A Bratislava Guide for First-Timers!
October 31, 2019|In Bratislava, Europe, Europe Guide, Slovakia, Travel Guides|By paraphernalia.coShare This
A Bratislava Guide for First-timers!
There’s a first time for every travel destination and, if you’re like us, you don’t want to miss a thing. With that in mind, our comprehensive Bratislava Guide for First-Timers will have you covered.
Here, we share the region’s history & culture, architecture, traditional cuisine, and what Bratislava has in spades: sensational views.
Bratislava offers much for the curious traveller and most of what you’ll see is within easy walking distance.
We’ve done the research so you don’t have to. Our answers to Frequently Asked Questions complete this guide, so be sure to refer to those at the end.
Now, let’s take a look at Bratislava, Slovakia.
Table of Contents hide A Bratislava Guide for First-timers! Introducing Bratislava Bratislava’s History #explore Bratislava Old Town Bratislava Further Afield. #eat #drink #stay FAQs Was this guide helpful? Pin it for later.
Many travellers bypass Slovakia’s capital in favour of Prague, Budapest or Vienna. Of course, they’re magnificent European cities, but Bratislava has its own charm.
Straddling the Danube, Bratislava Old Town is small-ish so for the most part, historical and contemporary sights are within walking distance. Public transport takes you further afield and, for a couple of sights, you may need an Über.
From Bratislava Castle, Slavin Memorial, and Kamzik TV Tower, views over Bratislava open to Austria and Hungary, while the Czech Republic border is obvious on a clear day.
Like most European cities, Bratislava has seen its share of multi-country influence. Modern-day Slovakia borders Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, and Hungary.
These borders have ebbed and flowed since evidence of the first settlement in 5000 BC. Bratislava, at one point, was even Hungary’s capital.
With a population of around 430,000, Bratislava offers a relaxed, small-town vibe for exploring.
1st – 4th centuries
Long before recent claimants of Slovakia, Bratislava belonged to the Romans. Indications of their occupation remain within Bratislava Castle and today’s wine produced from vines they planted.
5th & 6th centuries
The Migration Period saw chaos reign with the fall of the Roman Empire. Slavs from the east made use of the opportunity and established the first known Slavic political entity.
8th & 9th centuries
Moravia powered the region and Christianity was introduced through two Byzantine missionary brothers, one who developed the first known Slovak alphabet.
Nomadic Hungarians (Magyars) progressively gained dominance over the area. The two communities integrated and later became the Kingdom of Hungary.
11th and 12th centuries
Land deals between Hungarian royalty and regional skirmishes blipped without major impact.
More than a blip was the Mongol invasion in 1241. Following the river south, the marauding Mongols left only fortified cities and the strongest of castles in their wake.
Post Mongol withdrawal in 1242, Duke of Austria, Frederick the second, took a stab at a takeover, however, the Hungarian force (made up mainly of ethnic Slovaks) nipped that in the bud.
The region’s rich resources of gold, silver, copper, iron and salt provided economic buoyancy to rebuild and develop strongholds. German “guests” introduced advanced forms of production, management, legal systems and culture.
Over half of the Hungarian Kingdom’s royal and mining towns were located in Slovakia significantly contributing to Hungary’s economy.
17th & 18th centuries
The economic development attracted the Ottoman Empire’s attention who conquered the Kingdom of Hungary’s central region (1604 – 1711), however, the bulk of today’s Slovakia resisted and became a province of Austria.
19th & early 20th century
Austria and Hungary took part in a substantial tug of war to claim Slovakia. Prior to WW1, 80% of the population was split 50/50 with German & Hungarians speakers. Just 15% of the population were Slovaks.
By 1919, Czechoslovakia occupied Bratislava, much to the chagrin of the non-Slovak population whose protests were met with open gunfire.
As non-Slovaks were expelled or fled, Czechs and Slovaks settled in Bratislava.
To experience an in-depth journey through Bratislava’s history, visit Bratislava Castle and the Museum of History.
Before you do, be sure to pick up your Bratislava Card. The Bratislava Card offers free public transport, free and discounted entrance to museums, and other worthwhile offers.
Refer to our FAQs for all details on how and where to purchase your Bratislava Card.
Like the best real estate anywhere, Bratislava Castle is in a fabulous location, location, location!
