Bratislava is one of the smallest capital cities in Europe and, because it’s successfully remained under the radar for so long, even avid travellers may wonder, where is Bratislava? It’s the largest city in Slovakia and is situated on the epic Danube River bordering both Austria and Hungary, meaning Bratislava is often overshadowed by bigger cities in Central Europe like Vienna and Budapest.
However, Bratislava is a fantastic choice for an alternative city break precisely because it’s lesser known. The buzzing Bratislava nightlife and overall cheaper prices are a few of the main reasons bridal parties love travelling to Bratislava but that barely scratches the surface of what Bratislava has to offer. It’s also a quaint, charming pastel-coloured city with lots of stunning old buildings in Bratislava Old Town such as The Blue Church and Michael’s Gate.
Most of the main attractions are concentrated in the old historic centre which means Bratislava is perfect for a more relaxing city break, but the relics and monuments from Slovakia’s former communist past are worth crossing the river for.
This ultimate travel guide to Bratislava will show you all the most beautiful places in Bratislava, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Bratislava and things to do in Bratislava which will help you in planning a trip to Bratislava Slovakia.
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Table of Contents
How to get to Bratislava
Bratislava Airport is a small, one terminal airport that regularly flies to cities all over Europe and the Middle East via airlines such as Ryanair, Wizz Air and Fly Dubai. The Airport is only 15-20 minutes from the city centre which you can reach by taxi (make sure to agree on a price beforehand) or the N.61 bus to the station if you’re on a budget. Vienna is only one hour’s drive/bus ride from Bratislava so that’s another option if you’re flying from further away as it’s a much bigger international airport.
Bratislava has two train stations: The Main Station and Petrzalka which is across the river. The Main Station provides direct services to and from all over Central Europe including Prague, Vienna, Budapest and elsewhere in Slovakia. Since Bratislava is on the famous Danube River, it is a common stopping point for several river cruises and boat trips.
What to expect in Bratislava
Slovakia became its own nation over 25 years ago when it split from the Czech Republic, now known as Czechia. It’s part of the EU and also in the Schengen zone. The currency in Slovakia is the Euro and is possibly one of the cheapest countries using the Euro to visit.
Slovak is the national language of Slovakia and is the most widely spoken. Most older Slovakians are more likely to have German or Russian as a second language, with English only becoming a more common second language amongst locals around 20-years-old and those in the tourism and service industries.
Bratislava, especially in the Old Town and touristed areas, is very safe though always be aware of pickpockets. Definitely tip your servers in Bratislava for good service, rounding up your bill or adding 10% is ample. Leaving more may result in your server thinking you’ve forgotten your money!
How to get around Bratislava
Luckily, Bratislava Old Town is super compact, so you won’t need to use public transport for most of your city break to Bratislava if your accommodation is central and you don’t have accessibility needs. But there are buses, trams and trolleybuses available for venturing further out. If you purchase a Bratislava City Card for the duration of your visit, free travel on public transport is included.
You may wish to choose trams over buses where possible as they are faster and more reliable. There are red and orange ticket machines at tram stops, which take coins and often cards, and you validate your ticket once you’re on the tram. Definitely take care whilst buying and validating as spot checks are common and guards don’t go easy on tourists. Tickets are cheap (€0.90 for a 30-minute journey, for example) and 24-hour passes cost only €3.50 across all public transport services.
The best time to visit Bratislava
Like other cities in Central and Eastern Europe, Bratislava weather is characterized by cold winters with snowy spells and pleasantly warm summers. Visit Bratislava from June-September for the warmest temperatures but there will be a surge in accommodation prices. For a balance between spending as little as possible and good weather, the shoulder seasons April-June and September-October are the best times to visit.
To experience a cultural event, head to Bratislava during the last week of June for the Coronation Festival where a historical re-enactment of a coronation ceremony takes place and the whole city gets involved with costumes, dances and decorations.
The Christmas markets in Bratislava don’t get as many international tourists as other larger European cities, but they’re brilliant. Spreading across several squares throughout the city from late November to late December, you can enjoy ice rinks, market stalls, folk music and dances and traditional Slovak festive food.
