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*)
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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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Stray story seeker. Hungry hitchhiker. Wannabe polyglot. Aspiring travel writer. Currently bumming around in Georgia.
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