Bratislava the capital of Slovakia, sits on the Danube River in the foothills of the Little Carpathian Mountains, bordering Austria and Hungary. Often referred to as the Beauty on the Danube, Bratislava is surrounded by farms, vineyards, and tiny villages.
Is Bratislava worth a visit?
Absolutely! It may not be on the scale of Prague or Vienna, but if you like the authentic charm of Eastern European cities such as Tallinn or Riga, then we’d highly recommend it. Bratislava’s old town is smaller than Tallinn’s or Riga’s, but there are several historic sites and is lively with many restaurants and pubs.
Things to do in Bratislava
Bratislava Castle is an iconic symbol of the city, located high on a hill overlooking Old Town and the Danube River. From Old Town it’s just a short 15-minute walk to the top of the hill; we recommend walking through the narrow old streets to get a better experience, instead of along the main street which follows the bus line.
You can stroll through the Baroque gardens at the rear of the castle which is free of charge or enter the castle and explore the Museum of History. The interior has been renovated so doesn’t look like what you would expect a castle to look like, but it does have some interesting displays.
The 18th-century Old Town (Slovak: Staré Mesto), is certainly a place where many visitors spend their time and you can certainly see why. It’s narrow, winding, cobblestone streets are mostly pedestrian-only, but condensed and easily walkable.
One place you must visit is the main square – Hlavne Namestie – including the courtyard of the old town hall (Stara Radnica), the national theatre and St. Martin’s Cathedral. There are a lot of streets to explore where you’ll see things like fountains, Baroque buildings, little monuments and plaques indicating historical figures. Certainly, the best way to really see and appreciate Old Town is just to wander around.
In the Main Square is one of Bratislava’s most prized monuments and meeting places, Maximilian’s Fountain. Commissioned by the King of Hungary, Maximilian II in 1572, it sits opposite the Old Town Hall and legend has it that every New Year at the stroke of midnight the statue turns to face the Old Town Hall and bows to honor the twelve councillors who died defending the city.
Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall dates back to the 13thcentury, the beginnings of this medieval town.
St. Martin’s Cathedral
A three-nave Gothic church from the 15th century is a popular landmark that has a gilded replica of Queen Marie Theresa’s coronation crown that is on top of the cathedral tower.
Statues in the Old Town
Bringing some whimsicality to Old Town is a number of statues that you’ll find in the most unexpected places.
Certainly the most famous and photographed of these is Čumil – Man at Work, where Laurinská meets Panská Street. He’s kind of a devious-looking sewer worker crawling out of a manhole with his chin resting on his arms. It’s unclear what he’s really up to; some have said that Cumil represents an unmotivated communist-era worker taking a prolonged break.
Another statue is of Schöne Náci, a local eccentric renowned in Bratislava, and who walked around Old Town in a tailcoat and top hat greeting women in German, Hungarian and Slovak. His statue greets visitors on Sedlárska Street near the main square.
There are several others, however these are the two most notable ones.
Michael’s Gate is one of the main entrances into Old Town and the only surviving medieval gate. The gate and tower are located at the top of Michalska Street which is lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. If you have the time, you can climb to the top of the tower for a view of the city.
St Elizabeth’s Church (Blue Church)
The Church of St. Elisabeth, better known as the Blue Church, is just east of the old town on Bezručova Street and is a great example of art nouveau architecture of the region. It was built in the 1910s as the chapel for the Gamča gymnasium (grammar school) which is next to the church. We have seen many churches in our travels throughout Europe, but this one is really unique and beautiful and yes, it is blue, not only the exterior, but also on the inside.
Klemensova Street Villa
One of Bratislava’s Top Ten Instagram spots is a residential building on Klemensova street just 2 short blocks east of the Blue Church that is covered in ivy.
It was recommended as a must see, however we didn’t get to tour it, but it really does look like a flying saucer at one end of the UFO or SNP bridge. The bridge is officially called the SNP Bridge (SNP standing for Slovenské národné povstanie – Slovak National Uprising) but everyone seems to call it the UFO Bridge.
