Bratislava Post-Socialist Tour
What there is to see: lots of quirky stuff in good company providing local insights!
Note that there are (at least) two versions of this tour – one short (2 hours), one longer (4 hours). Needless to say the longer tour covers more and is also better value for money (see below
). When I did it, I was given a tailored combined tour, the first half of which more or less corresponded to the regular off-the-peg 4-hour variant of the tour but also took in elements described elsewhere in the separate chapters on Devin
, Devinska Kobyla
and Iron Curtain relics
. Some of the latter are part of the post-socialist tour.
The order in which the various points of interest on this tour are visited will vary, e.g. according to your starting point, be it your hotel or one of the train stations. My tour started at Petržalka station, so we did everything south of the Danube first.
Our guide was Peter, one of the two brothers who run "Authentic Slovakia"
) and he drove us around in a vintage Škoda
passenger car. This is one of their signature elements to give the tour an “authentic” socialist-era feel. The downside is that these old cars are not always fully reliable. So the use of these veteran vehicles cannot be guaranteed. Larger groups (4-7 participants) will be driven around in a converted ambulance-type Škoda minivan – also an iconic model of the time.
Our first stop was at the old “Matador” tyre factory that is now abandoned. Unfortunately it's also been partly demolished by now, and what was still (partly) standing was inaccessible. We were able to peek into one hall that is now used for paintball games, but we could not go inside anywhere.
After this we headed for the old border
to the west of the city, which is now open due to Slovakia
both being in the Schengen area of the EU. However, we encountered police and they even enquired what we were doing here – maybe the recent refugee crisis of 2015 caused renewed anxieties about border areas …
Apart from driving a bit on the former patrol track and spotting the old leftover CSSR
border posts, we concentrated on one of the bunkers commodified for tourism (though it wasn't open at the time we were there) and which also sports some reconstructions of the border fortifications. This is covered separately under the Iron Curtain chapter here
Next stop was the abandoned unfinished metro terminus. The Bratislava metro was a project that never made it any further than this initial construction site and it is no longer honestly expected to be resumed. This bit was a bit more like “urban exploration” and had we had wellington boots to wear and a torch (flashlight) we could have ventured deeper into the dark, dank and partially flooded tunnel.
We then kept driving through the sea of prefab apartment blocks of Petržalka. This is often alleged to be the world's largest complex of such housing estates, though I have my doubts … e.g. the eastern suburbs of Kiev, built in the same style, seem a lot bigger to me.
Nevertheless, Petržalka certainly lives up to the expected drab character of such socialist-era housing schemes – even though they've meanwhile tried to alleviate the drabness a bit by painting the grey façades in “cheerful colours”. It doesn't quite work, I find. It makes them look just as ugly – only more fake. On balance I actually prefer the good old “honest” shabbiness in grey. Some blocks still exist that display just that character to this day.
After a short stop by the southern banks of the Danube
, we crossed the river by means of the fabulous Most SNP
(see under Bratislava
!) and continued the rest of the tour on the northern side. We visited what was left of a once large brewery, now mostly demolished, save for one characteristic block that is apparently due for some sort of redevelopment.
We passed some very early examples of planned socialist housing and then stopped for lunch and a drink at the market hall. You can tell that its design was once intended to impress with its modernity – now it is just a faded shadow of typical 1980s blandness. Inside the place does indeed retain quite a lot of the old-style “charm” of shopping, eating and drinking that basically is still the same as in the late 1980s. And the prices have not risen all that much since then either (well, they have a bit – but they are still markedly lower than in the city centre or the new flashy shopping malls that have sprung up en masse all around Bratislava).
Driving on we passed the Trade Union House
, the fantastical upside-down pyramid
of the Slovak Radio Building
, the Friendship Fountain
on Freedom Square
and the presidential palace (see, again, under Bratislava
) before ascending the hill to the north-west of the city centre to get to the Slavin monument
. This is also described in a separate chapter here
Having this stop included in the tour by car saved me the uphill walk to get to the monument on foot. In addition we were fortunate that Peter spotted an acquaintance who let us onto the terrace of an ex-cafe from socialist times (now converted into some sort of business centre) from where we has a stunning view over the city and towards the Hrad (castle). En route up the hill we also passed the villa in which Alexandr Dubček was put under house arrest after the crushing of the Prague Spring
Of course, as mentioned above, the order of things could be different on this type of tour, even starting at the Slavin monument
– which in some ways would make sense given the views from up there, which could make a good first introduction to Bratislava
All in all, I found this a superb tour. It included plenty of places that you could otherwise not get to so easily and which are way off the ordinary tourist tracks. And the guiding was witty, illuminating and inspiring. Highly recommended.
various locations across the city – here are the Google maps locators for the most important locations additional to those covered under Bratislava
>locations or the separate entries for Slavin
and Iron Curtain
Access and costs: what would otherwise be tricky is made easy by this tour; reasonably priced
The meeting point for the tour is by default, i.e. if not otherwise specified at SNP Square on the edge of the Old Town, but you can also be picked up from your hotel in Bratislava
(if it's not too far out of the way) or at a train station, either the main one north of the city centre or in Petržalka (convenient if you're coming in from Vienna and also closer to some of the points of interest on this tour).
Price per person: from 22 EUR, if part of a group of 4-7, for the 2-hour tour, to 49 EUR for 2 people for the 4-hour tour. If you want a solo tour the price is that for 2 people minus 10% (58 EUR for the shorter 2-hour tour, 88 EUR for the longer 4-hour version.)
Time and date: in theory any day, preferably starting in the morning, but afternoons are also possible. All subject to availability. It's a small tour company with only a handful of guides, so booking a bit ahead is advisable if you can.
Time required: 2 or 4 hours, respectively for the short or longer version – but tours can overrun (my tailored longer version was supposed to be 7 hours but ended up at more than 8 hours).
Combinations with other dark destinations:
In general see under Bratislava
I had my tour specially tailored to be combined with parts of other tours that Authentic Slovakia offer (see the sponsored page for Authentic Slovakia here
), so you can even build in combinations. Otherwise check the various tours that Authentic Slovakia offer. If you like cycling, for instance, they also do a bike tour along the Danube to parts of the former Iron Curtain border
that are otherwise not easy to get to.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Bratislava
- pst 1 - abandoned tyre factory partly demolished
- pst 2 - chimney stack of the abandoned tyre factory
- pst 3 - Petrzalka
- pst 4 - former cultural centre
- pst 5 - abandoned metro terminus
- pst 6 - crossing SNP bridge
- pst 7 - old brewery
- pst 8 - upside-down pyramid radio building seen from Slavin hill
- pst 9 - guide Peter with his old Skoda car