the best things to do in the slovak capital

bratislava

Ohhhhh Bratislava… This is probably the European capital where I have been the most times! It’s not necessarily the most famous and recognized tourist destination, but I personally have a special attachment to this cute little city located only a few kilometers from Vienna (city where we lived for 2 years).

I owe my love affair with the Slovak capital to my best friend who is originally from there. Every year she went there to see her family. The summer of my 15th birthday I went with her for the very first time, and I was immediately seduced! Since 2001 I’ve been there almost 12 times! 

vue musée d'histoire bratislava

Our last visit was in September 2022, for my best friend’s wedding (she has lived in Switzerland all her life but had the wonderful idea to return to her city to celebrate her union).

In short, in this article I offer you a summary of visits, good addresses and excursions from my numerous stays in Bratislava. In 2022, I took care to check that all the addresses are still existing and especially to update the prices. If you notice any changes, don’t hesitate to leave us a comment at the end of the article so that we can keep this article up to date. 🙂

What to see and do in Bratislava?

Bratislava is a relatively small city (if you consider that it is a capital). It is easy to do the tour in 1-2 day(s) and most of it can be done on foot. Below, we put all the things we recommend you to add on your list of things to see. At the end of the article, you will find an interactive map with absolutely all the monuments, things to see and restaurants/bars to help you plan your itinerary.

The old town of Bratislava – strolling through the pedestrian streets

First advice? Walk around!!! Yes it’s a cheesy piece of advice, but I promise you, Bratislava is really a city that can be visited extremely well on foot! A big part of the city center is pedestrian which is extremely pleasant.

Over the years, the city center has grown and modernized tremendously. I have memories of my first visits almost 20 years ago and I can guarantee you that it has changed a lot! Many of the buildings have been very well restored and there are lots of little stores, cute cafes and nice bars that have opened everywhere!

Hlavne Namestie Square

Located in the heart of the old town, Hlavne Namestie Square is the meeting point par excellence. The square is huge and you can find some of the most beautiful buildings in the city. On the square, we also find the Roland fountain.

It is funny because it is nicknamed like that, however the statue which is at its top represents Maximilian II, former king of the kingdom of Hungary. This statue is often a source of legend… Nowadays, the statue of Maximilian II is facing the actual city hall, but it is said that every year, on December 31st at midnight, the statue makes a half-turn to bow to the old city hall located behind it. Hmmm… I imagine that at midnight, on New Year’s Eve, those who see it turn around have probably already had a few drinks! 😉

Visit the city’s history museum

Go figure, I had to wait until my 12th visit to Bratislava to finally set foot there 😉 I’ll admit that although the museum is well designed, I wasn’t very excited about it either.

Nevertheless, I still recommend the visit! Why on earth? Simply because the architecture and the decorations of the building (it is the old city hall) as well as the view from the top of the tower are worth the visit alone!

It is possible to step out onto the circular balcony of the small tower and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the main square and the old town!

Information for the visit of the museum:

Closed on Mondays. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm
Entrance fee: 7€ (free with the Bratislava Card – more info on the card below)

The clock tower / the Michel gate

michalska bratislava

In medieval times, Bratislava was a fully fortified city and the Michael Gate was one of the entry points. Today, it is the only remaining gate in the city walls. Its construction dates back to 1300, but its present form dates back to its reconstruction in 1758 (the characteristic baroque style is also evident).

During our last visit in September 2022, the tower was unfortunately under construction and the access to the museum and especially to the small balcony which offers a nice view on the old city were closed. There is no doubt that once the restoration work is completed, the tower will be restored to its full splendor. The attached picture is from one of my previous visits (hence the slightly more hazardous picture quality) 😉

The National Theatre (the old building and the new building)

théâtre national slovaque

The architectural history of the Slovak National Theater is divided into two parts (and two locations) 😉 The old theater, built between 1885 and 1886, is located on the Hviezdoslavovo námestie square. The new building is in a more modern style and is located in the new part of the old town near the Danube (Pribinova 17). Today, both buildings are still used for ballet, opera and theater performances.

