A Local´s Guide to (My Beloved) Bratislava – With a Map

The capital of Slovakia used to be a shabby and sad place in the last decades of the 20th century (oh-the-stories-I-could-tell)(OK, it´s not Bogotá either, calm down, sweeties), but those days are long gone.

After seeing the herds of stag doers rush through in the early 2000s, leaving mere vomit puddles and some pounds behind their backs, it is now a chic town where young husbands love to come back and show their wifes the architectural beauty while at the same time reminiscing their adventures some years ago.

While Bratislava – thanks to (do I even have to write that cliché?) its narrow streets breathing of history – is a perfect spot for couples and newlyweds, it is getting more and more popular among all age groups. (Elderly Koreans, anyone?)

If you like to experience a provincial feel and run away from high prices and hordes of tourists of other nearby capitals, be sure to take at least two days – quite probably you will be left longing for more. Man, I live here and I´m still not done mapping this big village!

Note: None of the links in this post are affiliate links. All the recommendations are based on my own preferences, so go ahead and read free of worries!

Visit Bratislava as a local

And speaking of maps, here is what you might want to see, pinned on the map that you can download:

Girl Astray´s map for tourists visiting Bratislava

  • Click on the rectangle in the upper right corner to open map in your browser!
  • Yellow balloons – sightseeing
  • Red stars – places to eat and drink
  • Blue squares – some of the statues
  • Green dots – places to stay

So, next go the places that you absolutely must visit, if you don´t want to be filled with regret later on when pinning that girl´s lovely vertical shots on your favorite Pinterest board. (*winkwink*)

View from the Michael´s gate Bratislava www.girlastray.com
View from the Michael´s gate.

Day n°1 in Bratislava

Unless you have legs of steel like Serena Williams, you will want to divide your trip into two days. (If you are visiting as a day trip from Vienna, too bad, you will have to run!) Here is my suggestion of how to plan your casually hanging around in Bratislava

Michael´s Gate

How about a little exercise to get you started? Walk up the stairs in the Michael´s tower overlooking the only original gate out of the city fortification system still standing. The tower contains a small arms museum, however, its true wonder lies in the view you get from above – red rooftops, church towers, bridges and of course the white castle unfold in front of your eyes as you walk around the tower on its narrow balcony.

In case your feet already need a rest after you deal with those stairs, you are lucky – Michael´s gate´s former moat is currently transformed into a charming readers spot. In the summer months you can borrow some magazines or bring your own book and enjoy the fresh shadow of the ancient stones while at the same time sneaking in some intellectual photoshoot. (I know you are thinking about instagramming the shit out of this visit, you!)

The oldest street of Bratislava is called Kapitulská. - Bratislava local guide - www.girlastray.com
The oldest street of Bratislava is called Kapitulská.

The Oldest Street of Bratislava

After entering the downtown by the gate you already got to know intimately, turn right into the cobblestoned lane called Baštová. Going straight and right up will lead you to the oldest street of the downtown which is surprisingly never full of tourists – enjoy having it all for yourself as you walk around the houses – some worn out, others showing off medieval frescoes.

St. Martin´s cathedral reflecting in a dirty windowpane. - Bratislava local guide - www.girlastray.com
St. Martin´s cathedral reflecting in a dirty windowpane.

St. Martin´s cathedral

Walking back in time along the Kapitulská Street will lead you to the dominant of the old town, nowadays standing in its corner. This dome was the coronation place in between 1563 and 1830, its walls having witnessed 19 royal coronations in total. When you visit, be sure to enter the catacombs if you get the chance; rumors say there used to be a secret passage leading from its darkness up to the castle, however, the archaeologists have not discovered it as of yet. Walk around the cathedral and enter the old town again, this time from the other side – if you are lucky, you will be able to enter the fortification walls by a staircase leading up there from the square right in front of the dome.

St. Martin´s dome - Bratislava local guide - www.girlastray.com
St. Martin´s dome

Read more: Stuff you should know about the UFO bridge

Is it noon already? Time for Lunch!

I strongly recommend you to choose one of the restaurants in the downtown before you head up to the next part of your stroll – they are many and the prices of the lunch menu vary around 5 – 10 euros. I like the charming little restaurant called Verne which you will find on the Hviezdoslavovo námestie (opera square) but everything depends on your personal taste and preference. It´s not the cheapest spot though – but not the most expensive one either.

