“Beauty on the Danube”, “Little Big City”
Once again, although we’ve recently returned to this city, I still keep in this guide majority of the information as I created back then when I went my my family on a Central Europe tour, so i makes a coherent link with the other cities we visited in that same trip, however I take the chance to update for a very complete travel guide.
Just after a great 1 hour fast boat trip along the Danube from Vienna we arrived to the capital city of Slovakia, Bratislava. This would be the smallest capital city we would visit in this trip compared to Prague, Vienna and Budapest from the list. Even Salzburg was feeling bigger even it is smaller by population. This makes Bratislava perfect for a short visit. It was the case that even the 2 full days we spent here were more than enough. Should I have come here without my family then I know 1 day would have been all I needed as I am pretty fast when planning sightseeing tours in any city.
Without minding the size, the old city is truly worth the trip itself. Recently revamped with most of the houses around the historic old town restored and beautifully painted, and many sculptures embellishing the streets, some of them as original as I have not seen before elsewhere as you can see down below in the photo album. Really charming Central European city with an enormous potential. We felt very lucky to have come in 2009 when there were still not that many tourists.
Finding your way along the city is as easy as walking the main street in the old town and some parallel ones, and the one leading to the top of the castle. There is not really much more out there from the historic centre, therefore great for visiting everything without the need of any public transportation to get anywhere.
Bratislava is really a lucky capital city in the sense of location. You have access to other great capital cities in very short travelling time as is Vienna, Prague or Budapest to name the neighboring ones, and that’s the main reason why the city is always included in any Central European tour, or combined with any other city. Vienna and Bratislava are really brother/sister cities separated only 80 kilometres.
Although I cannot remember much on precise locations we went in 2009 for lunch and dinner, on this recent trip the situation has not changed much. Food was something that is still in our memories as one of the best! For incredible huge portions and very competitive prices, and the countless amount of restaurants everywhere. We did not have even to compare between restaurants too much as all seemed to have the same prices. But indefinite of assumptions, I can certainly compare and see the difference in prices between those in 2009 and now 2015 with quite a steep rise yet still decent. Sounds ironic that the best Wiener Schnitzel I’ve ever had was not in Vienna but here in Bratislava, and was so huge that I could not even finish it.
Also why would you have a Coca Cola while you have the chance to get a Kofola instead! That’s their own produced cola style drink, but let me tell you in my taste, much better. Totally different to what you might expect it’s just great. In any case, the extent use of it is wider than that of Coke so it won’t be difficult to find.
For more information about Bratislava check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Slovakia’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Bratislava:
- Hlavné Námestie Meaning Main Square, is the principal square in the city fully surrounded by historical buildings, some of those in secessionist style, quite popular in Central European cities.
- Town Hall Not far from the Main Square is also on a nice smaller square with great buildings around. Built between the 14th and 15th centuries it now houses the Bratislava City Museum. You are free to enter and wander around the inside courtyards which at night are specially beautiful for their illumination.
- Michael’s Gate Located at one end of the main street through the old town is the only preserved gate that has survived from the medieval fortifications and it’s one of the oldest buildings in the city.
- Primate’s Palace Built in 1781 in neoclassical style is one of the major tourist attractions where you will see the famous Hall of Mirrors among other rooms and halls. It is in this Hall of Mirrors where the signing of the Peace of Pressburg took place ending the War of the Third Coalition.
- Cathedral of Saint Martin Built between the 13th and 16th centuries in Gothic style, served as the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary between 1563 and 1830.
- Franciscan Church Built in the 13th century in Gothic style, then turned in Renaissance, while what you see today is Baroque after the many refurbishments after damages through its life. It is the oldest preserved sacred building in the city and where Ferdinand I was elected to become the King of Hungary in 1526.
- Saint Elizabeth Church Also commonly known as the Blue Church for the obvious reasons of its colour. But in 1908 it’s a masterpiece of art-nouveau style, a fine example of Hungarian Secessionist style.
- Slovak National Theatre Built in 1886.
- Grassalkovich Palace Built in 1760 in Rococo and Baroque styles, now the residence of the Slovak president. You will get to see it in its full glory as it stands as the centrepiece of an open square also surrounded by beautiful old buildings.
- Archiepiscopal Palace Built in 1765 in Renaissance style with the originally function of summer residence for the archbishops of Esztergom, it is nowadays the seat of the Government of Slovakia.