Things to do in Bratislava
Bratislava Old Town
Bratislava Old Town is the main hub of the city and where most of the cool things to see in Bratislava are. There’s the Main Square lined with beautiful candy-coloured historic buildings and cafes with Maximilian’s Fountain in the centre. Old Town is covered in funny statues to look out for, the most famous being the Cumil statue which is of an emerging sewage worker taking a break.
Hviezdoslavovo Square is also home to several statues, including one of Hans Christian Andersen and has lots of great restaurants. Further north in Old Town is Michael’s Gate and Bridge which dates back to the 1300s when Bratislava was a fortified city. You can also climb the tower which has fantastic views over Bratislava, and St Martin’s Cathedral is another important building in Bratislava Old Town in the Gothic style that you should check out and it’s free to visit.
St Elizabeth’s Church/The Blue Church
But the most notable church in Bratislava has to be The Blue Church, or St Elizabeth’s Church to use its official name. Originally built in the early 20th century in an Art Nouveau style to be a grammar school, it is now an aesthetically cheerful church painted bright blue with gold and blue embellishments inside. Oriental, Roman and Baroque styles have all been utilised to create a truly unique church and a must-see in Bratislava.
Bratislava Castle is an icon of Slovakia and its placement on top of a hill means it’s visible from all over the city. A castle has stood in the same spot since the 10th century around the time Slovakia was a part of Hungary and it guarded the Hungarian crown jewels for 200 years. Over the centuries, the castle has been destroyed and rebuilt and the one that you see today dates back to the 15th century.
Now, the castle is home to the National Museum of Slovakia and from the top of Castle Hill you can see out to the Austrian and Hungarian borders.
Since Bratislava sits on the Danube River, it makes sense that there are some pretty impressive bridges connecting both sides of the city. Most SNP (abbreviated from Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising) was built in the 1970s while Czechoslovakia was a communist nation.
There’s a striking pylon in the middle of the bridge which is known as the UFO building because of its flying saucer-like design. The building holds a restaurant where you can either book a table or you can just visit the observation deck for yet another spectacular view over Bratislava.
Across the Most SNP bridge to the south is the Petrzalka neighbourhood. It’s one of the most densely populated residential neighbourhoods in Central Europe, largely down to the ‘panelaks’ that were built during the communist regime. These are concrete high-rise buildings that are all over the Petrzalka district.
Lots of travellers like to visit what might be known as the ‘dark tourism Bratislava’ side of the city which has lots of remnants, buildings and art from the former soviet authority in Czechoslovakia.
Slavin War Memorial
Speaking of the Soviet Union, the Slavin War Memorial and Cemetery commemorates all the Soviet soldiers who were killed in WWII and thousands are buried here. The memorial is an embellished, concrete structure typical of Soviet landmarks. It was built in the 1960s despite the Slovaks largely opposing communist rule in order to pay tribute to the sacrifice the Soviet soldiers made trying to protect and liberate Bratislava from the Nazis.
Slovak National Gallery
There are tonnes of museums in Bratislava, particularly art galleries, filled with treasures and artworks from all over Slovakia and beyond from all time periods. One of the most prestigious galleries in the country is the Slovak National Gallery. The building is partly made up of an 18th century palace and a communist-era structure and displays everything from Baroque to Gothic art with an emphasis on local Slovak, Hungarian and Austrian artists.
What to eat in Bratislava
Like other Central and Eastern European countries, traditional Slovak food is hearty and nutritious and revolves around soups, stews and dumplings and is very meat heavy. Soup is often served inside a huge bread roll with the middle and top cut off so that you can eat the delicious soup-soaked bread afterwards. Kremova cesnakova polievka is a creamy garlic soup that’s usually served like this but watch you don’t order it as a starter and get so full you can’t eat your main course!
Potato dumplings and pancakes are also Slovakian staples often filled with meat, sauerkraut, fried onions and sour cream. Spiced roasted sausage, pork shoulder and duck breast are typical meats served alongside the pancakes and potatoes.
Slovak Pub is an ideal restaurant to try great local food on a budget, FlagShip (which is one of Europe’s biggest restaurants) is slightly more upmarket but still not expensive and Mestiansky Pivovar is one of Slovakia’s oldest breweries serving traditional foodie fare. Don’t forget to try the cheap, local beer, too!
