Isn't the bus good enough?
Bratislava isn't exactly a vast metropolis. It's actually quite small in comparison with the not-so-far Vienna, Budapest, or farther Prague but it's still big enough to make you want to wish for a car from time to time.
Although the public transportation system is quite reliable and can get you to every part of the city more or less on time, you might want to move around with more comfort, especially during summer. Some of the older vehicles don't come with air condition, which might be very unpleasant, especially for the kids or the elderly.
Another good reason is the exploration of the countryside or travelling in a larger group. Having a car available is much easier than scheduling your trips around the sometimes scarce bus departures. Also, if four people split the bill for renting and gas, it might eventually be cheaper than public transportation. And last but not least, if you carry a larger luggage, it might be a real pain to ride with it in a bus. (Not to mention, you have to buy a special ticket for it.)
It's worth to mention here that if you are a full-time college student younger than 26 years from any state of the EU, a senior with age over 62 years, or younger that 15 years, you can ride trains in Slovakia for free. That sounds really neat, but there are some limitations. Firstly, it's limited to the state railways (ZSSK) and secondly, you have to register for this offer at the cash desk on train stations with an ID plus an officially translated document that confirms the student status, if you are a student. Seniors and teenagers need only their ID's. The official translation can be quite costly, but it's still something to consider. The details of what you need can be found here.
What to keep in mind when renting a car
There are plenty of companies in Bratislava that are renting cars: from the big international brands like Avis, Sixt or Europcar to small, local businesses which often also operate as used car dealerships. They vary in prices, the range of cars they offer, and the conditions for renting. These are very important to know in advance, so here is a few basic points you should keep in mind when you decide to rent a car:
- You will always need your driving license, obviously. Other than that, almost all the car rentals demand at least one other ID document - passport is sufficient.
- The minimum age for renting is rarely below 21 years, in some cases even 23 years. Also, the driving license must be valid for at least a year. The standard age for driving in the eyes of the rental company is 25 to 70 years and if you are younger, you might pay additionally up to 15 - 20€ per day!
- Be aware that some companies don't list the final price in their price lists. There are often many small fees mentioned "below the line" that can push the amount of money you'll actually pay significantly higher. A few examples of these fees - paying for more than one driver, paying for exceeding the daily kilometer limit or paying for cleaning the car after you return it (doesn't matter if it's clean already).
- Renting a car online and in advance is almost always cheaper than renting it after arriving to the airport.
- If you rent the car for a longer time, the price per day will of course decrease. However, many of the companies offer a two-week rental as the longest time period for renting. If you want the car for more than two weeks, you have to negotiate an individual price.
Tourists renting a car at the Bratislava Airport. Remember that booking online and in advance is usually cheaper, not to mention faster.
- The cars are insured with basic car insurance that doesn't cover much. The rental company will probably offer you some advanced policy, but you can also go with international services like insurance4carhire or other. A very important detail - Slovakia has a zero alcohol tolerance, which means that only a small beer before driving could cause a lot of trouble, for example confiscation of your licence, a hefty fine, or in worst cases, like causing a serious accident, even prison time. Also, if you cause even a minor accident while "under influence", you are automatically responsible and no insurance policy will cover the damages.
- Some of the companies offer to bring you the car to the airport for free, some for a fee. It's always free to pick it up at their office, but that can be 10 minutes from the airport, or on the other side of town. Most of the companies also offer to prepare the car for you not only at Bratislava airport, but also the Austrian Schwechat - the Vienna international airport, but that might get pricey - around 50€. If you are not arriving by a plane, or you just want to pick up the car somewhere else, there is always an option to have it prepared to an address of your choosing for a fee, which is usually somewhere around 10€.
- Think carefully if you want to pay 3€ per day for satellite navigation, or use one of the many apps for smartphones and tablets, like Sygic, TomTom or Navigon. They can be used offline and often are free or offer a free trial for a week or two. If you have no problem with using the data roaming, Waze is a great way to go. Waze is a free, crowdsourced navigation that gives you traffic info in real time, so it can save you from traffic jams and unsuspected police radars.
- If you arrive during winter and you want to combine your stay with a ski trip, don't forget to rent the tire chains. Some of the more remote roads in Slovakia might not be plowed, especially in the morning hours and you find yourself stuck in a middle of a hill.
- When returning the car, always refill the tank. If you don't do it, the rental company can charge you a flat fee for that, which might be a price worth the full tank. And that can be really irritating in case you hand over the car with the tank half-full.
- Don't forget that you have to pay a deposit. Either you hand over the cash or you can use a credit card, where the sum will be held until you return the car (undamaged). The deposit fees are based on the type of the vehicle and usually start at 200€. However, some companies don't require a deposit on certain vehicles. See below for more information.
