Stay in Bratislava, With a Day Trip to Vienna
Updated: Nov 3, 2021
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Call me a genius if you want, because I found the best way to visit Vienna without breaking the bank, and at the same time explore a second city. The answer? Stay just across the Austro-Slovakian border in Bratislava, and take a day trip to Vienna instead. Bratislava is a beautiful city in itself, and in my opinion doesn't get the credit it deserves, especially being the country's capital. It sits along the Danube River, has a gorgeous pedestrian-only old town, is overlooked by a stunning castle atop a hill, and isn't as crowded as other capital cities.
Bratislava is also very budget friendly. We rented a fully equipped apartment just a short walk from the city centre with a balcony, and it cost less than half of what it would in the UK for a hotel room. What more could you ask for? Here are my recommendations for what to do in Bratislava as well as how to spend a day in Vienna:
Things To Do in Bratislava
Hlavné námestie is the main square in Bratislava's Old Town, and is one of the most popular tourist areas. There are a number of shops and cafes dotted around this area, as well as the Old Town Hall, which is one of Bratislava's main tourist attractions.
Michael's Gate is just around the corner from the main square, and is one of the oldest buildings in the Old Town. The street leading up to it has a number of restaurants and shops to choose from, and if you have time you can climb up to the top of the tower for one of the best views in Bratislava.
During the summer months, a lot of the restaurants have outdoor seating options available, and they're usually right in the middle of the street. Do your research beforehand, because the food in the touristy areas is usually quite average and overpriced.
Since Bratislava is located along the Danube River, there's the option of taking a river cruise. We didn't end up going on one, but it's a popular thing to do in Bratislava, and you can even travel to Vienna on one of them if you're planning on doing a day trip there.
Grassalkovich Palace sits between the Old Town and Bratislava's main train station, Bratislava Hlavna. It's a beautiful building to look at, and is the home of the Slovakian president. It was built in 1760, and isn't open to the public, but if you have time I'd recommend stopping in for a look.
Primate's Palace is a hidden gem. It's only €3 to enter, so is a great option if you're visiting Bratislava on a budget. There are a number of gorgeous English tapestries to look at, as well as other pieces of art. It sits just behind the main square of the Old Town so is very easy to find.
Bratislava Castle is one of the biggest draws for tourists in the city, and sits high on a hilltop overlooking the Old Town. There is a lot of history behind the site that it sits on, dating back hundreds of years. The castle that stands today was largely rebuilt following World War II.
Some of the best views of Bratislava can be found on either side of the castle. This one is a particular favourite of mine as you can see the entire Old Town against the backdrop of Bratislava's more modern buildings.
A Day Trip From Bratislava to Vienna
Looking around Bratislava takes about a day, or two days maximum if you want to explore at a leisurely pace. Which (if you stay a few days) leaves you with time to hop on a train and cross the border into Austria. Vienna is notoriously known for being an expensive city, and when I researched staying there I found that to be true. Luckily, trains from Bratislava to Vienna are only €10 each way with a travel time of only 1 hour. Or, if you ask at the ticket office you can get a "special" return ticket for €14.
That's the train sorted, but what's the best way to get around Vienna? You can walk, but it was excruciatingly hot when we were there so we bought a ticket for Big Bus Vienna which took us to all of the main locations, including Schönbrunn Palace which was definitely too far to walk to. Other than a cheap bike rental and bratwurst, the bus is the only thing we spent money on and somehow I spent as much as I had during two days in Bratislava. Yes it is expensive in Vienna, but it was such a magical city that it was worth it. Here's what we got up to during our day trip to Vienna:
Our first stop during our day trip was Belvedere Palace. It's located about a 10 minute walk from Vienna Hbf (the main train station), so we thought this was a good place to start exploring the city from. It's completely free to walk around the grounds, which was ideal since we were visiting Vienna on a budget.
Next we ventured further into the city centre and came across The Hofburg, the former imperial palace of the Habsburgs. It was built in the 13th century, and since then has consistently been recorded as a seat of government. Today it serves as the residence and office of the President of Austria.
Vienna's City Hall (Rathaus) is located a short walk from The Hofburg, and is the centre of local government in the city. In the summer it's a lovely area to walk around and find some shade to sit in.
The Burgtheater sits opposite the city hall and was one of my favourite buildings. The architecture is simply stunning, and I've heard that the performances inside are incredible to watch. So if you're spending more than 24 hours in Vienna, I'd recommend going to a show here.
There are a lot of tour bus companies in Vienna to choose from. We picked Big Bus Vienna simply because it was the first one we came across. All of the prices are fairly similar and they mostly travel along the same routes. They are great for seeing all of the sites, but they didn't take the cover off the top so it was boiling inside!
Three palaces in one day - bliss. Schönbrunn Palace was further out of the city centre than Vienna's other main attractions, but the bus dropped us off right outside the gates which was ideal. You can pay for an inside tour, or you can walk around the grounds and gardens for free which is what we did.
We decided that the best way to get around Vienna other than taking the bus was to rent a city bike. The best thing is that the first hour is completely free, so you can drop off the bike at one location, and pick up another one and you won't be charged.
We finished the day with a stroll down the main shopping street, grabbing a bratwurst along the way and doing a bit of window shopping. Day trips to Vienna don't always have to be costly, there is a lot to do in the city that's completely free!
My advice to any budget traveller who wants to see Vienna is to book accommodation in Bratislava, and take a day trip (or two), to Vienna. Bratislava is a great city to visit on a budget, and you can fit in some of the best things to do in Vienna into a day trip. The train tickets aren't expensive, so you could even travel to Vienna twice if you were thinking of staying in Bratislava for a while. The distance between Bratislava and Vienna is only 1 hour, and it's a direct train too, so the travel time won't take a huge chunk out of your day.
Since going on this trip, I did actually return to Vienna and spent a week exploring the city in more depth. Click here to read about my experience and recommendations on where to stay. And if you're thinking of doing a day trip to Bratislava, click here for some tips. I followed that trip up with a road trip to Toledo and Segovia in Spain, and toured around some unique locations in Andalusia too. Get in touch if you have any questions about either Vienna or Bratislava, and don't forget to follow me on Instagram!