New gardens of Bratislava castle - Bratislava local guide - www.girlastray.com
New gardens of Bratislava castle

Up to the Bratislava Castle

After having refreshed yourself, take the stairs that will lead you up to the castle and its surrounding gardens. The oldest archaeological findings in this spot date back thousands of years as this spot has been an important intersection of ancient trade routes and the first settlements on the hill were built around 3500 BC. Soak in the history (oh, wait, that´s not history, it´s sweat) as you walk through the gates and walls overlooking the downtown and Danube River and know it is sheer luck that they are still standing – this imposing fortress has been burned down in an unfortunate course of events approximately 200 years ago. The ruins have been reconstructed in the fifties of the 20th century and today it houses a part of the Slovak National Museum expositions. Don´t forget to have a look at the flowery gardens behind the castle! They are fairly new (July 2016), with shiny white paths and spiraling colors in the flower patches.

Find out more: Everything you ever wanted to know about the Bratislava castle

Castle of Bratislava - view from the gardens - Bratislava local guide - www.girlastray.com
Castle of Bratislava – view from the gardens

Walking down from the castle, have a rest at one of the best local tearooms – before there were cafes, the local youth used to drink tea. If you have a bit of a hippie spirit in you, you will enjoy the vibe – be sure to take off your shoes though. I recommend you the Čajovňa na Zámockej tearoom as their beverages are the most delicious in town. You will find them on Zámocká Street, going down from the castle.

Exploring the Little Rome of Slovakia? Read my guide to the beautiful town of Trnava (with a map)!

What to see in the downtown of Bratislava

Refreshed and relaxed, after the summer heat of the day is over, it will be easier for you to walk and see the touristy spots of the city. Besides, with the golden hour approaching, it is the best time anyway. Walk across the squares, have a look at the Old Opera building, take photos with the iconic statues and hidden fountains and take your time – when the sun starts setting, head over to the New Bridge, often surnamed “The UFO Bridge” because of its strange shape. This is one of the best spots to watch sunsets from – seeing the orange, pink and red spectacle on the sky reflecting on the pure white walls of the castle, you are likely to regret if you haven´t brought a padlock to leave hanging above the ever-changing waters of Danube, declaring your love to the world.

Read more: Discovering communist architecture in Bratislava

old bridge bratislava www.girlastray.com bratislava local guide
The Old bridge has actually become the newest bridge in the city after it has been reconstructed

Another great spot is the Old Bridge which has been recently re-opened again, causing a mass confusion of names (What does “The New Bridge” stand for now exactly?) and excitement (Bratislavians have been waiting for the tram riding to the other side of the river for more than 50 years) alike. To make it easier, it is the green one. There are benches and trees and it is overall pleasant to sit there and watch the clouds change colors.

If you have time, don´t forget to venture towards the Blue Church of St. Elizabeth – it does look like from another world.

Hey! Do you love urban exploring? Check out this post about the abandoned hospital near the Blue Church!

door knob in Bratislava Bratislava www.girlastray.com
Door knob of the Trinity Church

Say Yes To the Wine!

After the sunset, you can enjoy the local selection of delicious beers gladly offered to you by many bars and cafes – on the other hand, if you are a wine person, you came to the right spot! Slovakia and especially the Carpathian hills surrounding Bratislava is a wine region and red, white and rosé wines are just waiting to delight your mouth and nose. If you want to bring back home a liquid souvenir, choose from the Villa Vino Rača range of wines – you won´t be disappointed. Slovakia is also one of the legitimate spots where the world famous and fine Tokaj wine is produced – if you like its heavier and sweet taste, it might be a good choice too.

Day n°2 in Bratislava

If you took my advice and drank a lot of wine yesterday, you will likely want to stay in bed for a bit longer. However, I would suggest you to drink a cup of strong coffee and ignore the headache because…well, you know what I want to say.

A skull at the Kozia brána cemetery Bratislava www.girlastray.com
A skull at the Kozia brána cemetery

Presidential palace and Palisády

Today, head to the Presidential palace and don´t forget to enjoy its garden behind the white and gold building. Afterwards, walk up to the Palisády quarter – this part of the old town remains undiscovered by tourists most of the time, but the architecture and beauty of its fancy villas from past centuries is worth experiencing. Explore the ancient cemetery Kozia brána (“Goats gate”), founded in 1783 and used until 1950.

