Bratislava is the capital city of Slovakia, with a population of just about 500,000 people and the only national capital that borders two sovereign states. And while Slovakia may not be a popular country or a destination you are set to visit when you go to Europe, if you are in Vienna, Budapest or taking a cruise on the Danube River it’s definitely worth to make a stop.
That is exactly what I did this summer while visiting Budapest. Being just 2 hours away it seemed like a good idea and after doing some research on the area I decided that one day in Bratislava should suffice to see all the cool and important landmarks that make the city interesting.
Being a small historical city, Bratislava was just recently noted as a touristic destination. It is great to visit especially if you are a traveler that enjoys smaller crowds and cheaper prices.
3 ways to get there:
- If you own or rent a car Bratislava is just 2 hours away from Budapest and only 1 hour away from Vienna.
- Taking a cruise on the Danube from Vienna to Bratislava takes about 75 minutes and 3 hours from Budapest.
- Or if you get there by train or bus a good option would be to sleep one night in the city. Accommodation is pretty cheap and diverse, I found some good deals for less than 40 euros.
Best things to do in Bratislava:
UFO Bridge or Most SNP
Was first on my list since we came from Budapest, rising to greet us at the entrance. The Bridge was built in 1972 and it is a prominent feature and symbol of Bratislava.
On the bridge’s 84.6 m (278 ft.) pylon is a remarkable UFO-shaped structure housing a restaurant and a viewing deck where you can get incredible photos of the panoramic view on Bratislava, including the Old Town and the Castle.
The bridge has lanes for bicycles and pedestrians on the lower level, so even if you don’t pay the fee to go up on the deck you should walk around for some beautiful pictures of the Danube river and surroundings.
The Old Town
Right after you get down the bridge and past the tall spire of Martin’s Cathedral you encounter the historical Old Town – probably
the busiest part of the city since it’s the first stop for many tourists and is full of restaurants, pubs, hostels, and hotels.
A great place to start your walk through the Old Town is St Michaels Gate – most probably the most photographed and recognizable spot in the entire city. I had some delicious ice-cream right on that cobblestone street and I must tell you – it was a perfect summer day.
Walking around you will notice winding lane-ways, narrow streets, and lots of historic buildings. The maze of cobblestone streets is mostly limited to pedestrians, but if you want to rest for a while there is a little local sightseeing bus that takes you around the picturesque Old Town for about an hour and a half. 😉
I also found a nice souvenir market where I bought some pretty cool fridge magnets and postcards to take back home. There are lots of touristy shops around if you want more options and the tourist office is also nearby if you need additional information.
As you walk by the Main Square you will notice many quirky human-size sculptures located all over the Old Town. These are bronze monuments that were added to add some humor and life to the communist-era architecture.
As they are eye catching and attractive you will notice lots of people taking photos of and with them.They are one of the emblematic attraction of the city and you just can’t say you’ve been to Bratislava and did not take at least one photo with Napoleon or Cumil (man at work).
You can also find characters as a paparazzi, a thief or two girls taking a break on a mailbox.
St Elizabeth’s / Blue Church
Only a 5-10-minute walk from the heart of the Old Town, as you walk narrow side streets you almost feel like you stumbled in a fairy tale once you first catch a glimpse of this church. Of all the off the beaten path things to do in the city this is definitely the most popular.
Built in 1908 the Church of St Elisabeth boasts a nearly 40m high tower and is completely pained blue. The architecture is that of Hungarian Art Nouveau style and the Hungarian influenced can be seen across the structure.
This is where Hungarian Secessionist Catholics come for mass, so you’re not allowed to take pictures inside, but there is an entrance gate that allows you to take a brief look of the interior.
Built sometime around the 9th century, Bratislavsky Hrad has remained a centerpiece for over 1000 years. It’s the iconic white building you see in every postcard or panorama picture of the city. A trip to Bratislava wouldn’t be complete without the 15 minutes’ walk up from the center of the Old Town to the hill where the Castle entrance is.
I caught a beautiful weather which allowed me to spend some time walking around the Castle an enjoying the beautiful green grounds as well as panoramic views over Bratislava downtown, Austria and marvelous Danube.
The Slavin War Memorial
Located high above the city, it was the last thing on my list, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to see. The Memorial of nearly 50m high was erected by 1960 on the hill that overlooks the Castle and the rest of the city as a commemoration of the efforts made by the Red Army in the liberation of Bratislava during World War 2.
If you’re a history buff you’ll probably love checking out the museums, as well.
In conclusion, after roaming around and seeing the surroundings I am glad I included this historical city on my roadmap.
It’s worth checking out Bratislava even if you’ve got only a few hours, especially being so easy to reach whether you’re backpacking across Central Europe and you’re looking for a cheap place to rest or you’re taking a European River Cruise.
I hope you enjoy it as well as I did !