The zestful capital of Slovakia has shed its yesteryear image as a dour, industrial sprawl into an easy-going and enticing city. Bratislava is no longer in the silhouette of Prague and Vienna and its baroque palaces, atmospheric cobbled streets, and affordable culinary options are continuously drawing in the tourists to this underrated destination. Bratislava is centrally located on the Danube, less than 60 km from Vienna, with frequent bus and train connections. This makes for a convenient and worthwhile day trip from Vienna to Bratislava. Here are our recommendations on what to do in Bratislava on your visit.
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Table of Contents
How to Get to Bratislava from Vienna
Bratislava lies a mere 55 km from Vienna surrounded by the Little Carpathian mountains in the north and farms, vineyards, and tiny villages in the east. Buses provide a cheap and convenient option to get from Vienna to Bratislava. There are several bus operators on this route like Eurolines, RegioJet, and FlixBus. The travel time is a little over than an hour.
Bratislava borders Austria in the west and Hungary in the south making it the only national capital in the world to border two foreign countries.
Another option is to take the train from Vienna to Bratislava which runs about twice an hour but may be a little more expensive than the bus. Check for schedules and prices on the OEBB website.
Lastly, you could certainly drive from Vienna to Bratislava, but seeing as trains and buses run frequently, it is certainly not necessary to rent a car just for that, especially as you will have to pay a toll on Austrian roads.
How to Get Around Bratislava
Bratislava is an ideal walking city, many attractions are easily reached on foot from the city center. However, in order to get to some of the outer lying attractions and to make the most of your time in Bratislava, you should make use of the city’s efficient public transportation system. You can find information about ticket prices and how to plan your journey here.
You can also get around Bratislava using a bicycle, especially if the weather is nice. Bratislava is a bike-friendly city with good bike infrastructure. Renting a bike is quite easy and pretty cheap. The best way to rent a bike is through the free city bike-share system SlovnaftBAjk. You just have to register online for 1 EUR before picking up your eco-friendly bicycle at any one of the 70 odd bike stations around the city.
Taxis are another alternative to getting around the city, though it’s unlikely you’ll be needing them. There are several taxi companies to choose from, but Bolt is probably your safest bet. Ordering a taxi by phone will be cheaper than flagging one off the street. If you stop any taxi on the street, always agree on the fare in advance.
Your Bratislava Itinerary: 17 Best Things To Do in Bratislava
This itinerary covers most of the important sights in Bratislava and is best suited for a long day in Bratislava. It’s ideal if you’re coming over early on a day trip from Vienna. It could even be stretched over two days if you prefer to travel at a slower pace. For your convenience, this post includes a free map of the top sights in Bratislava. You can find addresses of the attractions by clicking on the icons on the map. We understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions. Below we have compiled a list of the best things to see (or eat) in Ljubljana in one day. Depending on your personal preference and the weather, you can choose one of the last two attractions on the list.
- Bratislava Castle
- Slavin Memorial
- Grassalkovich Palace
- Wander Around the Old Town
- Michael’s Gate
- Hlavné Square & Old Town Hall
- Primate’s Palace
- Check Out Bratislava’s Quirky Statues
- Blue Church
- Traditional Slovakian Lunch
- Hviezdoslavovo Square & Slovak National Theater
- St. Martin’s Cathedral
- Spot Bizarre Architecture
- Devin Castle
- Danubiana Meulenstein Art Museum
Kick-off your one day of sightseeing in Bratislava at Five Points Coffee, a cozy café which serves some really nice coffee and tea and has a nice selection of pastries and sandwiches.
2. Bratislava Castle
No Vienna-Bratislava day trip would be complete without seeing the landmark Bratislava Castle. It is perched atop a hill dominating the city’s skyline and overlooking the River Danube. It is famous for its four striking white towers that mark the corners of this grand, rectangular palace. This stronghold has a long history stretching back over a millennium when it featured in the Annals of Salzburg of 907, the first written reference to Bratislava.