You might want to pack some snacks with you as this area doesn´t have too many places to eat, although there are some shops.

Slavín war memorial Bratislava www.girlastray.com
A young mother at Slavín War Memorial

Slavín War Memorial

After leaving the cemetery, follow the crooked streets uphill and you will end up at one of the best viewpoints of the city, Slavín. Its name refers to the glory of the soldiers who fought nazism in the Slovak National Uprising in 1945 and the place itself is a cemetery of Russian soldiers. From up there, you can see the panorama of the city, including the castle, the UFO bridge, Saint Martin´s Dome and historical downtown.

Did you know there was supposed to be metro in Bratislava? Find out why there is not: Abandoned metro station in Petrzalka

From the memorial, enter the beautiful Horský park (to the left when facing the monument) and sooth your eyes in its lush green. You can find some popular spots to have a beer and eat some soup, however, don´t expect too much elegance as this is more of a place to enjoy nature. If you brought some pique-nique with you, this is the right spot.

Fancy An Evening at the Theater?

After relaxing for a bit, head for dinner in the downtown and let your feet rest. If you are longing for some culture, Bratislava is popular for its opera – if you are a classical music lover, you will want to secure the tickets in advance though. It is an especially awe-inspiring experience to watch ballet or listen to the incredible voices of the singers in the historical building of the Slovak National Theatre.

In case you have some energy left after that, take a walk on the side of the Danube and go towards the Eurovea side where lights reflecting on the water create romantic mood. Take the last stroll around the Old Town and take your time to enjoy the cobblestones and statues.

Should You Look for a Tour Guide?

If you´d like to hear more stories and secrets of this capital from a pro, you should definitely get in touch with Alternative City Explorations – you can book a private tour with them in English, Hungarian or Slovak or simply join one of their interesting events. (And I say that as someone who NEVER goes on guided tours.) Recently, I joined their walk about Women of Bratislava, where we got to know a queen, a witch, a Jewish brave woman who saved many lives during the WW2 and many others – you can consult and chose your topic directly with the amazing woman who does these walks. So far, she does this in her free time as a hobby and it shows, as every time people do something with love.

Where to Stay in Bratislava?

While there are many options of various price ranges, you should definitely stay within the downtown zone – you can walk everywhere easily from there. While I have never personally tested any accommodation, my friends were happy at the Patio and Blues Hostel which are also in a very reasonable price range. (These two happen to be right across the street from each other.) Many people have spoken great things of Wild Elephants Hostel to me – it has a great location as it is near the Old City Hall. If you are that kind of a person into experiencing the spirit of communism, perhaps you can consider paying a bit more and enjoy a retro room in Hotel Kyjev. A friend of mine stayed there once and was amazed by the original furniture, just so you know.

bistro st germain bratislava www.girlastray.com
Inside of Bistro St. Germain

Where to eat in Bratislava?

Most restaurants offer a lunch menu during the work week (Monday to Friday), mostly in between 11AM til 14PM – usually it costs around 5 euros and consists of soup and main course. A hidden little eatery I greatly enjoy is Umami – find it in a passage on Grösslingova street. For menu, I also LOVE the stylish (post)communist pub called KGB on Obchodná street.

If you want to taste some typical Slovak dishes, you can choose from a variety of (rather fancy) restaurants. Flagship restaurant between the SNP square and Poštová street is fairly popular, however, if I were you, I´d come for looks more than for food (slow waiters, food too greasy for my taste) – Flagship is worth seeing as it has a wonderful interior of a former cinema. (Don´t worry, just enter – it is huge and nobody minds if you just come to walk around and take photos. Yes, it is that beautiful.) To make it even more clear, I wouldn´t take you to eat here if you were my guest, but I think it is worth having a look. (And eating elsewhere.)

Personally, when I feel like eating Slovak dishes, I usually cook them visit Lúčnica on Štúrova street n.6 which is cheap, calm, non-touristy and tasty. (Closed during the summer of 2016) Don´t expect the waiters to smile though, it´s not a Slovak custom, you see. If you get lucky, you can meet the folklore dance club people partying there – supposedly that happens on Tuesdays, but try your luck whenever.

