Bratislava: Central Europe’s Surprising Secret

“The only thing I know about Slovakia is what I learned
first-hand from your foreign minister, who came to Texas.”
—Then governor George W. Bush replying to a Slovak journalist.
Actually, Bush met the Prime Minister of Slovenia, not Slovakia.

OK. You’d think that he’d know better, but, let’s not be too hasty with our criticism of President Bush. Slovakia, and its capital Bratislava, are probably unknown to lots of folks, and even experienced travelers might have difficulty picking it out on a map. But if you’re traveling in Central Europe, and need a relaxing break from tourist hot spots, Bratislava makes the perfect decompression stop.

Fountain of Peace FI

After the daily rush in the visitor-packed twins of Prague and Vienna, it was a joy to wander around a small, yet significant historic area, and not feel driven to work our way through a “must see” checklist. Bratislava is small for a European capital, and its size is certainly part of its allure.

St Michael's Gate 2

St Michael's Gate

We rambled cobblestone streets lined with historic buildings and marveled at small architectural details. We loafed and savored our coffees in sidewalk cafes, soaked up the sun on riverside benches, and watched boats on the busy Danube.

The Watcher 2
Cumil (the Watcher), one of Bratislava’s most photographed characters welcomes tourists with a big Dobry Den.
French Army Soldier
A Napoleon look-alike takes a break in front of the French Embassy on Hlavne Namestie, Bratislava’s main square.
Most of the communist-era architecture you’ll see in Bratislava is drab and unattractive, but the “New Bridge” crossing the Danube into the historic area is the exception. The flying saucer has a restaurant called, what else, UFO.


Bratislava is only an hour by train from Vienna, so for us, a quick trip was a no-brainer. It’s not in a league with the tourist heavyweights in the region, but don’t sell it short and if you need a traveler’s slow-down, it’s an easy option.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri



We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

21 thoughts

  1. Thanks LuAnn. I love these places that don’t take themselves too seriously. This part of the world has had a turbulent past, and it’s always good to see a bit of humor. ~James

    1. Tracey, when we visited there were a few cruise ship tourists, but they’re the much, much smaller Danube riverboat cruisers, so the crowds are not a problem. In fact, they probably bring in money that the town likes to have. ~James

    1. The small cruise boats we saw looked pretty cool. Most of them had staterooms with small patios right outside the bedroom. The Danube is a beautiful river, so the tours must have been very scenic. ~James

      1. They loved it. Their room on the cruise was spacious and had a private balcony/patio. She sent me lots of photos. I would love to do the cruise at some point.

    1. He’s located right on a corner in the middle of the sidewalk, so yes, he’s a stumbling hazard. I wonder where the lawyers were when they picked his location? I’m sure that late-night drinkers aren’t too enthusiastic about this fine art. 🙂 ~ James

    1. Rusha, it’s amazing how close Bratislava is to Vienna, and yet, how different it is – which is a big part of its appeal. Also, I always enjoy getting glimpses of ex-communist era life. After growing up on the other side of the fence in the Cold War it’s educational to see a different prospective. ~James

      1. You’re so right. Travel keeps us interested and informed. Can’t tell you how many times we’ve visited a place and then AFTERWARDS read about what happened there. Sometimes you just gotta see it.

  2. Sometimes it is nice to visit places without all the tourists. You can get a break from the pressures of sightseeing and enjoy life. My knowledge of Bratislava comes from the movie Eurotrip when they find themselves there with about $2 between the four of them and have enough money to stay in a 5-star resort because it is so cheap.

    1. Ohhh, if we could all travel on a Hollywood budget! Jeff, Bratislava was cheap, certainly by Western Europe standards, but it wasn’t that cheap. As you know, a big part of any travel budget is lodging, and in that respect, Bratislava is a pretty good deal. ~James

  3. I’ll admit until we went to Slovenia I used to confuse the two countries myself. Ugh! Bratislava sounds like my kind of city. Love this sculptures and love the lack of throngs of tourists.

    1. I hear you Sue. We’ve all been there. We had a couple of motivations to visit Eastern Europe. One was that we’d never been, and the other was that we knew essentially nothing about most of the countries. This area has been caught between stronger forces in the east and west, so they have turbulent histories that are important to know. Our travels there helped fill in the gaps for us. ~James

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