Personally, I have a clear preference for the old building, but there’s no doubt that the acoustics and comfort of the more modern one are top-notch (but to be honest, I admit I’ve never been inside, so it’s hard to judge more).

The little blue church (St. Elisabeth Church in Bratislava)

About halfway between the two national theaters is another cute sight in the city: the blue church! Built in the early 1900’s in an Art Nouveau style, it stands out in the landscape. 🙂

église bleue bratislava

It is also worth going to the richly decorated interior – and all blue too 😉 The church was dedicated to Elizabeth of Hungary, whose father Andrew II, grew up in the castle of Pressburg (Pressburg being the former name of Bratislava).

Visit Bratislava Castle

A must-see in the city, you can’t miss it! Wherever you go in Bratislava, you can almost always see it. Perched on a small hill, the castle overlooks the city and the Danube. It’s funny, because despite my many visits to the city, I had never visited it from the inside until 2022 😉

It’s funny, because the castle has changed a lot since my first visit. While searching in my archives, I found an old photo I took in 2005… At that time the castle’s color was… how to say… grey’ish.

The first time I saw the “restored” version I must admit I was quite shocked! The last coat of paint had just been applied and it was almost “shining” so white! 🙂 In 2022, I was less shoked, I think the color has faded a little and it looks less “Disney castle”. Well… I don’t know what you think?

jardin château bratislava

But whether you like the white paint or not, going up to the castle to admire the view and the gardens is worth it! Concerning the interior, I am more divided… We had the Bratislava Card and so I thought it was great to visit the interior (which has been renovated quite a bit too), but I honestly don’t know if I would have wanted to pay 10€ to see it.

Don’t get me wrong, the interior is imposing (especially the huge staircase is just superb). Afterwards, we regretted a little the rather marked absence of exhibition and explanations. There are some pieces that explain a bit the period of renovation of the building, but we would have expected more historical information… Many rooms are simply left empty.

The highlight of the visit? It’s at the very top! You have to go to the treasure room and take the very steep stairs that lead to the top of one of the towers. From there the view is absolutely magnificent! Unfortunately, it was a bit grey the day we were there, but no doubt that in good weather it’s even better!

Go to the top of the UFO

novy most

The bridge is called “Novy Most” which literally translates as new bridge. Well, it’s not so new anymore since it dates back to 1972, but its architecture is still very modern.

What makes the bridge special? It is surely the fact that at the top of the bridge there is an observation deck, a lounge bar and a restaurant.

To go up to the top you have to take an elevator located in the left foot of the tower. The entrance is not free (9,9€ or 12,9€ if you want to come during the day AND at night).

UFO bratislava

After that, the entrance is free as long as you order at least one main course in the restaurant… But to be honest, I advise you to pay the entrance fee and, if you feel like it, to have a drink at the bar. The restaurant is apparently very good, but the prices are quite high (40€ for a main course). Anyway, we never ate there, but we already had a drink up there several times. The drinks are obviously more expensive than in a normal bar in town, but the view from up there is pretty damn good!

Go in search of the city’s statues

When Bratislava inaugurated its pedestrian city center (1997), they also presented to the public a whole collection of statues to “decorate” the city center a bit. The most famous one is probably the one of this worker who seems to be resting at the exit of a manhole (called Cumil). But there are many others! On the main square, there is a statue of a soldier of Napoleon (no, it is not Napoleon himself but a soldier of his army) or on Hviezdoslavovo námestie there is one of Hans Christen Andersen, the famous Danish storyteller.

chemin couronnement

Oh and if you are walking in the center, don’t forget to look down from time to time. If you are attentive, you will surely see small golden crowns between the cobblestones in some places. These little plaques are actually placed all along what was, at the time, the coronation route of the Hungarian kings. The route goes from the banks of the Danube to the foot of the castle.

