Check out my Bratislava City Guide for the lo-down on what to do and see and where to eat and drink when visiting Slovakia’s capital…
Bratislava City Guide
Bratislava is often associated with stags, hens and Brits abroad. When I mentioned that I was visiting, the most common response from work colleagues was “who’s stag do is it?” However, as a city break destination, Bratislava offers much, much more.
My friend and I opted for a Friday morning – Sunday evening sojourn. You could easily see the city in less time: a Saturday-Sunday trip, given the quick flight time (from the UK), proximity of its airport and compact nature of the city centre; or in a day as part of a wider trip (Vienna, for instance, is only 60km away).
The plane landed at Bratislava airport and we sailed straight through customs and passport control; approximately 10 minutes from plane to taxi. Another 20 minutes and we’d arrived at our hotel in the old town. Smooth sailing indeed.
As I alluded to earlier, the historic centre of Bratislava is compact. If you’re looking for some showstoppers or bucket list items to tick off, I’ll be honest, you won’t find them here. Instead, you will find is a surprisingly relaxed vibe, some pretty architecture, delicious food, cheap drink and hospitable hosts. Just be sure to steer clear of the tacky British and Irish pubs.
~ What to Do and See ~
In part one of my Bratislava city guide, I cover off some of the key sights…
1. Check out the views from the UFO
Perched on top of the Bratislava New Bridge, 95m above the Danube, is an extraterrestrial visitor. Okay, it’s not really a UFO from outer space, but the restaurant and viewing deck does resemble a flying saucer (hence the name). Completed in 1972, the bridge spans the Danube connecting the historic centre with the Petržalka borough. The soviet influence is evident in the New Bridge’s architectural design.
It costs €7.40 to ride the elevator up to the UFO. It is expensive, but the panorama on offer is the best in the city. You can also grab a drink from the bar to stretch out the duration of your visit and make the entrance fee feel a bit more value for money. As you can see below, the views over the historic centre, Bratislava Castle and the Danube are bloody good.
2. Bratislava Castle
Bratislava Castle’s striking white facade and orange, tiled roof immediately catches the eye. The castle’s hulking presence, atop of castle hill above the banks of the Danube dominates the skyline. In fact, you will catch glimpses of the castle from all around the historic centre. Walk up to the castle and be treated with views across the historic centre and the sprawl beyond.
3. Explore Bratislava's historic centre
On most trips, one of my favourite activities is nearly always exploring on foot. In Bratislava it was no different. Make sure you take some time to wander through the narrow passages, public squares and alleyways of the the historic centre. Naturally, the gothic architecture makes for some great photographs and creates a wonderful ambience.
In particular, be sure to check out the Trinitarian Church and St Martin’s Cathedral (above) as well as the National Theatre and Bratislava City Museum (below).
Whilst walking, you’ll no doubt stumble upon a selection of statues, which are dotted about. The most famous, at the intersection of Laurinská and Panská Streets, is Čumil (which translates to ‘the watcher’). He’s also known as the ‘man at work’, which allegedly captures the attitude of soviet era workers not being bothered about the duties.
Michael’s Gate is arguably the highlight of the old town. The white tower with the green spire rises above the rest of the historic centre. Originally, there were four gates proving entrance to the historic centre. Michael’s Gate is the last one standing.
4. Get up to date with the Slovak art scene
Our main reason for visiting the Nedbalka Gallery was in search of much needed respite from the unrelenting heat! Our visit coincided with the 2018 heatwave and it was oh so hot. I’m talking high 30s hot. The hear sapped the energy right out. The gallery was air-conditioned, which was a massive boon. The gallery houses a selection of Slovak art from the 19th, 20th and 21st Century. My favourite part of the gallery was not the art work, but the architecture of the modern interior. The clean lines and stacked, curved balconies made for some pleasing photographs.
