For years, I have compared Vienna, Prague, and Budapest to the Bermuda Triangle. The three cities suck people in, and the people never see anything outside of Prague’s resplendent castles, Vienna’s spellbinding architecture, and Budapest’s incredible restaurant scene (and shameless nightlife). A city break to Budapest, Prague, or Vienna is completely understandable as all three are some of the world’s greatest cities; it is not too difficult to see why people get lured into visiting.
It is easy to spend two days in Vienna or Budapest. But, on occasion, the same traveler may make a one night pit stop in Bratislava, a city they slam afterward for having such dull and grey buildings, only to realize that they never left their hotel or hostel to discover the history and beauty that the city truly has to offer. Brno, Kosice, Trencin, and Banska Bystrica? Unless you’re from Central Europe or are spending a significant amount of time in this part of the word, you probably haven’t been to them, let alone heard of them.
Tired of hearing Bratislava slammed by travelers, I went back there in November on a mission to explore the city a little deeper myself. My goal was to explore the city beyond the depths of the Old Town (which is actually beautiful if you haven’t been), and also use the city as a launchpad to explore some lesser-known cities and towns in Slovakia.
My grandfather passed away in October, about a month prior to my trip to Bratislava, and his family actually left Slovakia for the United States, so the country had my curiosity peaked despite not really knowing what part of the country they originated from.
Needless to say, my plans didn’t go according to what I had intended. I rarely stay in hostels these days, but I had stayed in one for this trip, and to my surprise, ended up with some of the coolest people you’ll ever meet on the road. Naturally, they all did their one or two-night rotation in Bratislava, so they weren’t there for long, but it was fun to build some new friendships along the way.
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How I Ended Up Going to Gyor
Around my third day into the trip, I realized I was wasting away my days not really doing much of anything and decided to plan a day trip somewhere in Slovakia. I went to the reception of my hostel and started chatting with the staff and asking them where to go. They pulled out a book about Slovakia and started showing me places to go. They also explained to me that Slovakia is very tourist-unfriendly when it comes to trains and transportation to and from places.
After picking a few places and realizing that train and bus schedules weren’t going to allow me much time to see anything, I felt gutted. I looked at a map and my eyes were drawn to a city close to Bratislava, albeit across the border in Hungary called Gyor. I had never seen this city on anyone’s Central Europe itinerary and hadn’t heard of it myself.
“What about this city?” I asked the girls at reception.
Their faces simultaneously cringed, “There is nothing there- it is grey and really communist looking.”
Settled. I was going to head to Gyor.
They, still shocked anyone would want to head to the city (they had never traveled there themselves, mind you), helped me gather bus times and sent me to the Student Agency in Bratislava to get the cheapest fares. The Student Agency buses connect Vienna, Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest, with a few stops in between. Gyor being one of them.
The next day, I set out early for Gyor, which was only an hour bus trip away from Bratislava. Needless to say, I was the only person getting off the bus at this stop.
I arrived in Gyor with Euros in my pockets and looking for a place to exchange them. Not even the cafes and pubs around the bus and train station allowed me to purchase anything with Euros. It was evident I was in a city that receives very little tourism.
I knew nothing about Gyor. Nothing. I hadn’t even heard of the place prior to this trip. I only had five or six hours in the city before I had to catch a bus back, so I didn’t even have the opportunity to get lost and find hidden spots. But, as far as I was concerned, it appeared that the entire city was a hidden spot.
Many of the streets were deserted, but others were teeming with locals who all tried speaking to me as I took photos, clearly not disguising myself as one of them. Everyone wanted to know why I was there and how I decided to come to Gyor. I was rather embarrassed to tell them I found the city randomly on a map and heard it was grey and full of ugly buildings, so I told them I was looking to see more of Hungary, a country in which I had only previously visited Budapest (which is true).
Gyor isn’t grey. Or littered with Communist buildings.
In fact, I found it to be one of the most beautiful and charming little places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Sure, it had a grey building here and there, and some of the residential areas weren’t much more than a bloc, but that can be more or less the case anywhere in Europe.
More than anything, the day in Gyor left me puzzled.
Why in hell aren’t more people visiting some of these cities in Central Europe? I’ve been guilty of this in the past. While I have explored Poland, Austria, and the Czech Republic pretty well, I haven’t given Slovakia or Hungary the time of day when it comes to seeing the country outside of Budapest and Bratislava.
A short six hours in the city left me longing for more. I was unable to affordably find a place to stay ahead of time and was still paying for my place in Bratislava, so extending my time there wasn’t an option, unfortunately. And one of my new friends at my hostel had told me she would make me borscht and an Olivie salad and have it ready for my return (she was visiting from Russia and admired my love for the two).
But I can say, hands down, Gyor is one of the biggest travel surprises I have ever encountered. I found myself there in the middle of winter, while the city was setting up their Christmas markets, but was easily able to envision myself sitting in the squares during the summer sipping a cold beer and eating some tasty Hungarian food with the friendly locals.
