Things to Do in Bratislava
Situated on both sides of the Danube River, Bratislava is the charming capital of Slovakia. The city itself is quite small, but it is packed with cultural and historic sites. Within only a few blocks, you can stumble upon churches, palaces, museums, pedestrian squares, and more. So you are sure to find plenty of amazing things to do.
A Brief History of Bratislava
Bratislava was settled as far back as the Neolithic era (5000 BCE), making it hundreds of years older than neighboring capitals like Budapest. The area was later settled by the Celts, the Romans, the Slavs, and the Hungarians. With such diverse roots, Bratislava quickly became a welcoming, cosmopolitan center.
From 1526 to 1784, Bratislava served as the Hungarian capital. It also featured a stunning castle the Austrian royal family used as their residence until it burned down in 1811. By the end of World War I, Bratislava passed into the hands of the first Czech Republic. Then, in 1993, Slovakia finally became an independent nation with Bratislava as its capital.
The 8 Best Things to Do in Bratislava
With so much history and culture flowing into Bratislava, you can choose from a number of wonderful activities. And thanks to the city’s small size, you can get it all done within a short amount of time. Just a few days in Bratislava is enough to have a fantastic adventure.
The Old Town is the historic center of Bratislava, and the perfect place to start your journey. You can enter the neighborhood through St. Michael’s Gate and Tower, the last standing gate from the city’s medieval past. Inside the tower, you can visit the military museum or stop for a wonderful view from above.
Throughout Old Town, you’ll encounter Baroque palaces and pedestrian squares with quaint cafes and shops. During the holiday season, these squares come alive with Christmas markets and later with Easter markets. On Franciscan Square, you can find the Mirbach Palace, which houses the City Gallery’s Baroque collection.
Although the original castle burnt down in 1811, the Bratislava castle was reconstructed in the 1950s. Perched on a hill between the Alps and Carpathians, the structure offers picturesque views no matter where you turn.
On occasion, Bratislava Castle serves as a venue for the Slovak Parliament or other high profile guests. But on most days, the castle welcomes guests for an educational visit. Inside you’ll find the Slovak National Museum and the Music Museum. Both will give you a better understanding of how Slovakia became the great country it is today.
The UFO Tower
One of the most recognizable buildings in Bratislava is the UFO Tower. The tower is located on the banks of the Danube River and overlooks the Old Town. As you might imagine, the view is stupendous. There is a bar and restaurant at the top. So you’re encouraged to stay and enjoy the view as long as you want.
A small warning: The elevator is a bit small and rickety. It can also get a bit hot during the summer. So this may not be one of the best things to do in Bratislava if you are claustrophobic.
St. Martin’s Cathedral
Not far from the UFO Tower is St. Martin’s Cathedral. This church was used to coronate Hungarian kings and queens from 1563 to 1830, making it one of the most important sites in the whole city.
History aside, the cathedral is a wonderful example of Gothic architecture in Bratislava. The interior has beautiful vaulted ceilings and vibrant stained glass that are well worth the visit. But even the exterior has some surprises. On the back of the cathedral is a collection of colorful paintings shaped into windows and doors.
See the City Statues
While you stroll through the charming streets of Bratislava, keep your eye out for some quirky characters. There are an assortment of playful statues, perfect for silly photo ops. One of the most popular, Cumil (“man at work”), displays a man relaxing on the edge of a manhole. Make sure you don’t trip over him like I did.
Bratislava is a fairly quiet city as is. But if you want a truly peaceful escape, you can take a trip to the Slavin Memorial. The memorial is dedicated to roughly 7,000 troops who gave their lives to retake Bratislava from the Germans in 1945. Despite the somber undertones, the location is peaceful and offers another pretty view of the city.
Day Trip to Austria or Hungary
What’s better than visiting one foreign country? Visiting three! Bratislava is the only capital city that borders two foreign nations. To the south is Hungary, and to the west is Austria. Both countries are culturally rich locations with a wide variety of incredible cities to visit. But if you’re short on time, you should at least visit Vienna and Budapest.
Try the Local Cuisine
Slovakian cuisine is simple and hearty, focusing on key ingredients like potatoes, poppy seeds, and sheep’s cheese. But sometimes the simplest things in life are also the most delicious. Here are a few of the best dishes to try while in Bratislava.
- Bryndzové halušky– This is Slovakia’s national dish. Like Italian gnocchi meets macaroni and cheese, these potato dumplings are covered in a creamy, cheese sauce and topped with bacon and chives. Healthy? No. Utterly delicious? Hell yes!
- Kapustnica– Cabbage soup with chorizo. The soup is smooth, rich, and packed with flavor.
- Bratislavský rožok– A doughy, crescent-shaped pastry stuffed with a sweet, poppy seed mix. These are a Bratislava specialty, and you’ll find them everywhere.
- Borovička– The national drink of Slovakia. Similar to gin, borovička is a spirit flavored with juniper, which thrives in the mountainous regions of Slovakia.
Best Bratislava Restaurants/Bars
If you want a cheap and authentic meal in Bratislava, Old Town is the best place to visit. And no place is more emblematic of traditional Slovakian fare than Slovak Pub. Yes, it’s a little touristy. But you’ll get all the classic Slovakian meals in their purest form, and for an unbeatable price.
Cocktail lovers should head to SPIN Cocktail Bar. Thanks to it quirky and creative drinks, the bar is one of the most popular in the city. So you’re certain to have a good time no matter what whacky concoction the mixologists whip up for you.
Want wine? Grand Cru Wine Gallery should be on the top of your list. Since Slovakian wine can be hard to come by in the West, this wine bar is the perfect opportunity to try local varietals. But even better than the wine itself is the staff at Grand Cru. They are dedicated wine experts committed to finding the best glass for you and your preferences.