Despite being the largest city in Slovakia, Bratislava is still among the smallest capitals in Europe and quite “do-able” in a day. It has an unassuming charm that captivated us on our first visit and which hasn’t faded on two return trips. It is a lovely place to spend time and explore, whether along the banks of the river, through the old town, or up to the castle. As well as absorbing the character of the place, enjoy local food and beer, amusing street sculptures and great views.
A Day in Bratislava
Bratislava stands on the Danube river near the borders of Hungary and Austria. It is set on a striking site with the castle overlooking the town and the great river. It is surrounded by beautiful green countryside and woodlands of Slovakia. The city is perfectly compact for a one day visit as well as those looking for a weekend getaway.
The Best Time to Visit Bratislava
Having a continental climate, Bratislava is fairly hot in summer, which is also high season with the biggest crowds. As it happens, the highest rainfall is also in July. Since Slovakia is such a forested nation, and we have always travelled to it by road, we think the best seasons are autumn (September) and spring (April to June). Although a little less sunny than July-August, these months are when the country is at its most beautiful, and when Bratislava city has fewer visitors and milder, more comfortable weather. Bratislava also has an annual Christmas market which is a big attraction, although snow is infrequent at this time so it might not be the most picturesque time for your day in Slovakia’s capital.
How to Visit Bratislava
On different trips, we have driven there ourselves from our home in Poland (4 hours from Krakow), and travelled by coach, however many will make a day trip from either Vienna or Budapest. The Austrian and Hungarian capitals are about an hour away and two and a half hours respectively by either road or rail so a day trip from either is feasible and the journey is through beautiful landscapes. All three countries are in the EU, so travel is easy and unrestricted by both train and coach. If driving yourself, check that your car has appropriate insurance and vignettes (temporary road tax for international visitors) for each country.
On the subject of day trips, Vienna is so close that you can even make a day trip by boat. Both cities are on the Danube, both cities use the Euro and again, the river border is unrestricted.
What can you do in one day in Bratislava?
Use this guide to make the most of your trip to Bratislava. These are sights and things to do:
Climb to the top of St. Michael’s Gate
Start your day in Bratislava at St Michael’s Gate. This is one of the oldest buildings in the city and the only one remaining of the original four gates through the ancient city walls. Approach it across a small bridge from the bustling streets and tramways of the modern town. As you pass through its narrow opening you find yourself standing at the top of the steeply sloping main street of the old town.. But before you leave the gate itself pause a moment and look down at your feet.
You will be standing on a brass disc decorated with the distances and directions of not only local landmarks but also cities in other countries and as far away as the other side of the planet. As a travelling family our kids had great fun finding the places they had been and guessing which directions they are in and how far. These directions are of course by the shortest bee-line (great circle routes) and because of the curvature of the earth this can create some surprises. Its funny how something so simple can precipitate so much fun and conversation.
Above the gate is a tower that visitors can climb for a magnificent view of the city. It is best to come here in the morning for fresh cool air and to beat the crowd. Don’t worry about missing your breakfast – there are several bakeries and restaurants both outside and inside the gate.
Wander Down Michalska in the Old Town
Come in to the old Bratislava and wander down Michalska street. The sloping main street is narrow, stone paved and pedestrianised. It feels every inch like the setting of a European fairytale from medieval times. Enjoy the old facades above gift shops, bars and cafes. After some time take a left and wander the tiny streets of the old town a couple of blocks until you reach the main square.
Relax by the Fountain or Window shop at Hlavne Namestie
Hlavne Namastie. with its fountain, life size brass sculptures, and a pavement restaurant, is the heart of Old Town, and is rather “L” shaped than square. Facing it are the Old Town Hall building, the west end of the enormous Jesuit Church and a number of hotels, shops, and residential buildings.
The centrepiece is Roland Fountain, located near the south end of the square. Roland it seems is a knight in armour atop a pedestal at the fountain. There are also a couple of humorous modern bronze statues in the square though last time we were there one of them was missing – I hope he’ll be brought back again soon.
Learn the history of the city at Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall faces the square and is an unassuming mediaeval building which now houses the Bratislava City Museum. The museum was opened in 1868 and features collections dedicated to the history of the city as well as a fascinating museum of clocks and galleries dedicated to Slovakian artists. If climbing to vantage points is your thing then there is one in this building too but you might prefer to save your vantage point urges for the Castle and the UFO
Between the old town hall and the Jesuit church is a tall clock tower and if you through the passage immediately next to the tower you come out in a smaller square in front of the Primatial Palace
See the Hall of Mirrors at Primatial Palace
The Primatial Palace was constructed in the 18th century for an Archbishop, but today it is best known for its Hall of Mirrors. It is a few hundred years newer than most the buildings of the old town and is of formal neoclassical design. Apart from the vast gilt framed mirrors which line the hall, there are also a collection of English seventeenth century tapestries on display as well as more art galleries.
