Bratislava is a compact city with enough sights to keep visitors entertained for a day or so. I visited the capital of Slovakia several times, so what to see and do in Bratislava? 50 shades of blue and a bronzy man that peeks under skirts! And yes, of course a castle, old town, food and drinks, as one may expect from any self-respecting Eastern European city.
Bratislava is the ideal candidate for a quick city trip, a day trip from Vienna, as a pit-stop between Prague and Budapest, or as a starting point to explore Slovakia further.
Climb up to the castles
Bratislava Castle has a long legendary history. Nowadays, the castle still provides excellent views of the city. You can actually see Austria and on clear days also Hungary from the castle. No wonder there were several battles fought over. The castle building includes four towers (one on each corner) and a courtyard with water well that is 80m deep. Closed on Monday!
Not to be mistaken for the Castle of Devín, located on a cliff 10 km out of the city. Devín is actually a village but nowadays considered part of Bratislava. This National Monument is a well-preserved medieval castle ruin, which can also be reached by boat.
Admire St. Elizabeth’s Blue Church
A baby blue church that seems to come straight out of your fairytale childhood book? Bratislava has it! “Art nouveau and Hungarian jugendstil” is what the architectural style is described as.
The church’s nick name could have been ’50 shades of blue’ because not only the exterior of the church is pale blue, also inside the benches, ceiling and mosaics all come in different shades of blue. You can find the Blue Church just outside the center of Bratislava, at a 10 minute’ walk from Old Town.
Meet sewer man Čumil & his friends
Bratislava is the home of several bronze sculptures in human size. Čumil is definitely one of the most popular statues of Bratislava’s old town, also known as ‘Man at work’. The sewer man can be found at the junction of Laurinská and Panská streets (Old Town).
Actually Čumil means “the watcher”. So careful ladies, he might be peeking under your skirt from down there! The story tells that if you touch the man’s head and you make a wish, it may come true.
There are plenty of other fun statues around Old Town (his ‘friends’), for example: Paparazzi, Schone Naci, Napoleon Soldier, Hans Christian Andersen, etc.
Stroll around Old Town
Like any self-respecting Eastern European city, Bratislava has an old town with that specific style. Besides Čumil and the other bronze statues, there is more to explore. Hlavné námestie is Bratislava’s main square with Roland’s Fountain, Napoleon’s Army Soldier and the Guard’s Booth.
Walk around to see Primates’ Palace, St. Michael’s Gate, St. Martin’s Cathedral, the connected Jesuit Church and Old Town Hall (Stará Radnica), Slovak National Theatre, etc. See also the mobile friendly map below in this article.
On a hot summer day for sure there will be plenty of people around Hviezdoslavovo námestie with its water stream. In winter, this is where the Christmas market is held. Bratislava has over 140 fountains, with the Duck Fountain as one of the public’s favorites.
I visited Bratislava for the first time in 2010 and re-visited a number of times. Never a punishment.
Bratislava has several churches in/around Old Town that are well-preserved, such as the Blue Church (mentioned above), Cathedral of St. Martin, St. Stephan Capuchin Church and the Church of the Holy Trinity.
The best courtyard in town
Bratislava does not have a lot of museums, but the Museum of City History is worth a visit, the courtyard outside is already a must see (look at those arches!) and particularly two rooms inside: Hall of Extended Municipal Council and the Court House with gorgeous ceilings. A strong competitor for Primates’ Palace, which has a lovely pink courtyard with the Fountain of St. George and the Dragon.
If you are into art, you may appreciate the Nedbalka Gallery.
Mobile friendly map
Join a tour
An exceptional, must do tour is the guided Post-Communism Walking Tour in Bratislava. If you are interested to hear some more general facts and stories about the old town, join this sightseeing tour by foot with a professional guide.
Check out the street art
Bratislava does not have a big street art scene with a long history like Berlin or Lisbon for example, but there is definitely some great graffiti out there that is worth checking out. Pražská Street, Janíkov dvor in Petržalka, abandened buildings near Prístavná Street, Kamenné Square, Továrenská Street and under bridges are known areas for street art in Bratislava.
Obviously it is constantly changing, so big chance the ones below are sprayed over by now already, who knows? Usually every year there is even a Bratislava Street Art Festival, often held in June, but I could not find any dates for this year (2019) yet.
Eat Slovak food
Due to historical connections, Slovak food is highly influenced by the Hungarian, Austrian and Bohemian kitchens. A great combo! Dumplings with sheep cheese are a Slovak favorite. Besides most Slovaks like eating dishes that include pork, boiled potatoes and veggies, and various milk products. Vychutnať si jedlo!
If you would like to try some Slovak food, I would recommend to go to one of these restaurants in Bratislava:
Get a drink (or two)
If you stroll around Union Park, Savage Garden is a nice place for a cup of coffee, tea or lunch. Thirsty around the Blue Church? Take a seat at the street terrace of Sole Mio for a refreshing juice or soda. On hot summer days, you may want to get an ice cream at Lucalus or Arthur Ice Cream (they have mojito flavour!).
