recommended to pack extra layers as snowfall isn’t uncommon throughout November – March. The average temperature for November is 4 degrees centigrade with December and January usually falling below 0.
Things to do in Bratislava
Bratislava Old Town
The main tourist streets in the historic centre of Bratislava Old Town are always filled with life, day and night mix together and the bars and restaurants are always filled with people trying to escape the icy chill of winter in Bratislava.
Beer and good times can be found in the many bars of Bratislava, locals and tourists alike huddling around wooden tables and TV screens with music playing and sometimes even smoke in the air.
Eyes peeled for the Cuban bar, which happened to be the first bar on our Bratislava bar crawl and one of the most memorable. Love Havana Club Rum? This ones for you.
When exploring the city take a walk up to Bratislava Castle where you’ll find some of the best views of the city, river and UFO bridge. The walk is steep but worth it.
You can also walk the fortified walls of the city, which also offer some great views and photo opportunities. Michaels Gate is the only preserved original part of the medieval fortified walls and acts as an entrance to Bratislava Old Town.
Look out for the grand St. Martin’s Cathedral another great sight and photo opportunity which is just a short walk from Primate’s Palace.
Bratislava Christmas Markets
If there’s something that makes visiting Europe during November and December even more worthwhile it’s the inescapable Christmas festivities that pack the streets of Europe.
Whether you’re looking for a mulled drink, to try a little ice skating or want to visit a Christmas Market the festive options are endless. We even caught a little snow during our time in Bratislava and Vienna. The days are short in length and it gets very dark, very quickly a constant reminder that Christmas is around the corner.
Books, souvenirs, carol singing and concerts fill Bratislava’s old town during Christmas and its easy to spend several hours watching and enjoying the festivities.
We were lucky enough to catch some beautiful carol singing and a small concert just before nightfall during one of the colder days we experienced in the city.
Bratislava is without a doubt a fantastic setting to get you in the festive spirit for the holidays. Christmas shopping is also possible in the many pop-up market stalls and also the large shopping centre/mall just outside the Old Town.
Even if you’re a bit of a Grinch the Christmas markets of Bratislava will really get you in the festive mood. Or if not, the mulled wine will!
I won’t lie, during our time in Bratislava we spent a lot of time wandering on foot and viewing churches and the stunning architecture from a distance.
I guess we were more swept up in the Christmas spirit than anything which made our time in the city seem more filled with purpose than usual. Your regular tourist activities take a back seat when there’s a Christmas production or display.
Eating and drinking in Bratislava
The food in Bratislava is cheap and the drinks are cheaper especially local beers which can be purchased for around a Euro. These are two key reasons Bratislava is definitely always top of my budget city break recommendation list.
It’s not hard to miss the large UFO bridge across the Danube and apparently there’s a restaurant at the top that is a must visit. We never managed to visit but the views are to die for!
If there’s one thing I really enjoyed about Bratislava is the availability of cheap snacks. As a budget traveller I’m always on the lookout for cheap and delicious eats.
This is something Slovakia knows and knows well. Kebabs in all flavours and varieties meats, falafel and veggie wrap options, chicken snacks, crepes drenched in chocolate with fruit and pizza by the slice. All for the snack style food in Bratislava a couple of Euros at most.
The most bizarre of the cuisine we experienced were the array of deep fried potato styles. Onion bhaji-looking crossed with a giant hash brown ball things covered in garlic sauce. I’m led to believe it’s name is Zemiakove Placky. Try one, I dare you. It’s a Slovakian delicacy.
A day trip from Bratislava to Vienna
How to get from Bratislava to Vienna
As mentioned earlier you can visit Budapest and Vienna easily from the main bus station in Bratislava – a retro 1980’s style concrete bus station.
Prices are cheap at around €5 depending on the bus company, our bus was pleasant and warm which made the journey across the border to Austria very enjoyable.
It takes 1 hour – 1.5 hours to get from Bratislava to Vienna by bus. I spent the bus journey trying to spot exactly when we had entered Austria and left Slovakia.
Austria and Slovakia are entirely different countries in terms of appearance and culture from what I experienced of Vienna and Bratislava despite how close they are.
I’d really recommend this inexpensive short trip to Vienna from Bratislava to anyone spending long enough in each of the two cities. If you’re heading to Vienna from Bratislava brace yourself for the contrasting prices, Vienna is not a budget friendly destination and you can expect the price of a beer or a warm meal to quadruple.
If you do visit Vienna from Bratislava on a budget trip during the winter season buy a tram pass and stay out the cold by doing loops of the city to see the main attractions. If you are thinking of Budapest from Bratislava instead then check out Wanderlust Bee’s post for the perfect Christmas Break to Budapest.
A day in Vienna, Austria
We spent the our time in Vienna hopping on and off the trams to catch all the must see sights and tourist hot spots. The Hofburg Palace was a favourite of mine and lets not forget the incredible St Stephens Cathedral. Both of these attractions are absolute must see’s when exploring the city.
The cathedral can be found outside the main bus terminal in Vienna and during the time of year we visited there were plenty of horse and carriages waiting to take tourists on a city tour. Perhaps on a bigger budget we would’ve taken one.
We explored the lavish shopping streets of Central Vienna, I wasn’t looking to buy a Cartier watch from one of the many extravagant designer stores but like I said, maybe on another budget.
Typically we stumbled up on Vienna’s oldest Irish pub, The Bockshorn – almost hidden down a side street somewhere between Chanel and Louis Vuitton. As the sun set on Vienna we enjoyed a couple of cold expensive beers before exploring the Christmas markets at dusk. The evening ended in snow, fries from McDonald’s and a sleepy bus ride back to Bratislava for a few more (significantly cheaper) beverages.
Tips for visiting Bratislava in winter
- Wrap up in winter, it’s freezing in Bratislava and sometimes you don’t realise how much the temperature has dropped once nightfall hits when you’re sitting in a cosy warm bar.
- Use supermarkets and mini-markets. They can be found everywhere in Bratislava and most importantly they are cheap. Keep basic snack provisions in your room aka. crisps and beers.
- Ask the locals! Don’t be afraid to ask the locals for the best eating and drinking spots.
- Try not to taxi from the airport if possible. Grab a bus.
- Walk! Most things in Bratislava are within walking distance and a cab will only cost you money than anticipated.
- Don’t wander too far. We never experienced any trouble but some of the side streets outside the Historical Centre look dodgy and uninviting.
A 20-something travel blogger based in Liverpool. Covering all things from Latin America to Liverpool local guides and everything in between.