Perhaps you’ve never heard of Slovakia, or perhaps you’ve been told visiting some Eastern European countries are not worth your time and energy. Quite personally, I find that many Western European cities are becoming over crowded and too expensive and heading east seems to be the theme of our 2017 travels. Not only are cities like Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, absolutely beautiful but totally refreshing and definitely one of the top destinations in Eastern Europe to visit!
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How to AVOID Looking Like a Tourist in Europe
If I were to ask you to place Slovakia on a map, could you do it? Most people seem to easily overlook this small country which is wedged between Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Ukraine and yes, it is a bit further than most tourists seem to go. Perhaps your only connection with this beautiful country is actually a misconceived perception that the country is dangerous thanks in part to EuroTrip or the WORST movie ever: Hostel. If that is, you’ve seriously been mislead.
Many cruise ships stop in Bratislava, along the Danube, but if you’re considering visiting Vienna, Austria, then you should consider taking the extra hour to cross the border into Slovakia and add Bratislava to your itinerary. Two capitals for the price of one! And trust me, a day trip to Bratislava from Vienna is totally feasible! Not only is the capital nearby, but it’s also budget friendly and way less crowded than Vienna can get. Or consider adding it to your Eastern European capital itinerary from Prague to Budapest via Vienna and Bratislava.
History of Slovakia
Some of the past history of Slovakia seems a bit turbulent when you consider that after the First World War and the dissolution of the Autro-Hungarian Empire, the Czechs and the Slovaks established Czechoslovakia under which the country thrived for a bit. The Great Depression took a toll on the country and soon felt pressured by Nazi Germany to dismantle the country so that they could enter Sudetenland, a region of the country which was predominately German-speaking to which there was outcry among European Nations. By 1939, Slovakia was forced to secede from the remaining portion of Czecho-Slovakia and ally itself with Nazi Germany becoming a puppet regime.
After the end of the Second World War, Czechoslovakia was reconstituted and fell into the hands of the Soviets and behind the Iron Curtain. The country would remain a Communist country until the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and finally in 1993, the Czech and Slovak Republics declared independence from one another. Since then, Slovakia has joined NATO and adopted the Euro, slowly but surely becoming a main destination to visit in Europe.
What to do in Bratislava
A majority of the sights to see in Bratislava are easily accessible and conveniently located in the Old Town on the left bank of the Danube river. The city is best explored by starting early in the morning before the crowds and tour groups come out and before it gets too warm!
St. Martin’s Cathedral
Gothic-inspired architecture is evident throughout the city, but no more so than St. Martin’s Cathedral. Located directly at the foot of the Bratislava Castle, the cathedral dates back to the 14th century. Several Hungarian kings and queens were crowned here. The most interesting thing about the church is the gold-plated replica of St. Stephen’s crown that sits on top of the tower. Sounds rather boring until I tell you that the crown weighs in at a whopping 330 lbs of which 18 lbs of it is pure gold!
Perched on a rocky hill overlooking both the Danube River and the city, is the Bratislava Castle, a stronghold dating back to 907 which is today one of the top attractions to see in Bratislava! The castle sat at a prime location where trading routes crossed paths along the Danube. The hike to the castle is quite exhausting, so go at a slow pace so you can relax and enjoy the magnificent views over the Old Town. The castle originally held the Hungarian crown jewels, but today, the castle houses the Slovak National Museum.
The Baroque Gardens behind the castle are also quite impressive and worth a glance. Under Empress Maria Theresa, the gardens underwent several sophisticated treatments until it matched the Baroque feeling of the castle after the great fire in 1811 which completely destroyed the castle and surrounding area before being completely rebuilt in the 1950s!
**TIP: If walking up the steep hill is not an option, hop on bus number 203 or 207 (best at „Hodžovo namestie“ – in front of the Grassalkovich Palace) and get off at the „Zámocká“ stop which will drop you off directly in front of the castle.
House of “the Good Shepard”
Should you walk up the hill to the castle, starting from St. Martin’s Cathedral, you’ll likely pass a lovely pale yellow house in a Rococo style named after the statue of the Good Shepard on its corner. It is one of a few remaining houses in the Jewish Quarter below the castle dating back to the 1760-65 which managed to escape demolition in the 20th century by the communist regime to make way for the SNP Bridge. Today, it’s thought to be the narrowest building in Europe!
During the 20th century, 10% of the population of Bratislava was Jewish, of which only 1,500 people survived the deportations during the Second World War.