For almost three centuries, the coronation of kings was held here (at the time when Pressburg was the capital of the empire).

The radio building

radio slovaque

This next place we recommend you to go and have a look at is not a visit as such, but just a quick look at one of the “jewels” of the Soviet architecture. Built between the end of the 60’s and the middle of the 80’s, the building of the Slovak Radio is clearly original. With its pyramid shape on its tip, it clearly stands out in the landscape 😉

The museum of viticulture (and the tasting room)

Ah… well, here is a museum that would have loved to see but which was unfortunately closed for renovation during our visit! 🙂 Slovakia is not a country particularly “known” for its wine on the international market, however their production is quite honorable. It is especially in the south of the country that we find the most vineyards. By the way, fun fact, if you like wine, it is likely that you have already heard of Tokaj (a famous Hungarian grape variety)… It turns out that Slovakia also produces it on a small part of its territory. 🙂

In short, we unfortunately can’t tell you more about this museum, but it seemed interesting to us. Don’t hesitate to tell us more about it if you have the opportunity to visit it!

For lack of seeing the museum we said to ourselves that we were going to go to the tasting room (situated under the museum) to make a tasting of Slovak wine… Hmmm, this attempt of tasting will be transformed into small failure because the place was full and it was impossible to have a glass. It must be said that the place is quite famous for its tastings! But I want to tell you that it’s not particularly for the right reasons.

dégustation vin slovaque

In fact, the cellar proposes a kind of wine marathon which is very popular… The idea? You pay 30€ and you have 100 minutes to taste up to 72 wines. We admit it, we did not know that… We naively thought that we could taste 2-3 typical Slovak grape varieties. Personally, I think it’s a pity to advertise this type of “tasting” which is more like a binge drinking party in my opinion… It doesn’t really do justice to the wines, but that’s just my opinion. We wanted to do the 6€ tasting (for 2 glasses) but it seems that as long as there are people for the 72 wines tasting, the smaller ones are not offered (at least we were refused – we were offered to come back the next morning (at 10am haha) to do the big tasting – No thanks!)

In the end we will have been somewhere else to taste (2 glasses of) Slovakian wine. More about the wine bar below. It was much more quiet and very nice!

We tested the Bratislava Card – our opinion

Many cities offer “tourist cards” that include transportation and several visits. We regularly buy these passes when we decide to visit a city in 24/48 or 72 hours. Because yes, these passes are really profitable if you plan to group several visits in a short period of time, if you rather plan to stroll and do 1-2 activities per day, then it is not necessarily worth it.

bratislava card

During our last visit in September 2022, we were in the city for 48H. Personally I had never taken this card before because since I usually came with my friend, we were more interested in shopping and bars than museums 😉 But Benoit didn’t know the city yet, so we decided to get the Bratislava card and do a little cultural marathon.

Results? We are delighted to have taken the card! We picked it up at the tourist office and paid 20€ for it. In the 24 hours of activation we took advantage of the Free tour (value? 10 to 15€ – this is the amount we usually leave as a tip in free tours), the visit of the castle (10€), the history museum (7€) and took advantage of several discounts ranging from 10% to 20% in restaurants/bars/cafes as well as transportation. If you stay longer and take the 72H card at 28€, you will have time to add the castle of Devin (6€) or the museum of viticulture (unfortunately under construction when we visited – ) 😉

In short, we find that to group the visits it can be a good deal!

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Free walking tour Bratislava

To finish this list of monuments and things to see, we wanted to tell you about the free tours. As it is the case in many cities, you can find these “free” tours in Bratislava. I put quotation marks on free, because the idea of these tours is that they are based on tips.

château de Bratislava

With the Bratislava Card, we had one of these tours included with the card (organized by the tourist office). Frankly, it was very interesting. We walked around the city center for 1h30 to 2h and learned a lot about the history of the city, but it was also the opportunity to ask a local for some good addresses (even if for me, my best friend is still my best local guide) 😉

If you don’t want to take the Bratislava Card and do the tour included with the card, you should know that there are also classic free tours (meaning based on tips).

