Bratislava is the capital city of Slovakia. The country’s largest city, you may also hear it referred to by its German name of Pressburg. Close to the River Danube, it is also within easy reach of the borders with Hungary and Austria. A city with a long and varied history, the small old town is easy to navigate by foot. Although it only takes around 15 minutes to walk from one side of the city to the other, prepare to do lots of walking as you explore all the narrow twisting lanes of the medieval core of the city, pausing to admire beautiful buildings around every corner, and being tempted by the charming cafes and traditional restaurants.
Packing in a lot for its relatively small size, there is so much to experience in Bratislava! Here are five of the best things to see and do on a trip to the Slovak capital:
1. Bratislava Castle
Perched on a hill overlooking the city below and with great views of the River Danube, Bratislava Castle is a striking vision of white. Its orange turrets are in contrast to the bright white facades and the blue of the sky.
Although renovated fairly recently, the castle has a long history. Indeed, a castle has stood upon Bratislava’s hill since around the 9th century AD.
Some visitors choose to simply walk up to the castle, soak up the views, and admire the building from the outside. If you wish to go inside, and see the various exhibitions, there is a fee of 6 EUR (approximately 6.80 USD).
The museum within the castle complex contains historic items, such as pottery, clothing, and artwork. It is a great place to learn more about the city’s past. There is also a large display detailing the history of the castle itself, as well as the reconstruction process.
2. St Martin’s Cathedral
St Martin’s Cathedral, also known as St Martin’s Minster, is both the oldest and the biggest church in the city. Formerly used as a church for royal crowning ceremonies for Hungarian monarchs, it blends baroque and neo-gothic elements.
The tall tower is perhaps the cathedral’s most striking feature. Look to the top and you will see a royal crown. This is the Hungarian crown, a reminder that Slovakia was once part of the Kingdom of Hungary.
Several interesting statues stand around the building’s exterior walls, and if you walk to the rear (by the steps leading down into the bustling old town) you will see an old building with cute scenes painted on the shutters.
You may be surprised to find that the inside is a lot plainer than what you may have been expecting. There is no fee to look inside the cathedral, although donations are welcome. Do remember that this is an active place of worship and dress / behave conservatively.
3. St Michael’s Gate
Built in the 14th century AD, St Michael’s Gate is the only surviving gateway to the old city. Once one of four gates, it is one of Bratislava’s oldest structures and one of the most-recognisable landmarks. A soaring tower, topped with an ornamental green roof, stands on top of the gate, reaching 51 metres (167 feet) into the sky. Look down as you walk through the gate and beneath the tower and you will see a circular dial-like detail set into the ground. This shows the distance from Bratislava to many major cities around the globe.
The tower is today home to part of the Bratislava City Museum – the Museum of Arms. You can see a large collection of weapons and learn more about how the city defended itself in times gone by. A major reason to visit the museum, however, is for the chance to climb up the tower and admire the sweeping views over the stunning medieval city.
Admission to the Museum of Arms is around 5 EUR (approximately 5.60 USD).
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4. Primate’s Palace
One of the most stunning buildings in Bratislava, the Primate’s Palace is a beautiful neoclassical structure with pale pink and white facades. Known as Primacialny Palac in the Slovak language, it is the seat of the city’s mayor today.
Built in the 18th century, it holds a significant place in the local history; it was where the Austrian Emperor Franz I and the French Emperor Napoleon met to sign the Peace of Pressburg Treaty that put an end to the three-year long War of the Third Coalition (1803 - 1806).
Wander through the elegant inner courtyard and you will see a statue of England’s patron saint, St George, slaying a dragon. If you fancy a rest stop, the quaint café is highly recommended. (You’ll find it down a small passageway at the rear of the courtyard.)
Inside the palace you can visit the Great Hall of Mirrors, the room in which the important treaty was signed. There is also a collection of historical English tapestries, discovered within the palace’s inner walls during restoration works. Admire the grand interiors, complete with gorgeous chandeliers, a sweeping staircase, tall columns, and stately portraits of the Hapsburg rulers.
Admission costs 3 EUR (approximately 3.40 USD) per person.
5. Grassalkovich Palace
Also known as the Presidential Palace and the White House of Bratislava, Grassalkovich Palace is the official seat of Slovakia’s president. Whilst you cannot go inside the palace, you can admire the building from outside of the high metal railings and enjoy the lovely French garden (no charge) behind the palace. Filled with interesting pieces of modern art and formal flowerbeds, it’s a nice place to relax on a sunny day.
Guards in ceremonial dress flank the main entrance to the palace and, if you happen to be around at 1 pm on weekdays, you can watch the small changing of the guard rituals.
Other great things to see and do in Bratislava
Bratislava is home to numerous pretty churches, including the Church of St Elisabeth with its lovely blue and white patterns, the pale Capuchin Church with its ornate altar, and the Trinity Church, with pale pink walls.
Pay your respects at the Slavin Monument, a memorial to those who died during World War II, see the unusual and aptly-named UFO restaurant on the SNP Bridge, watch a performance in the Slovak National Theatre, and visit the city’s diverse museums. There are several attention-grabbing statues and sculptures around the streets of Bratislava, with Rubberneck being one of the most curious-looking. With its own special traffic sign to alert vehicles to its presence, it is a man emerging from a man-hole cover at the edge of the road!
Book your trip to Bratislava and discover this charming gem of a city and all its many delights.
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