Like most European castles it didn’t remain unscathed. The original stone castle was rebuilt in Gothic style in the 15th century and was remodeled into a Renaissance residence in the 16th century. Beautiful Rococo furnishings were added in the 18 century. More drama ensued in 1811 when a fiery blaze burned down the castle. It stood in ruins for nearly 150 years till restoration work commenced in the 1950s.
The castle now hosts several exhibitions from the Slovak National Museum which are a little underwhelming and not worth the price of admission. There’s no need to go inside. Just the climb to the top to stroll around the gardens and for magnificent views over the city.
Bratislava has been known by various names throughout its history, the most notable of which are Pozsóny and Pressburg. The city only officially acquired its current name of ‘Bratislava’ in 1919, when it became part of Czechoslovakia.
3. Slavin Memorial
Next up is the Slavin Memorial, one of the best things to see in Bratislava. The Slavin Memorial is a moving tribute to the thousands of Soviet soldiers killed in battles with the Nazis around Bratislava in the closing stages of World War II. It has various inscriptions that document the liberation dates of other cities in Slovakia. The 40-meter obelisk is topped by a bronze figure of a Red Army soldier holding a banner.
The adjacent mausoleum is used as a venue for official celebrations. The monument is surrounded by a cemetery containing over 6,800 war graves. Walking along the paths around the mass and individual graves is a reflective experience and make you wonder about the futility of war.
The Slavin Memorial is about a 20-30 walk from the Old Town and is located in the affluent area of Slavin. You’ll see some nice villas here, some of which are home to foreign embassies. If you don’t feel like walking, you can also take the bus.
4. Grassalkovich Palace
The elegant Grassalkovich Palace was built in 1760 in Baroque and Rococo style as a residence for Anton Grassalkovich, an aristocrat who was one of the closest advisors to Empress Maria Theresa. Grassalkovich Palace is the setting for one of the fabled love stories of the 20th century. This is where the Austro-Hungarian crown prince Franz Ferdinand d’Este met his future wife, Žofia Chotek, a palace maid. In 1914, the murder of the couple in Sarajevo sparked off World War I.
Since 1996, the Grassalkovich Palace has been the residence of the President of Slovakia and consequently is not open to the public. Nevertheless, you can visit the surrounding palace garden, built in the French style, and which has been restored to its former glory. Grassalkovich Palace and its environs provide a great photo opportunity.
5. Wander Around the Old Town
The Old Town is certainly the biggest sightseeing draw of Bratislava and a must-see if you love history in a quaint setting. It has been completely and stunningly renovated and is a pedestrian-only zone, which makes it great for ambling around. A large chunk of historic sights in Bratislava can be found in the compact old town center such as some grand palaces and cultural institutions.
There are several charming streets filled with pastel-hued buildings and some of the smaller side streets provide surprises too. The Old Town also has plenty of lively bars and restaurants lining its cute streets. The good thing is that the sights can easily be covered in a short time.
6. Michael’s Gate
Michael’s Gate is one of the marquee attractions to visit when coming on Vienna-Bratislava day trip. It is the only remaining gate from the original medieval fortifications of Bratislava. The 14th-century Gothic tower was rebuilt in Baroque style in the 18th century and features a statue of Archangel Michael on the top. Michael’s Gate is one of Bratislava’s most distinctive landmarks and its green-copper spire and white-brick tower are an unmissable sight. The tower houses the Museum of Arms which is part of the Bratislava City Museum.
Go to the viewing terrace that affords a stunning vista of the city and beyond. It costs 4 EUR to go to the top and gives you access to the small exposition of arms. The streets surrounding Michael’s Gate are quite charming and lovely to stroll around. We really enjoyed walking through the picturesque Bastova street.
