After Belgrade, I decided to work in Budapest for longer than planned. During this time, I also took a quick two hour train ride to spend some time photographing Bratislava, Slovakia. While Bratislava is the largest city in Slovakia, it’s also one of the smallest capital cities in Europe by population. This actually helps give it some of its charm, though.
The city’s history has been strongly influenced by many nations and religions, which helps pack a lot of character into the smaller capital. There’s still plenty to experience and explore too. And the best part is that it all comes with an authentic and uncrowded city vibe. Exploring the city with your camera is much more relaxing compared to bigger cities, while still giving you plenty to capture.
So here are my first impressions of Bratislava, from my personal Street Photographer perspective…
7 First Impressions of Bratislava, Slovakia
(From a Street Photography Perspective)
1. Rugged & Raw with a Mix of Charm
Bratislava is full of scars left by the communist regime. On the other hand, Bratislava has some very beautiful architecture preserved from the Austro-Hungarian Empire era mixed in with those grey blocks.
Around the Old Town, you get plenty of old world european charm. At the same time, if you step outside of the Old Town, there’s still a different type of charm coming from the ruggedness. This mix gives Bratislava a uniqueness when exploring the city with your camera.
2. Not crowded
Bratislava may be the least crowded capital city I’ve been to in Europe. There’s still plenty of life, but it never feels chaotic or crowded. That can make for a really nice change, while still keeping a city feel.
Even around the most visited areas and streets of Bratislava, it never felt overwhelming. You always have plenty of space and this helps give a different experience to capturing the city, compared to the more crowded capital cities. You can walk around or just watch the slower paced life of Bratislava, without it running you over.
3. The Little Big City
Bratislava has been nicknamed “The Little Big City.” And for good reason. While it is a capital city and has a lot of what you’d expect from a capital, it still gives a feeling of a smaller city too.
This could be a mixture of not being overcrowded or overdeveloped, but there’s more to it than that. There’s its own small city charm that Bratislava has been able to keep. The people help the city keep this feeling too.
4. Old Town is Good
While having traveled and photographed in many European cities, I’ve gotten pretty used to Old Towns, but I have to admit I like Bratislava’s more than most.
It contains a preserved medieval center with churches, the Bratislava Castle, other landmarks, and a riverbank promenade. All of this is kept in a compact area so you can see it all, while getting a good mixture of scenery and vibe in a short amount of time.
5. Not modern yet
Bratislava is only 50 km from Vienna and used to share the same nation as Prague, but when it comes to being developed or “westernized,” it’s not as modern as those cities. There’s McDonald’s and a few shopping centers, but it’s nothing like most capital cities in Europe yet. But that’s not a bad thing, either.
It’s nice walking around a less modern, less westernized European capital. It gives a different experience that many people might find more authentic. They do use the Euro, though, so it might not be as cheap as you expect, compared to many other cities in Eastern Europe.
6. Relaxing Atmosphere
There’s a very low-key atmosphere in Bratislava. I’m sure it’s partly to do with the lack of crowds and the older infrastructure, but it’s a relaxing feeling. No one seems to be in a rush to get anywhere.
Wandering around Bratislava can feel like an escape. The relaxing vibe and scenery are especially enjoyable to capture after some of the more chaotic cities I’ve been to this year. Walking around Bratislava with your camera feels worry and stress free.
7. Great City to Wander Around
Bratislava grows on you. At first, it might not seem too special. It’s not extremely developed or large with many things to do and see, but there’s something special about what it does have, and doesn’t have. The fact that it’s not crowded, touristy or overdeveloped gives it character and charm. You can get lost wandering around and enjoying something you don’t find in many capital cities.
A few of the days there I decided to walk around Bratislava without any plan or destination. One of those times, I randomly walked into a very small anti-Nato rally. Being from the USA, it was an interesting experience walking through signs reading “Death to America” and “Yankee Go Home.” Russian and Slovakian flags waving next to large photos of Che Guevara, while people took turns shouting into a cheap microphone and old speaker.
Sometimes you find the most interesting places when you don’t look to find any place at all.
A City that Grows on You
From talking to many people who have traveled around this region of Europe, I always heard mixed responses on Bratislava. It’s not the most exciting city so many find it boring compared to some of the other cities in the area. I find that Bratislava has its own positives over many of those other cities, though. It might take giving it more of a chance, but after spending some time here, I grew more and more fond of it.
I also found a lot of positives for Street Photography in Bratislava. It’s not overcrowded, overdeveloped or over-photographed, while being able to bring its own look to photos.
It’s also very quick and convenient to get to by train if you’re in some of the nearby bigger cities, like Vienna and Budapest. So if you’re on the fence on making a stop here for some photography, I wouldn’t hesitate to take that train, along with your camera, to Bratislava.
If any of you have been to Bratislava before, tell me about your experience and impressions of the city and country in the comments below! And stay tuned for more on Bratislava, including some of the best Street Photography shots I captured while there.