Where to go out and eat in Bratislava: our addresses of bars and restaurants

The best restaurants in Bratislava

Ahhh the Slovak cuisine! Not reputed to be very light, the Slovak cuisine is nevertheless really excellent. After all, Bratislava is still a capital city, so of course there are also very good restaurants offering more international dishes 😉 Far from having tested all the restaurants, I’ll admit that I have quite a list of nice addresses to share. You will find all the restaurants on the map at the end of the article.

For typical Slovakian food:

  • Leberfinger: Located on the other side of the bridge from the old town, it is in my opinion the restaurant that serves the best Slovak cuisine. A good combo is to eat there and finish with a drink at UFO 😉
  • The Slovak Pub: Ahhh this one was a bit our HQ when I came to Bratislava with my best friend. It’s funny because from the outside it doesn’t look like much but inside it’s like an old wooden chalet. The prices are reasonable and the atmosphere is friendly.
  • The Flagship: A great classic but clearly worth a visit! The food is typical Slovakian and it’s very good. But the best part is the setting! Built in an old cinema, it is also one of the biggest restaurants in Europe.
  • Koliba Kamzik: The last one we tried. The place was recommended to us by the manager of the wine bar with whom we had a good friendship. And frankly it was excellent! The menu is simple but we found what we were looking for (even with the veggie option)

International cuisine:

  • SOHO Dunajskà: asian cuisine
  • Rooftop by Regal: a beautiful terrace on the roofs of the city and excellent burgers (including veggie versions)
  • Roxorburger: as the name suggests… great burgers!

Some pictures from the Rooftop by Regal:

Would you like to have an ice cream?

So this point intrigues me to the highest level I must admit… In Bratislava there is an absolutely staggering number of artisanal ice cream sellers! I have no idea where this love for ice cream comes from, but we must admit that they know how to do it. If you are looking for an ice cream, it is around the Hviezdoslavovo námestie square that you will find the most options. I didn’t count exactly but there must be about ten stores selling ice cream. The best ones? Hmm, hard to say… we really liked the ones from Koun. The ones from Luculus and Arthur and Andersen are also very popular.

Places for a good brunch in Bratislava

We are not experts in brunch, let’s face it… Nevertheless during our last stay we did 2 and it was really excellent! The first address would be the Urban Bistro (Michalská 5), a trendy place in a little industrial style. The second one is right next door, the Enjoy Bistro (Michalská 3). Here the atmosphere is more “dollhouse”, everything is very cute. 🙂 In both cases, the brunch cost us about 20 euros for 2 people.

Where to go for a drink in Bratislava?

bar à bières bratislava

Here too, there is no lack of choice! Bratislava is often cited as a city for bachelor(ette) parties, so it’s for a good reason 😉 Here is a small list with our personal preferences (and some recommendations from my best friend who lived there for several years):

  • UFO Bar: Certainly one of the most expensive bar in town, but believe me the view is worth it! Located at the top of the bridge overlooking the old town, you get a great view from up there. If you can go there at sunset it’s the best!
  • Zil Vernes (Jules Vernes): a mini bar that doesn’t look like much. There is a very nice selection of Slovakian craft beers
  • Le Steinplatz: Another great address for craft beer lovers
  • Staromeštianska pivotéka: They say it’s never too late to get a drink, right? Here is a third address for good beer (we eat well too!)
cocktail bratislava
  • For cocktails, the funkiest address would probably be the Michalska cocktail room. Its particularity? It’s a “secret” bar that you can access through a “closet” door on the second floor of the Urban Bistro (the one we recommended for brunch). In fact, to go there you have to go to the bistro, go upstairs and go through the small door (ask the waiter if you have any doubt 😉 )
  • Other very good addresses for cocktails would be the Velvet or the SkyBar
  • And if you are more of a wine person, we have two addresses to recommend. The Wine not on the main square for a wide selection of Slovak and international wines… and our little favorite: the Grand Cru Wine Gallery – a tiny bar run by an absolutely adorable enthusiast! He offers only Slovak wines and knows the stories behind each grape variety, very interesting!
grand cru wine gallery
Grand Cru Wine Gallery

