Bratislava – The World’s most Boring Capital City…after Canberra

Is Bratislava the single most boring capital city on this earth? With the exception of Canberra, it’s certainly the dullest capital I’ve ever seen. It makes Tehran, an ugly concrete monstrosity [and previously my most disliked capital city], look interesting – if not architecturally pleasing. If only I’d believed all those people who warned me of Bratislava before booking a hostel for two nights. If you ever plan to visit Slovakia, do yourself a favour and trust me when I say that  ‘justice’ can be done to Bratislava in an afternoon.

To back up my claim, you’ll note that even the street art is desperate to escape!

Get me out of here!!!

The most interesting thing to happen to me in Bratislava was being filmed by some Canadians for a short film about the city. I look terrible, and it’s somewhere out there on the internet for the world to see, but at least that was a novel way to occupy ten minutes of my time there. They asked me ridiculous questions about why I would go to Bratislava after having seen Hostel – I guess a lot of people struggle to distinguish crappy Hollywood movies from reality, which is more disturbing than the film itself.

I laughed when I opened up the Bratislava tourism booklet that the hostel gave me and it stated that ‘Bratislava is a city of which you will never tire.’ Seriously? Has any tourist or traveller EVER backed this claim? I’m yet to meet any, and I’ve met a lot of people. And to top it off, the standard response from a Slovakian when they find you’ll been to Bratislava is ‘I’m sorry’. No joke.

So, a few things about Bratislava and I’ll try to be positive:

It loves statues.

There’s stacks of them. Most are of historical figures that I’d never heard of but a few are entertaining – one of a guy in a manhole under a ‘Man at Work’ sign and one of a photographer with a huge lens shooting around a corner. Apparently the ‘Man at Work’ didn’t always have a sign, but he kept getting run over [despite being on the footpath] so the city thought they’d better put a sign there to prevent having to replace him yet again. There’s also a statue of Napoleon leaning on a bench in the main square, just in front of where a French cannonball is lodged in the wall of the Town Hall.

Man at Work

Most of the Old Town was destroyed by the Communists – to make way for a nice shiny new bridge. 

The Communist government, surprisingly enough, didn’t really give a damn about the cultural heritage they were pulling down. They also built a highway right beside St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava’s holiest church in which eleven Hungarian kings and queens were crowned. All the rumbling trucks and traffic going by is slowly destroying the church, which means that without the scaffolding [and now a fence there], bits and pieces could fall off onto passing cars. Wasn’t that well thought out?

When the Old Town of Bratislava was still standing, it was apparently considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. One claim made often in Bratislava is that the city inspired one of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, The Little Match Girl. The famous writer visited the city in 1841. I’m not sure that it’s such a wonderful thing for the city to potentially have inspired such a sad story [which has been my favourite of all his stories for a very long time].

It has a Smurf Church.

Smurf Church, aka. St. Elizabeth's

Ok, so apparently it’s not actually for smurfs, but it sure as hell looks like it could be. I’m not sure of the religious orientation of the average Smurf, but I think they’d feel at home. I learned that while I like Art Nouveau art and sculpture and a whole lot of things, I don’t particularly like the architecture – especially when this hideous church, which also vaguely resembles a giant jumping castle and reminds me of those ugly 1980s prom dresses you see in American movies, is considered one of the finest examples of such. It’s called St. Elizabeth’s, but I’ll never be able to think of it as anything other than the Smurf Church.

It has it’s very own UFO.

UFO

For some reason the Communist government decided to park their flying saucer on top of the Novy Most – New Bridge. It’s now a very pricey restaurant.

It ‘boasts’ the location of one of the most famous and iconic images of the twentieth century.

One thing I did learn is that one of those ‘photographs that changed the world’ was actually taken in Bratislava, not in Prague – where it is most often credited to. I remember seeing the photo in one of my classes at high school, and when we got to the place it was taken the free walking tour guide [what, you think I’m going to PAY for tours when I can do them for free?] pulled out a copy to prove it. The photo was taken by Ladislav Bielik in 1968 and you may or may not be familiar with it – it documents the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, ending the Prague Spring and is certainly an emotive image.

Photo taken by Ladislav Bielik, Bratislava 1968

What is interesting is that Bielik’s family never knew that he had taken the picture – which became emblematic of Soviet oppression worldwide – until they found the negatives after his death, decades later. He had never claimed credit for the photo, or others, despite winning various awards for it – it would have been a terribly dangerous thing to do at the time.