Overlooking Old Town’s history and the UFO Tower’s contemporary design, Bratislava Castle is the perfect spot to get a bird’s eye view and your bearings.
The incredibly majestic Bratislava Castle commands much of your attention, but it’s the views from the grounds that are truly outstanding.
Within Bratislava Castle, the Museum of History takes you back through the castle’s past. Climb the Crown Tower for magnificent views. Outside, the resurrected baroque garden replicates the plantings at the time of the great 1811 fire.
Two restaurants inside the grounds serve Slovak deliciousness. Hradná Hviezda can be found inside the Viedenská brána (western gate) and Restaurant Hrad across from the Baroque Garden entrance.
Allow at least 2 -3 hours for a visit to Bratislava Castle. The grounds alone take time to wander and inside, the castle’s fascinating history and spectacular interiors will captivate.
Walk from Old Town or you can catch trolley buses 203 and 207 from Grassalkovich Palace. Zámocká is the castle stop.
Free entry with your Bratislava Card.
Open Tues – Sun 9 am – 5 pm (Nov-Mar) & 10 am – 6 pm (Apr-Oct) Closed Mondays.
Bratislava Old Town
Originally moat-surrounded, the walled city of Bratislava had its share of destruction. What you see today is a well preserved medieval city known for its many churches, historic monuments and Bratislava’s central institutions.
The hilly western side of the city houses Bratislava Castle, Slavin Memorial and the embassy district. Central and east, along the Danube, the historical city and administrative buildings lie.
Although little of the original medieval wall remains, a section can be found from St Martin’s Cathedral.
Stone walls, with depth to 1.6 metres were erected from mid 13th to mid 14th century.
Battlements (protected openings allowing military engagement) topped the walls and, in the 14th century, three gates, Michael’s (north), Vydrica (west), and Laurinc (east) were completed.
Later, Fisherman’s Gate was added leading south to the Danube.
In 1775, Maria Theresa of Austria recognised the fortification’s restriction to city expansion and made the call for demolition. Beginning with the inner walls from 1775 to 1778, the outer walls remained until the early 1800s.
Today, Michaels’ Gate and the section from St Martin’s are the only remaining sections of the original fortification.
Grassalkovich Palace, Bratislava
Grassalkovich Palace was completed in 1760 for the chairman of the Hungarian Royal Chamber and Maria Theresa of Austria’s close friend and advisor, Croatian aristocrat, Count Antal Grassalkovich.
The Baroque and Rococo summer palace became the go-to venue for balls, parties, and musical performances. Through the 19th century, esteemed conductors and orchestras lured Austrian royalty to join the merriment at Grassalkovich Palace.
From 1919 the palace was occupied by the Territorial Military Command and later became an activity centre for Bratislava’s schoolchildren.
In the 1990s, restoration was overdue and Slovakia’s First Lady, Emília Kováčová took on the mammoth task of overseeing its completion.
Now the residence of Slovakia’s president, the magnificent adjoining French gardens have been made a public park.
Park hours are from dawn until dusk. Bicycles & dogs are prohibited.
Constructed in the 1300s, Michael’s Gate is an imposing entrance to Bratislava Old Town. The only gate remaining from the original four offers a snapshot of a bygone era.
Baroque reconstruction in the 1700s saw a statue of St Michael slaying a dragon placed on the tower”s spire.
Inside, the Museum of Arms journeys through the town’s fortification, reconstruction and final 18th-century destruction. At the very top, spectacular views open across Bratislava.
Free entry to Museum of Arms with Bratislava Card
Michael’s Gate opening Hours: 10 am to 5 pm, Tues – Fri and 11 am to 6 pm Sat & Sun. Michael’s Gate is closed Mondays.
Bratislava’s Town Hall
In the13th century Mayor Jakub’s Romanesque abode became the property of the city and, simultaneously, the new Town Hall. Unger’s and Pawer’s Houses were later attached to complete the building we see today.
Old Town Hall is another of Bratislava’s expansive viewing opportunities. A narrow staircase takes you to the tower’s peak for a picturesque vista.
Within Old Town Hall, Bratislava City Museum, the oldest of Slovakia’s museums since 1868, features exhibits from the feudal justice system and original furnishings from the municipal court.
