Located on the banks of the Danube River and watched over from a hill by a fantastic 15th century castle, Bratislava is one of the most exciting cities in the young Slovak Republic.
With half a million inhabitants, the Slovak capital, located only an hour’s drive from Vienna, combines parks and extensive green areas with concrete masses inherited from the socialist period.
Bratislava had its period of splendor during the 18th century and its historic center is testimony to this. To these attractions must be added an intense nightlife, with craft breweries and cocktail bars always crowded with university students, in the lively Hlavne Namastie Square.
Other highlights to see in Bratislava are: St. Michael’s Gate, the Old Town Hall, St. Martin’s Cathedral and the unusual bronze statues scattered throughout the city.
Bratislava Castle is the great icon of the city. It stands on a hill, majestic, with its pastel colors emerging from a green bush. This castle was built between the ninth and eighteenth centuries, although it suffered a serious fire in 1811. It was abandoned for more than a century, until 1950 when the local authorities rebuilt it.
It is recommended to spend a few hours in the castle gardens, contemplating the city, the silvery Danube, crossed by the elegant New Bridge, and the rooftops of the old town. The Slovak National Museum is located on the grounds, with temporary exhibitions that always surprise visitors.
Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall (Stara Radnica) is an emblematic building to see in Bratislava. From the outside, its neat stone facade is adorned with the great Clock Tower. Located on the Main Square in the heart of the Old Town, it was the home of the city’s first mayor during the 14th century. The Town Hall connects three dwellings that also date back to the 14th century.
One of the curiosities of the building is that in one of the walls of the Tower you can contemplate an embedded cannonball, fired by Napoleon’s soldiers during the bombardment of the city in 1809.
Inside, the beautiful courtyard precedes the entrance to the Bratislava History Museum, open since 1878, where it is recommended to visit the exhibition of ancient torture devices. It is also worth climbing the Clock Tower for beautiful views of the old town.
St. Michael’s Gate
Another great place to see in Bratislava is the Old Town (Staré Mesto), ideal for a walking tour through its beautiful cobblestone streets. The city was once surrounded by a medieval wall, of which St. Michael’s Gate remains. This gate-tower, which is located on the famous Michalska Street (full of cafes), was built during the fourteenth century and has four floors. Inside its octagonal body houses the City Museum, where information about the old city wall is shared.
St. Martin’s Cathedral
St. Martin’s Cathedral is the most important religious temple to see in Bratislava and the country. It was built during the twelfth century and is notable for its 83-meter high tower, on top of which is a large-scale replica of the golden crown of St. Stephen or Holy Hungarian Crown. Here were crowned 11 kings of Hungary between 1563 and 1830.
Statues of Bratislava
One of the biggest curiosities to see in Bratislava is the number of bronze statues scattered around the city, which look like funny goblins present in every corner. These statues were placed in different points since the early 1990s, to express the feeling of freedom after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Among the statues, the Napoleonic soldier, which commemorates Napoleon’s siege of Bratislava between 1805 and 1809; the Paparazzi, a character who appears taking pictures, and Cume, a worker who emerges from a sewer, stand out.
Another must-see in Bratislava is the Grassalkovich Palace, the residence of the president of the Slovak Republic and seat of political power for more than three centuries. With its elegant late baroque and rococo style, was built in 1765 and in the back has a beautiful French-style garden. Inside it has numerous rooms and a majestic main staircase.
There are not many completely blue churches in the world, but St. Elizabeth’s Church, on the outskirts of Bratislava’s old town, is one of them and is another of the special places to see in Bratislava. It was built in an Art Nouveau style, between 1909 and 1913, by a Hungarian architect named Ödön Lechner. Although the building cannot be visited inside (it only opens for masses), it is very nice to contemplate from the outside how its slender cylindrical tower blends with the colors of the sky.
Hlavne Namestie Square
Hlavne Namestie Square is one of the liveliest spots in Bratislava. This space is the meeting point for tourists and university students (Bratislava is a student city) to drink a beer in the afternoon, in the picturesque terraces and cafes of the place. In Hlavne Namestie is the Town Hall and, in the center of the square, the Maximilian Fountain, which was placed there on the day of the coronation of the first emperor of Bratislava.
A few steps from the Town Hall, along Kostolná Street, you reach the Primate’s Square, where the Primate’s Palace, built at the end of the 18th century, is located. This building is famous because, in one of its halls, the very Napoleon Bonaparte and Francis II of Austria signed the peace, after the Battle of Austerlitz.
Another of the historical sites to see in Bratislava, without a doubt, is the Slavin Memorial. It is the site where the Soviet soldiers who gave their lives during World War II are honored. This mausoleum was erected in 1960 and has an obelisk of 40 meters, which stands next to a cemetery where rest the remains of the 6,000 soldiers who died in the fighting to liberate the city on April 4, 1945.
One of the most futuristic works to see in Bratislava is the so-called New Bridge (Novy Most), which connects the city with the populous district of Petrzalka, where about 160,000 inhabitants live. What stands out about the New Bridge is that at the top it has a large structure that looks like a flying saucer, where there is a restaurant and a beautiful viewpoint.