What to See and Do in Gyor
There is quite a bit to do in this city, and given that there are 120,000+ locals living there, you should be able to keep occupied for a day or two without any issues. Aside from perhaps Vilnius and a few places in Italy, I have never seen so many churches and religious sights in such small proximity of one another. There are many alleys throughout the city and I suggest you go down each and every one of them because you never know what you may stumble upon.
1. Town Hall
This building actually reminded me of the one in Scranton. It is one of the first things you see when arriving in Gyor by bus or train. Talk about a good impression! Opened in 1900, the building design was chosen by means of a contest. Smart choice I think as it is truly a stunning sight.
2. Statue of Jedlik Ányos and Czuczor Gergely
If you can find this statue in the heart of the city, you can also find many restaurants and bars. Ányos was a Hungarian inventor, engineer, physicist, and Benedictine priest that Hungarians acknowledge as the unsung father of the dynamo and electric motor. His cousin, Czuczor, was a linguist.
3. Cathedral of the Virgin Mary
I don’t typically visit the inside of churches and I find many of them the same, but I do think the outsides of them can be extremely beautiful. The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary is kind of tucked away on the end of a street and it caught me by surprise.
4. Carmelite Church
This yellow church reminds me of some I saw on hidden alleyways in Cartagena, Colombia. No idea why- maybe it was the yellow hue or just its shape. Either way, it is a sight worth seeing in the middle of the city alongside Vienna Square. And the castle is just a few steps away.
5. Szechenyi Square
Sometimes I hate squares in Europe. Not that they are not breathtakingly beautiful, but because they are swarming with tourists and overpriced restaurants and bars. While this one had its fair share of bars, lounges, and restaurants, I didn’t find any tourists here. I grabbed some hearty goulash at Palffy Etterem for lunch and admired the buildings that glistened underneath the brilliant blue skies. Here you will also find The Benedictine Church Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the Marian Column.
6. Museums galore
There are so many museums in the city. I hate museums, but if you’re someone who enjoys them, I recommend you check some of them out. The local history museum is well-known and is called the János Xántus Museum.
Ugh- I have no photos of the castle, but I can assure you it is stunning, even during the winter. You can view it from down by the river. It is in the Old Town area, so it will not be far off from many of the sights listed above.
8. Győri Nemzeti Színház
This is the National Theatre of Gyor. Finished in 1978, the architecture here is a bit different than that of the Old Town. Certainly, a worthwhile place to visit. I wanted to head inside to check things out a bit more, but never had the opportunity as my bus was on its way and I couldn’t be late! You can find the National Theatre at Czuczor Gergely Street 7.
9. Grab a Drink or Coffee Somewhere
I enjoyed a few beers while in Gyor as there are plenty of bars and pubs lingering around the city. My favorite place was a tiny cafe called Semiramis Kavezo (it is a chain, but definitely doesn’t feel that way) located at Arany Janos 28-32. The staff was so friendly and chatted with me for a bit as I spent quite a bit of time in there fleeing the cold. They also have free wifi. And yes, sometimes I sit in bars alone with headphones in. It’s weird, I know.
Where to Stay in Gyor
I didn’t stay here, mostly because I couldn’t find budget accommodation with any ease and had already paid for my place to sleep in Bratislava, but if you’re still curious and looking for a place to crash, you can check out the 19 locations listed on Expedia. You can also plan Gyor as a long day trip from Budapest (which may be your best option considering Budapest’s fun nightlife!) Just make sure you check out the best district to stay in Budapest before going so you know what neighborhood fits you best.
Getting to Gyor from Bratislava
What I found to be the cheapest way to get to Gyor was via the Student Agency in Bratislava. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a student. In fact, the guy sitting next to me for my journey was clearly in his 60s and smelled like he took a bath at a cigarette factory. I believe I paid 18 Euros for the return journey which included the bus to and from the city.
I am not sure if booking through the Student Agency is able to be done online, but I just went there in person when in Bratislava and booked a ticket for the following day. The Student Agency can be found at Obchodná 48 in the middle of Bratislava. Someone will always speak English. They can also be reached at [email protected] or +421 2 20 50 20 50.
For more information about traveling to Hungary, you can contact their tourism board.
Have you ever visited a place you knew absolutely nothing about? What were your thoughts?
Megan is a travel blogger and writer with a background in digital marketing. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now splits her time between Frankfurt, Germany and Arctic Finland after also living in Norway, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. She has a passion for winter travel, as well as the Nordic countries, but you can also find her eating her way through Italy, perusing perfume stores in Paris, or taking road trips through the USA. Megan has written for or been featured by National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, the New York Times, and more. She co-authored Fodor’s Travel ‘Essential Norway’ and has visited 45 US states and 100+ countries.