24 hours in Bratislava: A perfect day in Slovakia's Christmas capital
Thomas Breathnach spends 24 hours in a Christmassy Slovakian capital.
Bratislava hosts a bustling brunch scene that would give Berlin or Melbourne a run for their money. Fuelled by a new generation of bougie millennials, the city is peppered with happening eateries dishing up everything from raw vegan tacos to sourdough pancakes. For one of the best morning vibes, hit Urban House on Laurinska street, known for its great batch brew coffee and goat's cheese burgers.
Forget its gritty rep, Bratislava's Old Town is postcard pretty, wonderfully compact and best of all, not tourist-swarmed like nearby capitals. While the city's iconic UFO tower is a dazzling observation perch, its prices reach similarly lofty heights - for an alternative, climb the spirals of the city's 14th-century Old Town Hall (€5) to capture its terracotta-topped splendour, all backdropped by Bratislava Castle. Swoon!
'Tis the Slavic season! Every year, Bratislava's traditional Christmas market transforms the city into a virtual pop-up advent calendar. Much of the merriment surrounds the stalls' festive fare; a menu that ranges from cigánska pecienka (gypsy roast pork) to lokse (sweet and savoury potato pancakes). Don't forget to keep a hand free for a mug of punchy mulled wine (varene vino), too. Na zdravie!
Here's a secret: Slovakian wine is well, something of a best cellar. Bratislava lies at the gateway to the country's Carpathian wine region and, as a result, the city boasts a vibrant viticulture. A number of traditional cellars offer touristy tastings, but for some contemporary notes, visit The Taste; a slick wine bar where you cherry-pick from their seriously impressive vintage menu.
How: thetaste.sk; glass from €4.
From walks along the Danube to meandering its cobbled alleyways, Slovakia really has romance under wraps. But few things can top a soirée at the Slovak Philharmonic. The nation's orchestral hub, located in a jaw-dropping Baroque concert hall, offers concerts from just €10, and with dress-codes ranging from Converse trainers to black-tie, you won't need to pack your tux.
For a late-night feast, pull up a pew at Slovak Pub, a traditional tavern hidden on Obchodná street (and not to be confused with similar namesakes). Its maze of characterful dining halls and nooks lure locals, students and tourists alike, all drawn by kitsch-free local dishes, many sourced from their own organic farm. Try the potato pierogi and blueberry dumplings.
Three to try
Ice hockey game night
All of those Christmas market ice-rinks pay off! Ice-hockey is Slovakia's national sport, and catching a game at Bratislava's Ondrej Nepela Arena is an electric rite of local passage. Sync your stay with a home game - HC Slovak locking sticks with giant rivals like CSK Moscow, for example. hcslovan.sk; from €13.
Wellness in the woods
Just like neighbouring Hungary, Slovakia has a hot thermal pool scene with the capital hosting several spa havens. For a real unwind, make the day-trip to Zochova Chata; a wellness hotel nestled in the city's hilly hinterland where treatment pools overlook wonderland tannenbaum forests. €30; hotelzochovachata.sk.
Art on the Danube
As a booming hub of creatives, Bratislava and its streetscapes are an urban collage of studios, galleries and art-houses. Modern art lovers should beeline to the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, too. Set on a dramatic peninsula jutting upon the Danube, its setting alone is a masterpiece. €10; danubiana.sk.
With its ritzy facade and prime Hviezdoslav Square location, the Radisson Blu Carlton Hotel should be expensive. But this is Bratislava! Rooms at the gorgeous abode start from just €75, meaning you'll save on taxi fares, too.
A visit to Bratislava's Museum of Arms is worth it for the views alone. In a nod to its proud coronation heritage, you can dress up like a regal in their on-site costume photo-booth muzeum.bratislava.sk
Thomas was a guest of Ryanair (ryanair.com) which flies from Dublin to Bratislava daily. Forget jostling with public transport on the ground, the Taxify app (taxify.eu) will whisk you downtown for about €8.
For more, see visitbratislava.com.