I did the walking tour, and then saw basically all the other sights myself, and it took just a few hours. Admittedly I didn’t go to the castle, but then I’d heard the castle was about as interesting as the city itself and that was enough to decide in favour of cake. There are some museums, but nothing took my fancy and I’ve seen a fair few museums lately too. There are only so many museums you can visit before going crazy.

So there are a few interesting things in Bratislava – but nothing that should cause you to linger more than an afternoon, at most one night if your escape route isn’t until the following day. Especially if you’re unfortunate enough to have to share a dorm with a group of drunken young Australian girls who would be perfect candidates for a top quality reality TV show such as Ladette to Lady. If you think I’m exaggerating – I mean how bad can a bunch of 19 year olds really be – my evidence for this is the fact that one of them thought that it was hilarious that she had been so drunk the night before that she pissed herself in bed, on the top bunk, and that the poor stranger underneath ended up being covered in something decidedly unpleasant [thin mattresses]. And it required an immediate Facebook status update so that all of her friends back home could congratulate her. I only hope that she’s Facebook friends with her father or grandmother…I bet they’d be proud.

You wouldn’t believe how happy I was to be leaving that day.

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11 responses to “Bratislava – The World’s most Boring Capital City…after Canberra

  1. Before you say something about Bratislava or any central european capital, I think the title deserve to the MOST boring capital EVER, Bucharest.

    The no.1 most boring capital ever Bucharest, no medieval buildings, only ruins. No way you can find a charming place, all the old town smells wee and full of failed wannabes also very rude receptions at some restuarants, only few “landmarks” you can visit (or not) in hours, full of waste everywhere, if you’re lucky you might step on dog p**p and also the selfish (we call peseants because they all come from outside the city) taxi drivers who might take you from the airport to the city for some 50, 70, 90 good euros.

    Well if you want to meet the No.1 of the most boring, indeed is BUCHAREST

    Source: I was born in Bucharest and still living there, there’s no way to compare to Budapest or Prague, only probably with Prishtina, but a lot more expensive. Salutări, din păcate cam ăsta e adevărul fraţilor şi nu vă supăraţi pe el 😉

  2. Surely Canberra is more exciting than Bratislava, haha, I had the privilege of visiting Canberra and there are few things to do but definitely a very boring city. Btw, I am from Sydney and I love it. I haven’t heard so harsh comments made by someone about a city but it seems that you have guts. I have to say that I would still love to visit Bratislava May be even for a day, have to admit not many people have ever recommended but why not. Also, have to say, there are many cities in Europe which are quite overrated. Anyway, to people from Bratislava, hope you give me a good reception when I am there and not be rude as everyone thinks you guys are.

  3. I’ve spent some more time here and I am glad that you had fun at least in other places in Slovakia. I must say I enjoyed other blogs of yours, too bad I bumped into the one about Bratislava in the beginning. 🙂 Good lifestyle!

  4. I’ve been browsing and I found this blog. I am from Bratislava, I was born here and I still live here. While I am aware it is not the most exciting place to be and I am even considering moving out myself, it still hurts me when someone dismisses it so harshly.

    • Veronika, everyone has a different taste and I personally think every city and place no matter how boring or bad or dirty or overrated can still teach you something. Anyway, I would still visit Bratislava and I am sure it will teach me something.

  5. Pingback: Travel blogs: the new information revolution for travellers | A Not So Lonely Planet·

  6. Well,
    Charlie and Kitty on the run – I would like to know where are you guys from to say this?? I don’t know if I was born in a different city you are describing, but it may have to do with you taking a guide for a walking tour for Christ sake!!!!

    Did you even consider an option that St. Martin’s Cathedral might be under reconstruction so people like you won’t complain in future that the outsides are horrendous??? Did you go inside??? Or inside the “Smurf” Church? (I don’t especially like its looks, but its architecture is at least original) And yeah we happened to have communists in our country and you can see their “touches” all over the place – but isn’t it a part of history?????

    I happened to meet quite a few people who preferred Bratislava to crowded and expensive Prague, Wien, etc.. which you liked better I guess…. Well if that is your choice – paying about million just for walking across the bridge with about million other tourists. I will still tell everyone to GO and SEE Bratislava for yourself because it is something you shouldn’t miss while travelling across the Europe!!

  7. Well, interesting reading. At least you felt safe in our city, or I hope so. Have you been to Edinburgh? Me not, but I heard something similar about it 🙂

  8. Hey, I wish i had read this before I visited this week. I think we went on the same walking tour. Was it held by an Australian? He was struggling to make the tour exciting, but there was nothing exciting to show us. The most interesting thing that happened to us was a convy of US soilders rushed into our hotel (We assumed to escape the clutches of the city itself).

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