Europe is a MUST DO for most travelers from all corners of the Earth. There are so many different cultures mashed right next to each other, creating a unique opportunity to experience several cultures in a relatively small geographic space. I’ve personally always been obsessed with this continent, so getting to actually SEE the real deal behind all the maps and books was a life changing experience. When you hear “Europe,” you might think of drinking wine in Florence or taking a walking tour along the streets of London. Sure, the big sites are absolutely amazing, and you should make them a priority at some point in your life. However, we are not limited to the major tourist attractions. Europe offers a plethora of cultures that each have something to offer. Sometimes it is far off the beaten path where we find our little slice of heaven. Welcome to Anyone’s Alternative Destinations. Throughout these articles I will be revealing some of Europe’s lesser known traveling spots that may come as a surprise to you.
The first destination I am bringing to light is Bratislava, Slovakia. Most people would never think of this as a major spot to explore, and some haven’t heard of it at all. The reality is that Bratislava or “Blava” crams a mix of vibrant culture, friendly locals, and rich history all into one pint-sized capital. And speaking of pints… Slovak beer is absolutely delicious, and most places sell for less than 1 euro. This city is among the most affordable in the entire continent and will cost you only a fraction of the price of going to Rome or Paris.
Bratislava is the capital and largest city of Slovakia, formerly Czechoslovakia. Because of its past political issues and unrest, this city is rich in history and has a story all its own. Situated right in the heart of Europe, it embraces one of the most central-European, hearty landscapes in the entire continent. Many travelers are turned off from visiting this city because of its rough past and poor economic situation, but that is exactly why you should make it your next destination. You see, there are no hoards or crowds of tourists in this city; you will spend next to nothing during your stay and find some of the most welcoming people along the way. There are also no shortages of things to do in this beautiful place.
As soon as you enter the city, you are overwhelmed with a sense of opportunity. Most travel destinations have a strong itinerary of activities one must do when they visit. This is not the case for Bratislava. You can make this trip exactly what you want. Strenuous, action-packed hiking trip? Go for it. Cultural exploration filled with museums, music, and history? Absolutely. Relaxing vacation along the banks with amazing coffee and local food? Why not? I got to experience a little mix of everything during my stay.
For about 2 euro, take the city bus to Castle Devín to see a middle-aged castle storied with the history of Bratislava and Slovak culture that has survived centuries of battle. It overlooks the vast Danube River and provides a beautiful view from overhead. More adventurous travelers can even strip down and take a dip in the river while enjoying a gorgeous afternoon. Roadside stands pepper many Slovak streets selling fresh wine for less than a euro a liter. On the opposite side of the city, take the tram to the massive Lake Piesky (zlaté piesky) that serves as a hangout spot complete with authentic food stands and bars for locals, especially during the warm summer months.
The Slovaks are among the kindest and most welcoming people in the world. Some might even invite you to their table as guests to talk about their culture, as they are not very accustomed to tourists. This will make your vacation more memorable and more concrete than ever! If you have some time in the country, get out of the city and take a bus to the Tatras Mountains for some serious hiking among some of the most beautiful views in the world! The country is small, so getting around is easy. Finally, end your night visiting some of Blava’s old taverns alongside the cobblestone streets in the central city, or catch the sunset from high on a hill on the edge of town at Bratislava Castle for an amazing view of the entire city. And don’t miss out on the food. The city’s best local food is served at around 6 euros so there’s no point in cutting yourself short and passing up the best Halusky you’ll ever have.
This city is truly a diamond in the rough. I went there on the flip of a coin, and it has become perhaps my favorite place in Europe. Only a short train ride from major cities like Prague, Vienna, or Budapest…Bratislava is worth a stop, and it might just take the cake as the best spot along your travels. Like I said earlier, check out the big destinations in Western Europe. They’re amazing, and people go for a reason…but if you want to break from the crowds and street vendors, take a chance and find your Slovak paradise!