Things to do around Bratislava

The Danubiana Museum

It is the museum of modern art of the city. Located 20km south of the city, on a piece of land in the middle of the Danube, it is really a special place! Like most art museums, it has a permanent collection as well as many temporary exhibitions. To get an idea of the place and of the current exhibitions at the time of your visit, go to their website.

Danubiana
LenislavaPhoto: Pavol Harum, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Infos: Open from 10am to 6pm from Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Monday). To get there, the easiest way is to take the bus N°90 from the city center (I put the stops on the map at the end of the article). The entrance costs 10€ (8€ with the Bratislava Card)

Slavin ou Kamzik – viewpoints on Bratislava

slavin bratislava

When we visit a city, we like to take a bit of altitude to admire the Panorama. In Bratislava there are several options (the UFO being the most famous but it is also a paying option 😉

If you want to admire Bratislava from above without paying a cent, then the Slavin monument or the green area around Kamzik will be your best choice (you will find the location of the viewpoints on the map at the end of this article)

Visit the castle of Devin

Located 10km west of Bratislava, Devin Castle (or should I say its ruins) is a classic. Located on a rocky spur overlooking the Danube, the castle was one of the oldest in Slovakia (its foundation dates back to the 9th century). The site currently houses a museum and offers superb panoramas!

château de Devin bratislava

Infos Deevin Castle:

Open from Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays) from 10 am to 5 pm or 7 pm (depending on the season). Price: 6€ (included in the Bratislava Card)
To get there, the easiest way is to take bus 28 or 29 from the Most SNP stop to the “Devin” stop. Note that it can also be very nice to go by bike! There is about 12km of road to follow along the Danube (on foot it is not exciting… experience made! 🙂 ) For bikes, there are self-service bikes all over the city (6€ per day).

More infos

So I warn you, it’s my younger years that are talking to you! Since many years, Benoit and I have become what we can call “minimalists”, shopping is an activity that has more or less left my vocabulary. Nevertheless, Bratislava was a city that I loved so much for this activity “back in the days” that I thought I would share some addresses.

If you are looking for more “general” type stores then there are several places you can go:

  • Obchodna: Shopping street just north of the old town
  • Eurovea: a large shopping mall on the Danube banks (the nicest for the stores as well as for the many bars and cafes on the waterfront)
  • Otherwise there is also Polus or Aupark which are shopping centers where I spent a lot of my afternoons when I was younger 😉

If you are looking to bring back something more typical, you should know that Slovakia is known for its crystal. You can find beautiful pieces in several stores in the city. My friend recommended 2 in particular: Moser and Katka Krystal.

parndorf

Oh and last place (not in Bratislava but not far): Parndorf. It’s an outlet village (destocking) of brands. Located in Austria, it’s a little bit kitschy but you can find nice things there.

The easiest way to get there is to take the train from Železničná stanica station (on the map below) in the direction of Vienna and exit at Parndorf-Ort station. From the station it takes 15-20 minutes on foot.

If there are several of you, it may also be possible to rent a car (about 35€-40€ per day). For this we advise you to compare prices on Rentalcars from the airport (easy access). Cars rented in the city center are generally more expensive.

Where to stay in Bratislava – hotels

Finding accommodation in Bratislava is very easy, there is really something for every taste and budget. A bed in a dormitory in a youth hostel starts around 12-14€ while for a small and nice hotel you should rather count 70€-120€ for a double room.

