Image ©didier descouens

Getting Around Bratislava: The Cognac Express

Yes, that image depicts a brandy glass. Commonplace enough in a bar or even on a website run by someone who likes his drink. But how about in a taxi in Slovakia at 4:30am?

I don’t, generally, get enthusiastic about getting from A to B in style (read: luxury cruise, first-class train, business-class flight).

If it does happen, fine. But if not, no matter, such modes of travel are in any case too often synonymous for me with an experience which by no means matches the inflated cost – call it anti-climax, call it parting with umpteen pounds or euros merely to have the soul of the journey sucked out of it. Inordinate column inches have been filled with such means of travel and for me phrases like “fully reclining seats” and “complimentary champagne” just don’t get me salivating with desire.

Not as much as the enthused conversation with the guy in the next seat, or at the lonely en route diner, or at the wheel of the truck which stops to pick you up after you’ve been waiting a few hours for a lift at a roadside in the middle of nowhere.

Unforgettable experience always trumps generic luxury for me when travelling, in other words (I’m happy to wait until I get to B for the fancy meal or hotel) – and the time when that changes will be the time I stop writing about my travels.

Having harped on about all that, I’m going to surprise you here with an entry that might – just – slot under the luxury travel category. Might. But I like to think it could also get filed, like most of the stuff we tell you about on here, under plain bizarre.

Travelling to see family and friends in the UK from Bratislava often implies get up at an ungodly hour in the morning to do so, and fair play – we want cheaper flights; something presumably has to give and it seems it is destined to be our sleep. Ryanair, as some may know, have since early 2015 got a new regional base in Bratislava (the reliability of the air connections and customer service is therefore going to theoretically increase, and there are probably other positive consequences although I have no idea what they are).

But what has been slower to move with this development (I mean the increase in early-morning flight departures) is the transport to and from the airport. The public transport in Bratislava is great for a fairly small city, but it’s not up and running for the day by the time you need to be setting off to the airport for boarding time. Therein lies a problem because most taxi companies (at least, those for the most reasonable prices) are of the call-them-and-they-turn-up-almost-immediately kind. Not the kind you can reserve for a pre-appointed time in the future. And very few companies fancy the journey out to the outlying city districts such as Rača where I was living for three years for a pick-up at the best of times (04:30 is not the best of times).

It being a bit of a risk to bank on the fact a regular taxi would be prepared to come out at such an early hour to our neck of the woods, we decided to do a cursory Google search to see what our options were for making one such before-the-crack-of-dawn departure recently.

And we soon ascertained that, for these very scenarios, Bratislava Airport does have an official taxi company. And that it was far from just being a convenient set of wheels.  Methinks that, judging from the phone conversation, they mainly get businessmen as clients. They spent a long time emphasising how they, Bratislava Airport Taxi (tel 00421 903 853 359) , were the airport’s only luxurious official taxi cabs – Mercedes cars, always punctual, always turning up with a bottle of cognac prepared for the journey….  Imagine the company’s disappointment when they turned up and found, far from businessmen that might secure them a nice regular series of future bookings with affluent well-suited clients, just yours truly, looking unkempt and pretty un-affluent.

RELATED POST: Bratislava’s Airport Hotel(s)?

But there was the luxurious Mercedes car with the cognac, glasses provided, no cap on the number of glasses, and the incongruously suited chauffeur gruffly commanding you to partake. I partook. Total price from the city to the airport: 19 Euros. Reliable, comfortable, available and reservable any time, for any day. 19 Euros is a sweet nine Euros more, I should again stress, than the going rate a Slovak pays for a taxi in Bratislava (10 Euros), but still less than the price a foreigner just arrived will pay on average to get from the airport to the centre (20-25 Euros).  Now you just need to calculate how much cognac (they provide damned good stuff) you will need to quaff to arrive at Bratislava airport having made a profit!

Suggestion for improvement: no dire R&B on the radio? That would make my cognac sipping in transit in the dead of night so much more pleasurable.

Bratislava by night...

