Things to Do in Bratislava
The Old Town (Stare Mesto) of Bratislava is the historic heart of the Slovakian capital. The neighborhood consists of a medieval castle, restored buildings, cobblestoned alleyways, and beautiful palaces. This small district is also packed with history, nightlife, eateries, and shopping for visitors to explore and discover.
Perched atop a forested hill on the north bank of the Danube River, overlooking the Old Town (Stary Mesto), Bratislava Castle(Bratislavsky Hrad) is the city’s most distinctive landmark. Visible from all over the city, the grand Renaissance palace dates back to the 16th century and now houses the Museum of History, part of the Slovak National Museum.
The architectural focus of the eastern flank of Hviezdoslavovo namestie (one of the two Baroque main squares gracing Bratislava’s Old Town), the Slovak National Theatre (Slovenské Národné Divadlo or SND for short) is a splendid Neo-Renaissance building. Created by Viennese theater designers Hermann Helmer and Ferdinand Fellner, the SND was completed in 1886 in a time when the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire was thriving and its elaborate pillared, colonnaded façade is encrusted with busts of playwrights such as Shakespeare and Goethe.
Seating for just over 600 in the plush, red velvet and gilded auditorium is in banks of boxes, and the season runs from September to July. The repertoire features a full program of opera, ballet and drama, including such old favorites such as Mozart’s Magic Flute, as well as contemporary performances by the Dragon Kungfu Dance Company.
An innovative new adjunct to the Slovak National Theatre opened in 2007 on the banks of the Danube; the seven-story SND New Building is of gleaming glass and marble, seating 1,677 in its three auditoriums.
The low-slung, white-washed Baroque Grassalkovich Palace (Grasalkovicov Palac) sits on Hodžovo námestie on the northern edge of Bratislava’s Starý Mesto (Old Town) and was built in 1760 as the private residence of a wealthy adviser to Empress Marie Therese. Anton Grassalkovich surrounded himself by beauty and music in his elegant residence; composer Joseph Haydn and elite members of the Hungarian nobility were frequent visitors to his salon.
The palace has played a considerable part in Slovakian history, as it was here that Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand met his wife; in 1914 they were assassinated in Sarajevo and their deaths led to the outbreak of World War I. After World War II, the palace became home to Josef Tiso, first President of the new Slovak Republic, but during Soviet times the building was used as a day center for children. It was renovated following the Velvet Revolution in 1989, when it once more became residence of the Slovakian president.
The colorful Changing of the Guard takes place outside at 1 p.m. daily, and although the palace itself is not open to the public, the surrounding formal French gardens are, and they make a perfect picnic spot on summer days among a cluster of madcap modern fountains.
Like many Bratislava churches, St. Martin’s Cathedral (Dóm Sv. Martina) was built over the remains of an earlier Romanesque basilica on the edge of the Starý Mesto (Old Town). Today’s three-naved Gothic cathedral (Dóm Svätého Martina in full) was consecrated in 1452, and between 1563 and 1830, 11 Hungarian monarchs—including the much-loved Empress Marie Therese—and their spouses were crowned here, a fact celebrated by the placement of a replica coronation crown on the top of the 279-foot (85-meter) Gothic spire.
The church’s interior is awash with Gothic detailing, from the soaring wooden altarpiece found in St Anne’s Chapel, which depicts the Crucifixion, to the vaulted ceilings in the presbytery, while other ornamentation in the cathedral is variously Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque in style. Along with the vivid colors of the 19th-century Viennese stained-glass windows, highlights include the vibrant equine statue dedicated to St. Martin, plus the extravagantly Baroque side chapel of St John the Almsgiver. Below, the cathedral, crypts and burial grounds are being excavated; currently only one is open to explore.
Right in the heart of Bratislava is the neoclassical Primate's Palace (Primaciálny Palác), with its pink facade. What was once the archbishop’s residence now serves as the seat of Bratislava’s mayor and hosts the city council. This architectural jewel is where Napoleon signed the Peace of Pressburg in 1805 after the Battle of Austerlitz.
Just outside Bratislava, Devin Castle (Devinsky Hrad) shows Slovakia’s oldest traces of Slavic settlement, from the ninth century. The castle changed hands many times and was renovated until it was blown up during the 19th-century Napoleonic wars. The castle remains are now a Slovak national symbol and feature stunning panoramic views from the towers.
The futuristic Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising (also known as the Nový Most or New Bridge) is 1,420 feet (432 m) in length and was opened in 1972 to commemorate Slovak resistance to German invasion in 1944. The road bridge crosses the Danube in a single steel span supported by one pylon standing 312 feet (95 m) above the south bank of the river and is an unusually successful, stylish and popular piece of Soviet architecture.