5. Take a trip to Devín Castle
If you are visiting for more than a day, I’d recommend getting out and seeing Devin Castle. The castle ruins sit on top of a steep hillside at the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers on the Austria-Slovakia border. The castle can be reached by the number 29 bus (20 minute journey time) followed by a short walk (10 minute journey time).
Whilst some walls remain reasonably intact, the majority of the castle is a romantic ruin; the castle was blown up by the Napoleon army during the siege of Bratislava in 1809. The ruins provide a hint of the castle’s former glory and stature.
It may have been down to the heat, but my expectations for Devin Castle weren’t very high. However, I was pleasantly surprised. From its perched position, the castle offers some wonderful vistas across the nearby countryside.
6. Go on a food and drink tour
It was by chance that we ended up on the tour that would prove to be our highlight of the trip. Originally, we had the idea of driving out to Bojnice to see the castle on the Saturday. However, the 2-3 hour drive time and lack of available hire cars meant that the idea was scrapped. Instead, wondering what we should do, we booked onto a local food and drink tour.
I believe that you can learn a lot about a place through the local cuisine and, in this case, alcohol. At Bratislava Castle, under the early evening light, we met our local guide, Matus. Lucy and I were the only two people booked onto the tour for that particular night and it resulted in a very personalised and intimate experience. What followed was three hours of fun, laughs, great food and, by the end of the night, one or two drinks too many. I learned that Slovakians enjoy their shots!
There are various tours on offer in Bratislava, but I would highly recommend checking out Bratislava Food Tours. Matus was a wonderful guide and gave us an interesting and informative introduction to Slovakian cuisine and customs and also Bratislava’s history. His enthusiasm and passion was infectious. The food we sampled, in particular the sauerkraut soup, was delicious.
7. Check out the Blue Church
Yo listen up, here’s the story… The Church of St Elizabeth of Hungary is more colloquially known as the blue church. I can’t for the life of me work out why though. The church is unmistakeable and one of the most popular tourist spots in Bratislava. The art nouveau exterior is painted varying shades of pale blue. The interior, too, is decorated blue. If you haven’t got Eiffel 65’s seminal hit ‘blue’ stuck in your head, then I’m very disappointed in you. Sadly, the Church was closed on the day we visited, so we had to make do admiring its exterior only.
~ Where to Eat ~
No self-respecting Bratislava city guide would be complete without a few food recommendations. Aside from making sure that you jump onto a food / food & drink tour, here are a few of my favourite spots to check out for lunch or dinner.
Drak & Finch: Perfect for lunch or a light bite in the evening. The porkie sandwich was excellent and I would strongly recommend sharing the duck pate, which was delicious (and very filling). Prices were cheap and there were some serious jazz vibes floating around. Oh, and if that isn’t enough, the logo is a little dragon.
Urban House: Yes, it is a bit of a hipster hangout,. However, Urban House offered us a safe haven when we needed it most: there was an unexpected and sudden downpour. The interior is quirky and cool. If I had to choose somewhere in Bratislava to sit a write some blog content (or, as more often happens, to procrastinate; looking for the dankest memes and perusing silly youtube videos), it would feature pretty damn high. They also made some great pizzas (with interesting topping combinations). The fig and ham pizza hit the spot.
Modrá Hviezda: Stepping into the restaurant was like taking a step back in time. It’s housed in an 18th century building which is built into the hillside, below Bratislava Castle. The interior is crooked and rustic: mosaic tiled floors, exposed brickwork and archways. The menu offers traditional Slovak food – think meat and dumplings, accompanied by delicious beer and/or wine. I opted for venison goulash with bread dumplings, whilst Lucy had rabbit leg and forest mushrooms (she was then faced with a massive guilt trip about eating a cute little rabbit). The food was really good and the price for dinner was very reasonable. If you want a taste of traditional Slovak food, make sure you pop in!
Mondieu: Go and try the crepes. Specifically, the banana and caramel ones. Sweet tooth: satisfied.
So there you have it, my personal Bratislava City Guide. Hopefully this article will give you some ideas and food for thought if you are thinking about visiting Slovakia’s capital.