Thanksgiving is over, Christmas is coming, and Christmas markets are in full swing. Despite my lack of pictures from the Bratislava Christmas markets (stupid Seagate failure), I still want to share a few details for those of you who are considering a trip. We were looking for a place to break up the long train trip from Budapest to Prague, and we had already planned to spend time in Vienna. I did not know what to expect from Bratislava, but I ended up loving it more than I expected to. (Rachel’s post helped convince me.)
Bratislava is about an hour from Vienna, so I expected it to be grand (like Vienna). The architecture reminded me more of Prague, however, and I fell in love with it on our first walk to the main square. When I think of warm, cozy European winters, I think of the cheerful Christmas tree, how the entire city was lit up, and the evenings we spent at the Bratislava Christmas markets. I understood nothing going on around us, but it just felt friendly.
We spent two nights in Bratislava. I think it was the right amount of time to leave us wanting more.
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Where to Stay in Bratislava
We arrived around 5:30pm to the train station in Bratislava. We thought it would be easy to grab a cab to our hotel. We were wrong. Cabs are hard to come by in Bratislava. (Plan accordingly. We almost missed our early morning train to Prague.) I booked the Sheraton Bratislava because the rate was very cheap and had two rooms available. It was a 10-15 minute walk to the old town hall and close to the tram lines. (I was really interested in the Roset Boutique Hotel, but I waited too long to book and they didn’t have two rooms.)
The Sheraton is in the more modern part of the city, as opposed to the old town. It is completely modern. We were upgraded to a junior suite, which had beautiful hardwood floors and large windows overlooking Bratislava city. The bathroom was very large and offered a separate bathtub and shower. (I spent a lot of time warming up in that tub!) My mom enjoyed the spa, and she bought new luggage at the adjacent mall.
There was a fruit basket in our room when we arrived, and we had lounge access and free breakfast as an SPG platinum. The service oscillated between lukewarm to good, depending on who was on duty. We did have trouble getting help with our cab situation on the morning of departure.
Eating Our Way through the Bratislava Christmas Markets
We opted for a tour of the Bratislava Christmas markets because we wanted to know more about the local culture and customs of Slovakia. This particular tour functions as a food tour as well! Our guide, Nichole, has spent the last 10 years in Bratislava, after moving to the city center from a small town. She provided so much Slovak history from two different perspectives. Nichole led us through the city center and the old town, from the old city gates and everywhere in between before the Christmas markets opened. The food tour included Slovak regional specialties, including potato pancakes, poppy seed rolls (sweet), and a chicken-onion sandwich, all complemented with mulled wine.
I can’t recommend this tour enough if you’re looking for an introduction to the Bratislava Christmas markets, Slovak history and culture, and food!
Where to Eat in Bratislava (Besides the Christmas Markets)
We are low-key obsessed with Hviezdoslavovo Square. There is a huge ice skating rink and holiday events and concerts that go on throughout the evening. All that sounds lovely until you’re cold from freezing December temperatures. You can eat your way through the Bratislava Christmas markets, but sometimes you just want to sit down and eat a real meal.
Our first choice was 17s Bar because it offered views of the skating rink. Luculus Gelato is next door, too. 1.20 euro and delicious. December temperatures be damned! I’m here for all the gelato. 17s is so popular that we couldn’t get in the first night. The three of us shared 2 pizzas, 2 beers, and a coke and it was less than 20 euro. The ingredients are quality, the food is cheap, and it’s cozy. (You can sit outside if you want to. They have heaters and blankets to keep you warm.)
Another great option is Rio Grande Restaurant, where I had my first lava stone steak. (I still dream about the garlic sauce and the brandy sauce!) What’s a lava steak? They bring out a searing hot lava rock, and you are able to cut and cook your steak to perfection. Tom enjoyed his pasta, but you should really go for the lava steak.
When You Want to Learn More about Bratislava
Another one of my favorite experiences in Bratislava was our night walking tour. We actually did this tour on our first night and ended up being the only people on it. Kristina, our guide, was born in Bratislava and gave us a great overview of the city and its history. We met up with her in the old town (enjoying the traditional Christmas market ambiance), hiked up to the castle, and ended the night with a drink at the UFO tower. The view was limited because of the fog, but we enjoyed the house drink. The service was great (and helped with a cab!) and it was a nice place to warm up after the castle adventure! Bundle up! The breeze off the river can be chilly!
If you are thinking of making a trip to the Bratislava Christmas markets, they run from the end of November to Christmas. Always check the dates before you plan your travel because the season varies from place to place. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Bratislava is gorgeous, the people are amazing, and the holiday cheer can’t be beat. For more on all our Christmas market adventures, I shared our full Christmas market itinerary and trip details of our adventures.