Atop its single pylon is the circular UFO Observation Deck, which is endlessly crowded with tourists enjoying peerless views of the Starý Mesto (Old Town). An elevator whisks up to the deck in 45 seconds for panoramic views across the city and out to the brightly colored Communist-built apartment blocks in the suburb of Petržalka, where some 120,000 Bratislavans have their homes. If you’re not sure what you’re looking at, there are informative graphics and telescopes all the way around the deck.
Also found on the UFO Deck is Taste, Bratislava’s highest restaurant and one of its best, with spectacular cooking (and prices!) to match the views.
Stara Radnica is the Old Town Hall in the center of Bratislava, Slovakia. It is in the city's Old Town, and aside from serving as the town hall from the 15th through the 19th centuries, it was also used as a prison, a mint, an arsenal depository, a municipal archive, and it was a place of trade and celebrations. It is the country's oldest town hall building and one of the oldest stone buildings still standing in Bratislava. The building has gone through several renovations giving it characteristics of Renaissance, Baroque, and Neo-Renaissance styles. Today it serves as the Bratislava City Museum.
Visitors can see displays in the museum that tell of the city's history starting with the Middle Ages and the feudal justice system. Items include torture instruments, dungeons, antique weapons, armor, paintings, and much more. You can also climb the tower to reach the viewing platform at the top where you'll be rewarded with great views of the main square and city.
Now the only remaining fortified gate—of the original four—in Bratislava’s double ring of medieval fortified walls, Michael’s Gate (Michalska Brana) is a Gothic tower that has its beginnings in the 14th century and was commonly used by fishermen bringing their catch into the Starý Mesto (Old Town) from the River Danube. In the 1750s, the gate's Baroque copper cupola and a statue of St Michael slaying a dragon were added, bringing the tower’s height up to 167 feet (51 meters).
It was at Michael’s Gate that newly crowned Habsburg Austro-Hungarian kings would stop to pay their respects to the Archbishop of Bratislava. Today it is a landmark on the skyline, reached via the teeming restaurants, cafés and stores of narrow Michalská, and looming high over the Old Town. A circular viewing terrace on the sixth floor gives panoramic views across the red roofs and cobbled alleyways of central Bratislava. The diminutive Museum of Arms and City Fortifications breaks the journey up the steep steps to the top of the tower.
More Things to Do in Bratislava
Set in the Stiavnicke Vrchy Mountains near the town of Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia’s Open-Air Mining Museum (Slovenské Banské Múzeum) is one of a kind and not for the faint of heart. Mining in the area dates back to the 3rd century B.C. and the area boasted one of the richest silver deposits in the Middle Ages. Gunpowder was used here for the first time ever in 1627 and over the two centuries that followed, the region was home to most of the major developments in mining and metallurgy, as well as forestry and chemistry.
Visitors have the opportunity to descend into an underground mining pit that stretches for 1300 meters underground, with the deepest section laying 45 meters below the surface. During the 90 minute tour, visitors learn about the history of mining in the Stiavnicke Vrchy Mountains and see exhibits showing both current and obsolete mining techniques and technologies, including drilling technology and methods for transporting ore. Above ground, exhibits include original mining buildings and an exposition about the geological development of the country.
Hlavne Namestie is the main square in Bratislava, Slovakia. It is located in the center of the city in the Old Town. Throughout the year, vendors sell crafts and other souvenirs in the square, and during the Christmas season, this is the place to come for the city's Christmas markets. Other festivals, concerts, and outdoor events are also held in the main square. One of the most significant buildings on the square is the Old Town Hall. Though refurbished, it has been in use since 1434, and you can still see the preserved underpass that was built in 1442 to allow people to enter the building from the square.
Visitors can also see a line on the Town Hall building marking the water level of the Danube River during terrible flooding in February 1850. The Bratislava City Museum has an exhibition of the history of the city inside the Old Town Hall building. The main square charms visitors with its Renaissance-style fountain and many outdoor cafes.
Dotted by shady plane trees and lined with pastel-colored Baroque townhouses, Franciscan Square(Frantiskanske Namestie) is one of the main meeting paces in Bratislava’s Old Town and is dominated by the oldest church in the city. The Franciscan Church has a Baroque façade dating back to the 18th century, but it was originally 13th-century Gothic in form.
Consecrated in 1297, the church has a wealth of Renaissance and Baroque detailing inside, including statuary and gilded artworks, but its chief feature is the Gothic Chapel of Saint John the Evangelist, where Hungarian aristocrats were once ennobled as knights of the realm. The Marian Column in the middle of Franciscan Square gives thanks for the victory of Hungarian King Leopold I over a Protestant rebellion in 1657. Classical concerts are held in the church in the evening.
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