Sitting on both sides of the Danube in the southwest corner of Slovakia, Bratislava is a festive city, with meandering streets and tiny but grand buildings. With its rural atmosphere, on a hot afternoon a flock of sheep wouldn’t look out of place grazing on Františkánske Square. The Old Town showcases the skill of Slovak town planners, who crammed a city’s worth of palaces, shops, cafés, pubs, restaurants, museums and churches into a few blocks.
The area has been settled since the Neolithic era (about 500 BC), making it centuries older than Prague or Budapest. It has always been an international city – Romans, Hungarians, Germans, Austrians, Turks, Czechs, Jews and Roma have all left their mark. The locals are less weary and cynical than the natives of most capitals, characterized by a friendly reserve.
Old Town (Staré Mesto) lies on the north bank of the Danube, 1km south of the train station, east of the stout castle and southwest of the shops and housing blocks of New Town (Nové Mesto). A pedestrian zone stretches between Hodžovo námestie in the north down to the river in the south. South of the city is Hungary and west is Austria. Bratislava is the only capital city that borders two independent countries.
Where to eat?
- Prašná Bašta
Tucked in a quiet courtyard off Michalská gate is Prašná Bašta, an elegant, low-key restaurant loved by locals. For years, this was a meeting place of artists and writers, and that avant-garde spirit is still palpable. Both Slovak and international flavors grace the menu. Prašná Bašta does a number of lighter dishes well, like salads and fish, but for indulgence try the traditional fried cheese served with chips. Live jazz and classical music is often played, while the outdoor terrace offers one of the best vistas in the city.
- 1st Slovak Pub
1st Slovak Pub is somewhat touristy, but it’s a fun place to go for a few Slovak beers, a small snack, and a loud, jolly atmosphere. The restaurant’s 14 rooms each represent a different period of history with original decorations and furniture, making 1st Slovak Pub a kind of time-capsule. Most weeknights there’s traditional, live accordion music too, and the Slovak cuisine prepared here is basic, but fresh, with ingredients sourced from a local farm. Try the bryndzové halušky or čiernohorský bravčový rezeň, a pork schnitzel with cheese.
- Bratislavský meštiansky pivovar
The atmospheric city brewery is one of the best places to try a Slovak beer, with an interior of dark tables, brewing vats and arched ceilings to go with a menu of home-brewed specialties: lagers and wheat beers. Chase down with other Slovak drinks such as slivovica, a spirit most often made from plums, although apricot, juniper and other flavorings can be sampled too. The brewery also serves up cold and warm appetizers; traditional favorites include pivný syr (beer cheese), utopenec s feferónkami, cibuľkou a s cesnakom (pickled sausage with peppers, onion and garlic) as well as tatársky biftek (steak tartar).
Where to stay?
As for a length a stay in Bratislava, I think one night (therefore two days) is fairly enough, you can fit all the typical tourist spots around the city in those two days just fine.
- The Old Town and Historical Center: The historical center is the heart of Bratislava’s nightlife, culture and tourist attractions, and is one of the best places to stay in Bratislava for either a quick Bratislava city break or for first-timers focused on sightseeing and tourism. Pretty and compact, the historical center is one of the best places to stay in Bratislava for all types of travelers.
- Palisády: Still technically part of the Old Town, Palisády is a quieter part of Bratislava, nice for couples and families. With all the convenience of Old Town within a few minutes’ walk, Palisády has a more silent and local feel to it, and is a great Bratislava neighborhood for those seeking a blend of convenience and a local feel.
- Petržalka: If you’re interested in communist architecture, Petržalka might be the best area to stay in Bratislava. Located relatively near the downtown, roaming in between the concrete giants (buildings) will give you a completely different experience of the city. Petržalka is a good area to stay in Bratislava if you’re up for an urban adventure and something a little bit different.
All these areas are quite safe, and that’s basically all I can tell you about the accommodation since I’ve never spent a night there, hence I can’t recommend you any good hotels, hostels nor rooms.
What to see?
- Bratislava Castle
Towering above the Old Town and Danube river Bratislava castle might have a spectacular location but itself it looks more like the table standing upside down. Let’s be honest here, I saw better castles than this one. But still, it’s worth to climb up to see a pretty impressive view of the UFO Bridge and Petrzalka in the background.