After coming back down from the Bratislava Castle via the gardens, head along Kapucinska street, passing the Trinitarian Church before heading north. From there, you’ll come upon the Baroque Palace built in 1760. It was originally built as the residence for the chairman of the Royal Hungarian Chamber who was one of Empress Maria Theresa’s closest advisers before becoming the seat of the president in 1939 and still is. Today, guards stand at attention on each side of the Palace and the French Gardens are open to the public.
St. Michael’s Gate
Coming back into the Old Town, head straight for the only surviving gateway into the medieval city as well as one of the oldest structures in Bratislava which was built in the 14th century. If you’re like us and love climbing towers for a fantastic view, consider climbing to the viewing terrace for more views over the city for something unique to do in Bratislava!
Considered to be the most beautiful palace in Bratislava with its pale pink and gold Neo-Classical facade. Originally used by the primate of Hungary and archbishop of Estergom, it’s now used as the seat of the city mayor. Atop are several angels holding the letters ‘I’ and ‘C’ in reference to the motto on the cardinal’s coat of arms which stands for Justice and Mercy.
Old Town Hall & Main Square
After all that walking, you’ll likely need a rest, so head deeper into the city to the Main Market where you’ll find the Old Town Hall. On the day that we visited, we were able to enjoy an International Festival of Children Folklore Ensembles with groups of children wearing traditional garments, dancing and singing in proud union of their heritage.
Opened in 1873 by Mr Julius Mayer, a famous confectioner from Vienna, Austria is a delicious cafe located in a Baroque palace right in the Main Square. Chose from a variety of cakes, especially the famous Sacher Torte and be served by a waiter in traditional uniforms. Like many cake cafes in Vienna, this too served the imperial court. Inside, the cafe has period furniture with pictures of ‘Sisi’ – the Empress of Austria.
Several whimsical statues are located throughout the city, which if you’re into kitschy things, like me, I ain’t gonna lie, are fun to go on the hunt for. Also located in the Main Square is the statue of one of Napoleon’s soldiers, a life-sized figure leaning on a bench just chillin’ like a villain. He has become one of the top things to see in Bratialava! I mean how could you resist a totally touristy photo with him!
But why a soldier from Napoleon’s army? Napoleon and his army were in Bratislava in 1805 and a soldier named Hubert fell in love with a local girl and decided to stay. He became a producer of sparking wine, which is Bratislava’s most popular, also called Hubert.
Statue Man at Work
Just a bit further down is quite possibly the most famous of all the statues in Bratislava, of Čumil, a man at work, peeking out from a manhole. Oooh how many dirty jokes I could make, but I’ll refrain myself! The question is what the heck is he doing? Such is the debate about whether he’s just resting, going down into the sewer or even possibly a bronze peeping tom peeking up women’s skirts. Easily tripped over if either someone isn’t paying attention while walking or driving, the city had to install a warning sign. These days though, it’s hard to miss with crowds of tourists lining up to take their picture with him.
As we were casually strolling around, I noticed a cute cafe with tourists sitting near the window, enjoying a tea or coffee from beautiful antique pots and I instantly knew we had to go in. Once inside, a gentleman greeted us, swinging his arms open wide welcoming us to a table while admiring the stunning artwork on the walls and ceiling, but not before drooling over the cakes. Konditorei Kormuth might look unassuming from the outside, but this patisserie is worth visiting and is like stepping back in time, especially if you’re looking for unusual things to do in Bratislava. The waiter informed us that the patisserie took over 20 years to refurbish every inch to its original exquisite state. All of the furniture, tea sets and artifacts are all historic adding to the complete and utter charm of the cafe! I honest to god, DID.NOT.WANT.TO.LEAVE. My husband literally had to pull me out.
Photos are not allowed inside, but I managed to persuade the waiter to allow me to take a few photos as I was in heaven and wanted to share this on the blog with the world. The patisserie is not for everyone, but it is for those who can appreciate artwork, history and have a little class. Especially for the gentle or at least the ladies, although my husband would like to ask, “What lady?” Struggling not to take too many pictures as I was only allowed a few, my settings weren’t right and my photos don’t do it justice, so I recommend you to check out this detailed post!
Church of St. Elizabeth – Blue Church
With a Gaudi-esque feeling to it, the “Blue Church” as it is often referred to as for its pale blue Art Nouveau design both inside and outside is definitely worth the little bit of extra effort to walk the 10-15 minutes to it. It was dedicated to St. Elizabeth of Hungary who was born in the Bratislava Castle in 2017 and her portraits hangs inside. It’s unlike any other church I’ve ever seen, although the church is very rarely open. It’s baby blue appeal and unique design makes it one of the best things to see in Bratislava!
