The capital of Slovakia, Bratislava is split in two by the Danube river – the historical ‘old town’ one side and the Soviet residential style ‘new town’ on the other. Unsurprisingly it’s the former which interests tourists who come for its historical buildings and statues. Oh and the beer – it’s a popular stag do destination!
Bratislava is a great place to visit, the old town is perfect for a weekend break or to include as part of a longer trip in the region. It can often overlooked in favour of nearby Vienna, Budapest and Prague, and I think that’s a real shame. From the medieval era onwards it was an important town in the region, especially so under the Habsburg Monarchy. These neighbours of course played a big role in the cities past. It was part of the Kingdom of Hungary, then Austrian Empire and finally the Austria-Hungary Empire. This lasted from the 10th century until 1918 when the latter empire collapsed after World War 1. It was then part of Czechoslovakia (except during World War 2 when the Nazi’s set up a puppet state). 1993 was the year Slovakia finally gained independence and Bratislava became its capital.
1. The Blue Church
Built in 1907-08 the Church of St. Elizabeth is striking in its colouring and design and is worth visiting if only to get some great photographs! It sits in the suburbs slightly away from the rest of the old town buildings. There isn’t much to do other than admire the exterior and peek into the interior but in truth that’s it’s what makes it so charming.
2. Bratislava Castle
Dominating the city’s skyline is Bratislava Castle which has been rebuilt several time though the centuries. You can take a tour and explore its exhibitions inside including some artwork and information about the castle site. Take some time to admire the views of the old city and across the Danube to the new city!
3. Statues of the old town
Take some time to hunt for all of the statues that inhabit the old town’s streets and you will meet some interesting characters! Čumil above is arguably the most famous, though what he is actually doing has been subject to much debate! There are several others and it’s fun to spot them all as you walk around the town.
4. Devin Castle
Standing just inside Slovakian territory on the border with Austria, this ruined castle dates from 864. As well as its historical significance and exhibitions its position on top of a cliff gives it great views of the surrounding area
The Slovak/Austrian border runs along the Danube and Morava rivers. During the Soviet era when the Iron Curtain was up it the border was a heavily militarised zone. There is a monument by the river to those who lost their lives trying to cross the border in this time.
You can reach it easily by local bus from Bratislava city centre. It is open April until October.
5. Slavin War Memorial
Built overlooking the city, this war memorial is the burial ground for thousands of Soviet solders who lost their lives liberating the city in 1945 from Nazi units and Slovak troops under control of the Nazi satellite state run by Tiso. It is an example of the ‘socialist realism’ style prevalent in the region under Soviet control/influence in the years it was constructed, 1957-60.
6. Buildings of Old Town
It’s easy to explore the historic old town as its relatively small and compact. The main square is a good starting place, particularly the old town hall. It’s one of the oldest buildings in the city. Hodža’s Square is home to the Presidential Palace so also worth a visit.
There are several churches in the area. St. Martin’s Cathedral is a really important one. It was used for the Coronation of Hungarian monarchs between 1563 and 1830. Look out for ‘Michael’s Gate’ too, as it is the only gate remaining from the cities medieval fortifications.
7. Bratislava City Museum – Museum Of The City History
Just of the main square you can find the Museum Of The City History which as its name suggest is where you can learn all about Bratislava’s history! It’s part of the ‘Bratislava City Museum’ which is actually spread across several locations in the city. There are various items on display from throughout the ages, from religious artefacts to torture devices, and plenty of English descriptions to explain it all. You can also climb the tower and get some great views over the city.
You have 2 airport options if you’re flying to visit the city. The first is Bratislava Airport. It is the biggest airport in the country, and the majority of flights here are operated by Ryanair. The other is Vienna airport which has a lot more flight options. It also had regular buses to and from Bratislava, so it’s easy to get to the city. The journey takes around one hour.
The train station in the city has international links to surrounding countries and the rest of Slovakia.
For those interested in something a little different you can also reach the city by boat from central Vienna. Me and a friend took up that option when we travelled between the two. Well actually by Hydrofoil. It’s a pretty cool way to see some of the Danube. Though more expensive of course, not a budget option!
There are some good budget hostel options in Bratislava. The accommodation here is noticeably cheaper than Western Countries such as neighbouring Austria. I stayed in Hostel Blues when I visited it and it was a decent place with a good location.