A Vienna Getaway Minus the Crowds

March 4, 2012 12:00 am

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ATMOSPHERIC churches, romantic cobblestone lanes, cool new cafes or quirky museums: What do locals in the Slovak capital of Bratislava recommend visitors see first?

"Vienna," joked Peter, a Slovak friend of mine who had recently moved back to his homeland after several years abroad.

That may not be the most useful of tips, but it does highlight the easy accessibility of Bratislava, which lies just an hour outside Vienna, about two hours and 40 minutes from Budapest, and about four hours from Prague, with direct train and bus connections from all three. An intimate, easy-to-navigate city of around half a million inhabitants, Bratislava makes an excellent getaway from the more popular destinations in the region, especially once you get fed up with the big-city crowds.

The Slovak capital also offers similar, Central European charm (rich history, unusual local flavors, stunning architecture and vibrant restaurants and night life) as I discovered over the course of a weekend there this winter.

A beer lover, Peter had suggested we catch up at Richtar Jakub (Moskovska 16; richtarjakub.sk), the city's first brewpub, which opened in a residential neighborhood northeast of Stare Mesto, the Old Town, in 2008. By the time I arrived, I had already seen enough to laugh off his Vienna recommendation with several Bratislava tips of my own.

I had gotten a feel for the place by strolling through the labyrinthine pedestrian streets of Stare Mesto, which includes several old city gates and the remnants of the city's ancient fortification walls. After checking out the strange collections of apothecary bottles and ornate, antique medicine cabinets at the Museum of Pharmacy (Michalska 26), I climbed and counted the 110 stone and wooden steps leading up to the top of St. Michael's Tower, just next door, part of the original city fortifications guarding Old Town.

At the top, I opened a small door and stepped outside onto the tower's narrow observation platform, taking in the sunset over the rooftops of Stare Mesto. Broad-shouldered Bratislava Castle stood high on its hilltop before me, while the sound of church bells echoed up through the medieval-era streets. The panorama took my breath away, and it felt equally surprising to find no other tourists there to block my view.


First Published 2012-03-03 23:00:45

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