Sometimes we don’t have much time to visit a destination properly, due to a tight schedule or a connection not to be missed. But this doesn’t mean that such destination should be completely ignored!
We’d rather have a quick look at a place than sitting hours in an airport/station doing nothing. It’s better to see a little than nothing at all, right?
This happened to us during our recent Interrail through Europe. Having to travel from Budapest, Hungary, to Krakow, Poland, we decided to leave in the morning and make a halfway stopover in Bratislava, Slovakia, before heading on to our final destination by night train.
We got to Bratislava around 3 pm and left again in the evening, which gave us enough time to have a decent look at the city.
Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, is located in the West of the country, almost on the border with Austria. This makes it ideal to be visited together with Vienna, and other European capitals like Budapest and Prague aren’t too far.
Here’s what we managed to see in about 7 hours in Bratislava.
Bratislava’s main attraction is its restored hilltop Baroque castle, a massive square shaped structure with 4 towers at its corners.
Starting from Bratislava train station, we soon realize we are in a cheaper country compared to its Western neighbours. Both tram and bus tickets are just 0.70€ cents to the city centre, despite the vehicles looking quite modern. Definitely take advantage of means of transport when in Bratislava.
We follow the suggestions we got from the info point at the train station and hop off at Zochova bus stop, where we can start the short climb to Bratislava Castle.
We walk through a peaceful area (most tourists reach the castle from the riverside opposite us, but we suggest to take the less beaten track) before getting to the last section, a walking path that goes around the castle.
GARDEN BY THE CASTLE
Access to the castle’s grounds is free. The first part we see is the beautiful Garden by the Castle, located behind the main building. Since as said many get to the castle from the riverside ascent, not everyone is aware of the gardens in the back. Don’t forget to come here! This garden is actually new and was opened in 2016. It has been reconstructed in Baroque style to remind its appearance before the great fire occurred in 1811, which damaged most of the castle.
YARD OF HONOR
We keep walking on the side until we finally find ourselves in front of one of the two main gates. There we meet bigger crowds.
A large square called Yard of Honor welcomes visitors to the castle through two triumphal gates. The Yard of Honor offers amazing views over the Danube.
Entry to the castle is 7€. Located within is the Museum of Slovak History and it is possible to access the tallest of the 4 corner towers.
Once back outside, we take in the interesting views over Bratislava.
With the castle behind us, we have the old town on the left side, dominated by the tall bell towers of St.Martin’s Cathedral and of Clarissine Church, and the newer side on the right, on the opposite bank of the river.
The Danube splits the two areas clearly. Right at the other end of SNP Bridge (or New Bridge) a high tower capped by a UFO marks the entrance to the residential Petržalka neighborhood, a huge area of blocks of flats from the Communist era. Personally, we do like the old town much better, but if you are a fan of panoramic views or dining up in the sky, there are a restaurant and a viewing platform 95 meters above the ground at the UFO Observation Deck.
OLD TOWN CENTRE – ST. MARTIN’S CATHEDRAL
We proceed to the town centre. The stairway leading down towards the old town is indeed pictoresque, filled with colourful houses and small restaurants on its sides.
At the bottom we find ourselves in front of St. Martin’s Cathedral, the biggest Gothic Church in town. Entrance to the main nave is free, but there was a wedding going on at the time of our visit! By paying a small fee it is also possible to access the Crypt and the Catacombs below the church.
BRATISLAVA QUIRKY STATUES
The old town is quite small and it’s nice to walk around it, it’s also easy to orientate oneself. A few quirky statues are fun to be seen at the streets’ corners.
One is the Man at Work, at the junction of Panská and Laurinská streets, a statue of a worker named Cumil resting at the top of a manhole. There are two main theories about what Cumil is doing: the first says Cumil (Slovak translation for “the watcher”) is peeping under women skirts. The second goes after the myth of lazy Communist-era workers, which would work little and watch a lot. Either way, it surely is a funny statue!
Another one is the Schöne Náci statue of a gentleman waving his hat to passers-by. He was an actual character in Bratislava that for decades used to walk around nicely dressed and would take his hat off in front of women, always greeting them respectfully.
Other statues include a Napoleon Soldier and a Paparazzi!
The pretty square of Hlavné Námestie, or Main Square, sums up the whole old town of Bratislava: not too big, filled with elegant cafès, encircled by an overall medieval atmosphere. Have a break here and enjoy views of the Old Town Hall on one side and the Roland Fountain in the middle of the square.
It may be hard to tell but Bratislava old town used to be fortified and access used to be possible only through 4 main gates. Today, walls have crumbled and Michael’s Gate is the only city gate that has been preserved from the Medieval times.
Within the tower is the Exhibition of Weapons of Bratislava City Museum.
Michael’s Gate Blue Church
A bit off the centre, located in the East of the town is the Church of St. Elisabeth, also known as Blue Church for its peculiar colour. It was built by the Hungarian Secessionist Catholics who followed the Hungarian Art Nouveau style in early 20th century.
TYPICAL SLOVAKIAN DINNER
Before heading back to the train station we have time to stop for dinner and opt for the biggest pub in town: Slovak Pub Bratislava.
A gorgeous labyrinthine pub spreading over 11 rooms, serving delicious typical local food and keg beer made right in its own basements. A must go when in Bratislava!
We go to sleep in our night train couchette, tomorrow we’ll wake up in Krakow!
WHERE TO STAY
- We didn’t sleep in Bratislava but saw a few good looking hostels in the old town. Alternatively, when staying in Vienna a day trip to Bratislava can totally be planned, see your options in the area here.
WHERE TO EAT
- Slovak Pub Bratislava: typical Slovak food&beer, medieval setting and hundreds of seats;
- Five Points Cafè: a cool place with tasty coffee, and good food options too.
HOW TO GET AROUND
- The most important sights are within walking distance;
- Cheap bus&tram rides can take you to and from the train station or farther areas, starting from as little as 0.70€;
- Multiple trains run daily between Vienna-Bratislava (1h) and Budapest-Bratislava (3h30).
- Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.
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