Take a step back into the medieval times when you visit Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia. It is located along Danube River and surrounded by mountains, where castles, old churches, and historic plazas are a common sight. One of the city’s main highlights is the Old Town, an 18th-century village filled with bars and cafes. It is a car-free zone, making it an ideal place for a leisurely stroll. Bratislava is also home to forested areas and hiking trails, as well as farms and vineyards.
Even if you only have a little time to spare in this magnificent Slovakian city, you can still enjoy the many sights and experiences it has to offer. Here’s a rundown of some of the things you can do in Bratislava in just one day:
1. Visit the Church of St. Elisabeth
Famous among locals as the “Blue Church”, the Church of St. Elisabeth features an impressive Art Nouveau style design. Finished in 1913, this Roman Catholic church is regarded as one of the best examples of Hungarian secession architecture. It is covered in blue from its exteriors to its interiors, with pews complementing the color scheme. It also has a tower which stands 36.8 meters (120.7 feet) tall, while a mosaic of St. Elisabeth is located on top of the portal. Often described as a “marshmallow-like” structure, it can be easily spotted along the streets of the Old Town. You can attend mass here if you wish. Otherwise, you can simply enjoy marveling at its unique architecture.
2. Look for Čumil
Don’t be surprised if you’re walking around Bratislava’s Old Town and you encounter a quirky man peeping out of a manhole. He is Cumil, also known as The Peeper, one of the statues placed in Bratislava in 1997 in an attempt to make the city a livelier place. This particular piece was created by Slovar sculptor Viktor Hulík. Another figure you can visit in the Old Town is Schone Naci, which sculptor Juraj Melis based on an actual person that lived in the early 20th century. He’s very easy to spot since he is holding up his hat, as if to courteously greet every person that passes by. Other must-see statues are the Paparazzi by Radko Macuha and Napoleon’s Solder, which is also created by Melis.
3. Take a stroll around Bratislava Main Square
The heart of Bratislava’s Old Town is the Main Square, a public plaza surrounded by outdoor cafes and local shops selling souvenirs. It is also where the Old Town Hall is located, right next to a clock tower and a Renaissance-style fountain. During summer, locals come here to relax and cool down, while during the Christmas period it becomes even livelier with a seasonal market and various outdoor events. Welcoming ceremonies for foreign dignitaries are held in the Main Square. Other remarkable structures you will find near to the Main Square are the Palace of the Hungarian Exchange Bank, Palugyay Palace, the Japanese Embassy, and the French Embassy.
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4. Catch a glimpse of Michael’s Gate
Michael’s Gate is the only remaining part of the medieval fortifications that was once surrounded Bratislava. Built in the 1300s, it is now a famous tourist landmark offering panoramic views of the Old Town. Its current Baroque design, however, was not a part of its original style but of a reconstruction done in 1758. The tower above the entrance stands 51 meters (167 feet) high, which also houses a museum with an exhibition of weapons. Here, guests can learn all about the history of Bratislava’s fortifications. Meanwhile, on the street leading up to Michael’s Gate, you will find an array of upscale shops and fine-dining restaurants.
5. Marvel at Clarissine Church
Showcasing a unique Gothic architecture, Clarissine Church is a former Roman Catholic place of worship that was built by the order of Poor Clares in 1297. The nuns of this order were known to be the strictest among all the other women’s orders in the world. They didn’t wear any kind of footwear and neither did they eat meat. They spent most of their time praying and living a life of solemnity. However, their organization was disbanded in 1782 and the Clarissine Church became a legal academy instead. In the 15th century, a pentagon tower was added to the church’s structure. At present, it remains a famous Bratislava attraction and a venue for concerts and various exhibitions. Other similar churches are located in Bamberg, Brixen, and Nuremberg.
6. Climb up to the Bratislava Castle
A trip to Bratislava wouldn’t be complete without swinging by the Bratislava Castle. Situated on a hill along the Danube River, this castle is made up of a huge rectangular building with four corner towers. It was constructed in the 9th century and underwent massive renovation after World War II. Its front yard, called the “Yard of Honor”, has triumphal gates and guard houses. Inside the castle are artistic and historical exhibitions of the Slovak National Museum. Another thing to look forward to during your visit to the castle is the stunning panoramic view of the city and the nearby areas.
