Bratislava is a charming city that sits on the banks of the Danube River in Slovakia. It features a hilltop castle, a quaint Old Town dating from the Middle Ages, and plenty of great sites. And it’s only about an hour away from Vienna. In my opinion, taking a day trip from Vienna to Bratislava is a must. Not only do you get the chance to explore a second European capital city, you also get to briefly experience an entirely different culture. Plus, it’s very easy. Let me show you everything about our own very worthwhile day trip from Vienna to Bratislava.
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Traveling Between Vienna & Bratislava
The Bratislava-Ticket is one reason this day trip is so easy. This is a train pass offered by OBB – Austria’s rail company. It only costs 18 Euros and gives you round-trip train transportation between the two cities. Plus, it includes a 1-day public transportation pass in Bratislava. Consequently, it’s the only transportation ticket you need for the entirety of your day trip! Trains connect the two cities twice each hour. And the train ride itself takes just over an hour.
(If you are looking for additional info about spending time in Vienna, be sure to check out my post with 8 Insightful Vienna Travel Tips)
While we were in Vienna, we traveled by regional train a lot. And I became an expert at booking tickets through OBB’s convenient phone app. However, the Bratislava Ticket cannot be purchased on your phone or computer. You can only purchase it directly from the ticket machines at the train station. But it’s easy…
You’ll find ticket machines throughout the huge Vienna Hauptbahnhof central station.
These ticket machines are easy to navigate and there is an English option. You can pay with cash or card.
The menu will direct you to the Bratislava-Ticket
And as you purchase it, you can review it’s terms… Round trip to either of Bratislava’s two train stations, returning within three days, and free unlimited use of Bratislava’s public transportation for your first day.
With this ticket in hand, there is no need to reserve specific trains back and forth between the two cities. Simply board whichever one works best for your schedule. I especially loved this for our return – it’s usually hard to predict how long any particular day trip is going to last.
Because the trains run so frequently, we found plenty of open seats on board.
And the train itself, while not nearly as nice as the train we took between Vienna and Budapest, was more than adequate.
Other Transportation Options
You can also use a bus for your day trip between Vienna and Bratislava. However, I personally don’t see any advantage to taking the bus. Buses leave from the same Vienna Hauptbahnhof station, take longer, cost more, and don’t offer free public transportation in Bratislava. Nonetheless, here’s the Slovak Lines website if you want to check it out.
Or if you want your day trip from Vienna and Bratislava to include time on the Danube River, you can also go by boat. But this is a much more expensive option – it currently costs 31-36 Euros each way (more expensive on the weekends). And the schedule is far less convenient with only a few riverboat departures each day. Here’s the Twin City Liner website if you want more info.
Transportation in Bratislava
As I mentioned above, your Bratislava-ticket allows you to connect from Vienna to either of Bratislava’s two train stations. When consulting the train schedule, these are labeled Bratislava.hl.st and Bratislava-Petrzalka. Trains leave Vienna hourly to each station, but at different times within each hour. You’ll best find the exact schedule by plugging the two cities into the OBB website.
So which station do you choose? I would recommend going to the Hlvaná Stanica station (Bratislava.hl.st). This is Bratislava’s main train station and is located closer to Bratislava’s Old Town than the other one. It’s also better connected to public transportation – after all, you have a transportation pass for the day!
Then from Hvlaná Stanica, you have your choice of tram or the bus to Old Town. Either method gets you there in about 10 minutes.
I couldn’t immediately find the Tram when we arrived at Hvlaná Stanica, so we ended up taking the more obvious bus. The Bus stops are located outside on the right as you exit the station, and are easy to spot.
Bus #93 takes you to Old Town in only two stops. You do need to walk a few blocks when you get off, but Google Maps will guide you the rest of the way.
Later on, I found the tram terminal – when we returned to Hlvaná Stanica via tram at the end of our day. When you first arrive in Bratislava, exit the train station and immediately look to your left. The tram terminal is through this passageway…
You’ll ultimately descend a staircase, and walk outside to the tram terminal.
