Bratislava, Slovak Republic

We travelled to Bratislava entirely by train, taking the Eurostar from London to Brussels, then a Thalys train to Cologne, then a City Night Line train to Vienna. From there it's just one more relatively short train journey to Bratislava, though it is necessary to get from Vienna's Westbahnhof to its Südbahnhof station first. For only €1,70 the number 18 tram got us between the two stations easily enough.

Our accommodation in Bratislava was the very nice Hostel Blues, on Špitálska street. A room with a double bed and two bunk beds shared by three of us came to only 900Sk (about twenty-three pounds sterling) per person per night. [See currency update below.] The room had its own shower and toilet, and a television set just in case you're able to make sense of American programmes translated. (You haven't seen Mythbusters until you've seen it in Slovak.)

photo: An old tram travels along Špitálska road, buildings on one side and trees on the other. photo: A clocktower stands tall amongst three-storey buildings around it. photo: Low buildings on three sides, with yellow walls and red-tiled roofs.

Hostel Blues is located right at the edge of the Old Town, which is quietly full of bars and cafés. For a good view over the Old Town, it's worth the steep walk up to Bratislava Castle (Bratislavský Hrad). From there you also get a good view of the river Danube (Dunaj), and the bridge Nový Most which has a bizarre UFO café suspended high over it. The guide book led us to believe that there were museums in the grounds of Bratislava Castle, but we failed to find them. Reconstruction work was being carried out, so perhaps we visited at the wrong time.

The Old Town feels calm and not at all crowded, despite the number of drinking and eating establishments. But if you feel you need to be more isolated, take bus 203 to Kamzík and then wander through the forest until you find Kamzík TV Tower. (To be honest, I'm surprised that we didn't get lost in the forest, so be careful if you head that way.) At the top of the TV tower we found Reštaurácia Veža, and at noon we were the only patrons. The restaurant floor rotates gently, so you can sit quite idly and watch Bratislava's Old Town and its surrounds rotate around you as you enjoy a drink or a meal.

Another out-of-town destination is Devín Castle (Hrad Devín). Being a steep hill overlooking two rivers, the area has been a popular site for fortified settlements since the Bronze Age, and it even attracted the Romans. The grounds of Devín Castle display the remains of the more recent inhabitants, and there's a small room of archaelogical finds halfway to the top. Ascending the worryingly-decayed wooden stairs is worthwhile for the views over the Danube and Morava rivers.

photo: Nový Most bridge over the Danube, a windowed, steel flying saucer suspended above it. photo: The blue and white exterior of a church, with soft, rounded edges and decorative flourishes. photo: The stoney ruins of a castle sit atop a steep mound of rock, green hills surround it below.

Back in the Old Town, other sites worth seeing are the Slovak National Theatre (Slovenské Národné Divadlo) and The Blue Church. A bar worth a quick look is Drinking In Gallery, which would surely violate at least a half-dozen safety rules if it were in the UK. Set in the slope close to Bratislava Castle, it has every appearance of being simply dug out of the chalk, its rear wall dripping with damp, a mossy smell in the air. Very narrow, and with only one exit, it's best to take a look before it gets busy. For food, we enjoyed Primi on Michalská street (don't be fooled by its Easyjet colour scheme) and Európa Pub on Obchodná.

Something else worth trying (if you're a cola drinker) is Kofola, a local soft drink that originated in the Czech Republic, but is heavily consumed in Slovakia. Of the three of us, two liked its unique taste, one did not. It tasted a little like liquorice to me, but in a good way.

From Bratislava we took the Twin City Liner along the river Danube, cruising through the invisible border between the Slovak Republic and Austria to reach Vienna. Before leaving the Slovak Republic, you pass below the rocky mount on which sits Devín Castle, and the sight is impressive. The Twin City Liner is more expensive than the train but the views are better, so it makes sense to take the train in and the boat out.

Bratislava is a very nice place to visit for a couple of days. Its Old Town is clean, peaceful, picturesque, and full of bars, cafés and restaurants. If you're going to be in Vienna, it's certainly worth taking the short trip to Bratislava.

Currency change

On 1st January 2009, the Slovak Republic switched to the Euro as its official currency, which is handy if you're also visiting Vienna or destinations in other euro area countries.