My three days in Bratislava were my first introduction to Slovakia, an entirely new country for me. Bratislava’s currency is the Euro, but prices are much cheaper than they were in my previous city, Vienna in Austria. While Slovakia still seems to get lumped together with the Czech Republic (due to the former Czechoslovakia), it is quite unique to its Czech neighbors. Here’s what I thought about my brief introduction to Slovakia in Bratislava!
While Bratislava is a fairly large city, the center of the old town is very compact. There is quite a bit to do and see, but I think Bratislava is most commonly visited as a daytrip from nearby Vienna. It gets very quiet in the evening, after the daytrippers have gone home, but I felt this was almost more interesting to see the city as the locals do, without throngs of tourists.
Bratislava Castle is located on top of a hill overlooking the city, and is by far the most noticeable landmark. It’s a steep walk up to the castle, but there are great views of the whole city, as well as the Danube and Austria, from the top. Bratislava Castle has undergone a huge reconstruction since the 1960s, and there are no recreated rooms. However, the castle has several exhibits including some on archaeology, World War I, and a very interesting exhibit on Ludovit Stur and Slovakian nationalism.
Bratislava’s Old Town Hall is another important building, which today houses the City Museum. The museum began with medieval times and the specific purpose of rooms in the hall, and brings visitors up to the twentieth-century—skating over much of the city’s communist era following World War II. I knew next to nothing about Bratislava, so finding out more about the city’s past was definitely a highlight for me. Don’t miss the great views of the main square, Bratislava Castle, and the rest of Bratislava from the tower. Next door is the Primate’s Palace, which has a museum on tapestries.
St. Martin’s Cathedral is Bratislava’s main cathedral and a beautiful old building, that was once used as the coronation church for the sovereigns for the Kingdom of Hungary. The carved quire stalls are a standout of the cathedral, although unfortunately you can’t cross the altar and see them up close. There is no admission charge.
Most SNP is the UFO-shaped building standing over one of the main bridges crossing the Danube, and one of Bratislava’s main landmarks. It was built in 1972, hailing back to Slovakia’s Soviet era and the architecture that went with it. Today it is a restaurant/bar (with an elevator to the top).
St. Elisabeth’s Church is a beautiful Art Nouveau church, built in 1907-1908. It’s frequently called the “blue church” due to the blue paint and tiles. It is only open to the public at sporadic times, from Monday-Saturday between 6:30-8:30am, and 5:30-7:30pm. Sunday it is open from 7:30-12:30, and again from 5:30-7:30pm.
There’s a cool sculpture called “Man at Work,” of a male worker popping up from a manhole. It’s located in the Old Town on the corner of Panska and Rybarska streets, south of the main square and close to the McDonalds.
While there isn’t loads to do in Bratislava itself, I visited two different castles outside the city that I really enjoyed. I visited Devin Castle, which is only about 20 minutes away by bus, and Trencin Castle, which was 1.5 hours away by train. Check out this post on the castles!
Getting around: Bratislava has a large bus system and 9 different tram lines. Everything in the Old Town is walkable, but going farther than that (especially the train or bus station) and it might save you time to take public transportation. The most common tickets sold are for 15 minutes (0.70€) or 30 minutes (0.90€). You need to buy a ticket beforehand and validate it once you get on board.
Where I stayed: I splurged during my trip to Bratislava, and stayed not just in a hotel, but a BOTEL! I stayed at Botel Gracia, which is a large boat located on the Danube River. While my room wasn’t quite as fancy as it looked online, it did have a view out the window of Bratislava Castle. The bathroom was small but the bed was very comfortable. Breakfast was included and interestingly, they served hot dogs (not usually available at 8:00am). The location was excellent—the Most SNP bus/tram stops were less than 3 minutes walk, and the Old Town was a 5-minute walk. I would stay here again, although if I traveled solo I would probably opt for a hostel dorm for the lower price.
Bratislava was a very interesting place to visit for my first trip to Slovakia. While it seems to have a sleepy reputation as a daytrip town, there’s enough to keep you busy for a day and a bit, and it’s strategic location is great for daytrips. I’m definitely glad I spent more than a daytrip here. The country has a rich history, and its own unique cultural and linguistic heritage. I’ve heard that the rest of the country (especially the High Tatras Mountains) is meant to be amazing, and I would love to visit again and see more of the country than just the capital.
Have you ever been to Bratislava? What did you think?