Thousands of ice hockey fans will flock to Bratislava in 2019 for the Hockey World Cup.
Nickes.Com is offering ticket and hotel packages to the tournament so we visited the Slovakian capital to see just what it has to offer – and see an ice hockey game of course!
Bratislava hockey stadium
The Slovakian capital’s Zimný štadión Ondreja Nepelu was extensively renovated and reopened in 2011 at a cost of €87 million, in time to hold the 2011 World Championship. Finland were the winners that time, beating Sweden in the final.
It’s now one of the finest ice hockey venues around with room for more than 10,000 spectators and state of the art LED scoreboards.
It will host all games in Group B at the Championships, including those involving Sweden, Russia, Norway and the Czech Republic – plus two quarter finals, both semi-finals and the prestigious final on May 25. The Group A matches – including Canada, USA, Finland, Denmark, hosts Slovakia and newcomers Great Britain – are being staged across the country in Kosice.
HC Slovan Bratislava
During our visit the hosts HC Slovan Bratislava were in action in the highly-rated Kontinental Hockey League.
Friday night matches always have a special atmosphere, as supporters start their weekend break in perfect style. The club shop was stocking Slovakian national team gear alongside merchandise for Slovan and was doing good trade while next door the bars were packed with fans spilling out into the pavements outside the arena.
Once inside the arena is on two levels, A and B, with spacious concourses and well stocked food and drink kiosks.
The KHL has expanded in recent years to include sides from Slovakia, Finland and China as well as those hailing from Russia and areas of the former Soviet Union. This cross-country feel is enhanced as both teams stand for their national anthems before the match.
For those clutching a beer in the stands there was the added bonus of being caught on camera and being awarded a pack of beer as a prize!
It had been a tough season so far for the Sky Blues, and perhaps their campaign was encapsulated in their Friday night performance against Russian outfit Vitaz Podol’sk. In a typically feisty encounter they raced into a 2-0 lead by the end of the second period, to the delight of the home fans including the band of ultras in one corner.
But it all turned sour in the third period. Vitaz pulled level and then, with 19 seconds to go, netted the winner – and this prompted many disconsolate home supporters to head to the exits. There was no time to rescue a draw and it ended in a disappointing 3-2 defeat.
A quarter of a century since Slovakia’s friendly divorce from the Czech Republic and its restoration as a capital city, Bratislava is catching up fast and forging a whole new identity. Far more affordable than Vienna, and much less crowded than Prague, it is a Central European destination many more visitors are starting to take notice of.
You will realise just why if you clamber up the spiral staircases to the top of the Town Hall tower. You look down on the main central square, and across the pretty rooftops of the small, charming old town towards the Bratislava Castle on the hilltop overlooking the Danube. This part of Europe has history by the bucketload, for 200 years it was the coronation seat of Hungary, and you’ll find out more in the city museum housed in the town hall, certainly worth an hour or so of your time.
Ever tasted Slovakian wine? Probably not, but they’ve been quietly making it for centuries and you can introduce yourself to their finest at the Museum of Viticulture and there’s the obligatory opportunity for a few samples at the end.
One irony is that, with the beautiful medieval centre you will love to explore, the most recognisable landmark in Bratislava is a rather more recent addition and it came courtesy of the post-war communist regime. Stretching across the Danube is the Most SNP bridge. Built in 1973, it was designed to look like the driver of a carriage but once complete the resemblance to a flying saucer at one end soon earned it the more popular nickname the UFO Bridge. You can take a lift to the top and enjoy views right into Austria, and also sample the revolving restaurant.
Bratislava has a real energy and welcoming feel with numerous bars and restaurants generating a great nightlife. It will be an excellent host to the tournament.
Surely the best way to explore Bratislava during the World Cup next year is with the Bratislava Card. This excellent city card is available for 24, 48 or 72 hours and gives you free entry to some of the best attractions including the City History Museum, the wine museum and nearby Devin Castle, and discounts to many others. Included is a free guided walking tour, lasting 1 hour and taking in the main sights of the old town.
There are also plenty of discounts to the best restaurants and shops, plus free public transport throughout the city including the bus to the airport. For details visit www.visitbratislava.com #bratislavacard
Bratislava has its own airport, a modern but fairly small affair around five miles east of the old town.
Bus route 61 runs from the airport to the city, passing the central bus station and terminating at the train station. A 60 minute ticket will cover you for the journey, bought from ticket machines – validate it when you get on board.
The alternative is a taxi, the journey taking maybe 20 minutes. If you simply jump in the nearest one there’s a good chance you’ll be charged a high fare so see if you can firm up a price in the airport, or maybe your hotel can order one to be waiting for you.
Bratislava has another unofficial airport – Vienna. These two capital cities are just 50 miles apart and Vienna’s airport is near to the Slovakian border. Two buses, Slovak Lines and Flixbus, ply the route and there are perhaps 30 buses a day each way with fares often around 5 euros in advance. Simply book the bus that fits best for you, maybe around 45-60 minutes after your scheduled arrival. They go from bus stop 4, two minutes from the arrivals lounge.
The journey to Bratislava takes 45 minutes to an hour depending on the time of day and many terminate at the modern central bus station. From there bus routes 70, 202, 205 and 212 take you to the centre and services 21, 210 and night bus N61 run to the main train station. They run from closer to the main road outside the station, look out for the signs. On departing Bratislava for the airport the buses appear to go from stops 1 to 3.