You can take an elevator 95 meters up to the observation deck for a fabulous view of Bratislava. We’re told you can also visit the restaurant for dinner at sunset or have a cocktail in the bar.
Devin Castle is a medieval castle sitting on a hill above the Danube approximately 12 kilometers from Bratislava’s city centre. During its heyday Devin Castle was part of a trade center and served as a military stronghold during the middle ages, but today the romantic ruins are a Slovak national symbol.
How to Get to Devin Castle from Bratislava
It’s easy to get to, either by a boat cruise down the Danube River during high season or by bus. It was a gorgeous day in late August, so we took the boat cruise that leaves for Devin twice a day. It takes 1½ hours to get there as you are cruising against the current and 30 minutes back. If you are short on time, it’s only 20 minutes by bus from the centre of Bratislava.
Visiting Devin Castle
After getting off the boat, it is about a 10-minute walk to the the ticket centre. On the way there is a monument to remember the 400+ people who were killed during the communism era.
When you get to Devin, you can see the castle so walk in that direction. Once you’ve paid your entrance fee, it’s a few-minute walk up to the castle where you’ll walk by pastures with sheep and donkeys.
Once you get there, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the town and Slovakian countryside on one side and on the other side, the junction of the Danube and Morava Rivers.
It was a great way to spend a half day, and definitely worth the visit.
Grassalkovich Palace, the official residence of the Slovak President is located on Hodžovo Square which is just north of the Old Town. As its the permanent home of the president, the palace isn’t open to the public, but you can stop for a photo in front of the fountain. Behind the palace is its formal gardens, now a beautiful public park.
When is the best time to go to Bratislava?
Bratislava’s climate is continental; short, fairly hot summers and cold winters. Late spring and early fall can be great time to visit, as the days tend to be warm, with summer, of course, seeing the largest number of tourists.
Slovakia is fairly heavily forested, so fall is a great time to see the changing colours. Winter could be considered by some a good time to visit Bratislava, in part because of the Christmas markets, however, many of the sights generally stay closed between November and March.
Where to eat in Bratislava
It’s been suggested that over the last decade, Slovakia’s capital city has become a true cultural melting pot with a culinary scene that combines Slovakian tradition with Hungarian, Austrian, German influence and there is no shortage of good restaurants.
Slovak traditional food consists mainly of different types of roasted meat, schnitzel, grilled fish, spicy Hungarian stews, goulashes and fresh vegetables.
One of our favorite restaurants was Modra Hviezdaon Zámocké schody on the way up to the Castle, which has a patio with an amazing view overlooking Old Town and the Danube.
How many days do you need in Bratislava?
We spent two nights and saw most of what we wanted to. Even though our days were pretty full, we’d highly recommend taking time to sit outside a café or bar, perhaps enjoy an adult beverage and watch the people go by in this wonderful city.
Is Bratislava Safe for Tourists?
If you’re walking around old town, it is quite safe, but of course you should always take the usual precautions that would apply anywhere, even at home.
Getting to and Around Bratislava
We traveled from Vienna by train, arriving at Bratislava’s central station, Hlavná stanica, often shortened to Bratislava- Hl. St. which is only 1.4 kilometers from Old Town.
While many taxi services are allowed to service the train station, it was recommended that we use Uber as some of the taxis work in a cartel type arrangement and overcharge tourists. A couple of things to be aware of is that Uber drivers are not able to pick up passengers in the spots reserved for taxis right in front of the station. The road leading up to the station is a few hundred feet long so walk to the bus stop that is on the way out of the station loop road. The second is that Uber cars have the taxi top signs on their car roofs so can be easily be mistaken for a taxi. If you’re staying near Old Town, you can easily walk to everything and if you’re planning a day trip to one of the surrounding areas, Old Town is quite close to the Bratislava Central Train Station.