- Be careful about the time. Some companies will charge you for a whole another day if you return the car just a minute late. If you are not sure from the company's terms, don't forget to ask!
Before agreeing to anything and signing the contract, make a thorough inspection of the car for any bumps, scratches, or other damages and make sure that any imperfection you find is written down in the agreement. It doesn't hurt to take pictures to be able to prove that you haven't caused something that was already there.
Choosing the right chariot
You've decided that you want a car for your stay and it's time to choose which one. The rental companies generally offer a wide variety of car types, from small town cars, through hatchbacks, smaller and larger sedans with wagon versions, limos, SUVs to minivans, or larger vans.
The first obvious thing you should consider is what purpose do you need the car for in the first place. If you are a couple that wants just to move around the city, then the small, economy class vehicles should be sufficient. If you are a family with a little baby, a station wagon with a larger trunk where you can easily fit a stroller or other stuff is a far better choice.
If you are from North America and you want to drive an American car, you'll be disappointed. American brands are not very common in Slovakia, and almost no rental service offers them, except maybe some cheaper Chevrolet models, but they are also not very common. On the other hand, what you will see a lot on Slovak roads are mostly the brands that belong to the VW group - VW, Seat, Audi, and Skoda, also other German car brands like the BMW, Mercedes, Opel, or other European and occasionally Japanese cars. There are a few particular models of cars, that almost every rental service offers: Skoda Fabia, Skoda Octavia, VW Golf and VW Passat, plus their station wagon versions.
When you are planning the budget for your rental, don't forget to count in the fuel consumption of the car you will rent. The diesel engines have generally lower fuel consumption and the diesel itself is cheaper than gas, so it might be good to consider renting a diesel fueled car - more than half of the cars offered by the rental companies have diesel engines anyway.
Who to rent from?
There are plenty of car rental companies to choose from. The easiest and most comfortable way to do it from your home is of course online. There is one great website to start with - Holiday Autos. This is a site that lists cars offered by large number of rental companies. In case of Slovakia it's the six major ones. You just select a date and the pick-up place and the site generates a list of available cars. The most helpful feature of the site is the Terms and Conditions button under every listed car, which shows you a summary of all the requirements and fees of the particular rental company. The companies indexed by the Holiday Autos in Slovakia are Avis, Budget, Buchbinder, Europcar, Megadrive and Sixt.
You might want to scout for some other options besides the big companies. Sometimes it's worth to go with a smaller, local rental, because they might offer something that the bigger companies might not have. For example, more unique cars. If you have a drop of gasoline in your blood and want to ride with style, you might find the selection of the big companies a bit boring.
Here are few that are worth attention:
GlobalCar offers the standard mix of European car brands with a bit wider selection of mini-vans. Besides that, they have three SUVs - one is Ford Kuga and the other two are very popular Japanese off roads: Mitshubishi Pajero and Nissan Pathfinder. If you're looking for something really special, then here is something definitely worth attention. Nissan 370 Z! This 326 hp Japanese katana will without any doubt spice up your stay in Bratislava.
The rental company is also offering some extra accessories. In addition to common stuff like navigation or roof box they offer coolboxes, which might come very handy in summer. Tire chains and child car seats are for free. The deposit starts at 200€ and you also have to pay a 12€ fee for the delivery of the car within Bratislava or picking up the car outside business hours. Slovak road tax vignette comes with every rental.
Their most popular vehicles are mini-vans. We've discovered that they get a lot of foreign customers visiting Slovakia with their family and wanting to travel around the country, and they want bigger cars. So they run out of mini-vans fast during summer season.
Out of all the companies on our list, this one wins the highest number of points for customer service. During our visit, they were very nice, very helpful and ready to answer all of our questions. This is how it's done!
Price range: from 22,80€ for a day for Skoda Fabia or Seat Ibiza (both also in Combi versions) to 216€ for a day for Nissan 370 Z
Address: GlobalCar SK s.r.o., Pestovateľská 4, 821 04 Bratislava, Slovakia
AUTO-RENTAL offers an interesting mix of brands mainly of European origin also with a few Fords. What's worth attention in the high-end range is VW Passat CC, a classier version of regular Passat, and the loved/hated Porsche Panamera. They also offer something else besides regular car rental - a day on Slovakia Ring (biggest Slovakian racing circuit) with either a pro-racing version of Honda Accord Type R or Porsche 911 GT3 S2. In the low-end range they have models like Ford Ka, or Suzuki Swift, which are also not very common amongst other rental companies.