Getting Around Bratislava: How to Get to the Main Hotels

Imagine this. It’s late. The Ryanair flight’s just landed. To cap a long journey, you’ve had to deal with officially the most ridiculous airport bus transfer in the world (yes Bratislava really is a record-breaker in this respect). You just want to get to your hotel. But actually, it’s not always as simple as that. The airport doesn’t always have enough taxis and you might not have the taxi numbers or, perhaps, object to being charged over twice the odds (20 Euros plus) a local would be for the ride from the airport to your hotel. There might be any number of other reasons, too, why you need directions to your chosen accommodation.

The good news is that most of the main city centre hotels are in a very small area of the Old Town, and here’s our fool-proof guide on how to get from the airport right to the Old Town.

Once there (ie at the Postová tram stop described in the afore-mentioned link), Austria Trend Hotel and Crowne Plaza are right by you.

If you head straight ahead on Obchodná, cross over the wide, tram track-lined road directly ahead and make a beeline for the pretty street (Michalská) heading down between the strip club and the bank, you’re through the Old Town gate of Michalská Brana, in the heart of the Old Town and right by Skaritz. Hotel Marrol’sPark Inn Danube and Radisson Blu Carlton are all within five minutes’ walk (just head down towards Hviesdoslavo Námestie and the Danube for these last three). For any of these bang-in-centre hotels, public transport to Postová followed by the five to ten minute walk through the Old Town is a great and atmospheric introduction to your time in Bratislava.

More info on good hotels:

Our article on Skaritz

 – My review of Hotel Marrol’s for the Telegraph

Our article on Bratislava’s Best Boutique Hotel (near the Old Town but not quite in it)

But for some of the other most popular hotels, things are slightly more complicated. Slightly only mind. There’s still not really a need to taxi it from the airport/bus station for any of the below either…

River Danube - Provides the pleasant backdrop to the Kempinski or Sheraton Hotels

River Danube – Pleasant backdrop to Grand Hotel River Park or the Sheraton Hotel

Grand Hotel River Park

This hotel is west along the riverside by about 2.5 km from Most SNP, next to the River Park shopping centre. It’s not the worst walk in the world from the Old Town as it’s along the river, but with a big road right on the other side, you might also want to consider public transport. Take bus 61 to Tranavské Mýto, then tram 4 which takes you eventually down alongside the river, under Most SNP and along to Chatam Sófer stop (from the airport). OR take bus 93 (bound for Petržalka) to Zochova (on Staromestská) followed by bus 39 which takes you along the river to Chatham Sófer stop (from the station).

See our comprehensive guide to the bus 61 and tram 4 routes on our Bratislava’s Main Tram, Bus and Trolleybus Routes guide.

Sheraton Bratislava

The Sheraton Bratislava is in the Eurovea Shopping Centre, following the happy theme of big hotels in the city centre locating themselves near shopping centres. Look out the window from the Grand Hotel River Park or Sheraton in Bratislava and your view will be the same (beautiful Danube flanked by modern otherwise modern but unspectacular shopping centre; difference being they’re on opposite sides of the Old Town). Anyway. Take bus 61 to Tranavské Mýto, then tram 4 to Šafarikovo Nám (from the airport) OR trolleybus 1 to Šafarikovo Nám with a change at Most SNP (from the station).

See our comprehensive guide to the bus 61 and tram 4 routes on our Bratislava’s Main Tram, Bus and Trolleybus Routes guide.

Hotel West (former Best Western )

Bratislava’s Hotel West is, once more, independent, and as of this year not part of the Best Western chain (which means it’ll be getting reviewed on here real soon, although in Google it still comes up as a Best Western). It’s in a strange – if rather stunning – location: up in the woods of the Mestské Lesy by the Kamzik TV mast. This is the only hotel where you really might rule public transport out, just because it’s otherwise a bit of a walk through the woods – but it is possible – and very nice if you’re staying a few days and don’t always want to get a taxi. Take bus 61 to one stop beyond Račianske Mýto, Karpatská (coming from the airport) OR bus 61/74/502 one stop to Karpatská (coming from the station). Walk a few paces up Karpatská to change to Trolleybus 203 and take the bus to the end of the line. Then continue walking up the road from approximately 1.5km. Just head up if in doubt – it goes into the woods but don’t worry – eventually the road will divide, with the left branch curling up to Kamzik and the right branch going to the hotel. A taxi from the centre: about 7 Euros. A taxi from the airport: about 25 Euros.

