Bratislava

Living in Europe, we are lucky to have a host of historic and unique cities which can be reached cheaply and with very little effort.

Two that always intrigued me were Budapest and Prague so I decided to combine both in one trip, but instead of jumping on another plane, me and a few friends made use of the local trains to tick off another three cities.

We spent 3 days in Budapest and it was nowhere near enough, the place is amazing and I would definitely rank it top of the cities I’ve visited in Europe. There’s so much to see and do; relaxing in Gellert Baths, cycling around Margaret Island, eating and drinking around Gozsdu Udvar or sight-seeing at Fisherman’s Bastion, the parliament building, the Jewish Quarter and the many bridges on the Danube. It felt like we barely scraped the surface.

The best thing of all is that it’s ridiculously cheap, in some pubs I think we were paying less than 90p for a beer and enjoying a good meal for less than a fiver. The nightlife is superb and caters for everyone, you can have a steady crawl of the many ruin pubs, a quiet one at a classy cocktail bar, or a really late one in a house/ techno club… or just do all three, like we did. The definition of a 24 hour city.

I was very reluctant to leave Budapest but we had a rough schedule to keep so on we went. Next stop Vienna (train tickets from Budapest cost less than £15).

Now Vienna didn’t get off to the best of starts, after a 3hr train journey I had started to feel very travel sick and within 20 minutes of arriving I projectile vomited all over a tram to the horror of the passengers. We piled off at the next stop like a disgusting sick and run and that was that, our first taste of Austria. From that point on I just wasn’t feeling Vienna, our hostel was packed with giddy American school kids, the weather had shifted from glorious 30°c+ sunshine to grey sky and winds, the price of everything had rocketed and the place just lacked any sort of buzz.

Nice architecture but for me, that’s about it, so quickly moving on… Bratislava and the return of some sunshine.

I like Bratislava, it’s small and there isn’t loads to do but the old town has plenty of charm and there’s a good feel about the place with its buskers, narrow streets and lack of crowds. It’s also closer to Budapest in terms of price. We didn’t really venture out of the old town and the majority of our time was spent sat in the sun with a pint of Zlaty Bazant, although we did walk up to the castle and visit the museum at the town hall.

It’s a very pleasant and chilled out place in summer and I would be happy to go back for a couple of days but I imagine it could be a bit of a ghost town in winter. 

After a couple of days in the Slovakian capital we made our way up to the Czech Republic, stopping in the lesser known city of Brno which proved to be a great decision.

Again, Brno is cheap! it’s a very quirky if not a little morbid city, with its main attractions being the ossuary & mummified monks but due to its student population its not short of places to eat or drink. Our favourite establishment was Utopia, a shisha bar/ pool hall with dirt cheap drinks, games rooms and a mini cinema open till the early hours.

As a break from city hopping we caught the bus to sample the Czech countryside, specifically the stunning Punkva caves and the Machocha abyss. If you find yourself in the area then I would definitely recommend the trip as it is a beautiful part of the world and bus costs next to nothing.

We went to Brno with minimal expectations but we all loved the place, although 2 days was probably enough to see it all and we were keen to reach our final destination, Prague.

Prague is stag-do heaven with its countless bars, strip clubs and casinos but it’s also one of the most historic, picturesque and interesting cities I’ve ever been to.

The tour of the underground streets and the old town is definitely recommended as it is packed with information and facts that give you an insight into Prague’s colourful past. The old town itself is filled with some of the best architecture in the world, overlooked by the Church of Our Lady and centred around the famous clock tower, however, if you want to eat or drink around there, you will pay for the view and its generally a complete rip off for tourists. We followed the river away from the centre to a more residential area and the difference in price was massive, paying less than £1 for Staropramen.

During our stay in Prague we booked a guided excursion (yet another train) to Terezin, a fortified town which was converted into a concentration camp during WWII. Terezin is less brutal compared to the camps which were purpose-built in Poland for example and around 3,000 people call it home to this day, that’s not to say it wasn’t harrowing but I did find it less hard hitting than when I visited Stutthof. A trip to a concentration camp won’t be for everyone but if you have an interest in WWII then it is worth the trip, it is a full day excursion and costs around 30.

I don’t think it will come as any surprise that the rest of our time was spent enjoying the city’s amazing nightlife, the Czech’s are king when it comes to lager. Great city and a close contender to Budapest’s crown.

If you’re like me and all-inclusive, beach holidays bore you shitless then I’d definitely advise you to make use of Europe’s train links and cram a few cities into a fortnight. I would re-do this trip tomorrow if I could, although I’d probably sacrifice Vienna for a couple more days in Budapest! Stay in hostels, eat at less fancy restaurants and be sensible and it can also be done extremely cheaply. Do not buy an online rail pass, they’re a rip off as trains can be bought on the day for minimal cost, I caught 5 trains during this trip for a combined cost of around €50.

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