As much as I love Venice and its romantic canals, Paris with the elegant Haussmann cityscape, and Barcelona’s unique mixture of medieval heritage and 21st-century boldness, mixing with the surging crowds threatening to overwhelm these cities is definitely not my idea of fun.

Europe is dealing with a serious overtourism issue, and it’s no surprise some of these hotspots are enacting stringent measures to curb the number of arrivals.

Out of those, Venice has gone particularly far in barring entry to those who are not ticketholders on certain dates.

Not all European gems are suffering, though, with one unheard-of city in particular benefiting from smaller crowds and cheaper prices irrespective of season:

Why Have We Overlooked The Beautiful Capital Of Slovakia For So Long?

If, like me, you’re hoping for a stress-free European getaway, without all the public squares teeming with obnoxious selfie-takers, the shoulder bumping as thousands cram into narrow alleys and the long lines at museums, you should consider adding Bratislava in Slovakia to your itinerary.

Bratislava is located in Central Europe, a stone’s throw away from Vienna in Austria, and a short train ride from Prague in Czechia and Budapest in Hungary, three of Europe’s most sought-after destinations, yet for some reason, it’s usually bypassed entirely.

Blue Church In Bratislava, Slovakia, Central Europe

Very few tourists know it’s even there, and those who do often struggle to differentiate it from fellow Slavic sister Slovenia.

I’m not sure about you, but it’s usually the lesser-known destinations I don’t know an awful lot about that pique our curiosity the most…

So why add Bratislava to your ever-extending European bucket list?

A Gorgeous Medieval Capital Most Tourists Are Yet To Discover

Bratislava, Slovakia. View of Bratislava main square with the city hall in the background. copy

Bratislava is one of six European capitals that sit on the banks of the Danube River, as well as the only national capital to border not one but two different countries—this is the moment the avid adventurer in you opens a new tab on Google to check for Bratislava’s placing on a map.

If you’ve done that, and I suspect you did, you’ll have seen it quite literally sits at the tripoint between the Austrian-Hungarian-Slovakian border.

It takes 16 minutes driving to reach Kitsee, on the Austrian side, and 19 minutes to Rajka, the nearest Hungarian village.

Bratslava street

Bratislava has been strongly influenced, and disputed by other regional powers over the centuries, having belonged to a succession of empires and states, including the defunct Austria-Hungary union and communist Czechoslovakia, before finally being proclaimed capital of the Slovaks.

It indisputably belongs to the wider Slavic cultural group through language, cuisine, customs and former status as a satellite state of the extinct Soviet Union, but the diverse architecture tells us a more complex, and just-as-compelling story:

A Window Into Glorious (And Not So Glorious) Times Past

Bratislava Old Town On The Banks Of The Danube River, Slovakia, Central Europe

Admiring Bratislava from the UFO Tower, an observation deck resting atop the sole-standing pylon of the city’s landmark SNP Bridge, you’ll see a cityscape that carries elements not only of 20th-century modernism, as a majority of post-communist capitals do, but also BaroqueRococo, and medieval.

Bratislava’s rich cultural heritage has not been effaced despite the century-long ordeal under socialism:

The terracotta roofs and pointy church spires are still there, mostly inact, the Old Town continues to be surrounded by walls, acting as a barrier between past and future, and the whitewashed Bratislava Castle continues to stand proudly on the central hill, watching over the city.

Bratislava is famous for its many contrasts: you’re as likely to find the usual rows upon rows of grey, uninspiring apartment blocks that were so incredibly common in the Eastern bloc, as Art Nouveau masterpieces like the blue-gazed Church of St. Elizabeth.

It serves as a window into at least three bygone eras:

The turbulent Middle Ages, with cobbled alleys and imposing anti-assault forts, the 19th-century pomp, visible in ornate façades and stately palatial complexes, and the socialist era, best represented by Bratislava’s concrete-dominated outskirts.

