The capital of Slovakia may not seem the most appealing place for a trip, especially when considering its bad (though undeserved) reputation. However, the truth is that Bratislava is in fact very underrated. Yes, it is kind of chaotic, filled with contrasts and will most certainly overwhelm your senses, but you’ll find beauty where you least expect it! You will see amazing squares, adorable streets, abandoned structures, brutal communist buildings and crazy religious sites, all wrapped up in one city. A couple of days are enough to explore the history-rich city, which means this should be a mandatory stop if you’re planning to visit Vienna (only 80km away). Here’s what to see in Bratislava!
WHAT TO SEE IN BRATISLAVA
THE OLD TOWN
It’s hard to name one single attraction in Bratislava that can be considered the highlight of the city. However, when it comes to tourism, visitors tend to focus on a specific area: The Old Town. With that in mind, this time we tried something a little different and chose not a landmark but an entire area as the first entry on our list. The historic centre itself is smaller than the likes you’ll find in other cities of Central Europe, but somehow its tiny size only benefits the fairy-tale like atmosphere. This is truly one of the most underrated old towns in Europe, and was also the place where we had our first documented random act of kindness!
You’ll be amazed as soon as you enter the Old Town, as you’ll instantly feel like you stepped into a completely different city and suddenly understand why this has to be a part of any list of what to see in Bratislava. This is a city of contrasts, and there’s no better way of experiencing this clash of architectural disparities than by crossing St. Michael’s Gate. The only remaining gate of the original four entrances to the once-fortified centre, this tower is the perfect way for the Old Town to welcome you into its world of picturesque alleys, magnificent churches and historical buildings.
After walking through the gate, your next stop will be Bratislava’s most famous square, and our favourite place in the whole city, the Hlavné Námestie. Considered the heart of the Old Town, this charming square is home to some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, such as the Old Town Hall or the Roland Fountain, and is the perfect place to sit down, have a drink and enjoy the atmosphere.
Located right behind the Main Square, the Primate’s Palace is definitely a place you’ll want to check out. Not only is this building visually stunning, but it also carries great historical significance, since the Treaty of Pressburg that resulted in the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire was signed there. Nowadays you can visit the palace for as little as 3€ and admire its most outstanding chamber, the Hall of Mirrors.
Although you can find multiple churches within the Old Town boundaries, a visit to the iconic St. Martin’s Cathedral is a must to fully experience Bratislava. Don’t be deceived by its somehow rustic outside appearance, as the cathedral is actually the oldest church in the Slovakian capital, and the usual venue for Hungarian coronations during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Lastly, one of the finest stops in the city’s historic centre is the Slovak National Theatre Historical Building. Not to be confused with the more recent (2007) Slovak National Theatre – located outside the Old Town – the Historical Building is a cultural hub of performing arts and an architectural gem.
Although we listed the five attractions above, the entire Old Town is simply wonderful and worth wandering through every single one of its corners. Be prepared for an overload of beauty and charm while exploring what to see in Bratislava.
Tips: Bratislava is known for its quirky statues and the Old Town is filled with them! Try to find all the statues in the area and have fun posing with Cumil, Schone Naci or Napoleon.
How to get there: Assuming you’ll be staying as near to the Old Town as possible, you’ll probably reach it by foot. In case you need to use public transportation, the nearest tram and bus stops are called Novy Most or Kapucinska.
Looking proudly over the city, our next entry is the wonderful city Castle. With an imposing white silhouette and a privileged location, the structure looks absolutely majestic, especially after the recent renovation works that took place in the late 2000’s. Going up the hill, admire the structure from up-close and enjoy the breath-taking panoramic views from its Yard of Honour will be more than enough for you to fall in love with this place and wish to never leave it!
Tips: Walk there from the Old Town! The climb is not that steep and the path leading to the castle is just lovely. As a plus, try to cross all the three remaining gates that mark the way to the castle.
How to get there: Walking is half the fun, but if that’s not an option then consider catching buses 203 or 207 in front of the Grassalkovich Palace and leave at the Zámocká stop.