If you are planning to continue traveling in Slovakia, try halušky (potato dumplings with sheep cheese and bacon) rather in Central Slovakia, in the mountains where the sheep cheese is produced.

Visiting Banská Bystrica on a budget (this guide will make you want to explore Central Slovakia)

Where to drink (…in Bratislava!)?

Edit: if you are looking for the previous set of recommendations, you will soon be able to find them in my Alternative guide to Bratislava 😉

There is a plethora of places, really. If you want to go for a coffee, definitely try Môj Bar (close to Šafárikovo námestie), L´Aura café (near the cathedral) or Mon Dieu Laboratoire (a little more fancy schmancy and in the summer you can make your own personalized ice cream on a stick!). Môj Bar is my all time favorite as they have a great selection of local wines, tasty snacks and there is always a good chance of running into some of my friends. L´Aura is interesting for its interesting historical décor and very easy to find. Bistro St. Germain is trickier to find (near Hotel Kyjev) but worth it if only for their baked potatoes with yogurt dip.

For drinks, I like to go to Kontakt (not pretentious and nice waiters), Stupavar (locally made beer!) or KGB on Obchodná street (post-communist vibes, good food, good service, great prices). I´ve spent a good deal of time in Verne at the Opera square as well. Most tourists get lured into the 1st Slovak Pub because of its name, interesting interior and good location, however, it is just that – touristy. There are always too few waiters, the tables are piled too close to each other and I don´t enjoy the vibe in general.

There are plenty of options through out the downtown, some more pricey than others – if there is a place you particularly enjoyed, consider adding your tip in the comments section!

Up for some bike riding? Read my Danube bike routes guide!

This guide should serve you well for your first time visit in Bratislava. Do let me know how you liked my city! What was your favorite part?

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Bratislava guide with a map by a local
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  1. Sheena

    Oh after this I miss my city even more than before.. I always love it so much when I´m not(or actually can´t be there :D)
    Bratislava definitely has a great potential and I hope that will be used in the future… we´ve got lot of things to be proud of!!! And you´ve mentioned most of them…
    The “Kozia brána” cemetery is one of my most favourite places there…
    all the parks and forrests around the whole city as well (let´s not forget “Zelezna studienka” though it´s quite far from the city centre) ….
    also from the places to eat and drink let me mention my former job “Le šenk, craft beer café” which is just under the castle, with range of amazing beers and food, of course my most favourite spot ever “Randal club” for all rock music fans(just the bulding of YMCA on it´s own and with all its bars inside is worth seeing. plus they´ve got food as well), Lacinka (A.K.A. best crepés ever with incredible prices)..for accommodation I can´t recommend too much as a local, but from what have I tried Mercure hotel(**** so don´t expect low prices really) or Freddie next to Mercury hostel(prices are probably much better here and it´s just a minute from Mercure therefore I think the name is really clever 😀 )

  2. Everything in Bratislava is so enchanting! I like how you marked everything on the map! Can you make a Google map with a link? I think that would be super helpful and fun for everyone who wants to try this! It’s such a great itinerary!

    • Yey, thank you! I think the map should be possible to download, that was the idea anyway! It should open in the browser and also work in My maps app, if I get it right. If you click on the “square” in the right upper corner it should open in browser and you should be able to make it bigger, smaller and “move” around 🙂 It should work the same way on the website, at least from a computer – perhaps it is a bit trickier on the smartphone…thank you again for your nice comment, I am happy you enjoyed this guide! 🙂

    • If you ever get the chance, go for it 😉 There are many wine feasts in the autumn (along with goose feasts, yum) for fresh wine and also sort of “tours” where they take you along a “wine route”to different cellars where you can try the local wines. It is fairly popular as the Slovak culture includes a good share of alcoholism 😉 Thank you for stopping by!

  3. A few years ago, we were stuck in Bratislava airport for 14 hours on our way to Amsterdam. Our flight was supposed to depart from Vienna but we were driven over to Bratislava for some technical reasons.

    I really wish I was able to use those 14 hours to explore the city but the problem was, the airport staff never told us anything about when the aircraft is actually going to arrive. Lol. I forgot which airline it was.