- House of the Good Shepherd Is a Rococo style house with sides on 2 streets on a corner. You will recognise it quite easy as the path leading towards the castle is on the side. It is the Museum of Clocks.
- Bratislava Castle Is the landmark number one in the city, and the most visibly recognised structure, especially when looking to the skyline from the opposite side of the Danube river. The hill where it’s built has been inhabited since the Stone age. Was the acropolis of the Celtic town, and also occupied during Roman times. The first castle was built in the 10th century; a Gothic fortress in the 15th century and renaissance castle in the 16th century though rebuilt more times, it’s current look is a reconstruction in Theresian style done 1950 as it laid in ruins for over 150 years since a fire destroyed it. The views from the castle and hill over the city are the best you will get anywhere.
- Slovak Radio Building As a matter of curiosity as you might wonder what that odd looking like building is. It’s the black upside down pyramidal building, halfway between the old town and train station.
- Slavín Memorial Built in 1960 to commemorate the fallen soldiers during the liberation of Slovakia in World War II. Designed in pure Stalinist architectural style is also having resemblance with the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.
- Most Slovenského Národného Ppovstania This bridge built in 1972 is well known for the UFO restaurant on the top. Visible from anywhere near the Danube riversides it is the most famous modern landmark in the city even after 40 years since its construction.
Bratislava Airport is not far from the city centre and is well connected by bus number 61 with the central train station Hlavná Stanica, where many tram lines and bus routes also meet that take you to your final destination. If you want to save a little bit of time, you can get off earlier than the train station at Trnavské mýto or Racianské mýto and get a tram from there to the city centre. It won’t take you much in any case either of the options you choose. Please note that you will need to purchase your bus ticket prior of boarding as bus drivers cannot sell you tickets. Ticket machines are available in the bus stop outside the arrivals terminal, some of them accepting notes. The cost for a a single ticket to the city centre is €1 and is valid for a 60 minute period allowing you free interchange to other bus or tram. Any city bus or tram is also €1 per ticket.
If coming from/to Vienna airport which is only 40 kilometres away there are hourly buses connecting both cities in around 1 h 15 min travel time. Trains for 15 Euros return are also frequent with a trip duration of 1 hour.
Another great way to move between Vienna and Bratislava is by boat on the Danube river! At just a little over 1 hour trip you will enjoy the ride as no other transport will do. The views are amazing, and so the small villages, castles and fisherman along the whole length. It is advisable you book the tickets in advance specially during high season as could quickly sell out. The operator is Twin City Liner, and costs around 30 Euros per way.
Within the old town you will not need any further public transportation as everything is a short walking distance from each other. Therefore the only likes you will be using trams or buses are to go/come from the train station or airport, or if your hotel is farther from the city centre.
Only because this is the second time I come to Bratislava I can now change a bit what I had written from the previous visit trip in 2009 as it does not apply any longer as of 2015. Back then, 6 years ago, to my surprise when searching for hotels or perhaps because it was pretty much high season, prices were really high and especially if comparing to any of the other cities we visited which were at least half the cost and with a much higher rating and standards. Maybe was also the case that as not many large hotel chains were in the city hence the choice was reduced. But that changed a lot, and getting a fair deal is much easier, with much nicer and larger properties newly built and many more on the way. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
In 2009 we stayed at the Hotel Kyjev, in Rajska 2, 81448. Pretty much central, only a short walk from the old town. A pure 60s Communist style hotel where time seems never passed by, so if you want to have such an experience, this is your chance (at least until they refurbish it), which perhaps by the time you will be going it might be the case they’ve done it. Just don’t expect too much in here though. While rooms were spacious and on first look ok, a deeper look meant for us requesting different rooms with at least clean sheets and not the stained ones we got everywhere. Windows were not closing properly (thanks goodness it was summer) but during a thunderstorm overnight the noise of the wind passing though the holes was really loud. Breakfast was good in the other hand, and so was the overall service really nice, polite and professional. It was just too dated hotel, that’s all. (Update as of 2015, this hotel is permanently closed).
As of our stay in 2015 we were at the Apollo Hotel in Dulovo Námestie 1. Not as central as the other hotel, but to the east of the city, outside the old town, still near enough to get to the city centre on foot without the need of any public transportation. It was a very nice property, with large comfortable rooms and friendly staff at all times. From the moment you enter the reception it makes you feel good with the colours and beautiful elegant design, that is spread across the entire building everywhere. The breakfast was also very nice and very complete.