Man at Work
Go back into the square and a short walk from the south eastern corner takes you along Fishgate (Rybarska Brana) street to the endearing life-size brass sculpture of a workman popping his head up through a manhole in the pavement. Why people don’t trip over this and hurt themselves, I don’t know. Perhaps they do, but probably they don’t, because someone else will already be standing there, taking a selfie with the “man at work”
Explore Hviezdoslavovo Namastie – Town Square
Keep walking in the same direction for one more block and you emerge from Bratislava’s old town with the flamboyant classical front of the National Theatre on your left. Turn right, and with the Theatre behind you, enjoy the tree-shaded avenue of Hviezdoslav Square, with places to sit, bars restaurants, cafes and more street art and sculptures.
As you emerge at the southern end, within sight of the Danube Bridge and with the castle above you to your right, turn right and the without crossing the road walk one block to the north until St Martin;’s Cathedral is in front of you.
Visit St Martin’s Cathedral Catacombs
St. Martin’s Cathedral is one of the oldest in Slovakia, having been built initially as part of the city’s fortifications, In the south western corner of the city rampart.
From outside, the Medieval church seems to have little going on for it, however the catacombs underneath are open for visits and walking down the narrow hallways between crypts makes an interesting diversion from the city, even if a little eerie.
Both of the next stops are observation points, and the best time to be at either of them is dusk when the city lights are beginning to come on, so take your choice which order to see them, They are the Castle and the UFO.
Visit Bratislava Castle
Bratislava Castle stands above the Cathedral, just across the main road and of course up a hill. The castle itself is quite a bland building and seeing it from afar, you might be unimpressed by its appearance. But that is not what you are here for. Visitors come to Bratislava Castle to enjoy the views of the city. You can walk up the hill or take a short train ride. Rather than visiting the castle interior, we recommend time spent enjoying the magnificent stone carvings above the castle forecourt gates and those in a delightful small formal garden accessible around the back of the castle. On the walk between castle front and back, our kids found some of the biggest and shiniest conkers ever under the horse chestnut trees growing around the playground on the castle hill..
In any event come to the front court at dusk to look out over the Danube and spot the famous modern UFO built above the SNP Bridge.
Enjoy panoramic views of the city from the UFO Observation Deck
The Most Slovenského Národného Povstania or Most SNP (Slovak National Uprising Bridge) is a striking structure even without the UFO Observation deck. With it, it has become the modern icon of the city.
This flying saucer-like structure is built on top of the bridge’s pylon, and houses a restaurant and observation deck with a 360-degree view of Bratislava. To reach the top you will have to pay a small fee to ride an elevator. This ride will take you up some 80 meters to the sky as you enjoy the views. You don’t have to eat in the restaurant to stand and look out over the city. Indeed, the ground level bars and restaurants are generally better value.
We have described a logical compact route through the town taking in the most famous points, and without concentrating on where to eat because there are plenty of eateries cafes and bars all along the route described, However the modern city centre immediately to the east of the Old Town is also a nice friendly place to explore, with attractive buildings, lively streets, parks, good shops, tasty food and some fun street art and sculpture If you have time to spend, then you can go a bit farther afield . . .
Fill up at Obchodna Street
A couple of blocks north east and across the tramline from the Primatial Palace (Hall of Mirrors) is Obchodna street, lined with restaurants including chains such as McDonald’s as well as numerous individual and local restaurants. Here, you can find nearly every type of dish under the sun, including of course Slovak meals.
So visit a Slovak bar and order a bryndzove halusky – a traditional Slovak dish made of dumplings and Bryndza cheese. Then wash it down with any one of many famous Slovakian beers or the Slovakian cola known as Kofola.
Enjoy a Peaceful dinner around Gorkeho and Panska Streets
This is the area around the Man at Work statue and north east from the National Theatre building. You will come across several steakhouses, vegan diners, as well as outlets for Mexican food around this area. There is also the Lemontree & Sky Bar Thai Restaurant if you need even more rooftop observation experience with your food. Try also the Beer Palace, where you can also sample local beers and wines. Slovakian beer is well known in Central Europe for its variety and quality and it would be a shame not to try some.
Best hotels for your Stay in Bratislava
The best thing about Bratislava is that it is very compact, meaning that it is quite easy to choose where to stay. Accommodation is never an issue in this city, I mean you can tour the city all day but spend the night in the nearby city of Vienna in Austria.
However, the best place to stay in Bratislava is in Old Town. The rates here are relatively lower than in the outlying districts and the location provides an excellent base for exploring the city.
Here are the best hotels for your one day stay in the city:
Botel – Boat hotel
During one of our visit to Bratislava we have stayed in Dunajski Pivovar Botel – its a great small hotel located on a boat and it has its own small brewery. Its located on Danube opposite old town.
Loft Hotel Bratislava
Loft Hotel Bratislava is a mid-range hotel is located at the center of Bratislava. It features spacious contemporary rooms, an on-site restaurant, and a bar.
Danubia Gate is located just 5 minutes from Old Town. It offers accommodation in large rooms with colorful décor. The onsite restaurant serves both local and international dishes.
Where to park your camper in Bratislava
Our most recent stay in Bratislava was in our camper, en route to Slovenia and Italy. We stopped in Bratislava for one day and two nights. We parked here. Which is very close to the Botel, opposite Bratislava Old Town – on other side of the Danube. Parking is free, has awesome views and if you park close enough to the river you even get free internet (yay!!!)
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