7. Hlavné Square & Old Town Hall
The Hlavné Square (Hlavné námestie) is one of the highlights of Bratislava’s Old Town. This is the historical hub of Bratislava which has witnessed all the major events from public executions to military parades, from Christmas markets to medieval street theaters. I really enjoyed the rich mixture of architectural styles in the surrounding buildings here, that varies from Renaissance to Baroque to Rococo to Classical and Art Nouveau styles. My favorite was the Palace of the Hungarian Exchange Bank, a stunning yellow-colored Art Nouveau edifice.
The middle of the square is dominated by the lovely Maximilian Fountain, which was once used as the town’s water source. On a tall plinth at the center of the fountain is the figure of Roland, a knight who defended the townspeople’s rights. According to legend, the figure moves at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The elegant Old Town Hall is the most notable building in the Main Square. It was constructed in the 15th century by creatively merging a number of residential houses. Further changes followed with the usage of Renaissance style and Baroque style to remodel the old corner tower. An important relic – a cannonball from the 1809 siege of Bratislava by Napoleon’s army, still remains embedded in the wall beside the Gothic window. The town hall houses the City Museum which showcases exhibits associated with the history of Bratislava.
8. Primate’s Palace
Primate’s Palace is not only the grandest palace in
The Primate’s Palace is partly open to the public. The interior features a lackluster collection of paintings but is really galvanized by six unique and vivid English tapestries illustrating the Greek myth of Hero and Leander. They were actually discovered folded behind the wallpaper in the vestibule of the Palace’s Hall of Mirrors. You can also visit the Hall of Mirrors, a grandiose room where several important accords were signed. The most notable of these was the Peace Treaty of Pressburg that was concluded on 26 December 1805 between France on one side and Russia and Austria on the other following the Battle of Austerlitz. The terms of the treaty were dictated by the victorious French emperor – Napoleon Bonaparte.
If you have a penchant for tapestries or enjoy history, you should take a look inside, otherwise, you can skip. The Primate’s Palace is open Tue-Sun from 10:00 – 17:00. Entrance is 3 EUR.
9. Check out Bratislava’s Quirky Statues
Bratislava’s Old Town is famous for its wacky statues. These statues were placed by locals after the fall of communism in an attempt to instill life in the center. Over time, these statues have become icons in their own right and you can often see visitors clamoring for selfies with them. The most iconic of these statues is Cumil, an amusing bloke peeping out from a sewer hole. The name Cumil roughly translates as ‘rubberneck’, and locals believe he represents an allegory of a Soviet spy during the Communist era, clandestinely sneaking up on people and keeping tabs on them.
Other famous statues in the center include Schöne Náci, a courteous gentleman doffing his hat to people on the streets. One other well-known statue of a soldier in Napoleon’s army soldier has presently been removed for repairs.
10. Blue Church
The Blue Church (St. Elizabeth’s Church) is probably Bratislava’s most alluring building and one of its must-see attractions. This unique place of worship owes its name to the color of its facade, mosaics, majolicas, and blue-glazed roof. It was designed by Hungarian architect Ödön Lechner, in exquisite Art Nouveau style, and has a Secessionist flair to it. The remarkable blue hue of the church radiates a peaceful aura and makes the building look like an elaborate wedding cake or something out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. It’s easy to be reminded of the works of Gaudi through the Blue Church’s immaculate mosaics and the omnipresent motifs of nature, flowers, and trees.
The inside offers a perfect spiritual sanctuary and is bedecked in typical Roman Catholic fashion with several beautiful statues and an Art Nouveau style altarpiece. The blue theme continues in the interior of the church is cool and even the wooden pews are also decorated in pale shades of blue.
The only hiccup about visiting the Blue Church is that the opening hours are a bit erratic, to say the least. It is open Mon-Sat: 07:00 – 07:30 & 17:30 – 19:00, Sun: 07:30 – 12:00 & 17:30 – 19:00. Entrance is free. It’s still worth seeing the church from outside though.
