Bratislava, though often overshadowed by its flashy neighbours Prague, Vienna and Budapest, is a capital city with a lot to offer. In fact, for the EFL teacher looking to follow a less well-trodden track, Slovakia’s modest capital is the perfect home away from home. Here are our top seven reasons why you should live and teach in Bratislava!
1. It’s a capital city with a small-town feel
Travel guides often only mention Bratislava in passing. Phrases like “you can do it in a day” and “if you’re short on time, skip it” are bandied about by overzealous tourists trying to “do Europe” in a week (it’s a continent, people). While it is true that Bratislava is a relatively small capital city, don’t be fooled into thinking that it doesn’t have a big personality. In fact, one of the best things about Bratislava is its size.
The hustle and bustle of Prague or Budapest might be atmospheric while you're on holiday, but do you really want to be pushing past throngs of tourists on your commute to work every day? In Bratislava, life is more laid-back; you’ll be able to stroll through the city centre without coming into physical contact with strangers, and everything you need, whether that be a vegan cafe, a trendy bookshop, a craft beer bar, or just a good old-fashioned supermarket, will be well within walking distance.
2. It has 4 proper seasons
Bratislava gets scorching hot in the summer, while temperatures drop below freezing in the winter, so whatever weather you’re into, you’ll find it here. During the warmer months you can enjoy picnics by the Danube River and barbecues on Kamzik Hill. If the heat starts getting to you, cool off with a relaxing swim in one of the city’s many lakes.
In winter, Bratislava is transformed into a snowy wonderland, complete with a traditional Christmas market located in its picturesque Old Town. If it gets cold enough, you can even go ice-skating on the same lake that you were swimming in back in July.
3. Nature abounds
Although it’s very unlikely that you’ll feel worn down by city-life in Bratislava, you might still, as your students will put it, want to “visit with the nature” at the weekends. You won’t have to go far, as there’s plenty of greenery within the city itself. Hike up Kamzik Hill and have a drink at the top of the TV Tower. It’s the second highest point in Bratislava, so you’ll have a fantastic view of the whole city.
If you fancy venturing outside of the capital, visit the alluringly named “Slovak Paradise” – a national park in eastern Slovakia with 300km of walking trails. The Tatra Mountains are also a must for anyone who’s into skiing, snowboarding, or hiking. Ask your adult students for tips about where else to visit; they’ll be more than happy to recommend their rural hometowns and villages to you, and this way you’ll really be able to get off the beaten track.
4. It’s the perfect travel hub
Bratislava is a great base camp for exploring not just the rest of Slovakia, but the surrounding countries as well. For the EFL teacher trying to satisfy their endless wanderlust while still holding down a full-time job, Bratislava is ideally situated. Slovakia may be landlocked (a turn-off for all you ocean lovers, I know), but it’s bordered by five (yes FIVE!) amazing countries, providing countless options for cheap and easy weekend trips.
For very little money you can reach Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic by bus or train. The bus to Vienna, for example, takes less than an hour and only costs around €5. Though slightly further afield, Poland and Ukraine are still well within reach, especially since budget airlines now fly regularly from Bratislava to Kiev, Krakow and Warsaw.
5. Dog walking
Travelling with pets is difficult. As such, many animal loving English teachers are left with nothing but a miniature cactus for company in their home away from home. If you live in Bratislava, however, you can take a dog for a walk whenever you want. Sloboda Zvierat (Animal Freedom) is an amazing animal shelter that allows you to take the dogs for a stroll any day of the week. On your first visit you’ll be asked to fill out a registration form and pay a one-off fee of €3. After that, you’re free to grab a canine companion and go walkies! There are hundreds of dogs at the shelter, and while the majority of them are kept in large outdoor enclosures, they’re still always very keen to be taken for a ramble in the nearby forest.
6. Beer and Bryndza
Like beer? Sure you do. Love cheese? Who doesn’t? Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that Bratislava’s beer and cheese game is on point. If you’re a beer connoisseur, the city is full of craft beer bars and microbreweries. That said, you don’t have to go somewhere uber-trendy for a decent pint. In fact, you’ll be hard pushed to find a bad beer anywhere in Slovakia. And at around €2 for 0.5 litres, a night out won’t break the bank either. Of course, you’ll need a good meal to soak up all that alcohol, so order some bryndzové halušky. This is a popular Slovak dish of potato dumplings covered in bryndza (a tangy sheep’s cheese) and topped with bacon (ask for fried onions instead if you’re a veggie) – perfect on a chilly winter’s evening.
7. Free Wheelin’ Fridays
If you’d prefer an evening activity that won’t leave you feeling slightly worse for wear the next morning, put down the beer and pick up some rollerblades instead. At 9pm every Friday night during the summer, large crowds of people gather together on skates and bicycles to ride across the city en masse. The event is organized by bratislava-inline and participants follow a pre-planned route on main roads that takes about an hour and a half. It’s very safe and well-organised, with police, paramedics and members of the bratislava-inline team all at hand in case of any accidents. Everyone’s welcome and it’s free of charge, so it’s a great way to meet new people while also getting some exercise!
Wine, beer, food, music, art, folklore, cabbage (yes, cabbage) – you name it, Bratislava is host to every kind of festival imaginable. Bratisalvsky Majáles is a completely free three-day festival held on the banks of the Danube every April. With live performances from the biggest local bands, countless food and drink stalls, a children’s programme, and a climactic fireworks display over the river, you can’t really ask for more. That said, for a more international event, Pohoda is Slovakia’s biggest arts and music festival (previous headliners include The Chemical Brothers, Alt-J, and Sigur Rós). It takes place in July each year in Trenčin (120 km from Bratislava) and tickets start at €99 for 3 days. Another event of note is Biela Noc (“White Night”), a contemporary arts festival that transforms the streets and buildings of Bratislava into a surreal, interactive art exhibition for a few nights in September each year. And finally, for a real taste of Slovakia, don’t miss Deň Zelá, the cabbage festival held every autumn in the small town of Stupava.