Best things to do in Bratislava, Slovakia
The Slovakian capital city of Bratislava is a medieval marvel, surrounded by soviet architecture, nestled between the Danube River and incredible mountain ranges. The fact that it attracts around 4.6million visitors a year seems to suggest that this gem has remained largely hidden. With so much to offer, it seems unfair that Bratislava is not higher up every body's list. If you were considering Bratislava as a weekend retreat, then I can happily recommend a few things to keep you busy!
Any visit to Bratislava would not be complete with a meandering walk through the maze of alleys and boulevards of the Old Town.
Filled to the brim with Churches and restaurants, overlooked by the imposing Bratislava Castle on the Hill, the preserved Medieval centre of the Old Town is a fantastic place to while away a few hours.
St Michaels Tower
In the Old Town centre itself is St Michaels Tower, standing proudly as the only preserved city gate. Built in approximately 1300 the Tower now houses a fascinating Museum of Weapons and a potted history of the city. It then opens out to the most incredible views from the narrow platform running around the top of the tower.
Bratislava Castle peeking above the city in a photo taken on a narrow ledge with my back jammed firmly against the wall
The site of Bratislava Castle has been inhabited for thousands of years given its prime position overlooking the Danube, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary.
The grounds of the Castle are free to wander to take photographs, but if time allows then it is worth paying the entry fee to walk around inside the Castle and admire the museum exhibits. The exhibits include a replica of the Crown Jewels and numerous rooms tracing the progress of Slovakia from the middle ages to right now. I would highly recommend starting at the top of the Castle's exhibits and working your way back down to ground level- the oldest and most fascinating archaeological finds are stored on the top floor, but by the time we found them the Castle was shutting down for the day!
Devin Castle (Because one castle a weekend is never enough!)
Less than half an hour on the bus from the Old Town is the beautiful ruined medieval Devin Castle. A settlement since the Iron Age, Devin Castle looks out over the Danube and over the lower Carpathian mountains on top of the border with Austria. If you don't mind walking up hills (a castle in a valley would be quite useless defensively) then a Devin Castle day trip is well worth the visit for a dose of cultural history and beautiful views.
Street Art and Sculptures
Bratislava is well known for its street sculptures, made the size of an adult person and spaced out across the Old Town. These fun gems are easy to find and are mainly around the Main Square. We found Cumil ("The Watcher") by accident, wondering what other travellers were lining up to photograph and almost falling over him whilst not paying attention.
Braver travellers than us laid on the floor for a fab selfie with him, but I was concerned after a belly full of Slovakian food that I might lay down on the pavement and not be able to get back up again!
Once you've enjoyed some of the sculptures you may want to try your luck spotting the other works of street art dotted about the city.
Slovakia has the market of deep fried cheese and delicious beer absolutely cornered.
If you like cheese then Bratislava is a dream- it comes as a spread, a sandwich filling, deep friend and even pickled (don't knock it 'til you've tried it, it's amazing!).
In order to help wash down all that cheese a pint of Slovakian beer is your friend. An amazing range of dark beers and lagers are available in the numerous pubs all over the city, and the only fair way to ensure you've experienced it sufficiently is to try one of each type, of course.
Just outside of the Old Town is the art nouveau Blue Church (actually called the Church of St Elizabeth of Hungary). The whole impressive structure is covered in different shades of blue, even down to the blue roofing tiles!
If you want to pay it a visit then it is best to check the timings of services to make sure that you can see the inside in all its shiny blue glory.
Bratislava is within easy reach of some many beautiful, natural spaces including mountains, caves and the Danube River. The more active traveller can spend a very happy and sweaty weekend hiking the lower Carpathians, kayaking or paddle boarding, cycling, fishing, swimming- the options are endless!
It is also worth noting for anyone who may enjoy a bit of bird watching that the chances of seeing a Black Kite are pretty good- we saw 7 in a weekend and were delighted with our good fortune. We also got screeched at by a Kestrel, but you can't win them all!
It's central location and cheaper costs of living make Bratislava a fantastic base for trips across to other European cities. We opted to catch a boat down the Danube to spend a day in Vienna, which is only 56km and 90 minutes on a boat away! Another benefit of travelling on the Danube is the chance to see Bratislava from a totally different angle, especially the epic Devin Castle.
Vienna is significantly more expensive than Bratislava and so spending a day there, but the rest of our time in Slovakia, made perfect sense.
If you have a little more time to spare then maybe Budapest is more your thing, in the opposite direction and 161km up the Danube. Whilst incredibly romantic, the city also offers an unusual tourist attraction of caving under Budapest - the perfect activity to challenge yourself and make you appreciate a nice quiet sit down with a beer afterwards.
Bratislava is a beautiful place to spend a weekend and I would love to hear from you if I've missed any of the best spots off of this list!