When you think of European capital city destinations, you’re probably thinking of London, Paris, and Rome – maybe Bonn, Stockholm, Prague, and Vienna.
They’re all great cities and all stand on their own merits as places to visit and absorb. But there are numerous smaller capitals, too, that have their own attractions. Bratislava, bisected by the great Danube River, is one of those places.
Bratislava, on the very western edge of Slovakia, is an hour from Vienna by train. They’re the two closest national capitals in the world, less than 50 miles apart.
Blava, as locals sometimes call it, is 2 ½ hours from Budapest or a relaxing four from Prague, so it may very well be on your way from somewhere to somewhere else if you’re on a European holiday.
Bratislava is worth a stop, whether for a day or three. Public transportation is cheap and fairly easy. If you arrive by train, it’s much better to take a tram or bus to your hotel or just to see the sights, because taxi drivers at the train station are notorious for inflating prices for tourists.
Think 70 cents vs. 15-20 euros, and you’ll have the idea. You need a ticket before you board, and you need to validate your ticket in one of the automated machines on board. Buy your tickets at tobacco stores and remember to validate them.
Transit inspectors often ride near transportation hubs, and fines run about 50 euros. Hlavna stanica, the main train station, has lockers for your luggage in case you won’t be staying overnight.
Best Things to Do in Bratislava, Slovakia
Once you have left the train station, here are some of the local attractions you probably won’t want to miss.
1. Bratislava Castle (Hrad)
The castle is probably the most visible symbol of the city of approximately 500,000. You can walk up, or take either the 203 or 207 trolley buses. The castle is located on a high bluff above the Danube River and offers nice views of the river and parts of the city.
The castle is a huge rectangle, built from the 9th through 18th centuries, then rebuilt in the 1950s and 1960s. It has been part of the Moravian, Czech-Slovak, and Austro-Hungarian empires. Today, you might catch one of several food festivals or classical music concerts, depending on when you visit.
The castle grounds host a baroque garden, a history museum, and an upscale restaurant. The history museum has several fascinating exhibits, including one featuring rare historic coins.
2. Devin Castle
As nice as Bratislava Castle is, I like Devin Castle better. Built on a promontory above the Danube River has a medieval look and fantastic views of the confluence of the Morava and Danube rivers.
Devin is across the water from Austria, a testament to how close the capitals of Austria and Slovakia really are. TOURS are an excellent way to see the castle grounds, which are a great place for a not-so-strenuous walk.
Or it is possible to take a city bus to the grounds, which feature the castle ruins, a nice museum, and restaurants. The castle dates to the 9th Century A.D. and has hosted Roman soldiers, Moravian princes, and even Napoleon. Climbing and hiking opportunities are about here but it’s also a good place just to have a picnic.
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3. Old Town
Bratislava is a working city, for sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a pretty, pedestrian-only Old Town. Several of the attractions noted later in this article are located within or extremely near the Old Town, but the overall area is a great place for a walking tour, for fine dining, or to grab a drink and sit at an outdoor table and chat.
In autumn and winter, kiosks selling roasted chestnuts perfume the air. If you’re lucky enough to be in Bratislava any time between late November and Christmas, be sure to visit the Christmas Market.
There, you can find handmade Christmas gifts, specialty bakery items and alcohol, and food stalls featuring traditional Slovak food and hot mulled wine. The market can be crowded on weekend nights; you may want to visit during the week.
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4. Museum of City History
Bratislava has weathered foreign empires, world wars, Soviet occupation, and the tribulations that go with those social forces. This museum, housed in the old town hall, focuses on Bratislava’s history from the Neolithic Age through the 20th. Touch screens enhance the presentations, and a movie after the exhibits offers a visual reinforcement of your tour.
The museum covers a wide range of human activities – archaeology, culture, history, the arts, pharmacy, and coins, so you’re certain to find something of interest here, all just a short walk from the heart of the city’s Old Town. Check out these other national landmarks of Slovakia.
5. Slovak National Gallery
Near the Danube River in the Old Town, the gallery houses three floors of paintings and other art and is particularly strong for its collections of religious paintings. The museum typically hosts a temporary exhibit as well, usually one with a more contemporary topic.
The staff mostly speaks good English and the docents are mostly older women who look mean but are actually pretty nice. The gallery building also hosts a decent restaurant and a shop with some intriguing art-related gifts. If you like what you are hearing, add this spot to your list with these other best museums in Bratislava.
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6. Slovak Philharmonic
Just down the street from the National Gallery is the Slovak Philharmonic, where you can attend classical concerts and operas that rival those in Vienna at a fraction of the price.
Even if you’re not into classical music, the home of the Slovak Symphony Orchestra is a beautiful building. Unless you know everything there is to know about classical music, you won’t suffer the comparison.
If you attend a performance, dress up a little, because most Slovaks do. Suits for men and nice dresses for women aren’t mandatory, but they might make you feel more comfortable.
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7. Slovak National Theatre
The Slovak National Theater is a modern construction built on the site of an earlier structure and contains two distinct parts and is probably one of the most famous things to do in Bratislava.
