I’ve never heard of anything like it before, and yet it plays such an important figure in my life now that I know my husband was born and raised there. When he first took me to Bratislava in April 2015 on my first Central Europe visit, I did not know what to expect. Maybe just hints of the old communist world of tenement houses, and a bit of European charm. This article aims to give you the best of Bratislava and the things to do within the city: all from a local’s point of view (of course, we visited most of the touristy spots, but you get my drift).
It’s a bit shocking that not many people visit this city, with its cheap food and drink options and its great vibe and culture. It’s also a spot where you can easily jump to a different country: the Czech Republic and Austria is within an hour away! (In fact, you can see Vienna from some points in Bratislava, which we’ll discuss later). Hungary and Poland are also within a few hours drive (or train) from Bratislava.
Here’s what I saw, of course with photos and thoughts about the place, which can hopefully guide you if you decide to go — and you should!
The Old Town is quaint but pretty. Within the cobblestone streets, small alleys, kitschy souvenir shops and bars/restaurants, you’ll surely find something to do there.
Our favorite spot to eat and hang out is La Putika. We mainly discovered it because Peter’s cousin used to work there as a server, but the beer and food selection is good. If you want to try out Slovak food, I would recommend the fried cheese – prazeny syr, and top it off with a Kofola, the Czech version of coca cola but less sweet (and which I find highly addictive). Of course you can also try out the Slovak beer called Zlaty Bazant, translated as Golden Pheasant. It may not be as good as the Czech beers but good enough.
Within the Old City (Stare Mesto)
The Old Slovak National Theatre
Note: There are two of them: the Old and the New. I’m talking about the old one which is more historic and beautiful than the new one. While we didn’t get to go inside, it was still beautiful from the outside! There are buskers on the side, and a huge square in front of it which has stalls selling souvenirs and whatnot. There are a lot of high-end hotels that line the square as well, which we looked at longingly but we won’t be paying big money for those if we can stay for free at Peter’s parents’ apartment. This place makes for a good walk around town, and is close enough to public transportation as well.
St Michael’s Gate
A tower (which you can climb) in the Old Town. Originally built in the year 1300, and still stands to this day. This used to be the gate that allowed people to go in and out of the town, and was heavily fortified and walled throughout. Now, you can easily go in and out of Bratislava’s Old Town to the new town, but this tourist spot is something that you should take time to see and visit.
The Blue Church
While technically not in the Old city walls, the Blue church was something that called out to me. First of all, the church is painted pastel blue all over, making it look like a wedding cake or something out of a fairy tale. The inside looks like a normal church though (no, it’s not colored blue), but many people flock to this church just to get married or take photos of it. It’s too pretty not to take pictures of.
Bratislava Castle (Bratislava Hrad)
Like an upside down table, this castle will probably be the first thing that you’ll see when you go to Bratislava. It sits mightily on top of a hill, and is lit up brightly in the night sky. Its cobblestone steps and lanes lead up from the Old Town all the way up to the castle above. There is a museum that changes its exhibitions every so often, but you can just sit there at the castle walls, to hang out with your friends or family, and enjoy the great views of the Danube (Dunaj to the locals), and the UFO bridge. You can also see Petrzalka from the castle walls too. Peter and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out his parents’ building (of course he knew where exactly). Note that there are no elevators to get up – just stairs, so prepare your muscles and get ready for the walk up!
St Martin’s Cathedral
Another imposing structure that you’ll see as soon as you get in the Old Town. Pretty much fronting a bridge (I think the end of the UFO bridge leads here), this huge cathedral crowned Hungarian kings and queens in the old days – back when Slovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was the capital of the empire for a brief period when Vienna was out of commission. Together with Budapest and Vienna, these three cities marked the triad of the Austro-Hungarian Empire cities. When you see St Martin’s Cathedral, note the top part – where the crown is. When Peter first told me it was made from real gold, I didn’t want to believe him. I was like – if it was made of real gold surely it would have been stolen by now (obviously I was born in the Philippines, where people steal copper from electrical wires but that’s another story) – but it’s still there, made of real gold, shining in the sun!
Pronounced as Evrovea by the locals, this is a huge upscale mall by the river Danube. While I don’t exactly come here to go shopping, we go here to hang out with Peter’s cousins/family and friends, and sit outside and look out at the river. There was a concert going on when we were inside, so it was quite neat to watch (free of charge). The parking was also a plus, because it was free for a couple of hours on the weekends (and after work). This is also my go-to spot if I’m looking for books about Slovakia in the English language.
Petrzalka is the biggest neighborhood within Bratislava – which has a lot of Soviet style homes that have a very interesting parking situation. Every single night on a weekday, you can find cars blocking each other – either in the parking lot and spilling over the street itself. Petrzalka was a housing tenement built by the Soviets way back when Slovakia was under communist regime (and was also called Czechoslovakia), but that’s not the point. This mostly residential neighborhood is close enough to the old city – making it a bit more affordable to live in. There’s also plenty of restaurants and shops and mini-parks that connect the buildings to one another, making it feel more like a community.
Technically not in Petrzalka but connects the Old Town to the New Town is the New Bridge (Novy Most), also known as the UFO Bridge. This bridge is famous and known throughout Bratislava for a reason: there’s a curious UFO-like structure on the bridge that serves as an observation deck and also a restaurant. While we haven’t personally been up to the UFO deck, we have definitely passed through the bridge a lot! We will make our way up to the restaurant and the observation deck eventually – but not during the first two times I’ve been there.
While technically not part of the city center, Devin is within the Bratislava area, and is very close to myself & Peter’s hearts – this place has a beautiful castle (ruin), originally built in the first century, and is on the confluence of both the Morava and Danube Rivers. Did I mention that the river Danube also serves as a natural border between Austria and Bratislava? So, you literally can see through two countries at one point in time at Devin.
Rumor has it that the tower in the photo below is called the maiden’s tower. It’s called that because love-sick maidens have been known to leap fatally into the rivers.
Getting to Devin is easy by public transportation. There is a bus that leaves from Eurovea every few minutes, one bus takes you almost directly to Devin (with a bit of a walk), while the other one drops you off near the end of the line and you’ll have to walk an extra 10-15 minutes to reach the castle. It takes approximately 45 minutes to nearly an hour to get to Devin (with all the bus stops and loading/unloading) from the Old Town of Bratislava but it’s definitely worth it to go to.
I love Devin – not just for the ruins but also because we got engaged here.
And so, if you’ve made it this far, thank you for visiting. Bratislava, mostly overlooked by tourists is a wonderful place to visit! As a foreigner, I fell in love with Slovakia that I wanted to buy a house in Bratislava and Bojnice! That’s for a different story, but man, this is an excellent place to live in. I also love that this place is mostly overlooked by tourists so there’s not much foreigners running around. Oh, well we do get those Viking River Cruise day trippers that crowd that Stare Mesto (Old Town) on certain days but aside from that, the city has so much charm and history. Now just learning the language is a different question…