Closed Mondays. Open Tues – Fri 10 am – 5 pm, Sat & Sun 11 am – 6 pm.
The three-year construction of the Neoclassical Primatial Palace was completed in 1781 for Archbishop József Batthyány.
Interior salons are elaborately decorated with period furniture and named for the room colours: blue, red gold, green & brown.
On display is a series of English tapestries woven in the 1630s at the royal weaving workshop near London and uncovered behind a wall during restoration in 1903.
The impressive Hall of Mirrors saw the signing of the Fourth Peace of Pressburg, a truce between France and Austria’s tug of war over the region.
Today, the Hall of Mirrors oversees Bratislava’s City Council meetings.
20% discount with Bratislava Card.
Open 10 am – 5 pm daily except Mondays.
Church of St Elizabeth of Hungary (Blue Church)
On sighting the Church of St Elizabeth of Hungary, it is apparent why it’s widely known as the Blue Church. The periwinkle hue begins in the ceramic roof tiles, envelopes the exterior and continues through the interior.
This art nouveau structure with its round tower is well worth the short walk from central Old Town. Take note of the opening times below to experience the extraordinary interior.
Open Mon-Sat 7:00 – 7:30 am & 5:30 – 7:00 pm. Sun 7:30 am – 12:00 pm & 5:30 – 7:00 pm
St Martin’s Cathedral
Hard to miss, St Martin’s Tower dominates Bratislava Old Town’s skyline.
At the tower’s peak is a replica of St Stephen’s Crown; 150kg and one metre in diameter. The significance being, between 1563 and 1830, St Martin’s was the location for 11 kings and queens coronations, including Maria Theresa of Austria.
For a complete coronation experience, head to Bratislava at the beginning of September. The reconstructed ceremony begins at St Martin’s followed by a parade through Old Town.
St Martin’s marks the crossroads of the original town’s centre, where a market square, small-town chapel, and cemetery existed.
Catacombs and crypts unearthed in the depths of St Martin’s Cathedral hold the remains of notable historical figures. Two crypts are open to the public at this time.
Open from 9:00 am – 6:00 pm daily except Thursday (09:00 am – 5:00 pm) & Sunday (1:30 – 4:00 pm)
Slovak National Theatre
Located in the 1,000-year-old Hviezdoslav Square, the Neo-Renaissance building was completed in 1886.
The theatre opened with one of the most important Hungarian Operas, Bánk bán of Ferenc Erkel on September 22, 1886.
Today, the New Slovak Theatre in the city’s centre shares Bratislava’s performances, but the opera and ballet remain with the Old Town Slovak National Theatre.
For scheduled performances, please check the program on their website.
Bratislava’s Famous Bronze Statues
Along with Bratislava’s Old Town architecture and ornate building interiors, Bratislava’s Bronze Statues are equally photographed.
This quirky addition to the tourist trail includes Shöne Náci, a character around town in the early 1900s said to have tipped over the edge due to unrequited love.
The Napoleonic Soldier in the main square sports a replica of a hat Napolean was said to have worn on a visit to Bratislava.
Cumil, better known as Rubber Neck, watches the world go by from his manhole. A dangerous place until his own “man at work” sign saved him from the odd vehicle.
At the corner of Paparazzi Restaurant, (now permanently closed) ‘paparazzi’ stands with his camera, while at the bar at UFO Tower a similar paparazzi statue resides.
Check them all out by following this map.
Perched on a pylon at one end of SNP Bridge (Nový most), UFO Tower is a significant landmark on Bratislava’s skyline. From the observation deck, the magnificent panorama takes in the Danube, Bratislava Castle, and Old Town’s entirety.
Inside, the restaurant offers the same incredible vista within a 180° curve. The bar wraps the remainder of the UFO and the views don’t cease, even in the restrooms.
Sidle up to the bar next to ‘paparazzi’ for cocktails or make a restaurant reservation for that special occasion. When dining at the restaurant, observation deck entrance is free and with your Bratislava Card, you’ll receive a 10% discount on your food.
If you’re just here for the view, Bratislava Card also offers a 25% discount on Observation Deck entrance.
Open daily from 10 am – 11 pm.
Bratislava Further Afield.
This fifty-two-metre monument is the largest war memorial in Central Europe. Seen from vantage points all over Bratislava, it has exceptional views of the city.
