Often overlooked, Bratislava is in a tough position. It’s location between popular Central European travel destination such as Vienna, Budapest, and Prague means that most people spend only enough time there to switch trains or buses before moving on to the more well-known cities.
But those that take the time — even if it’s just a day or two — to visit Bratislava are certain to be rewarded with a small capital city that’s easy to explore, full of utterly charming squares and classical architecture. The authentic local spirit in the city can be intoxicating.
Oh, and by the way, everything is super cheap!
To help you get the most of your stay in Bratislava, as well as find even more ways to save, we’ve gathered together the following collection of budget tips.
The Bratislava Airport is a quick ride 15 to 20 minute from the city center. You can order a taxi immediately from the company established inside the airport for a fixed rate of €13 to the city center. As with most central European countries, it’s not advised to ever take a taxi that you’ve not ordered in advance, as there is a good chance that you will be overcharged, sometimes massively.
Cheapo tip: Take the bus from the airport to the city. You can find a direct line that takes 25 minutes from the airport to the main train station on Bus 61, running ever 15-20 minutes between 5 am to 11 pm. One ticket costs a mere €0.90. You can also take a night bus which runs hourly between 11 pm and 5 am. From the main train station to the center you can then use the same ticket you purchased from the airport and hop on bus 84 or 93 to get you to the city center in five minutes (stop Kapucinska is the closest to the Old Town).
Arriving by train or bus
Arriving by bus will take you to the AS Mlynske Nivy Bus Station, which is served by major international bus companies such as Flix Bus and Euro Lines. This station is only a 15-minute walk to the city center or you can take a quick five-minute ride on Bus 88, getting off at the stop SNP (Novy Most).
Tip: If you should be arriving from Vienna, you will likely be dropped off at the Novy Most bus stop. From here you are just a few steps into the heart of the city center and several bus and tram lines.
Another cheap, as well as social option, is car sharing. Check out BlaBlaCar and hitch a ride at a nice price with someone who’s headed for Bratislava.
Tip: To find the cheapest travel options to Bratislava, check out the website goeuro.com, where you can compare prices for trains, buses, and flights to any destination within Europe.
Getting around Bratislava
Ask any local or traveler who has been there, and they’ll tell you that Bratislava is really more of a bustling village than a proper capital city. This makes it super convenient to go absolutely everywhere you need to go by foot in a short amount of time. You can expect to see the entirety of the Old Town center within half a day, and that’s if you are walking slowly. This allows you more time to explore some cool parts just outside the city center which give you an authentic taste of Slovak culture. To get to these places you can take a tram or bus.
Public transport fare & fines
Be sure to buy your ticket in advance of getting on the vehicle from an automatic ticket dispenser near the stop or from a convenience store or a shop selling tobacco and newspapers. Once you’ve boarded, look for the ticket validating machine to punch your ticket.
There is a chance your ticket will be inspected by a public transport official, who will identify themselves with a badge. If you get caught without a validated ticket the fine is €50 paid immediately.
Things to do in Bratislava
Bratislava is certainly not Rome or Paris when it comes to sightseeing, but it does have a certain small city charm that can make you unexpectedly fall in love with it. Here is the short list (of the already short list) of places to visit in Bratislava.
Bratislava’s small Old Town center, known as Stare Mesto, is a completely pedestrianized area that features a collection of beautiful squares, lovely Hapsburgian, and Renaissance-era architecture, winding medieval alleyways, and a large selection of appealing cafes, restaurants, and bars. It’s a relatively tiny area that you will be able to walk through in no more than a few hours.
Hlavné námestie, or simply The Main Square, offers a gorgeous view on all four sides of perfectly preserved Baroque architecture reminiscent of Austria and Hungary. Here you can find the Old Town Hall, Renaissance-era Roland Fountain, and the Statue of the French Soldier (who they say decided to desert Napoleon’s army after he fell in love with Slovak women and wine).
Hviezdoslavovo Námestie is a beautiful, expansive, tree-lined square where one can grab a table at a cafe and enjoy watching the locals go about their daily business in the most relaxing manner possible. Here you’ll also be able to catch a glimpse of the Slovak National Theater, visit a bronze statue of Hans Christen Andersen, or listen to Slovak folk music during the many festivals that take place here year round.
Michalská Brána, or Michael’s Gate, is one of the original four gateways into the medieval walled city of Bratislava. From here you can climb the 51-meter tall tower and look down onto Michalská Ulica, one of the most lively streets that cut right through the Old Town and offers several places to eat or have a drink.
St. Martin’s Cathedral is the city’s oldest and largest church, dating back to the 15th century. It is where the Austro-Hungarian nobility members were crowned between 1563 and 1830, including Austrian Queen Maria Theresa. You can also take a tour of the cathedral’s crypt and catacombs for a more spooky experience.
Museums and parks
Bratislava boasts several lovely parks located in or near the city center. Sad Janka Krala, just a few minute walk across the Danube River on the Novy Most Bridge (the one with the big UFO-looking thing on it), is the oldest public park in Central Europe and covers 42 hectares. Horsky Park, located approximately 10-15 minutes from the train station, is a hidden gem with hilly forested areas, plenty of fresh air, and the quaint Funus pub, one of the best outdoor drinking spots in the city to get in touch with the true locals.
If you are there in the summer season and are in the mood for a little time on the beach, then head to Zlate Piesky. This is an expansive recreation area with a lake, beach, and wakeboarding park. It’s an excellent hangout spot full of beautiful Slovaks. Admission is only €2 and you can even camp here for only €3.50.
