Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, may not be your first option when it comes to planning your European tour. However, you shouldn’t skip this small city on the Danube river banks when your reach this part of Europe. Read on for the best things to do in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Though not a large city, Bratislava, the capital of the young Slovak Republic, has had a long and intriguing history. To this day, it’s a mix of historic buildings and dynamic life, with a strong social side. Locals love to go out, and they know how to enjoy their city but also how to make tourists feel welcome.
You can easily plan a day trip to Bratislava from Vienna, but I encourage you to spend at least one night in this beautiful city. Let me give you a few reasons why, and a few things you should do in Bratislava!
Best Things to do in Bratislava
It’s no surprise that the best things to do in Bratislava are in or around the Old City. You don’t need to go too far, and the central area is very walkable, so you don’t need to worry about transportation once there.
I don’t think anyone visits Bratislava these days without walking up to the castle. It stands on a hill, overlooking the Old City, the Danube river, and the surrounding area. Its strategic location was recognized early on, and the first settlement found on the hill dates back more than 4000 years.
Throughout the centuries, there was always some kind of fortification on the hill, starting with wooden defense systems, until the Grand Bratislava Castle burned in 1811. Today we see the result of many years of reconstruction aimed at recreating Bratislava castle in its heyday.
You can reach Bratislava Castle by walking about 15 minutes from the Old Town. Though uphill, it’s an easy walk, with plenty of great views of the castle above and the Danube river below. The outside areas of the castle, as well as the park around the walls, are free to visit.
However, you do need a ticket to visit the History Museum and the other collections inside the castle. The castle is open from 10 AM to 6 PM during the summer months (April to October). Off-season, the opening hours are 9 AM to 5 PM.
Tip: Bratislava Card is a good deal if you plan to visit more of the city. It includes access to the castle and some other attractions. Public transport is also free with Bratislava Card.
The Medieval Walls
Little remains today of the city’s medieval walls. One of the city gates, Michael’s gate, still stands, together with two towers. But, during construction work for the SNP bridge, part of the fortifications was uncovered. It was then restored to the high walls we see today leading to St.Martin’s Cathedral. It’s a pleasant walk under the walls, and it’s easy to imagine stepping back in time to Medieval Bratislava.
The Blue Church
One of the most iconic buildings in Bratislava is the Blue Church. Tucked away in the eastern part of the Old Town, the art nouveau building stands out because of its architecture and color. Everything is blue, outside and inside. It’s a beautiful building that looks like it’s part of a fairy tale.
The Blue Church is free to visit, but the opening hours are very limited. Check the schedule here to be able to see the interior as well.
Bratislava Old City
The best way to discover Bratislava is by walking slowly through the Old City. Small squares, beautiful secessionist architecture, restaurants, and terraces catch your eye everywhere. It’s a lively atmosphere, and time will fly by with you wandering on the streets of Old Bratislava.
Enjoy Slovakian Food
Slovakian food is a feast of hearty, tasty food. With simple ingredients: potatoes, garlic, cabbage, and pork meat, they create dishes that make you taste the heart of the country.
Have a Craft Beer by the Danube
I would say Bratislava is the city of craft beer, so it quickly became one of my favorite cities. There seems to be at least one craft beer bar on every street. I took a Craft Beer Tour with Taste Bratislava, and we discovered some of the hidden beer bars too.
The story says that water wasn’t safe to drink during the Medieval times, so beer and wine were better options at the time. The habit of drinking beer and wine lasted, and there are plenty of themed bars in the city. Though, I must say, the drinks evolved in the meantime.
Visit the UFO Bridge
The best views of a city are always from above. At the top of the New Bridge (Novy Most) in Bratislava, the UFO Bar and Restaurant is the place to find those views. You can pay a fee to visit the observation deck, or eat in the restaurant instead, which entitles you to free entry.
It’s an upscale menu, with interesting wine pairings and cocktails, but you pay for good food and a great view as well.
Take a Walking Tour with a Local
I should have started with this one. You can discover Bratislava on your own, wander the streets and visit the main attractions. However, it’s a completely different experience if you walk for a couple of hours with a local. You will learn a lot about the city’s recent history, have a better insight, and usually find out about the best places to eat.
Find out about Communist Bratislava
While in the area, you should try a different perspective and learn about the Soviet Era and how it impacted life in former Czechoslovakia. The best way to do that is by taking this dedicated post-communism tour. If you never had contact with a communist society, learning about the realities of an oppressive regime will be eye-opening.
Don’t expect beautiful architecture, just a lot of interesting information about the pointless rules of an unreal society.
Take a day trip from Bratislava
If you have more time in the city, the first place you should visit is Devin Castle, only 15km out of the city. The castle itself lies in ruin since the beginning of the 19th century when the troops of Napoleon destroyed it. However, its location, between the Danube and the Moravia rivers, makes it a great spot to visit.
Another idea is to visit Vienna as a day trip from Bratislava. Though I agree that there are many experiences Vienna offers, perhaps you’ll be in the mood to head to Vienna for one day. If that happens, take the catamaran to Vienna and enjoy a Viennese apple strudel and a melange coffee.
Where to stay in Bratislava
Again, the central part of Bratislava is very walkable, and I would advise staying as close to the Old Town as possible.
You can’t go wrong with the Radisson Blu Carlton Hotel, which is literally across the street from one of the entrances to the Old City.
Another excellent hotel in the city center is Marrol’s Boutique Hotel, which has the added advantage of a more intimate atmosphere.
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