Opening Times: Monday-Saturday 6:30am – 8:00am; 5:30pm – 17:30pm, Sundays 7:30am – 12:00pm; 5:30pm – 7:30pm
Observation Deck UFO
Having to cross the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) Bridge by car to get into town, and wondering what this UFO like tower in the middle of the bridge was, we decided to check it out towards blue hour. The Observation Deck UFO claims to be the smallest of the greatest towers in the world and in just 45 seconds, takes you up 95 m (310 ft) and offers views up to 100 km (62 miles) away! Once at the top, there is an exotic restaurant and two first-class bars which are the most popular places to hang out at night in Bratislava! We simply went up to enjoy the views of the impressive Bratislava Castle and the city and I have to say, it was one of the coolest things to do in Bratislava!
Opening Hours: Viewing platform daily 10-11pm, restaurant 12-11pm, bars 10-11pm
Price: 6,50 €, free if eating at the restaurant
Sad Janka Kráľa Park
Leaving the city center, you can drive over the SNP bridge to cross over the Danube River. To the right of the bridge is a large park and a very large parking lot. But to the left of the bridge, are a few buildings and a bar which we casually walked over towards for a better view of the Bratislava Castle, the bridge and the Danube River. If you’re looking for things to do in Bratislava at night, then I highly suggest sticking around for some blue hour photos!
Where to eat in Bratislava
Sometimes, I like to spice things up and go out for breakfast when traveling. You can only have so much continental breakfasts before you want something different. So, in the morning, we headed into town to see what we could find.
Mondieu Café • Chocolaterie • Desserts – a cute Parisian style cafe in multiple locations throughout the city which has tables and chairs outside in that typical French style. The breakfasts looked rich and we ended up ordering and trying a Broiche French Toast with bacon and eggs and a side of syrup and coffees.
Where to Stay in Bratislava
Hotel Devín ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Located in a prime location along the banks of the Danube River in the Old Town, rooms are incredibly luxurious and spacious while the beds are comfy-cozy for affordable prices! In the evening, we enjoyed the swimming pool and a relaxing massage after a full day of sightseeing! Sorry, too tired and too sore to remember to take pictures on our last night of our honeymoon.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bratislava, as it seemed to be a town people either loved or hated. I am partial to it as I’m not entirely a big fan of big cities, but loved the things we saw! The food was delicious and cheap, but on the downside, it felt like we saw the same restaurants over and over in the city. It was completely easy to walk around the whole city and manage to see everything in one day, but our feet were killing us by the end of it, although to be honest, it was more that we were tired of sightseeing and walking around after two weeks on our honeymoon through the Balkans!
Where would I be without my trusty Lonely Planet & DK Travel Guides? Lost probably! These are my travel Bibles & I never leave without them!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, I might make a little extra spending money, at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own and these products/services have been found useful during our travels and come highly recommended to you from yours truly!
Day Trips from Bratislava:
2 Week Itinerary to Honeymooning in the Balkans
12 Day Itinerary for Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna & Prague
How to Spend a Romantic Weekend in Vienna
A Delicious Guide to Coffee & Cake in Vienna
Guide to Vienna’s Christmas Markets
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Replies to 15 Essential Things to See in Bratislava, Slovakia
Enjoy your blog as I am from California (born in Los Angeles, HS in San Diego and have lived in Orange County and Palm Springs with family in wine country )and currently stationed in Kaiserslautern ??. Planning the remainder of my time here and was thinking of planning a four day trip (we get a four day holiday every month) to visit the cities of Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and Zagreb. Do you know if you can rent a car and visit multiple countries? Would be flying into Budapest from Frankfurt. Thanks. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
I have a post coming or next week for a road trip from Prague to Vienna and Bratislava to Budapest! Stay tuned! As for renting a car, it should be possible, but you definitely have to mention that you’re taking it to those countries. They definitely won’t give you a nice BMW then for fear of it being stolen but still a nice car. Have a great time!
Bratislava looks like a cool city to visit for a weekend or so! I have transited through the city but not really seen anything there.
Oh then you definitely should go back! It’s a wonderful city!
I’m visiting Bratislava in April. Thanks for this article!
Oh great! Have fun!!
I love your articles! I have trouble pinning them to my boards. Is there a way to just have a pin icon that I can click on? Thank you for all your helpful information. Keep up the good travel!
Oh thank you! Sad to hear you’re having difficulties! Have you installed the pin button in your browser?
