Bratislava is one of four capital cities standing on the Danube. The famous blue river is the tranquil setting for a city that’s perfect for exploring at a slow pace over a long weekend. That’s exactly what we did, and now we’re ready to share our secrets with you! These are our favourite things to do in Bratislava to absorb the city’s charm and intrigue.
If you’re looking for a specific itinerary, we’ve put one together at the end of this article for three days in the city.
1. Take an Old Town free walking tour
Free walking tours are a great way to find your bearings when you first arrive in a city. At the same time, you can learn peculiarities about the history, see the main landmarks and get local recommendations on places to eat and drink.
The Old Town is Bratislava’s historic centre and prettiest area, filled with winding narrow streets, baroque architecture, and fairytale churches and palaces. It’s also the focal point for various free walking tour that operate in the city.
We took a tour with Discover Bratislava that walked through historical highlights such as the Old Town Hall, St Martin’s Cathedral and the National Theatre, and continued up to the castle. This tour runs daily at 10am and 3:30pm and took us just under 3 hours. An alternative option is Be Free Tours, which runs at 11am and 4pm.
2. Visit Bratislava Castle
Bratislava Castle is the dominant feature of the city’s skyline. Perched on a hill by the banks of the Danube, the white fortress towers majestically over the Old Town.
It’s possible you’ll see the castle as part of a walking tour, but it’s not always included. It’s easy to reach by foot just a few minutes to the west of the Old Town. Inside the grounds, you can walk around the lush, cultivated gardens, explore the on-site history museum and look out upon the landscapes surrounding the city. Parts of Austria and Hungary are visible on the horizon from the castle’s elevated position.
The castle itself dates back over a millennium to the earliest modern settlements of Bratislava. Over time, destruction and restoration has seen its appearance evolve. The entrance gates standing today were built between the 15th and 18th centuries.
3. See quirky statues around the Old Town
Dotted around Bratislava’s Old Town are various statues and sculptures that pay homage to the city’s past. One such example is Schöne Náci on the corner of the main Old Town square. This is the nickname given to Lamár Ignác, a famous figure around town during World War II and afterwards.
At a time of trouble and depression, Ignác inspired happiness in people around the city through his jovial manner and regular greetings.
Another example is ‘Man at Work’ or ‘Čumil the Peeper’, a bronze sculpture of a communist-era worker clambering out of a manhole. You can find him a few short steps from the main square, on the junction of Laurinská and Rybárska Brána.
4. Behold the Blue Church
Bratislava is home to many churches, but perhaps the most famous is the Church of St Elizabeth, otherwise known as the ‘Blue Church’. It is a striking example of art nouveau architecture located about ten minutes’ walk to the east of the Old Town.
As you may have gathered from the name, everything about the church is blue, both inside and outside. It makes for a pretty picture, especially on a clear day.
5. See the city panorama from UFO Bridge
One of the most striking features of Bratislava is Most SNP, also known as ‘UFO Bridge’. Built during the communist era, at over 430 metres it is among the world’s largest hanging bridges.
Most notably, at the top of its structure is a restaurant and observation deck resembling a flying saucer. For a fee of €7.40 you can enjoy a great panoramic view of the city.
The bridge is itself quite a sight to behold. There are many good spots from where you can see it; one of the best is from the south side of Bratislava Castle.
6. Walk up to the Slavín war memorial
If €7.40 sounds a little steep for a city view, you can get one for free by taking a walk to the Slavín war memorial. The structure stands at a higher elevation than the top of UFO Bridge and you can see back down to the castle and Old Town, albeit through some obtrusive trees.
The monument at Slavín is the resting place of thousands of Soviet and Slovakian soldiers who were killed at the end of World War II. It’s a peaceful place for some walking and reflection, and can be reached by foot in around half an hour from the Old Town.
7. See one of the world’s ugliest buildings
One landmark – or some would say eyesore – visible from the Slavín monument is the Slovak Radio Building. The upside-down pyramid has been ranked as one of the ugliest buildings in the world.
The building was completed in the early 1980s after some 15 years of work. It was part of a wider urban planning idea for Bratislava known as the Transverse Axis, which never quite came to fruition.
8. Eat soul-warming Slovakian food
Slovakian food is wholesome, hearty, and – above all – filling. Potatoes, gnocchi, dumplings, pork, cabbage and sheep’s cheese tend to be among the principal ingredients in the nation’s favourite dishes.
We did our best to eat our way around the city’s renowned spots and sample as many local favourites as we could during our stay. For a deeper insight into our culinary experiences in the city, read our article on Slovakian food in Bratislava.
