A rollercoaster city of communist buildings, hidden clubs and medieval castles, Bratislava is the perfect weekend escape, and for many, the gates to explore Eastern Europe.
His left hand is waving to the crowd. His right hand is busy covering his genitals. Completely naked, Evan from England decided to walk through the crowded third floor of the Wild Elephants Hostel.
The furniture is old and dusty. The walls are pink, and the space is too little for 30 people. But for Evan, this is perfect. Smiling, he goes through a kind of catwalk opened for him through the audience. Nobody wants to touch him.
I am at the starting point of ‘The Drunken Heroes’ (€5), one of the most recommended pub crawls in Slovakia’s capital city and Sebastian, the Argentinean guiding the tour just shouted, “It is time to go!”
This is the beginning of the end of 12 hours in one of the more budget-friendly capitals of Europe, where the tourist explores a hilly city of communist buildings, hidden clubs and medieval castles. A perfect weekend escape with friends and for many travellers the gates to explore Eastern Europe.
For many people, the starting point of their adventure in Bratislava is in another country, Austria. Only 55 kilometres away, Vienna, is a major tourist hub with train and bus connections to Bratislava.
Most travellers choose the train. It’s only a one-hour ride (€10) that shows the communist past of Slovakia and their industrial present. The grey colours of the stations contrast with the train tracks full of new cars ready to go to the rest of Europe.
“But the journey through Bratislava should be done by foot,” says Juan Lyon, a Chilean travelling for the weekend with two other friends. We started walking together after arriving at 4:00pm at the Central Railway Station in the high part of the city. From there, you can see the Old Town and Bratislava Castle: the city’s two main attractions.
Our first stop in the Old Town is in front of Michael’s Gate and tower: the only city gate remaining from the medieval era which dates from 1300.
We started to notice that the Old Town is full of embassies, bars but most of all, statues. There is more than a dozen across the Old Town, and tourists try to photo each one of them: Hans Christian Andersen, Napoleon and even one called ‘The Paparazzi’. But the one that gets more attention is quite hidden, which is Čumil: a bronze worker with one half of his body stuck in a street sewer.
We hurry up to the castle, but we don’t keep up with is for long. The elevation of 85 meters between the square and the top where the castle is located make the things painful, but totally worth it.
“The view is amazing here,” says Juan. Outside of the Castle, the visitor can see the hills, the buildings, the Danube river and the ‘New Bridge’, a 430-meter-long structure bonding the two sides of the stream. The ‘New Bridge’ is crowned with a giant plate between its pillars. “Should we go?” a couple of rolling eyes in the group, but we are on our way down to the bridge.
In front of the pillars of the structure finished in 1972, we paid the € 5,95 (students) and in 45 seconds, we reach the 85-meter level where the UFO observation desk is. A dome of 32 meters in diameter with capacity for 200 people.
From there, we can see the medieval past of Bratislava with the Castle, but also the communist legacy with a dozen of square buildings constructed during the Czechoslovakian Era, which finished pacifically in 1993.
The night out
All the way down the stairs of the Wild Elephants Hostel are covered with written messages from other tourists. On the second floor, there is a little sign that alerts to passengers that there is a strict €25 policy against vomit on the premises. Some of the pub crawl goers have already broken the rule.
Again, we are in the streets of the Old Town, only a few meters away from Michael’s Gate for our first stop of the night: Goblins Pub. Hidden in an alley and in a basement, the Goblins Pub offers three things to the tourists: an intense tobacco smell (it’s still legal to smoke in closed spaces in Slovakia), good beer and live music.
Some beers later, we follow Sebastian up the hill, in the direction of the Hodžovo Square. The new pub is full of lovers of Queen. We know because we ended up singing Bohemian Rhapsody, between German, American and French accents.
It is time to go again. We are tired, it is almost 1:00, and we need something to eat. Luckily, Bratislava is the 8th cheapest capital in Europe according to City Cost Barometer 2019.
We cross once again the entire Old Town going to the Castle. But instead of going up the hill, Sebastian takes a detour. Behind a carpark lies the entrance of SubClub, an old former bomb shelter under the castle, which now serves as a Club and final stop of the pub crawl.
Two hours later, we left behind the former shelter for our last stop under ‘The New Bridge’. The bus to Vienna is leaving at 4:45 (€10) and we cannot miss it. We have spent 12 hours, walked more than 15km, spent less than €50 and nobody broke the rule of the hostel. I suppose that we truly are the heroes of the night.