Love the statues! And that cafe…
Agree with what you are stating in here. Popular places are popular for a reason. However, Central and Eastern European countries are so interesting and beautiful. Plus, they have great food. Like you, I was not sure what to expect in Bratislava. I was happy I jumped on the chance to visit. I felt like the city was fun, quirky and unique. If people are after something different, I recommend a visit. #citytripping
As always, a fabulous post! And you’re enticing me with cake again!!
I had no idea what Bratislava would be like and I’m very pleasantly surprised. Thank you, again, for inspiring me.
Always a pleasure! 🙂
I really loved Bratislava. I was surprised at how compact it was – it seemed bigger on the map. I love the picture you got of the bridge. It was so foggy the night we went to the UFO that we didn’t see much. You should try and head there for Christmas sometime – we did a market tour and tried a lot of the regional specialties from the vendors. I think you would really enjoy it! The large squares have ice rinks, too… it’s really magical at night.
Oh yes I would definitely enjoy that!!
Loved the photos and the blog. I have added Bratislava on the list of places to visit. Happy travelling .
You wont regret visiting!
Totally sold. Looks great. Who don;t they want you to take photos in that utterly fab cafe I wonder? Is it because then you wouldn;t be able to move for people doing it? Fair enough then, and good on them for not spiling the atmosphere. Great you were able to persuade them to let you get some shots. Love the statues too.
I agree that it is definitely worth making the trip from Vienna to Bratislava. I thought Bratislava was a cute little place – and so cheap! #FarawayFiles
I’ve been loving following your adventures in Bratislava on Instagram, especially the men at work statues. So much fun. I really like how you’re putting the spotlight on some lesser known destinations too – including the best cake spots! Thanks for joining #FarawayFiles
Ya I became obsessed with classic coffee and cake shops after Vienna haha
I wish I would have your guide before I went to Bratislava! We saw most of the sights from your list, but unfortunately missed some. #FarawayFiles
Ah bummer! Just an excuse to go back!
I love all your travel guides. They are so helpful and this one is no different. I’m pinning for later because I would love to visit. #FarawayFiles
So glad to hear that!
Saving this link as we’re headed to Bratislava next month! I can’t wait to see all of the great statues, and of course the pretty cafe’s! #FarawayFiles
Oh great! Have fun!! Look forward to reading about your adventure!
What a great looking city! You always find such great looking cafés and cakes on your jaunts around Europe. I love the gold coffee pot in this one. We’re very keen to explore along the River Danube one day so hopefully we’d be able to stop off in Bratislava for a few days. #FarawayFiles
Well if you do, hit up Regensburg! We’re also on the Danube!
How tragic about all the deportations. Bratislava looks like my kind of place – full of history, and beautiful. Sounds as though there are some yummy cakes to be had, too! #FarawayFiles
I really enjoyed reading this post! The history is fascinating isn’t it? The blue church looks so lovely, and I think my boys and I would love to seek out the statues. I hope to get to this part of the world someday, I really do! #citytripping!
While obviously a beautiful place it always makes me so sad to read about what happened to the Jewish people during WWII. At times I think that it might be why I haven’t tried harder to get to them as I feel it’s hard to be surrounded by a place where such terrible things happened. On the other hand it’s important to move on and it seems like this place has done a good job of that. #farawayfiles
Well most of the time you go about you life and it doesn’t bother you much, but because you’re aware of the past, you’re not likely to repeat it and can teach the history to other generations, which sadly are already forgetting or not even learning about it! Some teens have never even heard of Auschwitz 🙁
So much to see and do in Bratislava! I have been thinking about visiting Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava in the same trip, so really looking forward to your itinerary. #farawayfiles
Comes out Monday! 🙂 Hopefully you find it useful!
Bratislava Castle looks so beautiful… but I am most intrigued by the statue of the man at work. I wonder what the inspiration behind it was?
Lots to do and the architecture is beautiful! I will have to add Bratislava to my ever growing travel list. I love the picture of you guys with the Napoleon statue. #TheWeeklyPostcard
Thank you! One of my favs!
I’m one of those people who wouldn’t be able to point to Bratislava on a map. And just scrolling through all of your pictures (because I like to see what’s coming up before I read) gave me a completely different view of the city then I had in my head! First off, I can’t believe that Bratislava Castle is so old but in such amazing condition! They’re doing a great job of keeping it in good shape for us to visit. #TheWeeklyPostcard
Bratislava has much more of interest than I imagined. When we went to Prague last year, I kept wondering where the Slovakia part of Czechoslovakia was and what was there. Your photos of the food and coffee are magnificent. What a lovely and historic place, certainly worth adding to my bucket list!
Your photos of Bratislava at night are gorgeous! The photo of both the cathedral and castle in the evening captures the feel of this city very well. Konditorei Kormuth looks delicious and I love how it makes you feel as though you are traveling back in time.
