Bratislava has a very beautiful and compact old town which can be easily covered on foot within a few hours. In the summer months, the many cafes, bars and restaurants spill out onto the narrow cobbled streets, providing a vibrant and lively atmosphere. The weekends can be incredibly busy with an influx of tourists and stag parties, although the week days are usually more pleasant and relaxed.
Despite living in Bratislava for nearly six months, I still feel I’ve only scratched the surface.
Do I like Bratislava? Not particularly – the centre is nothing special in comparison with other towns and cities in central Europe, and it’s generally not representative of Slovakia due to the number of tourists. However, having spent the summer months travelling around the surrounding regions and other parts of Slovakia, I’m looking forward to spending a little more time exploring what the centre has to offer, so perhaps my opinion will change over the winter. Who knows.
The following map lists the main sites and attractions, numbered 1-7, which I talk about below. Please note that all museums and castles are closed on Mondays.
Anyway, enjoy Bratislava!
1. The Old Town
The old town, like so many in central Europe, is pleasant to wander round. On the northern side is Michael’s Gate and Tower (Michalská brána), a popular tourist site in central Bratislava. Constructed in the 14th century, it’s the only remaining gate of the original medieval city fortifications, although underwent significant reconstruction in the middle of the 18th century. At a height of 51 metres, the tower houses a weapons museum and an observation deck, with great views of the old town. Entrance is €4.30 (which also includes the adjacent Museum of Pharmacy).
The Main square (Hlavné námestie) is only a 200 metre walk from Michael’s Gate, around which are several interesting statues which are very popular with the tourists – Čumil probably being the most famous and photographed, although the Schöner Naci tipping his hat provides an excellent photograph opportunity – expect queues! The Old city hall houses the City History Museum (entrance €5). Behind this is the smaller Primate’s Square (Primaciálne námestie), where you’ll find a neoclassical palace and tourist information centre. The tree lined Hviezdoslav Square (Hviezdoslavovo námestie) often has a small arts and crafts market, near the old Slovak National Theatre building.
The main tourist streets are Michalská, Sedlárska, Panská, Ventúrska, and Hviezdoslavovo námestie – expect to pay considerably more if eating or drinking in the pubs and restaurants here. There are several side streets which tourists largely ignore; so plenty of ‘hidden gems’ to be discovered.
2. The Blue Church (Modrý kostol)
The Church of St. Elizabeth is an Art Nouveau Catholic church located at the eastern edge of the Old Town near Šafárikovo námesti, and only a ten minute walk from the main square. Often referred to as “The Little Blue Church” due to the colour of its façade, mosaics, and blue-tiled roof, it’s a must visit for anyone interested in architecture or religious buildings. It’s not usually open to the public, although you can look through the main door, which is enough to appreciate the interior.
3. Bratislava Castle
From a dominating position on a hill looking over the Danube, Bratislava Castle (Bratislavský hrad) is one of the iconic images of the city (the other being the UFO bridge). The first written records date back to 907 AD, and the castle underwent various additions and modications over the centuries – and was attacked by Napoleon’s Army in 1809. Destroyed by fire in 1811, the castle remained a ruin until 1953, at which point it was decided to proceed with restoration works; demolition had been an option. Today it houses the Museum of History of the Slovak National Museum (entry cost from €6), although part of the castle grounds are closed due to an archaeological dig after the discovery of an old Celtic settlement. There are several ways to get here, although ideally try pass by the old city walls that run parallel to Staromestská.
Skip the tourist traps of the old town and make your way towards Obchodná or Namestie SNP. Both Viecha U Sedliaka (Obchodná 55) and Starosloviensky Pivovar (Vysoká 15) serve delicious Slovakian cuisine at very low prices – the bryndzové halušky (dumplings with sheep cheese and bacon) in both restaurants is a must try. The Slovak Pub (Obchodná 62) and Flagship Restaurant (Námestie SNP 8) are also reasonable choices, although have become quite touristy in recent years. Ganesh (Vysoká 2/A) serves a tasty vegetarian lunch for a very reasonable €5.50.
5. The Presidential Palace and Gardens
Located just north of the old town at Hodžovo námesti, the Slovakian Presidential palace can be found at Hodžovo námestí, in central Bratislava. Originally designed for the Hungarian aristocrat, Antal Grassalkovich, the building was completed in 1760, and is now officially known as Grassalkovich Palace. It has been the home of the Slovakian President since September 1996. The gardens to the back of the palace are open to the public during daylight hours, and are usually very quiet.
6. Slavín War Monument
There are not many war sites or memorials in Bratislava, however at the top of the Slavin hill lies the monument and military cemetery for the Soviet Soldiers who lost their lives whilst liberating the city from Nazi occupation in April 1945. There are 6845 Red Army Soldiers buried in six mass graves, and a further 317 individual graves. The monument features a Soviet soldier holding a flag, and crushing a Swastika with his foot. Plaques commerate the date in which various towns and cities were liberated. In addition to the war theme, the location provides terrific views of the city, including Bratislava castle and the Slovak Radio (Slovenský rozhlas) building, which is a distinctive inverted pyramid! Hiking up the hill to get here can be a little tricky as the route isn’t particularly well marked, although the easiest option is to take bus #147 from Hodžovo námestie to Slavín (Direction: Búdková).
7. Nový most and Starý most
These two bridges connect the old town with the Petržalka district on the south side of the Danube. Nový most, also known as the UFO bridge, thanks to the saucer shaped restaurant that sits at the top of the pylon – there is also an observation deck above the restaurant (€7.40 entrance, or free if eating at the restaurant) should you be after some panoramic views. If heights aren’t your thing, then walk along the banks of the Danube towards Starý most; stopping for a drink at the Dunajsky pivovar is highly recommended. The recently reconstructed Starý most is only open to pedestrians, cyclists and trams – there are a couple of viewing platforms