If you can’t go to Washington and not see the White House, then the same applies to the Grassalkovich Palace when it comes to what to see in Bratislava! Purposely built for Antal Grassalkovich, the counsellor of Habsburgs Empress Maria Theresa, the building now serves as the official residence to the President of Slovakia. Although it only opens to the public one day a year, the palace is still worth checking out due to its pleasant baroque façade, the big cool fountain standing in front of it and the public park located within its grounds.
Tips: Don’t forget to watch the Changing of the Guard! It happens every weekday at 12h00 right in front of the palace.
How to get there: Just walk there from the Old Town as the palace is located just a couple of minutes away from St. Michael’s Gate.
Officially named Most SNP, Bratislava’s most famous bridge is known worldwide as UFO Bridge. The reason behind this “alternative” name lies on the spaceship-like structure located at the top of the bridge that serves as a restaurant and observation deck. A true landmark of communist architecture, this bridge’s history is nothing but controversial, since a big section of the Old Town was destroyed to make way for it, and Slovaks couldn’t help but looking at it as a symbol of soviet domination. Nevertheless, the UFO Bridge made the lives of locals a lot easier by linking the city centre to the residential district of Petrzalka, and now stands as one of the most recognizable landmarks in Slovakia.
Tips: The observation deck offers one of the best views in the city, and although you might feel tempted to try the restaurant, please be advised that the food there is extremely overpriced.
How to get there: Once again, all you need to do is take a short walk from the Old Town.
If the Smurfs had any kind of religious orientation this would be their church…I mean just look at it – everything is freakin’ blue! The fact that this church is located outside of the city centre, without any other attraction nearby, and side-by-side with an abandoned, half-destroyed communist hospital will have you scratching your head in disbelief and asking “What were they thinking?!”. Remember the contrasts we talked about? Nowhere else in the city you’ll find such an evident example of those.
Tips: Although tourists go out of their way to find this church, keep in mind that sightseeing is not allowed inside. You’ll be better off by respecting the established rules and sticking to the mind-boggling exterior. You won’t be disappointed!
How to get there: The church is located just 15 minutes away from the Old Town, so walking in definitely your best option (just take a map!).
Although a mass grave might not seem the ideal place to spend 1 or 2 hours of your much-deserved vacation time, your opinion will shift as soon as you reach this Word War II memorial. Built on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the country’s liberation from Nazi Germany by the soviet troops, the Slavin is a beautifully designed monument meant to honour the 7000 soviet soldiers who were buried there after losing their lives to the conflict.
Tips: If you choose to walk up the hill, be prepared for a tough climb as there are multiple flights of stairs and the path is quite steep.
How to get there: If you think you can’t handle the climb (yes, this is a challenge!), you can take buses 203 or 207 at the Grassalkovich Palace and leave at the Búdková stop.
SLOVAK RADIO BUILDING
For our last entry, we chose something that definitely doesn’t fit on most lists of what to see in Bratislava. A reminder of communist times, this building takes the shape of a giant inverted pyramid and has a very intimidating feeling to it. We don’t know if there was some kind of special event happening when we visited, but it was very dark, the streets were empty and you could hear some kind of loud psychedelic music coming from inside the building…scary stuff!
Tips: If you’re into communist architecture, Bratislava has a lot more to offer besides the Slovak Radio Building and the UFO Bridge. Consider visiting Freedom Square and, if you have some spare time, venture into the brutal paradise of Petrzalka.
How to get there: Walking there from the centre is perfectly doable (it will take about 15 minutes), but if you want to take public transportation, the nearest stop is called Slovenska Technicka Universita and is served by multiple bus and tram lines.
We got to admit we didn’t expect the Slovakian capital to be so cool! It surprised us in a very good way and if you get to visit all the places on our list of what to see in Bratislava, we’re sure you’ll enjoy this city too (though you may also take a day trip to Devin Castle). Have you ever been to Bratislava? What do you think about its reputation? Let us know on the comments below!