Never really thought about visiting Bratislava but saved this post for a future visit.
Every time I see that beautiful golden teapot, I want it even more! That looked like the most romantic little cafe, and I love all of the statues too. Amazing post 🙂
I have to say, I am a little jealous of the weather you had in Bratislava. Husband and I visited in April and it was chilly and drizzling. Nevertheless, we absolutely LOVED Bratislava and would recommend it to anyone!!
Lorelei, such a great post! I read it twice, and of course I found myself getting really tempted by the Konditorei picture. I wish now that I’d included Bratislava when I visited Prague. Have saved this on my just-started Pinterest board for further reference 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard
Always a reason to go back! I’m also posting a new article on Monday for a road trip from Prague to Vienna and Bratislava to Budapest! Could be an idea for a future visit!
I remember when Slovakia and the Czech Republic parted company and Slovakia is on my radar! Beautiful architecture and I would head straight for Konditorei Kormuth, nothing better than sitting in a patisserie and people watching. Pinned! #feetdotravel
Bratislava looks so much like Budapest, don’t you think so? My husband is telling me that no wonder they look very similar because Bratislava was the coronation site and the legislative center of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1536–1783. It looks like a nice travel destination. #TheWeeklyPostcard
Definitely some similarities!
Reading this again reminds me how much I’d like to explore Central Europe. Bratislava has so much to offer for a small city. #theweeklypostcard
This looks incredible! Bratislava used to be a popular destination for stag dos (it may still be) but clearly there is so much more to discover. I have to go! Great that it’s so close to Vienna…you’ve given me some inspiration! Thanks for linking to #citytripping
Oh it definitely still is! I think we saw 1-2 groups!
That Blue Church! I think you’ve shown it before, and we fell in love with it then. Okay, yes…this whole post has become a guide for our Bucket List, but that Blue Church just captivates us for some reason. Once again, Lolo, awesome post and fantastic pictures! Glad you snuck in some photos at Konditorei Kormuth, too. It’s too gorgeous not to share! And you know us and adorable cafes. Definitely want to grab a table by the window like you did. 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard
We only had a couple of hours in Bratislava but were bowled over by it, such a perfect pretty City.
I really need to go back to Bratislava – we only stopped there for a short walk around town and breakfast on the way from Budapest to Vienna so I didn’t really have a chance to explore it. So many cool places to check out – love the look of Church of St. Elizabeth and all the cool statues – that was definitely the highlight of my short visit!
I’ve always wanted to explore Eastern Europe, and this post puts Bratislava high on my list. Your fault I will have to go straight to Konditorei Kormuth to eat cake and drink from a gold teapot! #TheWeeklyPostcard
Sorry not sorry! Haha ?
Thanks for all the visiting highlights at a glance! the idea of visiting an “under-discovered” eastern european city is very appealing to me and I love eastern-european food!
There are many reasons I want to visit Vienna and a hop over to see Slovakia is near the top of the list. I love everything you have listed here. I’m such a fan of European castles and churches and these are quite impressive. Love that Blue Church. Beautiful photos as always and love that photo of you two with the statue.
I agree that it seems like Eastern Europe is finally getting its due and definitely growing in popularity as travel destinations. I love that it looks unique from other cities. I love the blue church so much! Thanks for sharing Bratislava with #FarawayFiles!
I like your idea of heading East and avoiding the crowds. So many places get underlooked, but I think you’re about to change that! Absolutely love that blue church!!! #farawayfiles
Well, this is definitely a more thorough post than mine on Bratislava. I’ve never gotten the view of the castle from across the river but that is one perfect viewpoint. I have a feeling that Čumil gets moved about the city as I could have swore he moved between my visits. Definitely an underrated destination, great post Lori!
Thanks David! Hrmm that would be strange if they moved him although the paparazzi statue moved bc the restaurant closed and it’s not actually in the UFO Tower at the bar! The city is trying to get it back bc it’s a tourist attraction but the bar actually owns it!
Bratislava has been coming up in conversation a lot of late so I’m really pleased to have read your 15 essential things to see. I’ve pinned it so I can follow it when I eventually go. 🙂
I’m glad you got the UFO bridge in here! I knew there was a restaurant up there but didn’t know it was an observation deck too. The view of the castle from there is amazing!
Definitely worth paying to go up!
Great post! I agree with you that Western cities are becoming too crowded and too expensive and Eastern countries have so much to offer for just a fraction of the price. I am heading to Bratislava next month and can’t wait.
Enjoy! You’re gonna love it!!