View Of The Terracotta Roofs Of Bratislava Old Town, Slovakia, Central Europe
Block Of Communist Era Apartment Blocks In Bratislava, Slovakia, Central Europe

Bratislava Is Walkable And Less Crowded

Other than its hugely underrated cultural value, Bratislava is entirely walkable: most landmarks are within walking distance of each other, and the extensive network of trams and buses makes it easy to get to more remote attractions outside the Old Town, such as the ruined Devin Castle.

And the best thing is, there are fewer tourists going out of their way to visit Bratislava compared to its main regional competitors Vienna or Prague: even at peak hours in summer, it rarely feels congested, and you can soak up all that Old World charm without getting caught up in a horde.

Statue in Bratislava

As Bratislava isn’t being engulfed by mass tourism, locals have a pretty positive attitude towards guests, unlike Venetians or Parisians who would shove you out the way if there weren’t consequences—trust us, we’ve experienced far too many of these hostile encounters.

I don’t blame Americans for feeling unwelcome when they travel across the pond, especially now that anti-tourism protests are erupting in the Old Continent, but maybe, just maybe, they’re looking for that plunge into European culture in the wrong places.

It also helps that Bratislava isn’t at all expensive by European standards: a plate of gnocchi with sheep cheese, or a generous serving of chicken hearts and liver, two Slovak classics, will cost $12-15 in an Old Town bistrot, and cheaper outside the city walls.

How Cheap Is Bratislava?

If you’re not traveling on a limited budget, you’ll be billed $21 on average at the mid-range, historic brewpub Bratislava Flagship, while dinners with a high-end twist in the most expensive restaurant in town, up the aforementioned UFO Tower, cost $41-$52.

A Person Taking Out Euro Notes From A Wallet, Europe Travel Concept

Bratislava is certainly no Tirana or Skopje, but among its Euroized peers, it’s definitely on the cheaper side, with hotel overnights in the modern Nove Mesto and Ruzinov districts starting from only $52 per night; the closer you get to the Old Town, or Stare Mesto, the more expensive are hotels.

Even then, I’m talking $74 for a single room at Elisabeth Old Town, $86 for a private room with double bed at the Ibis Bratislava Centrum, and an affordable $101 for a spacious, executive chambre at the chic Mamaison Residence Sulekova.

Guest making a card payment at a hotel check-in desk

In total, a one-week stay in Bratislava costs less than a thousand bucks in total—or more specifically, $913 or the equivalent in euro—on a par with traveler expenses reported for fellow Central-Eastern European cities Prague, Budapest and Zagreb (in Croatia).

The most important part, how do you get to Bratislava?

One Of The Best-Connected Capitals In Europe

It goes without saying the tiny Bratislava Airport does not host Transatlantic flights, but it is, on the other hand, served by budget carriers like Ryanair and Wizz Air, who offer cheap flights from select European destinations starting from $18.

For most travelers in Europe, however, flying is not the most convenient way to get to Slovakia, as most routes are seasonal and those ultra-cheap getaway deals are actually harder to come by, even on Ryanair, unless your point of departure is somewhere like London-Luton.

Bratislava bridge

If you’re already in Central Europe (Vienna, Prague or Budapest), going to Bratislava will be no Homeric trek: trains between the Austrian and Slovak capitals take less than an hour to complete the journey, without delays, and many tourists based in Vienna in fact visit Bratislava as a day trip.

I wouldn’t recommend you do that, as this is truly an incredible city with so much to offer, and I haven’t even touched on the whole country, but you should know it’s perfectly feasible if you’re simply keen on ticking off some highlights, and another country off the to-go list.

Women and the blue suitcase are going up the train ladder.

Day trips are possible from Budapest, too, with the total travel distance being 2h25; from Prague it’s trickier as it’s a whole 4 hours by train, but our point us, Bratislava is accessible, and incredibly well-connected to a number of (far more popular) tourist destinations.

I visited Bratislava from Vienna myself, and tickets start from as cheap as $12; my only regret?

I wish I had allotted more time in Slovakia than only a couple of days.

Credit: Source link