Bratislava is one of the smallest capital cities in Europe yet the largest city in Slovakia and straddles the legendary Danube River. The city of Bratislava is well connected to the neighboring cities of Vienna and the Hungarian capital Budapest. Bratislava is a popular day trip from Vienna with a bus journey of about an hour. On our Central Europe tour Bratislava was the second stop after Vienna. Budapest to Bratislava is as less as three hours which makes for a perfect weekend getaway. The fascinating medieval buildings and monuments in the old town make Bratislava one of the must-visit cities in Europe.
We reached Bratislava early after an hour bus from Vienna. After some unfortunate incidents and delays in the Bratislava bus station, we finally arrived at the hotel we booked. The check-in was only possible afternoon so we dropped our luggage and headed to Bratislava castle to start our city tour. We boarded a bus from the Franz Liszt Square near the main Railway station.
Where did we Stay?
We stayed at the Freddie next to Mercury Hostel & Apartments which seems to one of the favorite Bratislava hotels for the backpackers. The hotel is located at a walkable distance from the main train station where you can get a bus to the castle and the old town. There is also direct bus connections from the stop close to the hotel to the main bus station which serves international buses to Budapest and Vienna. The room we booked was spacious with an attached bathroom and a kitchenette. They also have dorms which have bathrooms. They have lounges where breakfast is served. They offer free wifi and locker facility.
Traveling in Bratislava
The tickets for the public transport buses or trams can be bought from the vending machines available on the bus stops. Tickets are available for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes which needs validating on machines onboard. If you are staying longer consider buying tickets valid for 24, 72 and 168 hours (1, 3 and 7 days) which can also be bought from small kiosks in the bus station.
The Bratislava card offers unlimited travel on the public transport network of Bratislava in all zones. One can avail discounts in various shops and restaurants of the city and free admission to 12 major city museums. And the most interesting part is that the card comes with a one-hour free walking tour of the city which you can take in either Slovak, English or German languages. You can buy the card in one of the tourist information centers of the city or buy online here.
Things to do in Bratislava
The entrance to the castle grounds is through the historic Vienna gate. The first stop you come across is the yellow building which has the information office and a restaurant. The ramparts opposite the entrance of the main castle building offer wonderful views of the SNP Most and the Danube. We bought tickets to the castle and entered an open central courtyard which has a small well you do not need ticket until this part. The castle building comprises of museums, picture gallery and castle gallery with exhibits on the history of Slovakia and archaeological findings.
The most interesting part of the castle exhibit is the vintage collection called ‘Advertising and trade’ with pictures of some old ad films, posters, and even vintage items. (It is a temporary exhibition which is said to last until March 2018)
Of the four towers flanking the magnificent castle building, the tallest tower is the Crown Tower which once housed the crown jewels of Hungary, today the tower can be climbed for a splendid view over the city. There is a beautiful baroque garden on the backside of the castle with beautiful sculptures dotting the lush green scape. The entrance to the garden is free.
On the opposite side of the garden entrance along the walls is a small open terrace of the castle restaurant you can enjoy rooftop panoramic views of the old town from here. Further ahead from here is the Nicolas Gate accessed through a flight of stairs. The cobbled stone street from Nicolas Gate winded through numerous pretty houses until we reached the busy thoroughfare of the city along the old city walls.
From here you can either take a left cross a bridge and enter into the Medieval City Walls which leads to the St. Martin’s Cathedral or turn right and head straight to the Most SNP.
Most SNP is a road bridge spanning over the Danube completed in 1972. It is one of the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world. The Most SNP is also known as the UFO Bridge for the UFO restaurant that towers above the bridge and offers panoramic views of the city of Bratislava from the open-air observation deck which has an entrance fee but is free if you eat at the restaurant. The restaurant can be accessed through a lift in one of the pillars the other pillar has a set of more than 400 stairs built as an emergency exit. To reach the lift one has to walk the almost half a km pedestrian lane beneath the bridge which leads to the lift entrance.
Medieval City Walls
This stretch of city walls that extends from the St Martin Cathedral is said to be the only remaining part of the city walls and dates back to 13th century.
St Martin’s Cathedral
A narrow alley along the city walls leads to the entrance of the imposing Gothic-style St Martin Cathedral which is one of the oldest and largest churches in the city. The church has also served as the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary between 16th and 19th centuries. The cathedral has four chapels including one baroque chapel of St John the Merciful. The most interesting feature of the cathedral is its neo-Gothic tower capped with a gilded replica of the Hungarian royal crown. The cathedral was built on a cemetery and has an underground crypt with catacombs which is open to the public.
We walked past the cathedral through a cobbled alley to reach the quaint Rudnay Square. The street along the square is lined with several restaurants and cafes and leads straight to the old town center.
The Michael’s Gate was part of the medieval fortifications and is the only preserved gates which served as the entrance to the old town of the city. The tower dates back to the early 14th century and was reconstructed in the 18th century to incorporate Baroque features. On the top of the bulbous spire is a statue of St. Michael slaying the dragon. The tower houses the Arms Museum. Visitors can also access the balcony of the seventh floor of the tower for views over the old town. Under the tower is a golden circle, known as ‘Zero kilometer’ plate marking distances from Bratislava to 29 other capital cities.