The new theater is in a trendy residential area beside the Danube River, famous for its fashionable shops and restaurants. In recent years, theaters have blended foreign performers with local authors to produce well-known innovative programs.
The old theatre is located right on Hviezdoslavovo Square, a focal point for café activities. The new theatre is utilized for both performances and practice. In 1886, it was first called City Theatre. However, just Hungarian and German theater shows were presented there.
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8. Statues in the Old Town
Around Bratislava, there are many whimsical sculptures and quirky statues. One of the most photographed statues in the city is Cumil, a sewage worker.
Another popular photo location is a statue of a French soldier leaning against a bench. Look for the Hans Christian Andersen statue in the park to commemorate the 200th birthday of his birth if you visit Hviezdok Square.
The statue of a Napoleonic soldier on the city’s main square is another popular tourist destination, where tourists can take photos with one another on the plaza.
The statues are stunning complements to the Communist-era structures that still dominate the city. Cruising around Old Town and adoring the beauty of the sculptures is one of the best things to do in Bratislava. Check these all out as you do a free walking tour of the city.
9. St Martin’s Cathedral (Blue Church)
The present-day church of Saint Martin was erected on the site of a former Romanesque monastery in 1452 and is considered one of the most important historic buildings. This is regarded as one of the biggest, oldest, and most important churches.
The solid structure supports a huge tower that was once used as a lookout station. Its tall spire is topped with a replica of the glittering gold crown of St. Stephen, suggesting that it was a coronation church. Inside are some magnificent stained glass windows, lovely chapels, and a statue of St. Stephen.
The Cathedral is located near the city center, on the border of the old town. It’s a short walk from Bratislava Castle, which sits on the edge of town.
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10. Fountain of Maximilian
The main square is Bratislava’s most famous monument and gathering spot, as well as the city’s most iconic structure. A fountain erected by King Maximilian II in 1572 is located diagonally opposite the old city hall.
The knight in battle gear atop the column from the center is created by a statue of him standing on a replica of the King’s crown tops off this magnificent display. The statue shows Maximilian as he is climbing up a hill, leading his men to battle. The columns supporting the magnificent fountain are topped with statues representing Faith, Hope, and Love.
The monument bows to commemorate the 12 councilors who perished defending Pressburg at each new year’s midnight. Some people believe it’s an image of Roland, the mythical advocate of Pressburg’s rights, while others think it’s Maximilian himself. The fountain was built as a water source for the citizens of Pressburg.
11. Michalska Brana
Michael’s Gate, the city’s oldest medieval gate, was constructed in the 12th century and is Bratislava’s oldest surviving fortification. The tower is 51 meters tall and has a unique copper dome and tower.
The tower has beautiful views of the city and some fascinating art and historical exhibits about the fortifications of this city. It was previously located behind fortified walls, but the entrance now lines historic structures on little alleyways in Bratislava, surrounded by ancient constructions. It is one of Slovakia’s oldest buildings illustrating its rich history, located just outside the capital.
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12. Cruise on the Danube and Morava Rivers
An absolute must on your top things to do in Bratislava, Slovakia, is enjoying the river cruises throughout Slovakia and other countries. The second-largest river in Europe inspired Johann Strauss’ famous waltz.
In the summer, riverboat trips to Vienna or Budapest are approximately two hours away. The most beautiful monument is the barbed-wire fence around a pole at each river’s entrance.
The boat meets its expectations, and the staff is always helpful and pleasant. The port is close to Old Town, near the National Gallery, and surrounded by beautiful gardens and magnificent buildings.
For more daring individuals, downstream canoe trips to Budapest or Vienna are also available. Cruising the river is one of the best ways to see central Europe.
13. UFO Bridge
The UFO Bridge is so-called because of the wing-shaped observation platform. The 308-meter bridge has two levels, one for automobile traffic and one for cyclists and pedestrians.
The UFO is a restaurant and observation deck that offers spectacular views of Bratislava, including a panoramic restaurant. The elevator is the quickest method to reach the top.
Viewing the castle and Old Town in the sky from vantage points such as the bridge or Old Town Hall is an excellent photography opportunity. The Danube River runs along its banks, making it a great place to enjoy the scenery of this truly majestic medieval city.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is Bratislava worth visiting?
Bratislava is worth visiting for its history, architectural beauty, food, and culture.
This year I loved discovering Bratislava! On a hill above the city, the castle ruins are one of my favorite things to see while in town. Historic structures, café with greenery… But don’t forget about the cuisine!
How can I spend two days in Bratislava?
This is a difficult question because there is so much to do in Bratislava! I recommend you spend two days here, but if you’re looking for things that will provide you with the most bang for your buck, I will start at St. Martin’s Cathedral. It’s an incredible secular building (the tallest building in town) and can help set the mood for your visit before moving on to other things.
It would be best if you also walked by Zelezna ulicka, which features many churches and paintings. You may want to stop by Janos Varga Museum (which has some Bratislava history), The Slovak National Gallery (which has European paintings from around 1900), or The Albertina Gallery.
Is Bratislava safe for tourists?
Bratislava is a beautiful city, and it’s safe for tourists. Like any city, you must be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to maintain routine safety.
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