See our comprehensive guide to the bus 61 and trolleybus 203 routes on our Bratislava’s Main Tram, Bus and Trolleybus Routes guide.

Holiday Inn

The city’s Holiday Inn is in RužinovBus 61 to Bajkalská, then bus 74 a few stops south to Mliekárenská (from the airport). Bus 61 or bus 74 to Tranavské Mýto then tram 9 to Slovanet from where you’ll have to walk a few hundred metres south on Bajkalská (from the train station)

Bratislava’s Airport Hotels

For the NH Gate One and VI Hotel Chopin, the two out-of-centre airport/business hotels, take Bus 61 from the airport (5 minutes) OR train station (30 minutes) and get off at Avion Shopping Centre. See our post on Bratislava’s airport hotels for more.

A Footnote

I should add, by the way, that me mentioning these big hotels is by no means an absolute endorsement of them. Quite the contrary. With the exception of Austria Trend Hotel, Skaritz and Hotel Marrol’s, all of these hotels fall for me into the category of slightly samey international chain options, and as a rule quirky quintessential Slovakia-ness is what we like to wax lyrical about on this site! Moral of this post: save 20 Euros on the taxi from the airport and spend it on a good meal out for two (possible in Bratislava) or dirt-cheap beer.

If you want to say To Hell with this post, I’m getting a taxi, then a cross-town (across the Old Town that is) or train station to Old Town taxi ride is around 5 Euros, and from the airport to the Old town you’ll pay 15 to 20 Euros (more for the Best Western Hotel West and Kempinski Hotel River Park because they’re through the Old Town and out the other side).

RELATED POST: The Cognac Express Taxi to the Airport!

Image ©Yusuke Kawasaki

Getting Around Bratislava: the Definitive Guide to its Transport Hubs

Here’s how to find how Bratislava’s main transport links… because we know you’ll want to…

1 – Air:

Bratislava’s M. R. Štefánik Airport lies to the east of Ružinov 8km outside the city centre. All flights to Bratislava come here (click here for a post on Slovakia’s air connections). It’s a modern place, although don’t get here too long before your flight departure time, as there’s nothing to do once you’ve gone through security and queues almost never take longer than fifteen minutes to pass through. Awaiting on the other side of security? A shop and three cafes (Arrivals boasts a further two cafes). In Arrivals are also the gaggle of rent-a-car offices, an ATM and money-changing facilities. Departures is a hardly-leg-busting 2 minute walk from Arrivals, in the same building, and there’s another cafe here. The most likely way you’ll be spending time here if you’ve just arrived is waiting for the ridiculous plane-to-customs bus, where you wait about 20 minutes for it to leave for the 400m-odd journey…

There is also the larger international airport in Vienna, Austria – just one hour’s drive away.

Here’s the official LINK to the very good in-English info at the Bratislava Airport website, which includes a map of where the airport is and all kinds of FAQs related to the airport.

RELATED POST: Getting from the airport to the bus station, train station (Hlavná Stanica), central Vienna and Vienna airport

RELATED POST: Where to stay close to the airport

RELATED POST: How to get from the airport (or the train station) to Bratislava’s main hotels

2 – Train:

The main (and pitifully ugly) train station is Hlavná Stanica, just north of the Old Town (Predstaničné Námestie, which runs back from Šancová). It’s full of tatty baguette and kebab booths, as well as one endearing train station cafe. The much-talked of refurbishment is still a long way from becoming a reality. Prize for Europe’s most lamentable capital city main train station and a deceptively poor advert for a lovely city, but good connections nationwide…

You should not need to go anywhere else to get a train within Slovakia as the overwhelming majority of national and international trains depart from here.

Here’s the LINK to good in-English info including a list of station facilities, a map of where the station is and all kinds of FAQs relating to the station, including public transport connections from the train station to the rest of Bratislava.

RELATED POST: Getting from Hlavná Stanica to the bus station & airport.

3 – Bus:

Most buses to other parts of Slovakia and international destinations leave from the Mlynské Nivy bus station (on Mlynské Nivy). It’s far from being up with the usual standards of modern capital city bus stations but it’s a damned sight nicer than the train station.

Here’s the LINK to the best in-English info, with a map and info on public transport connections from the bus station to the rest of Bratislava.