Tram #1 gets you to Old Town in 5 stops. Then as with the bus, there’s still a short walk of a few blocks at the end.
I didn’t find any clear advantage to either mode of transportation back and forth from Old Town. They were both easy to use and convenient. And Google Maps gives you all the information you need to navigate around on both successfully.
Things To Do in Bratislava on A Day Trip
Another thing that makes a day trip from Vienna to Bratislava so easy is that central Bratislava is quite compact. Consequently, you can see a lot in a short period of time. And while it’s impossible to see everything Bratislava has to offer in just a day, you can still get a great feel for this city. We spent about 5 hours exploring Bratislava. Here’s everything we did while there.
A Historic Medieval Old Town
Old Town Bratislava has everything you would expect from a well-preserved centuries-old European town. A maze of narrow pedestrian-only cobblestone streets. A variety of street side restaurants and cafes. Beautiful old churches and buildings. Lots of Old World atmosphere. It’s 100% the type of place that I love to simply wander and explore. Here’s a sample of what we saw while wandering around Old Town….
A Castle On Hill
Presiding over Old Town, on an adjacent hill, sits Bratislava Castle. If you look close, you can see it at the end of the street in the photo above. A Castle in one form or another has sat on this hill for over 1000 years. Various version have come and gone over the years – war, fire, politics, and neglect all wreaked havoc on successive castles.
The current version was restored from long-standing ruins in the mid 20th century.
I’d read various opinions prior to our day trip from Vienna to Bratislava about whether or not a visit to the castle was worthwhile. After all, it’s essentially a modern building used occasionally for official Slovakian government events (though it does house a museum).
We did decide to ascend the hill and check it out. We didn’t go inside, but the view of the surrounding area (including Old Town), along with the Castle’s extensive and beautiful gardens, made the hike up the hill worth it.
And overall the castle is quite picturesque.
A Coronation Church
Old Town’s grandest and most historic church is St Martin’s Cathedral. For almost 300 years, this Cathedral was where the Kings & Queens of Hungary were coronated. Yes, you read that right. Hungary. From 1563 to 1830, Bratislava was the capital city of The Kingdom of Hungary (which covered a much larger chunk of Central Europe than the country of Hungary does today).
As you walk around Bratislava, you’ll occasionally spot brass crowns embedded in the stone streets. These brass crowns mark the traditional coronation procession route through Old Town to St. Martin’s Cathedral.
And another symbol indicating the Cathedral’s importance to the Hungarian monarchy sits atop the Cathedral’s tall spire. It’s a replica of the Hungarian Crown (we were lucky enough to see the actual crown when we toured the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest).
Unfortunately for us, we were unable to tour the inside of the Cathedral during our visit. Similar to our experience at a historic church in Lake Bled Slovenia, we couldn’t enter because of a wedding. But we did get to watch the bride and her entourage sequentially enter through a side door.
An Old Wall and Town Gates
During its medieval heyday, Old Town Bratislava was entirely surrounded by a fortified wall. And entering the town was only allowed through four main gates. Today, only a small section of this wall still exists – on the west side of town adjacent to the Cathedral and directly below the Castle. As we walked between those two sites, our route took us along the top of that remaining section of wall.
(In the photo below from atop the wall, the view is across to a section of Old Town on the Castle hill. This area was once part of Bratislava’s Jewish Quarter. Most of this historic quarter was destroyed over time, and in fact, a busy freeway now separates the wall from the Castle hill . You can’t see the freeway in the photo, but a significant section of the Jewish Quarter was demolished in order to build it.)
Only one of the town’s original four gates still exists. It’s called Michael’s Gate and is one of Bratislava’s most famous and photographed sites.
The arched gate itself dates to the 1300s, but the tower was added in the 1700s. Walking through this gate into Old Town is still the most popular way for day trip visitors to enter Old Town as it’s on the northern edge, closest to the train station. Inside, there’s a museum and you can also climb the tower for views out across Old Town.
