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When I was planning my summer travel, I decided to add another country to my list. I intended to spend a few days in Budapest, and after spending some time studying the map of central Europe, I settled on Bratislava, Slovakia. I’d heard good things about the city, and because I have a special affinity for Central Europe, it was an easy decision.
Bratislava is an affordable city, and Slovakia is still a relatively undiscovered destination. It doesn’t get the tourist crowds of the nearby Budapest, Hungary; Vienna; or Prague; and it doesn’t have as many attractions as other European capitals. If you’re going to any of the nearby cities, I recommend you add Bratislava to your itinerary.
I didn’t know much about Bratislava except what I’d read in a Rick Steves guidebook, but I was immediately charmed by this small and compact city. Bratislava isn’t grand like Budapest or Vienna, but rather it has this special, quiet charm.
It’s a mix of old and (relatively) new—a mixture of old-world opulence from the days when the city was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the stark, brutalist communist style. It’s still a little rough around the edges, which only adds to its charm.
How to Get to Bratislava
Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia. Vienna International Airport (VIE) is only a 40-minute bus ride away, and Bratislava is well-connected to the rest of Central Europe by bus and train.
Bratislava is easily reachable from other Central European cities, such as Prague; Brno, Czech Republic; or anywhere in Austria. So if you’re going to be exploring that region, definitely visit Bratislava as well.
Some quick research showed me that Bratislava is only two hours away by train or bus from Budapest. Because I had a suitcase, I figured the bus would be easier and decided to take the FlixBus from Budapest. The bus ticket cost $16, including seat selection and adding an empty seat next to mine for a small fee (who knew this was even an option!).
Bratislava has two bus stations, and my bus from Budapest arrived at the new AS Mlýnské Nivy terminal, located just outside of the city center. The bus station is actually in the basement of a large modern shopping mall.
The second bus station (Most SNP) is a few minutes closer to the city center, so I decided to catch my bus to the airport from there.
To get around town, you can use public transport or get an inexpensive ride through the Bolt app. Any ride within the city center and vicinity shouldn’t cost more than 4 euros.
AC Hotel by Marriott Bratislava Old Town
I was traveling alone, so I wanted to find a hotel in the city center but without spending a lot of points. Bratislava has a couple of Marriott properties and one DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, so I settled on the AC Hotel Bratislava Old Town and booked this hotel for 15,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
The hotel looked brand-new, so I suspect it hasn’t been open for more than a year or two. I really liked the modern design and the great location in Bratislava’s historic center. I love staying in recently opened properties, and AC Hotel Bratislava Old Town didn’t disappoint.
Thanks to The Platinum Card® from American Express, I have Gold Elite status with Marriott, which was acknowledged at check-in. I was also upgraded from a standard room to a superior room on the high floor.
There are a few sitting areas in the lobby, a restaurant and a bar. Breakfast isn’t included for Gold members, but you can add it for 12 euros per person. I decided not to pay for breakfast and just bought some food at the nearby grocery store and stored it in my minifridge.
One day, when I got back to my hotel room, I found a package of cookies and a nice note. I’ve never really received an acknowledgement for being a Gold member at any Marriott property, so that was a pleasant surprise. In general, I find that loyalty recognition is better outside of the U.S., and not just at the Marriott properties.
My Room at AC Bratislava Old Town
Just like the lobby, the room looked brand-new. My king-size bed was comfortable, and I loved the hardwood floors. I have allergies, so not having a carpet in the room is a huge bonus.
The room came with a minifridge, a Nespresso machine and an electric kettle. I made my own coffee every morning and bought all kinds of delicious goodies for breakfast at the nearby grocery store. Slovakia is such an affordable country, so paying 12 euros for hotel breakfast really didn’t make sense.
The bathroom was on a small side, although the walk-in shower was spacious with excellent water pressure. However, the shower leaked all over the bathroom floor. This is one of my biggest pet peeves, because clearly there are solutions to this problem that hotel designers choose to ignore.
The amenities were pretty basic, yet in line with the class of the hotel. For example, there was no conditioner or a shower cap.
Housekeeping did a good job keeping my room clean and well-stocked with supplies.
This hotel is located in a quiet part of the city, so there was no street noise. The blackout curtains were excellent at blocking out the sun, vitally important when you’re traveling in Europe in May when the sun rises early and sets well after 10 p.m.
I didn’t really need the air conditioning as it was still pretty cool at night, but when it was on, it didn’t make a lot of noise, except for the first 30 seconds or so after I turned it on.
My Favorite Things to Do in Bratislava
A couple of days in this small city is enough to see the major attractions. I stayed three nights because I wanted to do one or two day trips.
KOUN ice cream sells some of the most delicious ice cream I’ve ever tasted and is a must on a warm, summer day.
I liked the free walking tour of the Old Town, but I loved the walking tour with the focus on 20th century history. The tour was called Bratislava’s Dark History, and the guide really didn’t mince words when it came to Slovakia’s role in World War II and the Holocaust. The tour also covered the post-war years under the communist regime and Slovakia’s transition to democracy.
I wasn’t sure about visiting Bratislava’s tallest building, the UFO Tower Observation Deck because it costs almost 10 euros to take the elevator to the top, but I’m so glad I did. When you go up this strange-looking tower, you get rewarded with incredible views of the city and the beautiful Danube.
If you have time, take a day trip to one of the nearby small towns. The rail connections are excellent, so it’s easy to get around. I went to Trnava and instantly fell in love with this charming, quintessentially Central European little town.
There didn’t seem to be any other international tourists, and when I arrived at the town tower and asked if I could climb it, the Tourist Information Office staff member got a key and went to unlock the tower just for me. This tells you how relatively undiscovered Slovakia still is.
May or early June is the ideal time to visit Slovakia as it gets hot during summer. The weather during my visit was perfect, with sunny days and cool evenings. The added benefit of visiting in May or June is the many hours of daylight.
I was utterly charmed by this little gem of a city and loved the affordable prices on food, hotels and transportation.
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Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.