How do you say “No, thank you” in Slovak? Bratislava has a lot of redeeming qualities, but for the most part, it’s not my cup of tea.
We arrived in Bratislava at 5:30 am on a night train, and I don’t know what’s worse, getting here that early, or getting here after dark. We couldn’t find an ATM to take out cash for a cab and Uber did not accept my form of payment in this country. So we walked 25 minutes to our hotel, past vomit on the floor and small groups of drunken, not-quite-homless-people-but-almost.
This city was designed by a blind person. It’s on several jagged hills and the streets have no rhyme or reason so you often have to walk a mile where 12 feet would have sufficed if there was a connecting street. Which wouldn’t be a problem if you weren’t alternating between going up and downhill everywhere you go. FYI, Bratislava, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Didn’t you take geometry in grade school?
This also wouldn’t be a problem if they had a decent system of buses or trains. But though I see trams and buses scattered about, Google Maps won’t give transportation directions from anywhere. And I’m sorry, but it’s 2016; I’m not going to be looking at an outdated bus schedule in another language and hope it gets me anywhere I need to go. You guys need to have your public transportation indexed by Google. If Poland can do it, you can, too. And they’re not even on the Euro.
The entire city is a mess of old town and Eastern European ghetto. After a long early morning walk around Old Town, we quickly realized that not only was it desolate and empty, there would be no sign of life until 11 or 1 pm, according to store hours almost everywhere. In fact, it still looked like people were recovering and cleaning up from Friday night.
So we went to the closest park, Namestie Slobody, which looks like an abandoned World’s Fair. The fountain doesn’t work anymore and there’s graffiti everywhere, and though I usually really like that, at 7 am on a Saturday, it just looks like that’s where people are coming off their heroin high. We carefully avoided the group of skinheads climbing the light poles and took a nap on a bench.
All that being said, Old Town is actually quite nice when it’s in full swing, which is later in the day and in the evenings, when certain streets become as rowdy as Mardi Gras. It kind of seems like Bratislava is the party destination for people who live in other parts of Slovakia. There are a lot of bachelor parties and you can tell that when there is a group of 6 guys having brunch at 9 am, they haven’t gone to bed yet. Outside of that, the city is just a giant hipster oasis. Some of the coolest bars and cafes in the city are actually chains so they’ve really commercialized that vibe.
Food and Nightlife
Two of the main positives about Bratislava, and they’re big positives, are the food and nightlife. Old town and the surrounding area is full of people drinking and hanging out. The majority of the bars are really nice, with a modern or hipster feel, and they’re pretty much all playing 80’s music, because the 90’s may not have happened here yet. It kind of reminds me of an Eastern European version of Portland, where you can sit on a couch in a quiet bookstore on a Saturday night and have an awesome Moscow mule. The food is excellent everywhere and also very cheap. Whether you want a steak, a crepe, or sushi, Bratislava has it all.
I really can’t complain about the people of Bratislava. They’re friendly and appear very relaxed. I’m pretty sure 90% of the people wilding out in Old Town are tourists, because when you walk a little farther out, you just see small groups of people nursing a glass of wine on a street corner. In restaurants and stores, the service is friendly and attentive. But this city can keep its train station weirdos lumbering around like the walking dead.
Another positive is that it’s definitely very cheap, even though it’s on the Euro. A beer is 1 to 2 Euro almost everywhere, unless you go to a much nicer place, and even then it would only be about 4 or 5. We had lunch at the highest rated restaurant on Trip Advisor, Bistro Soho, and paid less than 20 Euro including drinks. And now that we’ve got Uber working, a ride is also 1 to 2 Euro.
Total Livability Score 4/10
I wanted to hate this city a lot more than I actually did (because it’s funnier that way), but despite actually growing to like it, I definitely couldn’t live here.