In terms of location, my advice would be to aim for in and around the pedestrian center. You’ll see it, but it’s also where you’ll find the most choices. After I reassure you, the center is not very big, so a hotel located just on the edge of the center will be perfectly fine.

Hôtels à Bratislava: During my different stays I tried many different accommodation options in Bratislava. In the cities I usually like to rent an apartment in order to be able to cook a little quick thing from time to time… You can find some very good ones on Booking.

During our last visit we spent 2 nights at the VIP Apartments. The location was just perfect and the room comfortable (+ functional mini kitchen). The apartment is located in the middle of the “party street” but the windows are well insulated and you can hear almost nothing if they are closed. On the other hand, if you like to sleep with the window open, you’d better be warned…

If you prefer the more classic hotel option, good addresses are the Falkensteiner, and the Loft Hotel.

For a more “budget-friendly” option, the Film Hotel is a good alternative. The decoration is a bit old, but it’s very well located, clean and it’s quite original.

And if you are looking for something really original, there is the Botel. A boat-hotel on the Danube! Here too, the rooms are a bit “old school” but it’s well located and it’s quite unusual to sleep on the water in the heart of a capital.

Hostels: The best is to go to Hostelworld and to compare. Personally I only know the Hostel Folks and I have friends who went to the Wild Elephants. However, I like to warn you that the hostels in Bratislava are “party” places. I spent 2-3 memorable nights there, but probably not the most restful nights of my life 😉

Coming to Bratislava and getting around

Coming by plane

There is an airport in Bratislava, but unless you are coming from Slovakia, you will probably not find a flight to take you there. The closest and most convenient airport is clearly Vienna (find a flight to Vienna on Skyscanner). From the airport it is possible to take a direct bus to the center of Bratislava. The buses leave from the arrivals level. The trip takes between 45 and 60 minutes and the ticket is paid directly to the driver – it costs about 9€.

Coming by train from France or Switzerland

This is (by far) the mode of transportation we recommend! Vienna is one of the best served cities in Europe by night trains. There are direct connections from Switzerland (Zurich-Vienna) or from Paris. Train fares start at 30€ (for seats… hmm? We tried it and we don’t specially recommend it haha). Sleeping carriages start at 60€ (thus 30€ more than seats) and this is actually quite confortable. There are compartments for 2, 4 or 6 people (prices varrying accordingly)

From Vienna it is then very easy to reach Bratislava:

  • By train: The journey takes about 1 hour, 1 train per hour. The ticket costs about 12€. See the rates
  • By bus: There are several connections from the city center or the airport. It’s a bit cheaper (about 9€, See the buses) but if you leave from the city center it is better to take the train (no risk of traffic jam)
  • By boat: The company Twincityliner proposes to make the connection between the 2 cities by boat. It’s a bit more expensive (33€ for the standard fare – 1h15 trip) but it’s very nice if the weather is good.

Getting around Bratislava

tram Bratislava

Honestly? Chances are you can do almost everything on foot! If you want to go outside Bratislava or to one of the shopping centers, it is easy to get around with buses and trams. To find out which tram/bus to take, the easiest way is to use the “public transport” function of Google Maps.

Cab info: you will see cabs parked all over town. My friend who lived in Bratislava told me several times that these are often more expensive! To take a cab it is better to call one (Hello Taxi: +421216321 or Fun Taxi: +421216777) or to use an app (Wolt, Uber or Hopin Taxi). During our last stay we used HopIn Taxi (it is like Uber except that there is no need to create an account).

Map of things to see and do in Bratislava (+ restaurants and bars)

And here is a map with all the places described in this article. You can filter by type of content by opening the menu on the left.

That’s it for this article about Bratislava. I hope you’ll enjoy this city as much as I did and that this post will have given you some ideas of things to see and do in the Slovak capital.

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