One of the narrow alleys from the streets opposite the Michael Gate leads to the Biela street which has the oldest shop of Bratislava. You should buy the traditional Bratislava sweet roll called “Bratislavsky Rozok” it is a snack filled with poppy seed or crushed nuts. The rozok we had here was the most delicious we later regretted that we should have stocked up more to munch on for the rest of the day. The shop also sells wines and spirits.
The shop also houses a small ‘Museum of Trade’ exhibiting old silver cash machines, coffee machines, scales and weighing machines and many other antique shop equipment. The shop also sells handcrafted items like bells, wicker dolls and painted eggs which make for a great souvenir to take back home.
The Biela street leads to the Franciscan Square and the main square of Bratislava – Hlavne Namestie which houses several prominent historical buildings. The narrow cobblestone streets leading out from the square are lined with colorful buildings and numerous cafe and restaurants. The old town is a car-free zone but you will spot several cute red tourist cars running around the old town.
The Town Hall in the Old Town of Bratislava is one of the oldest stone building in the city dating back to 14th century. The town hall houses the Museum of Bratislava City history and the torture devices from the times when the town hall served as a prison. Climb up to the top of the Town Hall tower offers a panoramic vista of the Old Town with the UFO tower, St. Martin’s Cathedral tower and the Castle in the backdrop.
The 18th-century palace is built in a neoclassical style with Baroque interior houses the Hall of Mirrors and the salons decorated with ornate interior and the palatial furniture. The mention of Hall of Mirrors is a reminiscence of the Hall of Mirrors of the Versailles Palace in France where the Treaty of Versailles which ended the WWI was signed. It is interesting to know that the Hall of Mirrors of the Primate Palace was the location of the signing of the Peace Treaty of Pressburg. The Palace gallery exhibits an interesting collection of English tapestries dating back to 17th century. The palace is a seat of the Mayor of Bratislava.
The Roland Fountain popularly known as the Maximilian Fountain is one of the famous city landmarks and stands in the Hlavne Namestie opposite the town hall. Atop the fountain is the statue of Maximilian the knight in full armor. The Renaissance fountain was built in 1572 to provide a public water supply.
Bratislava is said to be full of interesting and quirky statues and we found one of the first statues on the main square itself. A soldier of Napoleon’s army leaning over the bench.
At the corner of the square at the start of the Rybarska Brana is the silver statue of Ignac Lamar waving his hat. You will find one more actually the most popular statue of Bratislava, a man peeking from the manhole if you head towards the Slovak National Theatre from Rybarska Brana street.
The Old Slovak National Theater
The old Slovak Theater building is located in the Hviezdoslav’s Square is a Neo-Renaissance building completed in 1886. An interesting feature on the facade are the busts of popular music composers in niches of the façade.
Opposite the theatre is the gorgeous Ganymede’s Fountain. The statue of the important Slovak poet Mr. Hviezdoslav also sits in the same square. There are several small souvenir shops in the shop selling scented candles and decorative items.
The Church of St. Elizabeth popularly known as Blue Church is a Catholic church built in the Art Nouveau style featuring blue facade, mosaics, blue-glazed roof and even a blue interior. The church dates from an early 20th century and is dedicated to St. Elizabeth. A model of this beautiful church represents Slovakia in Mini-Europe in Brussels.
Right across the street of the blue church is another building which looked much similar to the architecture of the Blue Church, it is the ‘grammar school on Grosslingova Street’ by the same architect.
On the way from the old town to the Grassalkovich Palace on the Obchodna Street, we saw this gorgeous statue ‘The PostBox Girls’ sitting in this beautiful setting. The post box is real and very much in use. There are flower and vegetable shops around this place.
The 18th century Rococo style Grassalkovich Palace serves as the residence of the president of Slovakia and is located in the Hodzovo Namestie or Hodzovo Square. Behind the palace is a lush green space which originally served as the palace garden. Though the palace is not open to the public the gardens are very much open to the public.
If you have more time in the city you may want to visit these two interesting sights too. The buses to all of these sights leave from the stop opposite Grassalkovich Palace.
The Devin Castle perched high a cliff offers wonderful views of the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers. The castle is located some 10 km outside the Bratislava city center and can be reached by taxi or by public transport. You can either take a bus from Most SNP or from the Grassalkovich Palace to the castle which takes around 20 minutes. There is a museum on the history of the castle which you can visit or can just take a walk along the Danube shores. (We have some info on bus numbers in comments hopefully that should help we do recommend to confirm the same in tourist information center on your visit)
The monument built in 1960 is dedicated to the 6800 Soviet soldiers that lost their lives in the World War II. The monument sits atop a hill dominating the city skyline and offers amazing sunset views over the Danube and the city. Also worth a walk are the well-manicured lush gardens. It is 20 minutes walk from the castle.
Though our day in Bratislava did not start on a good note the beautiful old town and its medieval buildings made for it. And statues at every nook keep you cheered. Most of the people including the bus drivers did not speak English which was a major problem for us in using the public transport. So be prepared when you plan a trip.
What did you love the most about this lovely city? Share with us in comments.
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