This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2014. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I mention the city of Bratislava, Slovakia?
I bet it’s probably a movie. Many of you would have seen Hostel, where a bunch of innocent backpackers get unceremoniously tortured and murdered by high paying international businessmen in an unknown Slovakian location.
Otherwise it would be Eurotrip, where American travellers accidentally arrive in a sketchy Bratislavan neighbourhood, surrounded by some alarmingly uncivilised locals, and with no way of getting out of the city due to a lack of railway network.
Even if you haven’t seen these movies, you may know about them. But is Bratislava actually as dangerous as its reputation?
Bratislava is the charming capital of Slovakia, and it often flies under the radar in comparison to other European cities, but it is a destination that’s becoming increasingly popular with tourists.
If you’re wondering whether to add Bratislava into your Europe trip itinerary, here’s an overview of my experience visiting Bratislava in 2014 which may help you make an informed decision about your visit.
Are the hostels safe in Bratislava?
When we visited Bratislava in 2014, we stayed at Hostel Possonium which was actually themed on the movie Hostel. There were posters on the walls featuring movie scenes, and the movie was playing on repeat on a screen in the hostel bar, which was set in the basement with a wonderful array of fake blood spatters decorating the walls. It seems that this hostel has now been converted to boutique apartments and (unfortunately) it looks like they’ve removed the horror movie theme!
One night we ate dinner at the restaurant of Downtown Backpackers Hostel, and what do you know – this one has also been converted to a B&B Hotel. The location of this place was better than where we stayed, so it might be a good option if you want to be near the old city centre.
I felt safe staying in a hostel in Bratislava, and found it to be a similar experience to backpacking in any other Central European country.
Is it safe to wander the streets in Bratislava?
During the day, we noticed plenty of other backpackers enjoying Bratislava’s gorgeous old town, even in the middle of winter. We wandered along narrow cobblestone alleyways, walked up to the castle for some awesome views, and visited the Bratislava City Museum which gave us a fantastic account of the local history and included entry up the Old Town Hall tower. At no time did I feel as though I was in any danger.
The public transport system in Bratislava is generally known to be safe (though as with any public transport system, you should keep an eye on your belongings). Taxis or ride-sharing apps are also available for getting around–just ensure you use licensed and reputable services as you would in other destinations.
We did a 30 minute walk from the main train station to our hostel in the late evening. While the streets around the station were fairly quiet, they were well lit. I felt fairly comfortable walking with my partner at night, though it’s sensible to avoid getting into situations where you may become a target, such as walking alone at night or wandering drunk on dark streets. Use your common sense.
Obviously you should always be cautious in an unfamiliar place. Like other major cities, Bratislava isn’t crime-free, but violent crime rates are relatively low compared to many other European capitals. There’s no reason to think that Bratislava is more unsafe than any other city–in fact, I felt so much safer here than I did in Paris or Brussels.
Are the people trustworthy?
Nobody tried to scam or pickpocket us while we were in Bratislava (and we definitely had some nasty experiences in other European capitals). The locals we came into contact with were nice, straightforward people, which proved to us that Bratislava is not the scary dangerous place it’s made out to be.
Slovakia is a democratic country, and Bratislava has experienced political stability for many years. There is some general distrust in the police/secret service and political corruption is not unheard of, but tourists visiting the country are usually unaffected. Social unrest and demonstrations are rare, but situations can change so it’s always a good idea to stay informed about the local news and current events during your visit.
I found Bratislava to be a lovely city with an interesting history. While no destination is entirely free of risks, don’t worry – the likelihood of you being tortured and murdered here is slim to none.