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How to make the most of a quick trip from Vienna to Bratislava

With only about 80 kilometres between them, Vienna and Bratislava are two of the closest capital cities in the world, with the Slovak capital ideal for a quick cross-border weekend or day trip.

The Slovak capital of Bratislava is only about an hour trip from Vienna. Photo: Pixabay

Getting to Bratislava from the Austrian capital is about as easy as it gets, with more than a few Vienna residents having made several such trips.

With plenty of options for things to see or ways to get there at an affordable price, it’s a simple international treat for a Vienna visitor or resident.

Once you’re in Bratislava, your wallet may well thank you as well. While estimates vary depending on index, the cost of living in the Slovak capital is about one quarter less expensive than Prague, and about a third less than Vienna.

Slovak sights: what to see

Travel gurus sometimes label Bratislava as “The Little Big City.” It may feel larger and is ultimately a European capital, but it has only about 400,000 residents compared to Vienna’s nearly two million, and it’s easy to navigate on foot or with public transport.

The city has two castles to delight visitors. The first is the well-known Bratislava castle, perched on a hill above the old town. Dating back all the way to the 10th century, the castle has many uses today – from acting as a representative place for members of the Slovak parliament to host guests, to housing the Slovak National Museum of History.

The Castle also contains the Museum’s Treasury – with its collection of gold and silver. The city’s second main castle, Devin Castle, sits just outside town and right on the border with Austria, with its Maiden Tower right at the confluence of the Danube and Moravia rivers.

Bratislava UFO Bridge

Bratislava’s Most SNP, or “UFO Bridge” housing a restaurant and observation deck. Photo: Vlastimil Starec, Pixabay

On the other side of the charming Old Town’s main square from Bratislava Castle, sits the Catholic Church of St. Elizabeth, a blue-coloured Art Nouveau treat for the eyes. You’ll also find the Slovak Presidential Palace, numerous art galleries, and even the infamous Most SNP – a UFO-like structure sitting on top of Bratislava’s New Bridge – where you can check out the view from either the restaurant or observation deck.

READ ALSO: Five of the best weekend getaways from Vienna

How to get there: ÖBB’s Bratislava-Ticket

For a single day’s trip, Austrian rail company ÖBB will offer you the Bratislava-Ticket for €18, or €9 for children between six and 14 years old.

With it, you can use it to travel between Vienna and Bratislava on either ÖBB or Slovak ZSSK, the Slovak rail company. But it doesn’t stop there. You can also use the same ticket on all public urban transport within Bratislava, as well as on regional ÖBB trains within Vienna.

Most train and bus services from Vienna to Bratislava leave via Vienna’s central station. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Given the ticket’s usefulness among commuters and students, you can also get weekly tickets for €42.50 or monthly ones for €143.80. Ticketholders can also sometimes get walking tour discounts.

Alternatively, you can typically get a train ticket from Vienna to Bratislava for less than €10, with the journey lasting just over an hour.

READ ALSO: What international border towns can you travel to on Austria’s KlimaTicket?

How to get there: By Bus

Numerous buses leave every day from Vienna to Bratislava and in reverse. Flixbus provides the most common services, although their prices are about the same as what you’d be paying out for a train ticket – around €10. The travel time is also mostly the same, clocking in at just over an hour.

RegioJet shuttles also make regular runs between the two cities.

How to get there: By Car

If you have your own car, Vienna to Bratislava is a piece of cake – doable in just over an hour’s drive. Otherwise, there are several taxi or driver services that shuttle people between the two cities – especially from Vienna Airport. These are more expensive though, with many running up at around €75 a ride.

How to get there: By Bike

Lastly, cyclists with a bit of spare time can try out the Vienna to Bratislava bike trail. Forming a part of the much larger Danube Cycle Path stretching from Passau in Germany all the way to Budapest, the Vienna to Bratislava section clocks in at around four hours of cycle time along the EU’s longest river, with almost no car traffic to speak of.

How to get there: By Boat

If you fancy a trip between the two capitals on the Danube River, but aren’t willing to do the cycle, there are boat services connecting the two cities.

Bratislava Water

Bratislava as seen from the water. A boat trip from Vienna takes about 75 minutes. Photo: Helena Jankovičová Kováčová, Pexels.

The most regular of these is from a company called Twin City Liner, which operates a catamaran at least once daily in low season, and more often in high season.

As a highspeed catamaran, it also barely takes longer than a train or bus ride, completing the trip in about 75 minutes. It’s much cheaper than a taxi service, but definitely more than a train or bus, with most tickets running at about €35.

READ ALSO: How to save money while travelling around Austria

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Austria rail operator ÖBB unveils new night trains

Austrian rail operator ÖBB on Saturday unveiled its new generation of sleeper trains -- a response to demands from travellers for less pollutant alternatives to planes and petrol or diesel cars.

Austria rail operator ÖBB unveils new night trains

Night trains are starting to make a comeback in Europe thanks to their low-carbon footprint and after years of neglect, operators are now investing heavily to replace their ageing rolling stock.

State-owned ÖBB, which operates 20 rail routes across Europe, has been a pioneer in reviving such services.

The company has Europe’s largest fleet of sleeper trains and hopes to double the number of its overnight passengers from 1.5 million to three million by 2030.

The new trains feature a modern design, more privacy and more shower facilities.

The first of 33 – ordered from German conglomerate Siemens in 2018 for a total investment of 720 million euros ($760 million at current value) – will come into service on December 10.

It will connect the Austrian cities of Vienna and Innsbruck to the German port of Hamburg.

Between then and 2028, it will be phased in on other routes in Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

“France will have to wait a bit because this requires new approvals from the national railroad authority,” ÖBB CEO Andreas Matthae told AFP. “Unfortunately, we are not yet a unified Europe in the railroad sector.”

Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler told AFP: “Every kilometre (mile) by train is a kilometre for climate protection and… a contribution to a better future.”

Since 2018 ÖBB said all its trains “run on electricity generated exclusively by hydropower, solar and wind power… a milestone for climate protection in Austria”

“I still remember the old sleeping coaches, which were so dark — the small window, the bunk beds and a curtain,” said 69-year-old retiree Rosemarie, who declined to give her full name, as she examined ÖBB’s sleek new night train on Saturday.

Compared to the old sleeper trains, “this is crazy – pure luxury”, she laughed.

ÖBB’s Berlin-Paris night train service is to return on December 11th, nine years after it was cancelled.