Bratislava City Profile
Often overshadowed by their Czech neighbors, the Slovaks have been known to say that there are advantages to being number two – no false image of competence to maintain, no irrationally inflated ego to burst, and no chance of slipping from number one.
Bratislava hosts a population of nearly half a million people, combining to create a distinct and fascinating culture. Historical mentions of the city go all the way back to the year 907 in the Salzburg annals. It’s part historical Eastern Europe, with beautiful old buildings and meandering cobbled streets, and part Stalin and Brezhnev, with its grey, uninspiring Soviet-realist architecture.
The Bratislava Castle dominates the city center and its four towers have become a symbol of the city. Since its reconstruction, the castle now shelters the historical part of the Slovak National Museum.
Like Vienna and Budapest, Bratislava lies on the shore of the River Danube. Bratislava’s Old Town offers smaller shops and restaurants, but unlike the other Eastern European capitals, Bratislava can strike an unsuspecting visitor as sleepy. There doesn’t seem to be as much vitality – an unfortunate economic reality. But that is not to say entertainment is not to be found. As the economy changes, new gathering places open.
There are definitely fewer expatriates to compete with for teaching jobs abroad or apartments in Bratislava.
And those who do decide to live in Bratislava usually find the smaller community of foreigners to be more cozy, and perhaps more genuine in their desire to take in Eastern European culture.
Since Bratislava doesn’t have as many bars and restaurants that cater to Western expatriates, those who do live there generally feel compelled to look harder for interesting things to do. For an adventurous expatriate, Bratislava’s greatest attraction may be its proximity to other Eastern Europe capital cities – Prague, Budapest, and Vienna, Austria’s biggest city, which is only an hour away by car or by train. And if your tastes cater to the outdoors, the High Tatra mountains offer some of the best skiing, climbing, and hiking available, without the expensive lift tickets and equipment and accommodation costs you find in the West.
Bratislava Castle, having been restored to its 15th-century appearance, now houses Municipal Museum collections, as well as the Slovak National Assembly. Old Town, which is centered around Hlavne namestie, is well-suited for walking tours. Stops along your walk might include the Bratislava Municipal Museum and Hviezdoslavovo namestie, which is adorned with classic 19th-century Slavic architecture. Devin Castle sits on a hill near Bratislava. The castle commands an impressive view of the confluence of the Morava and Danube Rivers.
The climate is Continental, with hot summers and cold winters, the coldest month is January, and the snow lasts on average 130 days of the year.
Whether or not you reside permanently in Bratislava, it is definitely a worthwhile Eastern Europe destination.