Evan Easton-Calabria and Phil Soanes take us on a tour of the best bookshops in Bratislava, Slovakia. If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, further information about contributing follows this article.
Image Credit: Bratislava at sunset (Kamil Rejczyk CC BY 2.0)
The Best Bookshops in Bratislava, Slovakia
Slovakia’s capital Bratislava is just a stone’s throw from Vienna but shockingly remains low on many travellers’ bucket lists. Although its city centre may be small, it is an incredibly worthwhile place to visit – for tourists and book lovers alike. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or an ex-pat-turned-local (as we respectively are), the obvious place to stroll is the beautiful Old Town. The cobblestoned streets are lined with cafes and curve into gorgeous arches and tiny hidden thoroughfares. History buffs can wander by the remnants of the past, such as the fifteenth-century town hall that now houses the Bratislava City Museum, itself founded in 1868. To complete the walk (and really get your heart racing), climb up the castle steps to Bratislava Castle. From there you have a wonderful view of the city, and can even see wind turbines revolving in nearby Austria. You can also stroll around the newly manicured castle garden and, of course, pick a place to read a book on a well-deserved break.
Baštova 9, Bratislava
On a small side street you might never know to otherwise wander down is a bookstore that brought me back to my childhood. It is always unexpected to feel at home in a new place; rarer still is when it occurs through spying your family’s favourite books on unfamiliar shelves. 11th Floor Books, opened in 2016 in Bratislava, is a one-room magic bookhouse. Run, in fact, by a family itself, it is a coffeehouse and English bookstore in one, filled with used and new books, yellow light and small wooden tables. The books are well-priced and in good condition, and the used ones have been collected from other independent bookstores across Europe. Seated with a hot chocolate so rich my spoon stuck straight up in the middle, I chatted with Ivan Mistrík, who co-owns the bookstore with his wife, Sonja. Both are book fanatics, and so dedicated to independent bookshops that they have started a website cataloguing those they have discovered. As I lamented the loss of the independent bookstores I grew up with, Ivan told me that a record number of independent bookstores opened in 2016. Luckily for us, 11th Floor Books is part of this optimistic statistic.
Panenská 28, Bratislava
If you wander further through Bratislava’s Old City you may be lucky enough to come across an old lyceum filled with enough books to almost reach its beautiful arched ceilings. Next Apache Bookshop is a secondhand bookshop as well as a café and bar; if you stay long enough you may be treated to a live jazz performance by local artists. The bookshop has a cosy atmosphere and is an ideal meeting place for both readers and writers. During my visit, some customers nursed a cappuccino over one of the multiple newspapers and magazines the bookstore subscribes to (including The Guardian, The Economist and Le Monde), while others read outside in the sunny courtyard. The book selection is exciting and eclectic, ranging from mysteries to politics to the humanities. Started by Canadian Ben Pascoe, Next Apache offers a place for mixing – English and Slovakian, ex-pat and local, reading and writing, coffee and drinks. In addition to selling books, it holds cultural events from time to time, including musical performances and the Bratislava Writing Group, which meets there twice a month. The name itself comes from Ben’s way of pronouncing ‘Nech sa paci’, a phrase meaning ‘there you go’ in Slovak and akin to ‘voila!’. The phrase captured my feelings as I sat on a couch beside books and drank tea, debating with which of the bookstore’s many offerings to begin.
Once you’ve explored Bratislava’s bookshops, you may be ready to move beyond the Old Town and explore nearby areas. We suggest taking your bounty to Sad Janka Krala, a park directly across the Danube from the Old Town. Densely packed with alders, maples and willows, it is a place for a breath of fresh air and a picnic. The notable Danubiana Modern Art Gallery can further satisfy your visual vocabulary; it is about 20 kilometres from Bratislava and can be reached by ferry or car – or, as we recommend, a long cycle ride on the riverside bike path. Of course, we also understand if you decide to remain in town and check out Bratislava’s numerous other bookstores. If you do, don’t miss Artforum or, if you’re heading back to school soon and still in need of textbooks, the Oxford Bookshop. Regardless of its provenance, we suggest leaving Bratislava with at least one book for the plane ride home.
Evan Easton-Calabria is a researcher at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, and a PhD Candidate in International Development, University of Oxford.
Phil Soanes is a novelist and an English teacher in Bratislava, and is also a proud new father.
Note: This bookshop guide gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. Thank you to Evan Easton-Calabria for providing the images of 11th Floor Books. The image of Next Apache is credited to Nico Kaiser CC BY 2.0.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when they’re undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, then this is your chance to tell us all about it.
As part of a regular feature on LSE Review of Books, we’re asking academics and students to recommend their favourite two or three bookshops in a particular city, with the aim of building an exciting online series for our book-loving community of readers the world over.
Bookshops could be academic, alternative, foreign language, hobby-based, secret or underground institutions, secondhand outlets or connected to a university. We’d like to cover all world regions too.
If something comes to mind, we’re looking for around 150 words per bookshop, detailing why each place is a must-see. Our editorial team can then find suitable photos and links to accompany the piece, though you’re welcome to supply these too. We only ask that you focus on just one city or region, and two or three bookshops within it.
Email us now if you’d like to contribute: firstname.lastname@example.org