Following the popularity of animal cafes in metropolitans like Tokyo, Bratislava has it is very own cat café called Mackafe. I am sure cat lovers will enjoy.
Enough bars in Bratislava to enjoy yourself for a while. You can join a Drunken Heroes pub crawl or visit the Virtual Reality Gin & Tonic Bar! The Velvet is the latest hot spot for a drink, or check out Spin Me Around cocktail bar. Beer fans will appreciate Bratislavsky Mestiansky Pivovar, for rum and cigars check out The Cuba Libre. And last but not least, if you like wine, get a tasting at Gran Cru Wine Gallery or Wine Not?! Cheers!
Get active outdoors
Outside of Bratislava there are a lot more outdoor activities to explore, such as hiking, rafting and climbing. You can either go around by car (own, rental or transfer) or go on a guided multi-day tour. If you are into outdoor activities, the following will make you happy:
- Slovak Paradise National Park incl. Falcon Valley, the Sucha Bela Gorge (canyon), Gorge Kysel, Ferrata Kysel, Kláštorská gorge, Prielom Hornád (rafting), etc. Fun for climbers too!
- Low Tatras and High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry) National Parks
- Dobsinska Ice Cave (UNESCO)
How to get there & around
Within Bratislava, everything is more or less within walking distance so you will probably see a lot by foot. There is a tram but I never had to use it since the city is so compact.
From the train station to the hotel I usually take an Uber. The local taxi drivers prefer cash and – to my experience – tend to take advantage of tourists by asking charging too much. From Bratislava Central Station to Old Town it’s app. 15 min by foot.
Train and bus are great methods to reach Bratislava, especially from cities like Vienna (45 min, EUR 16), Brno (1.5h, EUR 6), Budapest (2-2.5h, EUR 8) and Prague (3-4.5h, EUR 15-17). From Polish cities like Katowice (3.5-7h, EUR 19), Wroclaw (5-8h, EUR 16) and Krakow (4-9h, EUR 20) it is most convenient to go by car or cheapest by bus. Flixbus, Regiojet, Slovak Lines and Eurolines are the most well-known long distance bus companies in this area.
In summer, a fun, alternative way to reach Bratislava from Vienna is by hydrofoil over the Danube River (EUR 30-35 pp). Big chance the boat is filled with pensioners but who cares? If you are looking for a rental car, I would recommend Sunny Cars, which is all-inclusive and hassle free.
Flying to Bratislava is definitely possible (airport code BTS), but usually requires a stop-over because it is a small airport with not many direct connections and daily flights. Check Skyscanner for flight possibilities and prices. However, most people fly to Vienna international airport (VIE) and take the train or a shuttle from Vienna Airport to Bratislava. The cities are close to each other and Vienna is a much bigger airport with lots of direct connections.
Get out of Bratislava
Are you staying longer than just a few days and would like to explore further? As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of outdoor stuff to explore, Slovakia has several beautiful National Parks that have a lot to offer.
I can also recommend to drive up to Cicmany (2h) and Vlkolinec (3h), two cute villages with traditional wooden houses. Two castles outside Bratislava that are worth visiting are Spiš Castle and Bojnice Castle.
One hour east of Bratislava there is Nitra at the foot of Zobor Mountain (587m), one of the oldest cities of Slovakia. Most highlights are inside or around Nitra Castle (one of Slovakia’s most interesting ancient structures) with St. Emmeram’s Cathedral, Marian Column and Upper Town. Monastery and Church of St Peter and St Paul and Dražovce Church are two other churches. Mestský Park offers a green escape.
Where to stay
Deciding to stay a bit longer in Bratislava than a day trip? Looking for a comfy place to stay? Personally I like staying at both Marrol’s Boutique Hotel and Radisson Blu Carlton Hotel at lot! It is hard to choose. Both classy, great location, breakfast and comfy beds.
Alternatively there is LOFT, a popular and stylish place, but to be honest I did not like it for many reasons including bad pillows, unfriendly staff and noisy. The restaurant next door is good.
Have you ever heard of Bratislava or Slovakia before anyway? Do not feel ashamed, Bratislava is by far not as well-known as bigger counterparts such as Prague and Vienna. Let’s get you familiarized a bit more. The Slovak Republic, as Slovakia is officially called, has a population of more than 5.4 million people. The country is bordered by five neighboring countries: Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic. Slovaks speak their own language, Slovak, which is pretty similar to Czech, but Slovaks tend to understand Czech better than the other way around.
Slovakia has a communistic past. In 1993 Czechoslovakia split up into Czech Republic and Slovak Republic, also known as ‘the Velvet Divorce’. To me, Slovakia is the least developed out of the two. Nevertheless, Slovakia is the world’s largest producer of cars per capita since 2007, with factories for brands like Volkswagen, Peugeot, Kia, Jaguar and Land Rover. Slovakia joined the European Union in 2004 and has the Euro as its currency.
Explore Central & Eastern Europe
Check out my other articles of Central & Eastern European destinations:
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Have you been to Bratislava yet? I hope this article was useful for you. Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.