There is plenty of crossover between Slovakian food and influences from neighbouring countries. Goulash from Hungary, pierogi (filled dumplings) from Poland and svíčková na smetaně (sirloin in cream sauce) from the Czech Republic are all common sights on menus in Bratislava, often with a local twist.
Many restaurants offer Slovak food platters featuring dumplings, sheep’s cheese, sauerkraut with bacon and other delicacies. Another local special is cesnaková polievka, creamy garlic soup served in a giant bread roll. Try the Slovak Pub for traditional food, or for somewhere a little less tourist-inhabited, hop over the road to Viecha U Sedliaka.
9. Try the famous homemade ice cream
Another hallmark of Bratislava’s food scene is its incredible homemade ice cream. You will find dedicated gelato shops dotted all over the Old Town, and wow – this stuff is great!
We allowed ourselves an ice cream each day, because, well, why not? The quality was superb everywhere we tried; the only factor that seemed to change was the range of flavours on offer.
Luculus (try the chilli chocolate) and Koun (forest fruit sorbet, mmm) on the south of Old Town are top picks. Our favourite, though, was Arthur Ice Cream, more centrally located. You will probably have to queue, but it’s worth it. The Ferrero Rocher gelato is out of this world.
10. Drink Slovakian craft beer
If you like a good beer, then Bratislava is a happy place to be. The art of brewing has been alive in the city for centuries, but the the popularity of craft beer has skyrocketed in recent times.
A whole host of microbreweries emanate out from the epicentre of the Old Town. The original establishment, Meštiansky Pivovar, remains among the very best. This place first began plying its trade in 1752 and is still going strong today. Try one of their dark beers with a local speciality dish. Just perfect.
Other breweries, such as Zámocký Pivovar (Castle Brewery) offer tours and tastings. There are plenty of pubs and bars around the city’s streets where you can sample excellent beer, too. Our favourite was Zbrojnoš, which also stages live music.
You might be taken aback to see that most beers are labelled from 10% to 12% strength. Don’t be alarmed – this does not refer to ABV. Slovakia, like some other Central European countries, simply uses a different system to denote beer strength. The Slovak Beer Guide explains it in detail here.
11. Sample the local alcoholic spirits
Fancy something a little stronger? Slovakia has its own special ecosystem of alcoholic liquors and spirits. It’s a popular tradition in the country to drink certain tipples before and after eating.
As gin lovers, our personal favourite was borovička, a juniper brandy. This stuff packs quite a punch, but it can be toned down with a splash of grapefruit juice, which creates a drink called grepovička – give this a try at the KGB Bar.
Other fruit-based brandies you will find in Bratislava are slivovica (made with plums) and hruškovica (made with pears). Herbal liquors are also hugely popular in Central and Eastern Europe, and Slovakia’s own brand is called demänovka.
If you prefer something less intense and a little sweeter, medovina might be for you. This is a mead drink made by fermenting bees’ honey and water. There’s also pereg, a blackcurrant wine.
Finally, perhaps the powerhouse of a Slovakian drinks is tatranský čaj, a mountaineer’s tipple also known as ‘tatratea’. This ranges in strength from 22% to 72%. Some hardcore hikers in the High Tatras partake in a custom that involves taking a 22% shot at the beginning of a trek, followed by progressively stronger shots culminating in a 72% shot when reaching the summit. The ritual is then repeated in reverse on the way down, finishing with a 22% shot again at the bottom. Of course, this isn’t the safest way to hike! We were content to save our tatratea until after we’d finished.
12. Drink a selfie coffee at Five Points
The craft coffee phenomenon that has swept across Europe in recent years has taken hold in Bratislava. The city is speckled with cafés and creative spaces where you can grab a delicious cup and bury yourself in a laptop or a good conversation.
At the vanguard of the craze is Five Points, a chic joint near the heart of the Old Town. This is the only place in Bratislava where you can order a coffee with your selfie printed on it.
To order the ‘selfiecinno’, you just need to scan a QR code, upload your photo to their app, and within two minutes you’ll be sipping your face on a frothy cappuccino. Peak hipster for just €3.50.
13. Go shopping at Eurovea by the river
While much of Bratislava’s charm lies in its historic buildings and stories, the city also has a modern edge to it. You can glimpse this at Eurovea, a large shopping and entertainment complex on the riverfront between the Old Town and the Ružinov district.
Opened in 2010, Eurovea hosts a swath of high-street stores as well as a nine-screen cinema. Outside along the riverbank, the complex features several modern restaurants with great views of Bratislava Castle and UFO Bridge.
A €300m extension of Eurovea (Phase II) will be opened at the end of 2019, introducing Bratislava’s first skyscraper.
