Komárno is a border town in south-east Slovakia. Situated at the confluence of the Váh and Danube rivers, was an important historical strategic location, and is known as the city of fortresses. The phrase ‘hidden gem’ is often over used, however Komárno, including Komárom (the Hungarian part), is an interesting place and definitely off the tourist radar. It’s one of several places on the Danube between Budapest and Bratislava that is ignored, as tourists and travellers continue to stick to the well trodden paths of capital cities.
The city was Hungarian until 1918, at which point the northern part (including the centre) was incorporated into Czechoslovakia, and the city became an important Czechoslovak port on the Danube. The suburb south of the Danube remained Hungarian. In 1938, the Komárno was once again reunified in the Kingdom of Hungary, until 1945, at which point the northern part was once again claimed by Czechoslovakia. Today, the population is predominantly ethnic Hungarian.
The railway station, which is located on the edge of the city, is one of those ugly and functional buildings from the socialist era. Fortunately, the centre was only around ten minutes by walking, and on route there were a couple of small parks, the first of which contained one of Slovakia’s oldest water towers, which was built in 1902 in the Romantic style.
Whilst the city centre was compact and didn’t take long to cover, it was both clean and well maintained, thus very pleasant to explore. The Hungarian influence is notable, primarily as Hungarian is the dominant language here, and not one in which I am particularly familiar with. Komárno boasts the largest Hungarian community in Slovakia; which is reflected via the local culture events, the bilingual street signs, and the only remaining Hungarian University in Slovakia. There are no shortage of churches, with the Catholic Church of St. Andrew and the Kostol svätej Rozálie being the most interesting (from an architectural point of view).
However, the most impressive feature of this small city is undoubtably Europe square, or Evropske namesti, which contains a variety of buildings representative of various historical architectural styles in Europe, complete with a central fountain. The majority of buildings comprise shops, cafes or restaurants, although there are some empty properties and sites yet to be built on. Presumably, this is a work in progress. For more detailed information on individual buildings, please see this website. The square is reasonably well hidden from the main street, thus it’s very easy to miss.
The immediate area around the Danube is not the most pleasant, primarily as Komárno is the second biggest port in Slovakia (after Bratislava), with goods transported on both the Danube and Váh rivers. Additionally, the area has a rich ship building history, focusing on the construction and repair of barges and other river-going vessels. The Central Fortress is situated at the confluence of the two rivers; unfortunately it’s only possible to visit on a guided tour during the week and weekends in July to September.
One of the best aspects of living in central Europe is the ability to travel to neighbouring countries with little planning, which for me, is usually in search of some alternative food and drink. Having crossed the Danube into Hungary via the Elisabeth Bridge, I managed to make a quick detour to Tesco for some Túró Rudi, a popular Hungarian chocolate bar with an inner filling of curd. Had the weather not have been roasting, I would certainly have bought a few more.
As previously mentioned, the Hungarian part of the city is more of a suburb with an industrial and residential feel. Whilst there are some shops and restaurants on Igmándi út, which is the main street which leads to the bridge, it’s certainly not a developed, or aesthetic, as the Slovak part of town. The most impressive building was the Mayor’s Office, a very colourful example of Austro Hungarian architecture.
Assuming you like swimming and don’t mind a slight smell of sulphur, what better way to relax than visiting Brigetio Gyógyfürdő, which has been a popular thermal spa since 1967. Recent archaelogical excavations indicate a bathing tradition stretching back some 1700 years to the Roman era. For the bargain price of 1200 HUF (3.80€) you get two hours admission to the various indoor and outdoor pools, although it’s only 1800 HUF (5.70€) for whole day admission. To be honest, some of the thermal pools were a bit too hot to spend any prolonged time on such a warm day, however one 33 °C outdoor pool was perfect. Fortunately the outdoor thermal pools are partially covered, thus you can find shade at any point during the day, which was a relief.
There are three fortresses on the Hungarian side, Monostori Erőd, Fort Igmándi and Csillag Erőd Komárom, although unfortunately there was not enough time to visit any of these, so will perhaps return at some point.
Having enjoyed spending the day wandering round both parts of the city, it certainly didn’t feel like two separate entities, and would highly recommend this as a day trip, or possibly even an overnight stop during the warmer months. Whilst the Danube marks the official international boundary between Slovakia and Hungary, it felt somewhat arbitrary, and didn’t appear to have any negative effect on the local population.
How to get there?
There are direct trains to Komárno from Bratislava with RegioJet; the journey took around two hours. It’s slightly quicker to travel via Nové Zámky, which is on the main rail route between Bratislava and Budapest, although that route can be subject to delays. Alternatively, there are direct trains to Komárom from Budapest-Keleti, Budapest-Déli, or Vienna.