11. Traditional Slovakian Lunch
When spending one day in Bratislava, it would be a good idea to sample some of the city’s traditional cuisine. In Slovakia, pork is the most popular meat and the nation’s national dish bryndzové halušky is a delectable mixture of special gnocchi noodles with original sheep cheese and bacon. Head to Bratislavský meštiansky pivovar, an unpretentious brewpub that serves traditional Slovak favorites such as bryndzové halušky, goulash, cabbage soup (kapustnice) and grilled sausages. If you enjoy a bit of a tipple, you can wash your food down with some chilled Slovak lager or the juniper-flavored borovička, which is similar to gin.
12. Hviezdoslavovo Square & Slovak National Theater
Hviezdoslavovo Square (Hviezdoslavovo námestie) is a long tree-lined plaza featuring galleries, lovely fountains, historic buildings, and cafés. It is actually larger than the main square and is more vibrant than that one. The square is home to some famous statues, including one of Hans Christian Andersen, who was supposedly smitten with Bratislava’s fairy-tale-like charm.
The Slovak National Theater sits on the east side of the square and is one of Bratislava’s most important landmarks. Its resplendent Neo-Renaissance facade is festooned with busts of luminaries like Goethe, Liszt, and Shakespeare. You can only see its sumptuous interiors when attending a performance. A lovely marble fountain sits in front of the theater and depicts the Trojan youth Ganymede flying on the back of Zeus, who has
13. St. Martin’s Cathedral
St. Martin’s Cathedral, the most sacred and prominent Gothic building in the city, is definitely one of the must-see attractions in Bratislava. It was built on the site of an earlier, 14th-century Romanesque church, making it one of the city’s oldest churches. Between 1563 and 1830, eleven Hungarian kings and eight queens were crowned here. This fact is commemorated by the massive 300-kilogram gold-plated replica of the St. Stephen Crown situated on the top of the cathedral´s huge steeple. It is even possible to walk the former coronation route through the Old Town, starting from here, by following a series of golden crowns embedded in the pavement.
The interior, while not as grand as some churches, is definitely interesting with ornate gold altars and depictions of biblical scenes. I was pretty impressed with the Gothic windows that are filled with colorful stained-glass depictions of religious figures and events.
Opening hours of St. Martin’s Cathedral are Mon-Fri: 09:00 – 11:30 & 13:00 – 18:00, Sat: 09:00 – 11:30, Sun: 13:45 – 16:30.
Bratislava has played a pivotal role in Hungarian history. After the Ottomans occupied Hungary in the 16th century, the Hungarians made Bratislava their capital and it served in that capacity for over 200 years. It was in these times that the city reached the zenith of its glory, in particular during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa.
14. Spot Bizarre Architecture
One of the things that I liked about Bratislava is the prominence of some eccentric architecture. Bratislava has a cool collection of buildings and structures that symbolize brutality and modernism, and which seem a bit dystopian. Four examples really stood out in my mind. The first is the Hotel Galéria Spirit – a colorful explosion of modern art that looks like as if it was conceived by Gaudi’s less talented protégé and assembled using random pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I don’t ever recall seeing such an odd-looking building! I wonder how the rooms look from the inside. Go take a look!
The second is the Slovak Radio Building – an interesting example of post-war modern architecture that was completed in 1983. This huge brown edifice looks like an inverted pyramid balancing on a pointed tip that’s been thrust into the ground. The unusual and provocative shape has naturally attracted much praise and strong dislike. It has now been designated a national cultural monument. Count me among its fans since I felt strangely attracted to this building.
The third is the UFO Bridge (Most SNP) – a cable-supported steel bridge that is the longest single-pylon suspension bridge in the world. Okay, the bridge itself isn’t bizarre but the saucer-shaped restaurant that is perched atop its single, asymmetrical pylon is what makes this structure eye-catching. You can go to the viewing terrace of the UFO restaurant for a fee of 7.40 EUR, for stunning views of the Danube and the city. The observation deck is open daily from 10:00 – 23:00.