While Michael’s is the only gate that still stands, it’s not hard to discover the location of the former eastern gate – Laurinc Gate. It was torn down in the 1700s, but now a visually striking gate-themed piece of street art hangs where it once stood.
A UFO Sighting
Remember I told you about the freeway that now cuts through Old Town. Well, here’s a photo of it from atop the town wall. You see the spire of St Martin’s Cathedral in the foreground. And in the distance…a UFO.
The freeway extends across the Danube river via a suspension bridge. The tall pylon for the bridge’s cables is topped with a UFO-shaped structure. And inside the UFO is a popular restaurant with great views called….UFO.
Slovakian Food for Lunch
We didn’t eat in the UFO. I wanted to soak in the ambience of Old Town while eating our lunch in a street side restuarant. And, for our only meal in Slovakia, I also wanted to experience traditional Slovak cuisine. So for our lunch, I chose a restaurant called Koliba Kamzík. It’s located down one of Old Town’s quieter streets and is ranked #7 on Tripadvisor for all of Bratislava.
I’d not had any experience with Slovakian food prior to our day trip from Vienna to Bratislava. And in my research, I discovered that the most popular Slovak dishes often feature a salty sheep’s cheese called bryndza. In fact, the national dish of Slovakia (called Bryndzové Halušky) consists of potato dumplings topped with lots of bryndza and bacon. Another popular Slovak dish consists of bryndza-filled perogies topped with bacon and sour cream.
And you can get both at Koliba Kamzík. However, they each sounded just a little too rich for my dairy sensitive gut. And I never want to risk intestinal problems on any day trip
So I opted instead for a slightly less heavy dish of potato dumplings, topped with roasted sausage, steamed sauerkraut, and sour cream.
Along with this beautifully-presented Sour Potato Soup. Both were delicious!
The Main Town Square
We also took time later in the afternoon to simply hang out and enjoy a cold drink at one of Bratislava’s many cafés. We do not have any problem whatsoever on day trips taking time to just relax and soak up atmosphere. Even if it means missing some sites. In fact, I believe sit-down-relax-soak-it-in time is just as important as sight-seeing when traveling.
In Bratislava, we chose to enjoy our mid-afternoon sit-down-relax time in the main town square. Directly across from Bratislava’s 700 year old City Hall.
Cumil and his Sewer Hole
Throughout Old Town you’ll come across a variety of random whimsical statues. These were placed around town to help liven the place up after the fall of Communism in the 90s. They have become very popular, and are all tourist magnets for that pose-next-to travel photo. Probably the most well-known is Cumil – the happy sewer worker. He often shows up in my Instagram feed (it’s very much travel-themed). And his location is even indicated on Google Maps.
It can be difficult to get a people-free photo of Cumil during tourist season. But I managed to get one from the side – an angle I ended up liking much better anyway.
The Blue Church
The final stop on our day trip from Vienna to Bratislava was The Church of St. Elizabeth – more commonly known as The Blue Church. This colorful Roman Catholic Church is a few blocks outside of Old Town, but it’s an easy walk to this must-visit site. It’s certainly one of the most unique churches I’ve ever seen.
It was built in the early 1900s in an architectural style that is called Hungarian Secessionist Art Nouveau. The Art Nouveau style was pretty popular throughout Central Europe at the time, and we saw several Art Nouveau buildings as we jumped from country to country on this particular trip. However, the Blue Church was the definitely the most striking. (It was initially built as a church for the school located on an adjacent block. The school is also built in the Art Nouveau style, and while not as colorful, is still very interesting to look at as you pass by.)
Obviously, Bratislava is a beautiful place with lots to see. And I’m sure you could spend several days here checking out its various museums and other cultural activities. VisitBratislava.com is a great resource for a longer period of time in the city.
But if you only have time for a day trip from Vienna to Bratislava, then rest assured it will definitely be a great day!
If you would like to read about some more of my favorite day trips from around the world, then check out these posts: