Europe by Train...

Trains: From the UK to Slovakia on the Rails – Why Do It?

People gave me incredulous looks when I told them I’d be taking the train from the UK to Slovakia the next time I needed to do the journey. People often give you incredulous looks, I’ve found, when you attempt to do something that is not done in the most efficient or obvious way. So of course I had all those “why don’t you just fly?” types of responses. Well here’s why.

The question would not even have been asked as little as twenty-five years ago, before cheap flights existed to Eastern Europe. Across the continent within that quarter of a century, the soul-sapping trek to the airport for the ungodly departure times, the agonising hour-long negotiating of check-in/security alongside hundreds of other fed-up people, the being cooped up like a chicken in a hard plastic seat with zero leg room and the arrival at an airport anything from 30 minutes to several hours from where you actually want to end up has become the standard practice. And we have forgotten that the way we would have travelled across Europe back in the day was by train, and dispensed with the notion that we still could – and, perhaps, should.

It is hard to fathom why, because time is not the only factor when travelling. Comfort is also a factor. Actually seeing the places you are passing through can be a factor. The environment is definitely a factor. Having an adventure can be a factor.

For me the journey can (if you pick the right method) be as enjoyable as the arrival; sometimes more so.

Cheap flights are painless at best but very rarely enjoyable, and quite frequently nightmarish experiences. Travelling by train retains some of the old-fashioned glamour travel possessed in the past. You invariably get a seat to yourself. You always get decent amounts of leg room. There is no shortage of space to put your luggage. There are aisles and corridors to take a leg-stretch. There is, across Europe, dining cars and often bars to which you can sojourn, where you can eat half-decent food from proper plates, with real knives and forks, and be waited on by waiters or waitresses who actually understand what the word “service” means.

The scenery unfolding outside is certainly more absorbing than a view of clouds. More to the point, if you really like it, it’s possible to stop off en route for a lunch or a little exploration. No – I’ll go further: it’s advisable to stop off: at least once. Celebrating slow travel and the heightened cultural experience that goes with it are part of the philosophy of long-distance railway rides. And when you stop, you’re not going to be in a far-from-the-centre airport: you’ll be smack bang in the thick of your destination.

The environmental argument is one that fans of train travel can also use: it’s considerably less of a carbon footprint than a plane journey.

And because we seldom think these days of using train as a plausible means of travel between the UK and any other point beyond Eurostar’s Paris and Brussels terminals (or if we do, only as part of a gap year one-off Interrailing session) you are embarking on an actual adventure: one that will have a lot more to relate than a typical cheap flight story of torturous queues, duty free and cramped seating.

Of course, in the second decade of the 21st century, we are more obsessed by time than ever (even though we probably waste more than ever on TV, video games and social media) so train travel takes a back seat: it remains a somewhat “maverick” form of travelling long distances across Europe.

Perhaps that’s the real reason I like it.

Particularly where Slovakia is concerned, however, travelling by train also has some other real plusses. It allows you to visually connect up Europe and the place of Slovakia (or whatever happens to be your destination) within it. It puts it concretely “on the map” so to speak, which given the fact so many people cannot place the nation on a map whatsoever can be a good idea. And there is a great sense of fulfillment in journeying to the frontier of the EU (the westernmost point of the EU’s eastern border, in fact). When you alight from the train here you can let it sink in how far you have come overland, via each twist and rattle of the track, to a place where things are very clearly very different: where the hills are high and green, where the churches are made of wood and the Eastern Orthodox Faith takes hold, where wolves and bears thrive in the dense forests.

And here’s the other thing. I am a writer. And coming on such a journey on the train I can sit with a good wifi connection, devices charging, and write. I can’t do that on any cheap flight. And that’s important to me: recording the journey as it unfolds right outside the window, every forgotten farmstead, copse, castle, family barbecue and smartly-dressed station master of it. In an age of selfies, a lot of time is spent capturing the moments of a journey in pictures, but train travel affords the opportunity to capture it in words.

So whilst riding the rails loses out to cheap air travel time-wise where Slovakia is concerned, and nearly always cost-wise (you’re looking at £200, most likely, for a one-way trip to the east of Slovakia from the UK – if purchased a little in advance), it wins for the glamour, the green-ness and yes, the sheer joy of the experience.

Bardejov ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Top Ten Medieval Towns in Slovakia

It’s not just the nature that’s spellbinding in Slovakia: some of the smaller towns – whether as a result of castle strongholds against marauding Turks, or being major Medieval mining centres or having healing spas – grew up in magnificence centuries ago and have not lost any of their glory since.

Note that we’re talking towns (or large villages with decent facilities) here: not either Slovakia’s big cities (which will get tons of other mentions anyway) or the country’s myriad small folksy villages – which will be the focus of later articles!

10: Rožňava

Rožňava is yet another of those former mining centres – and along with Skalica by far the least known about destination on this list. That’s partly to do with its location, in the east of Slovakia. The town centre is meticulously preserved: studded with more of those incredible burgher’s houses (17th and 18th centuries). The cathedral is particularly interesting – artwork inside includes depictions of mining activity in times gone by – with more about the mining legacy in the nearby museum.

Get There: Direct bus from Bratislava or train to Košice and then bus (6-7 hours).

More Info: We don’t have any more info on Rožňava ourselves – yet! (although this will change very soon). There is precious little English information anywhere, in fact: but for now perhaps the best is on Visit Slovakia.

9: Spišská Sobota, Poprad

We’re not including the whole of Poprad here. Poprad’s got enough, right, what with the wonderful adventures awaiting in the High Tatras just above town?:) And the majority of tourists will come to Poprad and never see this gorgeous Medieval neighbourhood, because they’ll be busy getting up into the mountains asap. Mistake: Spišská Sobota is a tranquil locale of Renaissance buildings about 1.5km northeast of central Poprad, just past Aquacity Poprad. It boasts architecture by the enigmatic Master Pavol, who was of course the man behind the amazing altar in Levoča.

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Poprad

Places to Go: Poprad’s funky contemporary art gallery in an old power station

Places to Go: Poprad’s lavish Aqua Park

Places to Go: Nine reasons to linger in Poprad

Places to Go/Getting Around: Taking the Mountain Railway into the High Tatras from Poprad

Places to Stay: A cool travel-friendly B&B in Spišská Sobota, Poprad

Places to Stay: A sophisticated 4-star resort right by Poprad’s Aqua Park

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s trendy burger joint

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s dignified Café La Fée

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s Coolest Wine Bar

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s gourmet chocolatier

Going Out: Poprad & the Manchester United Connection

Arts & Culture: Dedicated traditional Czech & Slovak music radio station now based in Poprad

Getting Around: London to Poprad Flights

Getting Around: The Poprad to Ždiar to Zakopane (Poland) bus

Get There: Train to Poprad (4 hours).

8: Ždiar 

OK, it’s debatable whether to include Ždiar in the town or village category, but its Tatras location makes it enough of a popular stop with tourists that it’s got half-decent facilities – and the sheer length of it, stretching up the foothills of the High Tatras as it does, mean it’s a town for the purposes of this list. With Ždiar, it’s not any one building that stands out but all of them (at least in the centre) because this place is dotted with great examples of Goral-style painted wooden houses. Goral culture is an important and distinctive element of the culture in this part of Slovakia. For Englishmaninslovakia’s post about Ždiar, follow this link.

Get There: Train from Bratislava to Poprad, then bus, which continues to Zakopane, Poland in the summer (5.5-6 hours)

Typical Ždiar building
Typical Ždiar building ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

7: Skalica

Skalica receives little attention outside of Slovakia: except perhaps from the good people of the Czech Republic, as the town sits right on the border. But Skalica is cool. And very, very pretty. The postcard pictures are of the Baroque-domed rotunda, originally dating from the 1100’s – but the town also has several intriguing churches and an early 20th-century Kultury Dom (culture house) inspired by Czecho-Slovak folk culture.

Get There: Train from Bratislava, changing at Kúty (1.75 hours).

More info: We don’t have any more info on Skalica ourselves – yet! (but we do have this lovely article on the Skalica region, Zahorie). There is precious little English information anywhere, in fact, on Skalica: but for now perhaps the best is on Skalica.sk (where the English translations are dubious at best but can be made sense of)

6: Kežmarok

Kežmarok often gets overlooked in favour of Levoča or Bardejov in Eastern Slovakia and whilst it’s not quite as spectacular as either, this town in the shadow of the High Tatras has a better castle than both and has a very smartly done-up Renaissance town centre, including its two famously contrasting places of worship: the stunning wooden church and the rather more stark pink Lutheran cathedral.

Get There: Train from Bratislava, changing at Poprad (4.5 hours).

More info: We don’t have any more information on Kežmarok ourselves – yet! But for the moment the town tourist information website has the best in-English info available on the net.

5: Trenčin

The easiest of Slovakia’s great Medieval towns to visit is Trenčin. As you’re heading along the main route east in Slovakia its vast castle, rearing out at you above the Vah river valley, would be reason enough to visit. Clamber up for great surrounding views of the Small Carpathian mountains through one of Eastern Europe’s curious covered staircases from the Staré Mesto (Old Town) but don’t forgo a stroll around the centre – with the central square of Mierové Námestie a trapped-in-time treasure trove of largely 18th-century buildings. There are a load of great castles in the Trenčin area, too: the city’s castle itself is sublime, and just outside there are more fortresses such as Beckov Castle.

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Trenčin:

Places to Go: A tucked-away forest park behind the castle in Trenčin

Places to Go: Slovakia’s best music festival in Trenčin

Places to Go: Hiking up in the hills above Trenčin all the way to Bratislava (the Cesta Hrdinov SNP, Stage Two)

Places to Go: A stunning castle near Trenčin

Places to Eat & Drink: One of Slovakia’s Finest Restaurants in central Trenčin

Arts & Culture: Celebrating 20 Years of the Pohoda Music Festival

Get There: Direct train from Bratislava (2 hours).

Trenčin as seen from the castle
Trenčin as seen from the castle ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

4: Levoča

Just east of Poprad and therefore easily factored into any trip heading east in Slovakia, Levoča is justifiably one of Slovakia’s most celebrating medieval beauties (as far as towns go at least). The big draw here (standing out above a host of alluring buildings stationed around the central square) is the Gothic church of Chram Svätého Jakuba, which has the world’s highest wooden altar – replete with elaborate decoration. The work is the great legacy of Master Pavol of Levoča: responsible for much of Slovakia’s best Medieval architecture. There’s also a great hike that you can do from the centre up to Mariánska Hora, a famous pilgrimage destination.

Get There: Train from Bratislava to Poprad, then bus (5 hours)

More info: See our article on Levoča’s wonderful autumn music festival. Otherwise, try the English section of the town’s tourist information website.

3: Banska Štiavnica

A few more people have heard of this other ancient mining town (also Unesco-listed) southwest of Banska Bystrica and south of Kremnica. Banska Štiavnica was once the Hungarian Empire’s second-most important city. It rose to prominence at a similar time to Kremnica (actually slightly earlier) but on the back of silver ore deposits in the local mines, this time. Steeply-pitching cobbled streets, a brace of castles and a dramatically-situated Kalvaria number amongst its many architectural jewels.

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on the Banska Štiavnica Area:

Places to Go: Banska Štiavnica’s Mining Museums

Places to Go: Banska Štiavnica’s Kalvaria

Places to Stay: Great Value Banska Štiavnica Accommodation at the Aura

Places to Stay: Banska Štiavnica’s Nicest Guesthouse

Places to Eat & Drink: Banska Štiavnica Streetfood

Places to Eat & Drink: the Coolest Cafe in Banska Štiavnica

Traditions: Partaking of the Most Sexually Charged Easter Tradition Ever in Banska Štiavnica

Get There: Bus/train from Bratislava to Zvolen or Žiar nad Hronom, then bus (3.5-4 hours)

2: Kremnica

The most beautiful of Slovakia’s ancient mining towns is the least-visited. It owes its splendour to the presence of lucrative goldmines in the area – which have been used since the first centuries AD and, since the 13th century, actually made this one of the world’s foremost mining centres. West of Banska Bystrica, it’s still the site of the world’s oldest-working mint, which once produced coinage for locales as far-distant as the Middle East.

Get There: Train from Bratislava, changing at Zvolen or bus/train from Bratislava to Žiar nad Hronom, then bus (3-4 hours).

RELATED POST:  The geographical centre of Europe is just outside Kremnica – our more detailed post on the town itself is coming soon.

1: Bardejov

In the north-east of Slovakia, Bardejov’s Unesco-listed námestie (central square; see the pic above) is one of the largest, most in-tact and visually stunning in the country: flanked by 17-18th century burgher’s houses and with a Town Hall placed unusually in the middle of the square, dating from 1505 in Gothic/Renaissance style. Around the edge of the Staré Mesto (Old Town) you can walk much of the old city walls.

Get There: Train from Bratislava to Poprad, then bus (7 hours).

More info: Bardejov is a great base for visiting Eastern Slovakia’s fabled wooden churches. and soon on the site we are making Bardejov into one of our Top Slovak Stop-offs (as well as Modra, Piešt’any, Trenčin, Banská Štiavnica, Poprad and Košice)!

Trains: Regiojet – Too Good to be True?

Until recently, ZSSK, the state-owned Slovak train company, ran all train routes in Slovakia. This was not a wholly bad thing, because as monopolies go, this was a pretty fair one, with reasonable prices for train travel nationwide, and several notable efforts of recent years to step up quality (the introduction of smart new two-tier trains to run many routes, the introduction of wifi on the IC train routes between Bratislava and Košice). BUT.

But competition is always healthy, and competition has finally been provided by the expansion of Czech-owned Regiojet into Slovakia. Actually, RegioJet have been operating on Slovak turf since 2011 (when they began running the Bratislava to Komarno route). But it was their additional routes added in 2014 which captured people’s attention, because that was when they began operating some trains on the main railway route in Slovakia – from Bratislava through Poprad to Košice.

We recently caught up with one of Slovakia’s leading tour operators, Erik Ševčík of Adventoura, who lives in Poprad in the High Tatras and welcomes the new service.

“I have done the journey between Bratislava and Poprad Tatry several times now” says Erik. “It takes three and a half hours, which is the same as the IC Trains. Why do we welcome the RegioJet service? Well, the first big thing is the ticket price: as little as 9 Euros one-way for a 350km journey. This is for the most basic category, standard class (in 6-person compartments usually), but this is still very comfortable – and there is also relax class and business class for those who want something more. Second, even in standard class, you get mineral water or coffee for free, plus a complementary newspaper. Third, everyone likes free Wifi and RegioJet has that too. It’s just a pleasure to travel with them, and the state-run trains for the same journey cost around 13 Euros and don’t have these kind of services.”

The seats also deserve a mention: leather, reclining and with comfy arm rests, as well as small tables and plenty of leg room. They actually beat those on a great deal of airlines. Relax Class and Business Class get even more comfort (mainly the space per person, the comfort of the seats and the table space improve).

“In Slovakia we think they are doing a great job” says Erik “not just for Slovaks, but also for travellers.”

Your next trip east in Slovakia, it seems, could certainly be in more style… and for a cheaper price.

Western Slovakia Castle Tour: Nine of the Best

Hrad Červený Kameň on the edge of the Small Carpathians

Hrad Červený Kameň on the edge of the Small Carpathians

We all know about the normal top tens of Slovakia: Spiš Castle, Trenčin, maybe Kežmarok. Spotted the theme yet? Castles. Slovakia does, of course, have very good castles (it is one of the most densely castellated countries in the world – and fights with its neighbour the Czech Republic over the number one spot). But why does it always have to be the same castles that make the best-of list? Spiš Castle has to be on there, I guess, because it’s just about Eastern Europe’s biggest fortress in terms of the area it covers. But with all those tourists? It’s far from the most interesting. Western Slovakia has some really good opportunities to go castle-spotting where you’ll get away from the crowds and see some scintillating ruins – all within a day’s jaunt of Bratislava.

First off: here’s a map which shows all of the below castles – good orientation!

1: Červený Kameň

This castle sets the bar pretty high, but it’s the closest to Bratislava, above the village of  Časta, a 40-minute, 50km drive northeast of the capital, just beyond the small city of Modra. Červený Kameň translates as the Red Stone Castle – but there’s pretty little evidence of red stone here. The red stone refers to the rock the fortress was built on, not the building material (the castle is largely white). My girlfriend’s sister worked here as a guide and I can vouch for the very informative tours in German and English (in case your Slovak is not up to scratch!). Actually, this castle has a very good website in English so having alerted you to it, here we go – we need say no more! Cool things to look out for include the vast cellars and the incredible library – but this is a furnished castle, not a ruin.

You can also read much more about the castle & its surroundings in our post, The Small Carpathians: An Intro (the Small Carpathians being the forested hills running in a chain across Western Slovakia, in which most of these formidable ruins can be found). As if that weren’t enough, also read our post about a great hike between Červený Kameň and the wonderful Zochava Chata above Modra (link to change from bold very soon).

2: Plavecký Hrad

The broken ramparts of this castle rear above the woods over the village of Plavecky Podhradie, a hop/skip/jump across from Červený Kameň on the northern face of the main chain of the Small Carpathians. (North across the valley plain from here, there is another wave of hills that are also technically Small Carpathians, but this area is largely devoted to a military zone).  In terms of castles rearing up above woods, only Gýmeš and Tematín can equal this fortress – which dates from the 14th century. To get here from Časta below Červený Kameň, it’s a 42km one-way drive via Smolenice and Trstín or a 20km walk over the hills. From Plavecky Podhradie itself, it’s a slightly challenging 2km hike up to the ruins. Read our post about the castle here and visit the surprisingly decent quality of English info on the castle here.

3: Nitranský Hrad (Nitra Castle)

From Červený Kameň it’s a 50-minute drive east via Hlhovec or Trnava to Nitra – home to one of Slovakia’s best cafes (that I have yet found). Nitra also has a very impressive castle. It’s an 11th century castle complex crowning the Old Town and approached by some very pretty streets. A big statue in the courtyard commemorates the last papal visit to the city. There’s great crypts in the castle and it could be defined as a mix between ruin and furnished fortress.

4: Hrad Gýmeš 

By rights Gýmeš should feature at this point in this blog entry – it’s next-closest to Nitra – a very extensive ruin accessed by driving 11km northwest of the city and just north of the village of Jelenec. It links in with Nitransky Hrad and Oponický Hrad too because they are all connected historically, as fortifications raised as defence against the Turkish incursions into old Austria-Hungary – and as such is part of an official hike tying in all three, and a further-reaching tour of similar fortresses which includes a few in Hungary as well. See our post on Gýmeš Castle for more on the fortress itself, its surrounds and the Nitransky Hrad-Hrad Gýmeš-Oponický Hrad hike.

Oponický Hrad

5: Oponický Hrad

Head either north from Nitra (or hike the three hours 45 minutes along the trail from Hrad Gýmeš; see above for more on this hike) to the next hrad up. Hrad means castle – you’ve probably worked this out by now. This is, despite being far more ruined than either Nitra or Červený Kameň, much more of an adventure because not so many people make it out here. Even by the standards of pretty isolated Hrad Gýmeš above, this really is solitude standing – utterly magnificent solitude. It’s just 20km north of central Nitra on route 593, just before the village of Oponice. It’s a broken series of ruins jutting out over a woody hill, dating from the 14th century. After changing hands a few times it fell into the clutches of the Apponyis family who built one of the most prominent surviving buildings, the palace. It was a stronghold against the Turks in the 16th and 17th centuries (actually that’s the reason why Slovakia has so many castles – a line of fortifications the old Austro-Hungarian Empire put up to defend against marauding Turks). Slovakia might be a pretty chilled place today, of course, but once it was part of a raging war zone!

6: Topolčiansky Hrad

There’s no denying it: as castles go in these parts, Topolčiansky looks pretty crazy. In the mountains known as Povazsky Inovec (a southerly arm of the Malé Karpaty) near the village of Podhradie, the tower of this castle (which is actually in tact enough that you can climb part-way up) looks so disproportionally tall and narrow it looks like it will fall over any second. It’s a medieval castle that’s been abandoned since the 18th century. It’s actually really near Hlohovec. If you’re coming from the south you take the Hlohovec exit from Rte 61 and then follow Rte 514 northeast through villages like Velke Ripnany to reach Podhradie. Don’t get it confused with the town of Topolčiansky to the southeast which is actually not all that near the castle. From Oponický Hrad, the last stop on your castle tour, carry on north up Rte593 to Kovarce, then turn left to get back on Rte 64 to Topolcany, from where a road leads via Zavada to Topolčiansky. A clutch of other castle ruins are nearby Topolčiansky… but of course there are – this is Slovakia, there are many ruins and this is but one blog post!

7: Hrad Tematín

North from Piešt’any on the way towards Beckovsky Hrad (below) are the moody ruins of Tematín Castle, where you can even stay(!) and for which Englishmaninslovakia now has a lovely post (far more fun and detailed than the scant Wikipedia entry or any other in-English article about the castle).

8: Čachtice Castle

A poignant hilltop ruin with a still more poignant history: that of the legendary “bloody duchess” Countess Bathory, who is said to be the most prolific murderess of all time, and who once resided here… more on this castle coming soon!

Beckovsky Hrad

Beckovsky Hrad

9: Beckovsky Hrad

These are wild parts – head back on Rte 514 to Hlohovec or Rte 499 to Piešt’any and then head north towards Beckov Castle, off the E75 at Nové Mesto Nad Váhom on Rte 507. Beckov has veered slightly more towards the 21st century than the preceding two castles and actually has a good website with some English info (or better yet, read our post on Beckovsky Hrad). This is a quite extensive castle ruin and sits on a rocky bluff (quite percariously, in the way castle-builders seemed to favour). It’s sign-posted off the main E75 road and is quite visible from there but really does look still more spectacular close up.

You can wind up the tour just north at the better-known ruins of Trenčin Castle which the Slovakia section of the Lonely Planet Guide to Eastern Europe, authored by me, does a far better job of describing. Trenčin, of course, is one of our top Slovak stop-offs, which means any article you read on here about Trenčin has a mini-guide at the end detailing all our available content on the town.

Trenčin Castle

ryanair-image

Flights: Flying to Slovakia WITHOUT Ryanair

It’s about 1am in the draughty terminal at Luton Airport. They call it London Luton even though it’s over an hour away via a dirty train journey, of which the best thing that can be said of it is that it at least circumnavigates central Luton.

Luton Airport might, indeed, be purgatory (and seems to be constantly “under refurbishment”. Several hundred miserable individuals like me, huddled round plastic seats, eking out the dregs of their Costa coffee, here because their cheap flight leaves at 6am (which means check-in is 4am), piling on the layers of clothes so they can transfer mundane items from their carry-on luggage to get it down that 0.2 kilos below the 10kg limit, waiting grim-faced for the invariable announcements about delays or cancellations or, still more likely, the absence of announcements about delays and cancellations because the pimply-faced Ryanair customer service operatives cannot be bothered to make one. Several hundred individuals living, quite accurately, little better than animals for the next few hours until they reach their airport destination the other end – which, also, will be nowhere near the town or city it’s named after.

I really hope you have no idea what I’m talking about. But I fear you might. Yes, the wait for that Ryanair flight, the horror of which is almost enough to put you off making a journey in the first place. Almost, but not quite. Still we do it to ourselves. I do it to myself. Have been for the last few months, experiencing some of the many ways of travelling by plane between England and Bratislava.

I guess we do it because we always think it will be alright. We’ll get an early night (we reassure ourselves) so we don’t have to worry about that ridiculously early departure time, that the lack of leg room, or the at times brutally rude stewardesses who you wouldn’t trust with helping you across the road much less guiding you across half of Europe, won’t get us down, that the chirpy automated voice with the irksome Irish lilt informing us about scratch cards can be blocked out. So this is why me and the other miserable individuals are here, at this forsaken hour, in Luton Airport.

Bratislava, in fact, is connected by air to London Luton and Stansted, Birmingham and Liverpool. For a Slovakia-bound Englishman/woman there are plenty of flight options, and all with Ryanair. Slovakia, in fact, has over sixty per cent of its in/out commercial flights controlled by, yep, Ryanair.

I’m not going to get started about big corporations’ stranglehold on the Slovak economy, and how these corporations for almost undoubtedly dubious reasons are welcomed to take that stranglehold by senior Slovak ministers. Not in this post. But on a purely Ryanair-focused note, they are one of the multinationals that can be said to “own” Slovakia. They are, in effect, the national airline. There are multiple reasons why this is worrying. Again, this post isn’t the time to delve into many of them. But such dominance is certainly EXTREMELY worrying for Slovakia’s image as a tourist destination (and what with this blog and all Slovakian tourism is of concern to me)  that so many visitors have, as their first impression of Slovakia, that atrocious Ryanair experience which I am, as I write, undergoing for the umpteenth time. For most of us, there just isn’t any other feasible option.

The Alternatives to Ryanair

Wizz Air from Luton to Brno, followed by two-hour bus to Bratislava.

Well who wants to rock up at a destination only to find their destination is actually a further two hour bus ride away? Not me. Plus, flight times are limited (Fridays, Sundays and Mondays only). Prices can be as low as £40 but are more often over £100.

Easyjet from London Gatwick to Vienna, then one hour bus/train ride to Bratislava.

It’s still a more inconvenient option but it’s a viable alternative, mainly because, whilst Easyjet are very far from the ideal airline, they’re not Ryanair. And the cabin baggage allowance is those precious few centimetres more width-ways and length-ways. Flights are regular (once daily), but you’ll need to book ahead to get a good rate. Even a week prior to flying, flights are £100 plus, and often over £150. Where as Ryanair, those unscrupulous devils, do at least have what could be termed a “cheap” flight as little as a few days in advance.

(or scrap flying to Bratislava and see how to fly from the UK to the High Tatras or the UK to Slovakia’s second city, Kosice)

OK, my feet are cold and I have to pay £5 for wifi so can’t even post this post yet (and therefore not until Bratislava, meaning, readers, you’re reading this in real time minus about eleven hours, sorry for the lack of authenticity and corresponding feeling of gloom this causes). I can’t even rant to the world: talk about suppression. I’ll go get another Costa Coffee.

Tip

If you’re over-nighting at the airport for your flight to Bratislava, make it Stansted. More people sleep there (the seats in the far corner by zone J). There’s also more diversions for those of you too cold to sleep. And they have the whisky shop there that gives out generous free drams if you pretend you’re interested in buying some…

Which post to read now? Skip merrily on to my foolproof Mastering Public Transport in Bratislava post (assuming you arrive, despite this post, at the airport).