The minimum age to rent a car here is 23 years and all cars are limited to 300 kilometers per day. You can have the car delivered to all the major airports in the region - Bratislava, Prague, Vienna, Budapest or Kosice. There is also an option to pick up the car outside their business hours (8am to 8pm) for a 15€ fee.
They also have great customer service and even though we've surprised them by visiting, they were very kind and helpful. If you drop by their office during office hours, you'll actually find someone there, which was not the case with the remaining companies on our list.
Price range: from 23€ for a day for Ford Ka, Skoda Fabia and Skoda Fabia Combi to 390€ for a day for Porsche Panamera
Address: AUTO-RENTAL s.r.o., Bajkalská 31, 827 25 Bratislava, Slovakia
If you love cars, and you have enough money to spend, and you're convinced to rent something really extraordinary during your stay in Slovakia, then go for RAI Internacional. In addition to renting cars, the company specializes in renting stretch limos for special occasions like weddings, bachelor parties, birthdays etc. and this part of their business has some good impact on the regular rentals. The selection of course contains the ubiquitous Skodas, but the mix of the vehicles offered both in the low and high-end ranges is more diverse, although composed mainly from the European brands. High-end stock is much more interesting here. To name just a few: Porsche Panamera GTS, SUVs like Audi Q3 and Q5, VW Touareg, Porsche Cayenne and the new Porsche Macan S, which is not very easy to find. In addition to the rarities, RAI offers three pieces of Hummer H2, one equipped with 22" rims, if you want to roll like a rap star. Top of the fleet is an Audi R8. For those unfamiliar with this model, it's basically a wingless jet. From the future.
One of the stretch limos usually rented for special occasions. You can see it cruising around Bratislava late in the evenings on weekends
The company claims that none of their cars is older than a year and their prices are pretty reasonable. The deposit starts at 250€ for the low-end vehicles but the kilometers per day are unfortunately limited to 100. Also, if you order the rental and cancel it afterwards, you have to pay a fee of 10% of agreed price (minimum 50€) and if you cancel in less than 3 days before picking up the vehicle, you have to pay 50% of the price. The fee for picking up the car off the business hours is 15€ from 5pm to 12am and 25€ from 12am to 8am.
RAI Internacional has its office at the Chopin Airport hotel. However, you might not always find them there during the opening hours...
Price range: from 22€ for a day for Skoda Fabia to 400€ for a day for Audi R8
Address: Chopin Airporthotel, Galvaniho ul.28, 821 04 Bratislava, Slovakia
The company offers a variety of common cars mentioned above and also a few less frequent models, for example classier SUVs like BMW X5, Audi Q5 and Q7, Porsche Cayenne or Mercedes ML. They also offer a Chrysler 300, which is one of the few American cars that are kind of common in Slovakia. Don't get excited too much about the Hemi V8 though, the one that is offered here has a diesel engine.
The company also has no daily kilometer limit for all their cars except vans. The Slovak road tax vignette (that lets you use all Slovakian highways) is included in the price of every vehicle.
The address says Kopčianská 65, which is right across from this gas station, but you won't find anyone there. Make sure you call and arrange a meeting.
Price range: from 30€ for a day for Skoda Fabia to 156€ for a day for Audi A8, Porsche Cayenne, BMW 5 GT or BMW 3 Cabrio
Address: AB–WICKAM,s.r.o., Kopčianská 65, 851 01 Bratislava, Slovakia
This company has a major downside that their website is only in Slovak. The upside is that they have a few cars no one else has and offer them for very good prices. For example, you can rent the BMW's X6, the stylish Italian Fiat 500 or if you want something really exquisite (and for only 35€ per day) Mini John Cooper Works GP - a limited racing edition, that packs 211 horsepower and promises a ride more amusing than a rollercoaster!
They also don't require any deposit, they deliver the car without a fee, and offer a long term rental (for more than a month).
Price range: from 19€ for a day for Skoda Citigo to 100€ for a day for BMW X6
Address: RENOZ, spol. s r.o., Kopčianska 16, 851 01 Bratislava, Slovakia, (Don't get fooled by the sign saying EconCars, they're both at the same address. Even the doorman will try to convince you there is no Renoz at this address. But we've discovered it's because multiple rental companies are using the same space. So just make sure you call them and arrange your visit.)
Make sure you always order the car online or by phone - most of these companies don't have physical headquarters, where they would be waiting all day for new customers. So make sure you call before dropping by, otherwise you're just wasting your time.
Even though Bratislava is little enough to be explored on foot, there are many reasons to rent a car. Whether you don't want to limit your stay in Slovakia to the capital or you simply like the comfort of traveling in a car, the choice is yours. I hope this article makes it easier for you to decide. Enjoy your stay in Bratislava!