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  7. Hey Karin, just stopped by to say thank you for the helpful article. I’m finally visiting Bratislava in a few days! Yeeey! 🙂
    I will definitely use your recommendations (especially for the sunset spot), though I expect most of the eating places you recommend will be closed on my arrival, as I’m visiting on the very same Christmas day Dec 25th (and will be leaving next morning). Would love to meet you for a glass of wine if you’re around the town that day (I know this meetup offer has 0% chances as the Christmas day is expected to be spent with family, but anyway I hope I’ll love Bratislava so much that I’ll visit one more time, so that’s not our last chance to meetup and chat:)

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  10. I was in Bratislava recently (mostly because that was the cheapest airport to fly from in the region after spending the holidays in Bosnia with the family) and ended up liking the city very much! I wish I had seen your blog before going, I would certainly have decided to stay one more day had I known in advance how nice Bratislava actually is!

    • It´s true, there are some cheap flights 🙂 Especially Bratislava Berlin and Bratislava – Trapani are sometimes really cheap! Maybe you will make it there again one day – I am actually preparing an additional article about alternative places to visit for people who want to be more in depth/have more time/seek a different experience…are you from Bosnia? I have never made it down there, but would love to!

      • Alyssa

        I’m not from Bosnia but my boyfriend is. We’ve been 3 times now and I love it very much. If you have a chance to go you should definetely take it, the whole country is beautiful and Sarajevo is fascinating. I certainly hope to make it back to Slovakia in the future 🙂

        • Oh, Amazing…I really want to have a long trip around the Balkan countries, I have only been to Albania, Croatia and Greece (while Greece is a whole different thing) – we tried to get to Macedonia this autumn but unfortunately they didn´t want to let my husband pass the border (Colombian passport) so we had to return back to Albania (where they didn´t feel like letting us un again either…well…).
          Been to Romania too but if I am correct it´s technically Central Europe…

          • Alyssa

            Oh that’s frustrating! We’ve not made it to Albania yet, but it is in our plans for our next trip to the Balkans. How did you like it? If you wrote a post on it I’d like to read it, I’ll look and see if I can find it. So far my favourite country in the region is Montenegro. We had an amazing time there last summer! I’m new to blogging so have not written on it yet, but will soon 🙂

            • I wrote two posts on hitchhiking through and there is a photoessay from Tirana if you are curious – I didn´t write anything that practical as I felt that I haven´t spent enough time there. It was rather cold in October so we kind of hurried through in two weeks 🙂 But I heard there are great beaches – same as in Italy but cheaper – and apparently, Albania is also famous for its weed fields if you are interested in that kind of attractions 😀 I haven´t seen those though.

  11. Well, I would never go to most of the bars in Michalská, I find them boring 😉 As for Bukowski bar, I don´t know it. But maybe you are right and I should add a more clear note to the Ponorka recommendation that it is rather “special”. I thought it was clear from my description. Thanks for voicing your opinion! 🙂

  12. Tanja J

    Dear Karin,
    I’m just back from my visit to Bratislava with my family. I really want to thank you for your itinerary, we tried to follow your described path as much as we could with our two early teenager kids (we skipped the whole KGB experience, since the Obchodna street is more for young adults, and my husband and I are way past that, but the kids not quite there yet).

    I wanted to add something to your itinerary, something we discovered by chance on Zamocka street – the Multium, which is a small gallery with mirrored rooms that was simply amazing.

    Thanks again, we realy did get the most of our experience with your help and loved Bratislava. Also the language was not a problem, since I am from Slovenia and the two languages are so close, we could easily comunicate without even trying to use English.

    If you ever come to Ljubljana (or maybe you know the city already?), feel free to ask me for a good itinerary, I have some hints about what to do here on first visit.

    • Hello Tanja, I am happy to hear that you enjoyed your time in Bratislava and that I could help with some tips! When I’ll be back in the town, I will check out this Multium gallery for sure, I don’t know it but it sounds intriguing! Talking about mirrors, there is also a piece in the Palffy palace gallery (Galeria mesta Bratislavy) in the downtown with an interesting infinity effect, where you walk a thin line in a hall of mirrors with walls filled with books. The artists’ name is Matej Kern and it is called the “Passage”. You can find a little more about it here: http://www.matejkren.cz/en/passage/
      I haven’ t been to Slovenia just yet, but I will contact you for sure when I go – a local’s advice is the best 🙂 Happy traveling and thanks for stopping by to tell me about your visit!

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