The fourth is Petržalka – Bratislava’s largest district that is home to over 100,000 of the city’s inhabitants. Petržalka is dominated by a seemingly endless number of identical Soviet-era towers. No wonder it is the most densely populated place in Central Europe. If you’ve ever wanted to see a concrete jungle or the excesses of ugly Stalinist architecture, Petržalka is your best bet. You don’t even have to go there. I just got some snaps from the top of UFO Bridge, which is a great vantage point.
15. Devin Castle
The attractive ruins of Devín Castle are perched on a craggy hill at the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers. Its setting is absolutely gorgeous, enhanced by the water on one side and the woods on the other. The castle site has a long history dating to Celtic and Roman settlements in the area. A Gothic castle was erected here in the Middle Ages and later rebuilt in the Renaissance style. Its possession changed hands several times until 1809 when it was blown up by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. It later served as an inspiration for Slovak National Revival and is one of the nation’s most important monuments. Today, it is a popular area for a stroll among Bratislava natives.
The castle complex includes exhibits and a small museum of archaeological finds. We didn’t go inside as we were quite content to take in the views and atmosphere. You can find more information regarding opening hours here.
Devin Castle is one of the best places to visit in Bratislava and it’s only a 25-minute bus ride from the center. You can catch the bus (No. 29) headed there from the UFO Bridge (Most SNP).
16. Danubiana Meulenstein Art Museum
In case of inclement weather or if you have an affinity for art, you can skip Devin Castle and instead head over to the Danubiana Meulenstein Art Museum (Danubiana) on this Bratislava sightseeing tour. Modern art has started to grow on us and I had read rave reviews about Danubiana before our visit to Bratislava. It didn’t disappoint as the museum is very good and well worth a visit.
The permanent collection features excellent exhibits of contemporary Slovak and other European artists such as Hermann Nitsch and Michael Rittstein. Obviously, we didn’t like all the art displays, but some of them had us totally transfixed. Special exhibitions are also held frequently and add to the museum’s flair.
Danubia lies about 20 kilometers south of Bratislava in a postcard-perfect setting on a slender stretch of peninsula amidst the Danube river. The museum building is a work of art itself and seems to be laid out in the shape of a Roman galley.
The Danubiana Museum is open Tue-Sun from 10:00 – 18:00. Entrance costs 10 EUR. Check the route planner if you’re planning on taking the bus. The ride takes about 40 minutes from the center.
To cap off your wonderful Vienna-Bratislava day trip and sightseeing, treat yourself to a hearty dinner. If you like Italian, I can recommend Gatto Matto – a hip Italian restaurant in the Old Town. If you want to feast on some local grub, head to Modra Hviezda – a cozy restaurant set in a brick cellar serving tasty game dishes.
Extending Your Stay
Even though you can see the best of Bratislava in one day, you can always stay an extra day to experience the city more comprehensively. You could also venture out for a day trip to some of Slovakia’s charming towns like Banská Bystrica and Trnava, go hiking in the Tatra Mountains or just explore some more stunning castles. In case you do decide to spend the night in Bratislava, here are our recommendations on where to stay:
Hostel: Wild Elephants Hostel, a great hostel with a lively atmosphere, just off the Main Square in the Old Town.
Budget: Garni Hotel VIRGO, small, congenial hotel in a quiet location, about 10 minutes on foot from Bratislava Castle and the Old Town.
Mid-range: LOFT Hotel Bratislava, a chic boutique hotel with sleek interiors, near the Presidential Palace and only a 10-minute walk from the main train station.
Splurge: Marrol’s Boutique Hotel, sumptuous top-choice pick with retro-style interiors and excellent amenities in a quiet location of the Old Town.
Now, what do you think? What do you think are the best things to do in Bratislava? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!