RELATED POST: Getting from the bus station to Hlavná Stanica (the train station) & to the airport

4 – Boat:

The main port from which all boat trips, both national and international, arrive/depart is just down from the Old Town on the Danube (Fajnorovo Nabrezie 2).

Here’s a LINK to the best in-English info, including a map and a list of the port facilities. The port is within easy walking distance of the Old Town centre.

RELATED POST: Getting to Bratislava by Boat

5 – Public Transport Around Bratislava:

The most updated source of information on Bratislava public transport, and the first port of call for in -English info on planning your route on public transport around Bratislava is imhd.zoznam.sk which also includes this very useful page on where to purchase Bratislava public transport tickets (for single or multiple journeys or long-term passes). But it can be confusing, nevertheless, to work out how and where you want to go in Bratislava city and for this reason we have created this handy post on Bratislava’s main tram, bus and trolleybus routes.

RELATED POST: Map of Greater Bratislava (to see the city in perspective)

6 – Public Transport Across Slovakia:

The most updated source of information on public transport across Slovakia, and the first port of call for in-English info on planning your route on public transport across Slovakia, is Cp.atlas.sk.

Mastering Bratislava’s Public Transport Part One: From the Airport to the City Centre

Bratislava Airport Arrivals!!

Bratislava Airport Arrivals!!

After the confusion I have had myself over the years, I thought a few notes on Bratislava’s actually very good but initially flummoxing public transport system might come in handy. There is very little thorough info in English on the web so: voila. This first post is about getting from the airport (which is the way nearly all Brits arrive) to the centre.

Arriving at Bratislava’s Airport

Slovakia does not have its own airline, meaning Ryanair has almost become the (bone-shakingly bumpy) substitute. Don’t worry though: most flights still land with almost zero fatality rate. There is a reason a lot of British visitors arrive by air other than simple logistics: Bratislava is connected to London Luton, London Stansted, Birmingham, Liverpool and Edinburgh – making the UK easily the most connected country to Slovakia by air. (NB – you can also fly from London to Košice and from London to Poprad in the High Tatras).

Once through customs, the arrivals hall, such as it is, ushers you straight ahead through the double doors and into the car park. Here, unless you miraculously have your own limo waiting for you (or a strategically placed friend waiting in a revving Skoda, for example), you have one of two options to get to your accommodation in the centre:

 – Taxi

You will have no difficulty spotting the taxi rank immediately outside arrivals. The official price a Slovak pays to get from the airport to a destination within the city centre is between 8 and 10 Euros one-way. However, you are probably not Slovak (the chances of this, after all, on a worldwide scale, are limited) and you are coming from the airport. Prices to city centre destinations will vary between 15 Euros, if you bargain hard and the destination really is central, to 25 Euros, if the taxi driver thinks he can milk you for extra Euros and the destination is slightly beyond the centre, for example Koliba. Taxi drivers are, in my personal experience, relatively unlikely to speak much English (nothing against that – just sayin’). For taxi rides, it’s best to come armed with cash (two 10 Euro notes and change in 1 Euro coins would be ideal)  

– Bus

For buses, walk across the taxi rank/pick-up/drop-off  road (using the pedestrian crossing) to the second pavement. Turn right. Walk along (just where the happy chappy with the wheelie bag in the picture is going) until you see the bus stop for busses to all city destinations at the end of the pavement. There is a shelter, some ticket machines and several other anxious first-time visitors like yourself waiting there, along with the usual group of grimly determined locals (to be joined by a lot of exuberant teenagers just one stop later when you pass the nearby Avion Shopping Centre). A word about the ticket machines. They do not take credit cards, British pounds, American dollars, forints or indeed any other currency than Euros. So have some Euro change handy. For journeys of 15 minutes or less, press the button for the 0.70 Euro ticket. For journeys of 15 minutes up to one hour (into which category any journey to the city centre, including yours, will almost certainly fall) get the option for the 0.90 Euro ticket.

Remember that you must validate your bus ticket on-board for bus 61 and any Bratislava city public transport. If you don’t validate the ticket (you’ll see the little validation machines by the doors on the bus) your ticket will be essentially invalid and you can face a 50 Euro fine! OK. Now you are ready to get your bus.

