Welcome to Europe’s most glamorous city!

Well OK, not quite.  And truth be told, Bratislava, with fewer than half a million people, is never likely to be.  But it might be Europe’s most relaxed, because what this city does have is old-town charm, sophisticated restaurants, traditional pubs, good music ranging from jazz to opera, stylish people, and a human scale which means that as a visitor you will not spend half your day trekking in and out of underground stations or getting from the airport into town.  All this, and Europe’s greatest river as a backdrop.  What more could you want? 

Known as Pressburg to German-speakers or Pozsony to Hungarian-speakers, Bratislava got its present name only 90 years ago.  But the city has a long and proud history that dates back to pre-Roman times.

The hillsides on the edge of the city have been home to vineyards for centuries, and close to Bratislava are wine towns where you can taste the best – and it is startlingly good! – that Slovakia has to offer. 

In the city itself there is plenty to see and do.  Bratislava’s long history – as home to Celts, Romans, Germans, Hungarians, Jews, and of course Slovaks – means there is an impressive range of architecture, languages and cuisine. 

The handsome homes of the Austro-Hungarian noble families who built palaces here dot the city, and many of them are now open to the public as museums and galleries.  The castle, with its long and chequered history (it has been destroyed more than once), is now undergoing a major restoration.  There are great views over the mediaeval old town and the Danube valley from its fortifications.

 Bratislava was once one of the most important centres of Jewish learning in Europe.  A unique memorial to its most renowned rabbi, the Chatam Sofer, and the city’s Museum of Jewish Culture celebrate this heritage. 

Communism too left its mark: across the river, the unmistakable ranks of concrete housing blocks – paneláky in Slovak – line the horizon, with the unique UFO-style New Bridge in the foreground. 

The Danube River itself is, of course, one of the city’s main assets.  There are several cafes along its banks, within walking distance of the centre.  The ‘UFO’ itself contains an eponymous bar high above the river.  The pedestrian decks of the New and Old Bridges are good places to watch the river traffic, including huge Danube barges, glide past.  Alternatively, you can take to the water yourself: daily hydrofoil services link the city with nearby Vienna. 

A succession of four- and five-star hotels have opened in the city over the past few years and quality accommodation is now readily available.  There are also more cheap options than ever before, with several backpacker hostels in the centre of town.

 Big pop acts often play concerts in Bratislava, while the Slovak Philharmonic and the opera and ballet of the Slovak National Theatre regularly put on world-class performances. 

Numerous restaurants offering international cuisine – from Slovak to French to Argentinian to Japanese – and excellent local beer and wine fill the city centre, alongside lively bars, lounges and clubs.

If, having enjoying the food and drink, you feel like walking – or biking – there are almost unlimited opportunities in the forested hills to the north of the city, or along the Danube to the south, where inline skating is also very popular on the scores of kilometres of traffic-free paths.

And if, after all this, you still want some big-city ‘glamour’ – and, along with it, busloads of gormless tourists – Vienna, Budapest or Prague are close enough for a daytrip.

What to see

Hlavné námestie - Main SquareThere is always a lot going on in Bratislava, whatever the time of year. The Tourist Information Office maintains a handy 1-page list, updated weekly, of live performances, cultural events and current exhibitions – a free copy can be obtained from the office at Klobučnícka 2. Bratislava’s character changes from summer to winter, and with each season comes a range of different things to do. But if you have only a few days – or hours – in the city, here are our Top 10 suggestions for things to do and see in Bratislava: 

1. Take a stroll through the traffic-free old town, and breathe in the atmosphere of its centuries-old streets, squares and buildings. 

2. Do as the locals do and savour a coffee in one of the numerous city-centre cafes.

3. Visit one of the city’s excellent galleries, for instance the Bratislava City Gallery at the Pállfy Palace, to experience Matej Krén’s unique “Passage” installation.

4. Check out one of the quirky museums, like the Museum of Clocks or the Pharmacy Museum.

5. Walk, or take a short bus ride, up to the castle, which currently hosts temporary historical exhibitions and from whose ramparts you can see nearby Hungary, Austria and the Danube valley.

6. If you’re feeling energetic, continue through the handsome hillside villas surrounding the castle to the imposing Soviet War Memorial at Slavín, which commands the best views over the city.

7. If the weather is good, take a boat ride on the Danube: upstream to the historic castle ruins at Devín; or downstream to the remarkable Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum.

8. Enjoy a glass of locally-produced wine or beer in one of the city’s atmospheric bars and wine cellars.  You may be inclined to have another as you take an evening stroll along the cafe-lined ‘Korzo’ promenade centred on Hviezdoslavovo Square.

9. Experience classic Slovak cuisine – or a range of other choices from around the world – with dinner at one of the capital’s many restaurants.

10. As night falls, visit one of the city’s stylish clubs.  Or maybe just watch the city lights with a walk along the banks of the River Danube.

Click here to download free maps and apps about Bratislava!

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