Vienna and Bratislava are the two
closest capital cities in the world, just over an hour away from each
other by train; it is worth doing them as a trip in themselves. The two
capitals, of Austria and Slovakia, both offer different qualities of Europe,
one quite western and the other bordering on eastern, and both great cities to
visit as a backpacker.
Vienna is a typical Austrian city, full of great food, beautiful architecture and great landscapes. The city is easy to get around by the subway system, which easily connects the main sights and many a hostel. When in the Austrian capital you’ll want to visit the Schönbrunn Palace and the Schloss Schönbrunn Gardens. These gardens are extensive and show off great Austrian beauty. The best way to tackle this great sight is to start at the bottom near a set of mazes, which are fun and greatly enjoyed by backpackers and travellers alike. After the maze you can begin your tour and viewings of the great gardens. The Schönbrunn Gardens are very beautiful and a ‘must-see’ sight in Vienna. Surrounded by fountains and they offer great views of the Palace. You can tour the palace but it is expensive, and not as extensive as you might think. For example, the building has 1441 rooms, but only 40 can be toured.
There is a great deal more to see
without spending your money on the Palace tour, for example when I visited
Vienna in September 2010 I was lucky enough to be visiting during some kind of
festival/fete, with plenty of food stalls, yodelling show downs and Austrian
young farmers. This is a great event to visit at the time, not only for the
free food samples, but just to be surrounded by Austrian culture and the local
I was also lucky enough to be visiting during the ‘Vienna Film Festival’. This meant a large film screen donning the front of the town hall and about two hundred available seats outside to enjoy. At night there are free showings of different films, which are surrounded by great food and drink stalls. Another way to spend your time in Vienna is to venture slightly out of the city centre and find a vineyard. There are many vineyards situated on the outskirts, so have a search and sample some of the impressive local wine.
When moving on from Vienna to Bratislava, the easiest way is by train from each city’s main train station. The train station in Bratislava doesn’t show the city off at its prettiest, however the walk into the city centre is short, and the buildings begin to open up and show some beautiful architecture. Such architecture can be enjoyed quite cheaply in Bratislava, and your tour should begin with the Bratislava Castle. I’m not sure if it was just me being unfit, but the walk up to the castle took its toll, but still worth the effort. The castle is an extensive sight and an impressive part of the city, with even more impressive views to offer. You can tour the castle, which also houses a historical museum and the Treasury of Slovakia. It’s worth a few hours of your time and the hike. My second sightseeing recommendation for the Slovakian capital is the ‘Blue Church’. The church is free and the building has an interior of mosaic roses. The ceiling shows a bright blue sky; hence the name, and is nice to visit on a weekend where you will see beautiful weddings.
Another way to spend your time in Bratislava is to enjoy the Hlavné nám plaza, which is the main square in the city. During the Easter and Christmas periods this plaza is filled with a number of different Christmas themed markets, which show great elements of Slovakian culture. During the rest of the year the plaza is worth visiting due to the beautiful cafes and more ‘normal’ market stalls. I’d recommend trying a local hot chocolate in the plaza, as it is rich tasting and one of the best hot chocolates I have ever tasted. It is worth visiting the cafes and restaurants in the square as you won’t find much cheaper in other plazas in Europe.
Overall, the two capital cities both offer remarkable views on European culture, but from different angles. You won’t see many other neighbouring capital cities that offer a different charm and feel as these two cities do. The cities can be done in a few ways, therefore they make great stop offs on any interrailing trip, and allow you to explore a mix of Western and Eastern European culture.