Now, in the paragraph when I mentioned city destinations? That was a bit of an exaggeration because really there’s actually only four options by bus from Bratislava Airport:

1: The Bratislava to Vienna Express Bus

This bus, run by Slovaklines in conjunction with Eurolines, runs between Bratislava Airport and Vienna’s Sudtiroler Platz. En route, it will stop in Bratislava at the bus station and then the train station, in the town of Hainburg just across the border in Austria (that’s where Slovaks go to do shopping because… no, no, that’s another blog post), at Vienna’s Schwechat Airport and then on to the centre of Vienna at Sudtiroler Platz. Here is a link to the latest timetable for the route. The first bus is 8:30am from the airport; the last is 9:35pm (so for the late-night flights arriving from the UK this option won’t be possible; you’ll need to wait an hour for the last Blaguss service, below). Journey time to central Bratislava is 30 minutes and to central Vienna one hour 35-one hour 55 minutes (three services stop at Erdbergstrasse, which is 1:35, but to Sudtiroler Platz it’s 1:55). The full journey from Bratislava to central Vienna costs 7.70 Euros (luggage is 1 Euro extra). If you’re headed to the city centre, you can take this option too but there is little point as Bus 61 below is cheaper and more frequent.

2: Blaguss to Vienna

This service offers almost exactly the same route as the Slovaklines Bratislava-Vienna bus above: only with even fewer stops (perhaps why they charge a hefty 2 Euros more: 10 Euros to central Vienna). This service just calls at the airport, Most SNP bus station, Petržalka Einsteinova, Vienna’s Schwechat Airport and central Vienna’s Erdbergstrasse. Here’s a link to the latest timetable for the route. The first bus is an incredible 4am from Bratislava Airport, the last is 22:45. Bratislava airport-central Vienna travel time is billed as one hour 15 minutes although in reality this can take a little longer.

3: Bus No 61

This Bratislava city bus links the airport (signposted only as “letisko” in Bratislava) with the train station and runs up until at least midnight. This bus runs every 15 minutes but can get crowded. Try and get a seat (at the airport you should be able to) and keep your luggage in sight. The following stop (in Slovak: zastávka) will be announced on a very futuristic talking scoreboard (wo, yeah!) The stop of interest you will need to watch out for is Račianske Mýto (the name translates as Rača tollway because in times gone by this would have demarcated the edge of Bratislava and Rača, where I live (now a suburb) would have been a separate settlement). Get off at Račianske Mýto to change for connections to the city centre. Otherwise this bus continues to, you’ve guessed it, the train station (Hlavná Stanica).

From where the bus drops you on the far side of Račianske Mýto*, you have to double half-way back across the main road to the tram line to catch the tram to the city centre. You’ll see which way the trams are heading and you want those that are heading right (as you stand with your back to the terrible-looking restaurant and the park, facing the way you’ve come) to take you direct into the city centre. Getting tram number 5 is best (although tram 3 will also take you to the centre). After three stops on tram 5 (trams every 10 min or so, your ticket you got at the airport still covers you) you’ll enter the pedestrianised Obchodná street. Get off at the second stop on this street (so four after Račianske Mýto) at the stop called Postová for destinations in the Old Town centre. At Postová, continue to the next big crossroads (a beautiful church known as Kostol Nasvätejšej Trojice is now on your right) and straight across the tram lines is the very pretty entrance to Bratislava Old Town.

*You can get off Bus 61 earlier than Račianske Mýto, at Trnavské Mýto, and change for tram 4, which will bring you down into the centre by the Danube and the bridge across it of Most SNP (aka the UFO and it really does look like one). However, it’s slightly more complicated to give directions from Trnavské Mýto so Englishmaninslovakia recommends Račianske Mýto to change at…

4: Bus 96 to Petržalka

You are very unlikely to need the bus out to Petržalka (more, much more on Petržalka in other forthcoming posts, including the lovely cycle ride from Petržalka to Danubiana Art Museum or the new tram line that’s set to connect Petržalka with the city centre) when you first arrive in Bratislava but there is that option too.

Right. You’ve arrived. Thank Goodness for that.

RELATED POST: Every other public transport connection in Bratislava you are ever likely to need

RELATED POST: How To Get to Bratislava’s Main Hotels