A must-see in Bratislava: Bratislava Castle is a 20-30 minute uphill walk from the city center, but the views and the complex are wonderful to see. If you choose to go inside, you can check out the exhibits which cover the history of the castle, Slovak ethnographic history, and a fascinating ancient coin collection. Otherwise, just the view and a stroll around the complex is worth the trip.
The best view
Without question, the hill where the Bratislava Castle complex is perched upon provides the best views of the city. Not only can you see the Old Town below, but you can also clearly see the infamous communist-era architecture of the Petrzalka neighborhood, look well beyond the Austrian border, and even into the land where Hungary begins.
There are several paid tours you can take but budget travelers can take advantage of the free tours offered by Be Free Tours, Discover Bratislava, and Strawberry Tours.
For more tips, check out the Visit Bratislava website.
Cheap eats in Bratislava
Slovak food is something most people will have never experienced before coming to Slovakia itself. To give you an idea, just imagine German-style food with roast meats, goulash, breaded chicken and pork cutlets, and hearty soups. There are some local specialties as well, notably Bryndzové Halušky which is like gnocchi with melted sheep cheese and fried bacon.
Due to Bratislava becoming more international in recent years, there is a variety of eating options worth checking out that don’t purely revolve around a big hunk of meat and potatoes or cabbage. These are mostly located in the Old Town center and most offer lunch specials for less than €5.
Here are some of our local favorites, both traditional and international, to eat well for less in Bratislava:
Slovak Pub features the most classic Slovak food in the most classic Slovak setting, a massive, high ceilinged mountain style chalet ensconced in wood. This is the place to experience the aforementioned Bryndzove Halusky or some meat filled Pirohy (dumplings) for 4-5 €. Highly recommended.
Simply put, being vegetarian in Bratislava is not easy. Therefore, one needs to be a bit creative in finding strictly vegetarian meals, including eating at an underground Hare Krishna restaurant. This eclectic spot offers a healthy portion (400g) of Indian food at a good price (€4) and is full of amazingly friendly singing and dancing employees. Open only Monday to Friday, 10:30 am – 4:30 pm.
This is the hidden gem that only a local would ever be able to recommend to you. The Mileticova market is an outdoor farmer’s market that feels like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s a mix of the old communist era and a provincial market from centuries past.
The number of fruit and vegetable stalls is overwhelming with colors, smells, sights and sounds that will leave your mouth watering. Here you can find incredible seasonal fruits, juices, homemade pickled vegetables, roasted nuts, tiny shacks selling grilled sausages, Slovak sweets, and much more.
The market is a 10-15 minute ride on tram 8 or 9 from the city center to stop Saleziáni and then a few minutes walk. It operates Monday to Friday morning until late afternoon, Saturday until early afternoon, and is closed on Sunday.
An absolute must visit if you are even slightly in the mood for Asian food is the immensely popular Phong Nam Bistro which features some of the best Vietnamese food you’ll eat outside of Vietnam.
Bratislava might not seem like it has much to offer after the sun goes down, but scratch a bit underneath the surface, and you’ll be blown away by the numerous weird, wild, and fun places that you can find.
To at least help you get started, below are some of the more fun, local places to enjoy yourself while on a budget.
Next Apache Café
This tiny Canadian owned café/used bookstore is much more than a place to grab a delicious cup of Fair Trade coffee and a dog-eared paperback. It’s also a local bastion for expats, intellectuals, artists, and musicians to congregate over a drink and a discussion in English. Come at night and ask for a “rybicky” a small shot of local booze done out of a porcelain glass shaped like a fish, and instantly make friends with the fun-loving locals hanging out at the bar or in the garden during the summer.
U Certa Pub
This pub, which features a nice rum selection and good Czech beer on tap, is the center point for the nightlife neighborhood beneath the castle. In warmer months, it turns into a street party as crowds congregate outside. If you are looking to save some money, feel free to bring your own supply of beer and join the party.
A former department store that was turned into a bar/club, KC Dunaj offers concerts, DJs, great microbrew beers and cocktails, plus, a terrace with a sweeping view of the city. It’s more chilled out hipster than Axe body spray wearing meat market, so you can relax and have nice conversations with the young crowd that gathers here.
Nábrežie armádneho generála Ludvíka Svobodu (underneath the castle, by the river)
There are underground music clubs, and there are literally underground music clubs such as Subclub, which is located inside a communist-built nuclear bunker beneath the Bratislava castle. Come here for the late, late music scene, and unique, if somewhat edgy atmosphere.
Cheap hotels in Bratislava
You won’t lack for affordable hotels in Bratislava, but not all budget hotels are created equal. We’ve compiled a few picks in Old Town to get you started on your hotel search.
With rooms as low as $49, Elisabeth Old Town is an excellent value with a central location and private bathrooms and free Wi-Fi in all accommodations. If you love the water, you might consider climbing aboard the Botel Pressburg that’s anchored on the Danube. You can cap off your night with a beer at the small bar or wake up to breakfast in the restaurant. Hotel Max Inn might not look like much, but the low prices and free use of bicycles make it popular with budget travelers. Hostel Folks is a modern and cheap choice with bunks for less than $15 and double rooms for less than $50. The communal kitchen is a good place to cook up a meal from your finds at a local market.
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Your Bratislava tips
Have you been to Bratislava? Tell us your best tips for visiting in the comments section below.