7. Say a prayer at St. Martin’s Cathedral
St. Martin’s Cathedral is a Gothic-inspired church built in 1221. Considered the largest and the oldest church in Bratislava, it was once a part of the city walls and even served as a bastion of the fortification. The church has four chapels named after different saints, as well as a tower standing 85 meters (279 feet) high. It was also declared as a National Cultural Monument in 2002. At present, the church is a popular destination among pilgrims. What most people do not know is that St. Martin’s Cathedral was built on a site of a former cemetery. Inside the church are catacombs, or human-made underground passageways leading to tombs.
8. Eat Slovak food at Leberfinger Restaurant
After hours of walking around Bratislava, it just seems fitting to reward yourself with a traditional Slovak meal. One of the most popular fine-dining places in the city is Leberfinger Restaurant, located right in the city center. Mouthwatering items on their menu include turkey steaks, grilled foie gras, baked catfish, and grilled salmon. Meanwhile, their local food specialties include Slovak potato salad and beef stroganoff. The restaurant has been operating since the 18th century. They also have a children’s ice cream bar in a garden, which is popular among locals during the summer.
9. Watch a show at the Slovak National Theater
The Slovak National Theater is the oldest professional theater in the country, where drama, ballet, and opera are all performed. Formerly known as the City Theater, it currently has two buildings: the SND Historic Building, which was constructed in 1885, and the SND New Building, which was designed during the early 1980s. Their theater season usually starts during September and lasts until June of the following year. You can visit simply for sightseeing, but, if you wish to watch a performance, make sure to book your tickets online or in person at the counter seven days in advance.
10. Enjoy the views from the UFO Observation Deck
For an out-of-this-world sightseeing experience, head over to the UFO Observation Deck in central Bratislava. The saucer-shaped viewing area is reachable by an elevator ride that will take less than a minute. Aside from offering panoramic views of the city, they also offer gastronomic delights courtesy of their in-house restaurant. The UFO Restaurant serves a combination of traditional Slovak food and international cuisine, which they call “Mediterasian”. The best time to come here is during sunset until late at night. Whether you are planning a romantic date for two or a fun evening with friends, this would be a nice place to go.
11. A Hidden Gem on the Fringes - Villa Rustica
There’s so much for you to do and there are so many attractions to enjoy all around Bratislava that you may easily overlook a few hidden gems on the outskirts of the city. One such place is Villa Rustica, where sit the ruins of an ancient Roman town dating from as far back as the first century. Of the town itself nothing much is left except the foundations of a few buildings, believed to have once been a Roman bath house.It is said that the Romans themselves never settled here and that the bath house was built by a German magnate who adopted a Roman lifestyle and its ways.
Markers guide visitors from the main road through a path that brings them to the site but there are no entrance fees to be paid nor the usual hustle and bustle of the main tourist attractions in the city. A hike around through the woods and rolling hills surrounding Villa Rustica can also offer more opportunities to discover and enjoy Bratislava.
Address: Bratislava, Slovak Republic
12. The Upside Down Pyramid - Slovak Radio
You can’t miss Slovak Radio’s building – it’s an upside down pyramid! The structure is a remnant of Slovakia’s communist past and is called “the iron fist of the regime.” It took quite a long time to build this iconic structure; construction began back in 1967 and was only completed 16 years later, in 1983. The inverted pyramid is a communist symbol used to represent how the masses are elevated over the nobility but now makes for an interesting photo opportunity of your holiday in Bratislava.
The building is home to an excellent concert hall that features one of the largest pipe organs in the country. Slovak Radio occasionally organizes classical music performances by some of the renowned local musicians and these can be excellent opportunities for you to take in Slovak culture if you can time your visit with one of these shows.
Slovak Radio Building
Address: Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Beauty on the Danube
Bratislava, dubbed the “Beauty on the Danube”, is a great city filled with interesting historical and cultural attractions. However, having limited time to spend doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t enjoy what it has to offer. Do your best to plan ahead and, of course, don’t forget to be in the moment!
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