14. Take a trip to Devín Castle
Just a few kilometres outside of Bratislava city centre stands the ruins of Devín Castle. The ancient stronghold’s remains loom high on a cliff above the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers.
Dating back over a thousand years, the castle has seen settlements come and go, and empires rise and fall. Its glory days ended spectacularly in 1809 when it was destroyed by retreating French forces during the Napoleonic Wars.
The relics of the old castle remain an impressive sight, and can be reached easily from the city. From the north side of Most SNP, the number 29 public bus takes you to the foot of the castle in 20–30 minutes. In the summer months, an additional 129 bus service also operates on the route.
There are a handful of pubs and restaurants dotted around the foot of the cliff at the castle grounds. If the weather cooperates, a glass of local beer in the sunshine is a great way to round off the trip.
Things to do in Bratislava: a three-day itinerary
Before we visited Bratislava, we heard some people suggest that it “could be done in half a day” or “there’s not really that much to see”.
However, no matter how small a place is, it’s impossible to truly soak up the atmosphere in just a few hours. After spending three days there ourselves, we realised that while you could walk around the Old Town in a day, Bratislava has much more to offer. Anyhow, how would you be able to try all of the fabulous food and drink if you don’t extend your stay?
Here’s our suggestion for how you can combine the activities listed above into a thoroughly fulfilling three-day Bratislava itinerary.
Day one: free walking tour and solo exploration
Morning: after a relaxing start and some breakfast, take the free walking tour of the Old Town and castle with Discover Bratislava. The group meets in the Old Town Square at 10am.
Lunch: head down Obchodná – a road lined with restaurants and bars on the outskirts of the Old Town – to Viecha U Sedliaka. It’s on the left side, opposite Slovak Pub.
Afternoon: revisit the sights covered on the walking tour at your own pace. At the Old Town Hall and the castle, you could take a look at the on-site museums. Stop off for a coffee at Five Points. At sunset, head to UFO Bridge and see the city panorama.
Dinner: Return to Obchodná but this time head into Slovak Pub. It’s one of the city’s most popular restaurants, and another great place to sample local foods and beers.
Day two: explore outside of the Old Town
Morning: take a walk east of the Old Town and see the Blue Church. From here, continue to the riverfront and look around the shops at Eurovea. When you’re done, grab a drink outside at one of the many establishments on the riverfront.
Lunch: try out one of the two branches of the Meštiansky Pivovar brewery. While you’re in the neighbourhood of the Dunajská establishment, if you want to try the famous garlic soup you’ll need to head back across the Old Town to the other one on Drevená.
Afternoon: walk to the north-west side of the Old Town up to the Slavín war memorial. Take some time to soak in the peaceful atmosphere and enjoy the city view. If you like, also take another half-hour walk across to the Slovak Radio Building. You’ll still have a bit of time to spare, so why not try a couple of bars and cafés back in the Old Town?
Dinner: back in Old Town, go to Flag Ship on Námestie SNP. From the outside it looks pretty small, but inside you’ll walk into a vast restaurant set inside an old theatre. Try out the Slovakian sharing platter for some local specialities.
Day three: Devín Castle and brewery tour
Morning: start slowly and take the 29 bus out to Devín Castle, aiming to get there around 10–11am. A couple of hours is plenty of time to explore the old ruins.
Lunch: when you’ve finished looking around the castle grounds, treat yourself to some lunch and a drink at one of the restaurants at the foot of the cliffs.
Afternoon: after arriving back in the Old Town, take the brewery tour at Zámocký Pivovar. As an alternative, you could eat here too. Still have time to kill? Try out the Transport Museum north of the Old Town. Don’t forget to try one of the city’s famous ice creams, too.
Dinner: finish off your trip with a slap-up Slovakian meal in the Old Town at Prazdroj. This place is slightly more expensive than the other restaurants we’ve recommended, but still won’t break the bank. Try the duck breast with cranberry sauce. Afterwards, head up to Zbrojnoš for a few celebratory drinks.
Where to stay in Bratislava
We had a great stay during our time in Bratislava at Hostel Blues. This is a fantastic budget option located conveniently a few minutes’ walk from the Old Town.
The staff were incredibly helpful with local tips, and the facilities on-site were as good as any hostel we’ve visited. It has a spacious and comfortable bar and social area, as well as a fully-equipped kitchen. The dorm rooms were excellent too, with big lockers, power points, and good shower and toilet facilities.
If hostels aren’t your thing, then you can find plenty of other accommodation options for Bratislava at booking.com.
Have you visited Bratislava? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.
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