Over the centuries Bratislava Castle played an important role in the history of Central Europe, from the mid-16th century it’s been the coronation city of the Hungarian Kingdom. These days the castle is still under reconstruction after the fire in 1811 but it’s open to visiting and serves as the museum with some interesting exhibitions (during my last visit there was one about the advertisements after WW2).
- Grassalkovich Palace
The palace is closed for tourists, because it’s the home of offices of the president of Slovakia. However, behind the palace is a Grassalkovich garden which is opened every month exceptind December. The garden includes an alley of presidents, where every president visiting bratislava seeds here an oak tree.
- Blue Church
One of the most unique churches in Central Europe, this Art Nouveau masterpiece is painted baby blue with white accents and darker blue roof tiles. The result is a whimsical, fairy-tale like façade and an interior which feels more like a ballroom than a church.
- Michael’s Gate and the Museum of Arts
Michael’s Gate is the only city gate that has been preserved of the medieval fortifications and is one of the oldest buildings in the city, dating back to the early 1300s. Climbing to the top of the tower, through the Museum of Arms (exhibiting the history of Bratislava’s fortifications and many weapons), gives you amazing views of the city and when we were up there we had the entire thing to ourselves! From here you can see three of Bratislava’s main attractions: the castle, St. Martin’s cathedral and the UFO.
- St Martin’s Cathedral
St. Martin’s Cathedral is Bratislava’s largest and oldest church. Sometimes also referred to as St. Martin’s Minster, the elegant building was previously used to conduct crowning ceremonies for Hungarian kings. The soaring tower is likely to be the first thing you notice, with a Hungarian crown perched high on top. The exterior has a mixture of neo-Gothic and baroque designs, and there are a number of statues outside. The interiors are quite plain in comparison to the facade.
- Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall is a beautiful building both inside and out. Inside, the Museum of City History occupies most of the space. Don’t forget to head down to the basement to see examples of Medieval torture instruments, then walk up to the top of the tower for a fabulous view of Bratislava Old Town’s main square.
- Primate’s Palace
An architectural gem, the pinky-coloured Primate’s Palace dates back to the 18th century. The neoclassical building has an interesting history – Napoleon and Franz I met here to sign a peace treaty. After admiring the building from the outside, you can stroll through the peaceful courtyards to find an impressive statue of St. George killing a dragon. The insides of the palace are as opulent as the facades, with grand portraits of former Habsburg leaders, large chandeliers, and sturdy columns. You can also see a collection of ornate tapestries and stand in the Great Hall of Mirrors, the room where the peace agreement was brokered.
- Nedbalka Gallery
Art lovers will be delighted with the fabulous collection of works by Slovak masters and the remodeled modern interior in this Old Town palace. The focus of the Nedbalka Gallery is showcasing the work of artists working in Slovakia from the late 19th century up until the present day. To accomplish this, they host several temporary exhibitions throughout the year in addition to the permanent collection.
- Slavin Memorial
Built to remember Soviet troops who lost their lives while freeing Bratislava from German control, the Slavin Memorial can be found close to Bratislava Castle. Rather austere in appearance, the statue is a prime example of Stalin-era designs.
- UFO Bridge
Both hated and loved, this is probably the most recognizable symbol of Bratislava (however some claim the castle has this title). Officially this is the SNP Bridge (SNP standing for the Slovak National Uprising) but everyone claims it to be UFO Bridge, thanks to the brutal structure located on top of it. You can take the elevator up to the top and either dine in the restaurant or go to the viewing platform to admire the most spectacular view of Bratislava.
- Devin Castle
If you love castles, there’s more than the impressive Bratislava Castle to see! You can also pay a visit to Devin Castle, which is only about a half an hour away from the city on the Danube River. You can cycle, take a bus, catch a train, or relax on a river cruise to get there. Once there, you’ll need a few hours to climb up to the top of the castle ruins and admire the view. This castle hasn’t been restored, but that’s part of what gives it a special historic charm
Recent years have added a cast of outlandish statues, boutiques and modish cafes, eagerly sought out by visiting stag party groups and day-trippers from Vienna. Many arrive purely to enjoy the uproarious nightlife, from rowdy beer halls to hidden nightclubs.
Despite the march of modernism, Bratislava still has nature on its doorstep. The city banks the Danube River, only a few kilometres from the Austrian border. Rolling north are the Malé Karpaty (Small Carpathians), their lowlands draped with vineyards. Flitting between postcard-pretty, steely and gorgeously green, Bratislava never fails to intrigue.
Have a great day!
// some photos are not mine, all the rights go to their owners
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