6,845 Soviet Army soldiers are buried here, giving their lives for the liberation of Bratislava in WW2.
Designed by Ján Svetlík in Stalinist architectural style, the monument was opened on the 15th anniversary of Bratislava’s liberation on April 3rd, 1960.
Take trolley bus 203 or 207 from Grassalkovich Palace and your stop is Búdková followed by a short walk. Or walk from Grassalkovich Palace in about 30 minutes.
Kamzik Television Tower
Views, views, and more views! Kamzik TV Tower is almost 200 metres tall and sits at the top of the Lower Carpathian hills within Bratislava Forest Park.
Construction commenced from a central column, with the tower notably built from the top down.
Surrounded by dense forest and the lower Carpathian wine region, there’s plenty to keep you amused.
Toboggan through the snow in winter or bobsleigh the rest of the year; wander the forest walking trails; take the cable car (‘lanovka’) and picnic in the valley, or simply dine in Kamzik TV Tower taking in the magnificent views.
The top floor Brasserie is a casual dining option while a first-class experience is had at Altitude Restaurant with its revolving floor. Let the occasion or your wallet decide.
The tower is open from 11 am until 10 pm while Bratislava Forest Park can be visited at any time.
A taxi from Bratislava Old Town will cost around €7.00 – 9.00; your Über app works in Bratislava; if you’re driving, use Altitude Restaurant in google maps for accuracy.
The 212 trolley bus from Zimný station at the centre of the city gets you to Železná studnička to catch the cable car up to Kamzik TV Tower.
Leave your diet at the door because apart from cabbage soup and goulash, true Slovak cuisine is a carb fest. Influences from surrounding neighbours stand to reason, Wiener Schnitzel (Austria), Pierogis (Poland), Goulash (Hungary), although local produce gives these dishes their own Slovakian flavour.
Slovakia’s national dish is Bryndzové Halušky – sheep cheese dumplings.
Bryndzové is the local sheep cheese, silky and creamy, it’s spread over the Halušky, gnocchi-esque potato dumplings. To top it off, chopped bacon and sausage.
Also stuffed with the local sheep cheese and served with sour cream and fried bacon, pierogis are sometimes served with a glass of žinčica, fermented sheep milk. Not unpleasant and great for your gut health.
Slovak cabbage soup is made using sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), chopped ham, and garlic and served with boiled potatoes and crusty bread.
Vepřo knedlo zelo
Pork plays a large role in Slovak cuisine and one dish worthy of discovery is Vepřo knedlo zelo. Imagine garlic covered, juicy pork pieces served on braised cabbage.
Accompanying the pork is knedlo or knedle, a bread dumpling. These are loaf-shaped, soft and perfectly absorb the pork juices.
Where to find authentic Slovak Cuisine.
Also known as Grandmother’s, Slovak Hause is still preparing traditional Slovak recipes handed down through generations.
Conveniently located in Old Town, it may be in the heart of the tourist hub, but the food is authentic and well priced.
The wall mural inside gives an indication of the preferred meat in town.
Grandmother’s is open Mon-Thurs 11 am-midnight, Fri-Sat 10 am – 9 pm, and Sunday 1 pm-midnight.
Stará tržnica (Bratislava Old Market Hall)
A visit to Old Market Hall is a must. Every Saturday, local food producers supply their freshest and best.
During spring and summer, the market expands outside to the square. Accompanied by a Book and Flea Market, it’s a fantastic place to mingle with local Slavs.
In the basement, Výčap u Ernöho pub serves Shenk brewery beers brewed on the premises, Foodstock bistro offers Asian cuisine and Viecha malých vinárov serves wine from small local wineries.
There’s also the Tea Atelier, an Oasis – a room with live plants and a Ceramic workshop.
The “Zero Waste” policy ensures all dishes and cutlery are biodegradable and all waste is separated and recycled.
Through the week Old Market Hall is the location for various cultural, gastronomic and social gatherings so keep an eye on their site here for updates while you’re in Bratislava.
Námestie SNP 25
Food market open 9 am to 3 pm on Saturdays.
The wine-growing regions in and around Bratislava have been producing wines for centuries. Join a wine tour, visit the Museum of Viticulture or choose one of the many wine bars in Bratislava to experience the Slovak wine’s complexities.
