The Sights: Bratislava
Slightly smaller than Budapest, Bratislava is known for the contrast between its medieval old town and the communist-era remnants apparent in the architecture of the outlying neighborhoods. One of its main attractions is the sculpture of a man coming out of a pothole in the street – I would warn you not to trip over it, but usually the surrounding crowd is large enough that you’ll have ample warning from several blocks away. Bratislava is also a popular destination for stag parties, and the nightlife can get pretty energetic in the older part of town on the weekends. For a quieter trip, hike up to the castle and enjoy views of the Danube River and Novy Most Bridge – you’ll see it; it’s the thing that resembles a giant UFO.
The Sights: Budapest
Take a bath! The public baths have become a staple for visitors in Budapest, and you’ll have your choice of several throughout the city center. There are several bridges that connect the old city, Buda, to the newer city, Pest, across the Danube River. Head to Buda for the green hillsides, the classical architecture, and the more historical sights the city has to offer. Spend the evening in Pest, where you’ll find lively nightlife, quiet parks, and unbelievably inexpensive thrift stores. If you have the time, you might also want to head out to the city limits to explore the Esceri Flea Market, where you can find almost literally anything you can imagine… and many things that you probably can’t. But beware – those Hungarian women love to haggle.
The Train Stations
In Bratislava, the main station is called Hlavna Stanica, and it is located towards the northern edge of the city center. The station has six platforms, a luggage office open from 5:30am to midnight, ATM machines, and food stands. You can connect to the city via local tram service. In Budapest, the main station is the Keleti Station, located about 2.5 miles east of the city center. It is open 24 hours and is easily connected to the city by line 2 of the metro system, as well as several buses. You’ll find all the amenities offered at large European stations: luggage storage, restaurants, a tourist office and information desk, and currency exchange windows.
Traveling With an Individual Rail Ticket
The trains running between these cities do not require seat reservations, and so an open ticket is all you’ll need. An open ticket is valid for any regional train along a certain route for a period of 30 days – the first and last dates of validity will be listed on the ticket. This means that if you miss the train you’d wanted to take, or if you decide to stay in Bratislava for one more bar crawl, you can still use that same ticket for any train on the next day, or on any one of the 29 days afterwards, without having to exchange anything.
Traveling With a Rail Pass
Since these trains do not require seat reservations, you can board the train with only your rail pass and take any open seat. Make sure to have a pass that includes both Slovakia and Hungary: either the European East Pass or the Eurail Global Pass. Since this trip is fairly short – just about two hours – you could even make a day trip from one city to the next, and you would only use one day on your rail pass. Train travel is unlimited during each day on your pass from midnight to midnight.
Onboard the Train
The regional trains are pretty basic – but it’s more exciting to watch what’s going on outside your window, anyway. Generally, first class is recommended if you want to have a quieter, roomier train ride. Second class has more seats and is generally used more often by locals traveling back and forth, and you might have trouble finding a spot for your luggage if you’re bringing a large suitcase. Arriving in a new city is exciting, but sometimes you’ll want the train that brings you there to be just as enjoyable of an experience. Make sure to book the class of service that will make you most comfortable, in terms of both roominess and budget!
We hope this quick guide has given you a head start in planning your trip throughout Eastern Europe. For any further questions, don’t hesitate to send us an e-mail or drop us a note on our Facebook page, and make sure to check out the “Trains” tab on our homepage for some very useful FAQs. Happy traveling!