Where to stay in Bratislava
Budget – With accommodation in Bratislava being relatively inexpensive compared to many other Central European capital cities, you might find it easier to find nice central accommodation within your budget. If you’re usually a budget backpacker anyway, Wild Elephants Hostel in Old Town is a great choice in a fantastic location with minimalist clean rooms, cosy common areas with lots of bars nearby for around €15 per night.
Mid-range – You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to affordable private accommodation in Bratislava. There are tonnes of great Airbnbs in Old Town for less than €50 a night. Or if you prefer to stay in quirky hotels, check out Botel Dunajsky Pivovar. As you might be able to tell from the name, the ‘botel’ is literally a hotel on a boat moored permanently on the Danube River. You can wake up to beautiful sunrises across the water and enjoy a modern decor with a friendly onsite bar and restaurant. Or if you want to stay on dry land, check out the Radisson Blu Carlton Hotel for a centrally located, sizable hotel perfect for families.
Luxury – For around €120 per night, you can stay in one of the best 5-star hotels in Bratislava. The Roset Boutique Hotel is a fully resorted Art Nouveau building with a gorgeous facade and elegant interiors like its curved marble staircase. Alternatively, the Sheraton Bratislava Hotel on the banks of the river is a 5-star contemporary hotel with a pool and gym situated near a shopping mall and a huge choice of restaurants for less than €100 a night.
Tours to do in Bratislava
Old Town Trolley Tour
As cars and other private vehicles aren’t allowed in Bratislava Old Town, trolleybuses are the main means of transport and it’s a novel way of seeing the best of Bratislava with a detailed audio guide. The open sides of the trolleybuses allow you to see more of this charming city and window glare won’t get in the way of your photos.
There are also two stops to explore Bratislava Castle and the Slavin memorial properly, the latter will make you relieved you took transport rather than walk – it’s quite a hill!
Traditional Food and Wine Tour
Unlike Italian or Indian cuisine, there aren’t many traditionally Slovak restaurants outside of Slovakia so few can really say they’ve tasted a variety of Slovak dishes. This food and wine tour will take you all over the city, stopping in bars and restaurants to try different local dishes like sweet steamed dumplings, sauerkraut soup and potato pancakes, as well as sample Slovakian wine made from currents.
Post-Communism Retro Vehicle Tour
Many of the important and historic buildings in Bratislava Old Town date back to the 9th century, but Bratislava’s more recent, post-communist history is fascinating and integral to understanding Bratislava today. This highly rated and fun tour consists of riding in retro cars around communist buildings, relics, bunkers and bridges whilst learning about how communism has shaped Bratislava from a friendly, knowledgeable guide.
Day trips from Bratislava
This medieval castle sits on a hill between the Morava and Danube rivers and is just a mere 30-minute drive from Bratislava, though you’ll feel like you’re deep within the Slovakian countryside. This relaxing day trip includes a tour of Devin Castle in the quiet village of Devin and tastings of the local red and white wines made from currents. And of course, you’ll get to enjoy epic vistas across the Danube from the top of the castle!
If you want to see more Slovakian castles, this day trip to the Trencin region of Slovakia includes a visit to the fairytale-esque, turreted and soft pink Bojnice Castle as well as the cute village of Cicmany. The neo-gothic castle grounds include beautifully manicured grounds and lake, stunning preserved stately rooms and a museum where you can learn more about Slovakian culture.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site in the middle of an area of outstanding natural beauty, Banska Stiavnica is a former mining community steeped in history and gorgeous, Instagram-worthy buildings and narrow, cobbled streets. Visit the local castles, churches and secret spots with a well-informed guide who knows all the best restaurants, bars and hidden gems in Banska Stiavnica.
Recommended tours in Bratislava
- Local Secrets of Bratislava: Small Group Tour Including Picnic
- Bratislava Post-Communism Tour
- Bratislava by Beer Small Group Walking Tour
- Bratislava Medieval Times: Food and Wine Tour
- Private One Day Tour to the UNESCO Heritage Village and The High Tatras from Bratislava
- Bratislava Candy Shop and Walking Tour
- Kayaking on Danube close to the city center
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