Beer lovers rejoice! Bratislava has a beer culture as keen as its Czech neighbour. In fact, you’ll run into the tasty Czech brewed Budweiser often but it’s the gamut of local brews that will delight and amaze.
Be sure to sample the Slovak national drink, Borovička. Generally partaken as a digestive after a meal, this fruit distilled beverage has a distinct juniper flavour.
Slovak National Collection of Wines.
Care to sample what’s considered the top 100 wines of Slovakia? For €18 you can. There’s a time limit and you may be faced with the odd sullen pourer, but if you’re at all interested in the region’s wine, this is a great place to start.
Radničná 577/1, (Inside the Museum of Viticulture)
Open Tues-Fri 10 am – 6 pm, Sat 11 am – 6 pm, closed Sunday & Monday.
Yes, yes, I know, but really, Wine Not? Less of the sullen faces here and more of the jubilance expected from a tasting. If your palate isn’t loving the Slovak varietals (impossible!), they’re accompanied by many international alternatives.
Hlavné námestie 354/3,
Open Sun-Thurs 9 am-midnight and Friday & Saturday, 9 am – 2 am.
You’re not just swilling beer in this unique establishment, you’re absorbing history too.
A series of rooms are dedicated to Slovak writers, poets, highwaymen, intellectuals, and warriors.
Slovak Pub is famed for having the largest selection of home-grown beers in the city, and the kitchen is open serving delicious Slovak and international cuisine.
While your Bratislava Card avails you10% discount, if you’re a student or non-smoker, you’ll also receive reduced prices!
Open Mon-Fri 11 am – 11 pm & Sat-Sun 12 – 11 pm
This fabulous corner pub specialises in beers from small Slovak breweries. Pull up a barstool and launch into a tasting.
Lunch is easily fixed with a concise menu. Two daily options served with soup and bread.
They make it simple so you can focus on the brews.
Šafárikovo námestie 7
Open Mon-Thurs 9 am – 11 pm, Fri 9 am – 1 am, Sat 11 am – 1 am & Sun 11 am – 11 pm.
Dunajský Pivovar (Danube Brewery)
It would be remiss not to mention Dunajský Pivovar for some pleasant afternoon imbibing.
Moored on the Danube, the deck bar and restaurant has views, booze, and food. What more could you ask for? Well, maybe a bed? They have those too! Dunajský Pivovar is also a Botel. Check it out here.
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Below you’ll find answers to some Frequently Asked Questions to help plan your Bratislava adventure. Please feel free to ask any additional questions in the comments below and we’ll endeavour to provide the answers.
How do I travel to Bratislava?
While Bratislava Airport is a busy hub for Europe, there is no International terminal. The closest is Vienna, a quick 45-minute drive away. Buses for Bratislava leave Vienna Airport every 30 – 60 minutes.
From Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Warsaw and Kyiv, arriving by train is easy and from Budapest and Vienna, you have the option of arriving by boat. Fancy a scenic Danube cruise? This is your answer.
How do I get around Bratislava, Slovakia?
Due to Bratislava’s convenient size, your feet are your best mode of transport but there are instances where you may need public buses or the trolleybuses.
Taxis are reasonably priced and your Über app works perfectly.
What is a Bratislava Card & how does it help me?
Talk about taking the stress off your wallet. With your Bratislava Card, access to public transport is free. Receive free entry and discounts to museums and galleries, and some restaurants and bars offer exclusive Bratislava Card savings.
Collect your Bratislava Card on arrival at the BTB Tourist Information Centre at Bratislava Airport, Bus stations, some hotels and through tour operators. Look for the Bratislava Card sign.
Find out more about the Bratislava Card through this link and start racking up the savings.
When is the best time to visit Bratislava?
The perfect time to visit Bratislava is from May to September for glorious 21°C – 27°C temperatures. Having said that, these months also record the highest rainfall.
It rains in Bratislava in varying degrees all year round though, so pack an umbrella or a quick-drying jacket.
Due to near-zero temperatures (and the rainfall), visiting Bratislava in winter can be pretty bleak. However, if that’s the only time you have, there are plenty of inside activities to ensure you still have a great experience.
What currency should I use in Bratislava?
Euros. Slovakia is a member of the European Union.
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