The cobblestone streets and pretty pastel houses of Bratislava’s Old Town exude old-world charm and invite visitors to linger a bit longer, enjoying the tiny details of the historic buildings and exploring the delicious smells wafting from the many restaurants and bars. There are many things to do and see in Bratislava, but here are the very best 12 to introduce you to the sights, history, buildings, and museums of Slovakia’s capital city.
Climb the hill to the Bratislava Castle
You can’t miss this iconic symbol of the city of Bratislava, as it’s location on a hill ensures that it is ever-present to visitors as they make their way through the historic Old Town. It’s just a 15 minute walk to the top of the hill, which will earn you fabulous views over the city and the opportunity to enter the castle and explore the Museum of History. You can also stroll through the Baroque gardens to the rear of the castle, and enjoy a beer or coffee at a picturesque cafe overlooking the Old Town.
Admire the lavish lifestyle of Bratislava’s elite at the Primatial Palace
This pretty pink palace was built in 1778 for Archbishop József Batthyány. Various political and cultural meetings took place in the palace over the next one hundred years and in 1903, the city bought the palace. Many events such as city council meetings, literary lectures, and author evenings have taken place in its beautiful Hall of Mirrors. Today, you can experience the historical grandeur of the palace by visiting the second floor. You’ll see tapestries from the 17th century, several old paintings, period furniture in every room, and the stunning Hall Of Mirrors.
Visit in September to see the Old Town Illuminated for the Festival of Light
September is a great month to visit, because you’ll beat the huge crowds during July and August. Temperatures are more moderate and you can enjoy an evening stroll to see the historical buildings of the Old Town lit up for the Festival of Light. A green laser beam reflects from the UFO Tower to the St. Michael’s Gate to the Cumil statue and back, drawing a path for visitors to follow through the Old Town. In 2017, the festival dates are September 21-23.
Sample the very best vino at the Slovak National Collection of Wine
Hiding in the cellar under the Apponyi Palace next to the Old Town Hall, you’ll find the official annual collection of the top 100 Slovak wines. You can speak to a sommelier about your preferences and he or she will be happy to make recommendations about which wines to try. You can also do a guided wine tasting featuring 80 wines in 100 minutes! Then you can purchase a bottle of your favorite wine to take home.
Partake in cafe culture in the Old Town
In the early 20th century, Bratislava was considered a suburb of nearby Vienna, so the city often followed Vienna’s lead. Atmospheric coffee houses were no exception. At the turn of the 20th century, several stylish cafes lined the main square and the surrounding streets in the Old Town. Bratislava’s cafe culture suffered a huge setback under the communist regime – when the only kind of coffee available was described as a strong and dark Turkish-style brew. But today cafes are back with flair, you can once again sit, sip, and see and be seen in a Bratislava’s Old Town. Some great coffees can be found at Cafe Mondeiu, Urban House, Fach, and Stur Cafe.
Step back in time to the World War period at Museum B-S 4
Also known as the Czechoslovak Fortification Museum, this museum is housed in an underground bunker just outside of the city. In addition to seeing how a bunker would have been set up for soldiers during the Second World War, you can also view weapons used during the past century. From November to March the bunker is closed, but from April to October, you shouldn’t miss experiencing this interesting piece of history.
Go shopping for traditional Slovak products
In the Old Town, you’ll find a tricky combination of tourist trap shops and shops which sell high-quality locally made products. If you’re looking for a unique Slovak souvenir to take home for yourself or a friend, the friendly staff at Zeppelin Cafe & Souvenirs are happy to explain all of the products in their store. First, enjoy a freshly baked slice of cake with coffee, then browse their selection of embroidery, folk clothing, jewelry, and home decor, all made nearby. Honey is also a popular souvenir from Slovakia and you can find an amazing selection of honey products at Ceramel; the Honey Shop. They have flavored honeys (strawberry is great), honey wine (called medovina), and honey-based bath and body products.
Take in sky high views of Bratislava from the UFO Tower
The UFO really does look like a flying saucer at one end of the SNP bridge. You can take an elevator 95 meters up to the observation deck for a fabulous view over the city. Even better, visit the restaurant for dinner at sunset or have a cocktail in the bar. This is a trendy place, so make sure you dress up!
Go on a boat trip to Devin Castle
During the summer months, you can take a leisurely boat cruise down the Danube River to Devin Castle, a medieval castle on a hill above the Danube. Devin Castle functioned as a trade center and military stronghold during the middle ages, but today it lies mostly in ruins. It purposely hasn’t been rebuilt so that visitors can appreciate the skilled craftsmanship. Many of the “rooms” of the castle and the castle walls are still intact after hundreds of years. Annually, the castle is also host to a Medieval Knights Show, which is fun for the whole family.
Have lunch in a very old park
Bratislava is home to Sad Janka Kral’a, one of the oldest municipal parks in Europe. You can find it a little bit past the UFO on the Petrzalka side of the river. The parks offers many old trees providing shadey refuge on warm days and is home to Leberfinger, a beautiful place to get lunch. The restaurant is located in a 18th century building with views of the Danube and serves a selection of classic Slovak dishes.
Sip freshly brewed beer on a boat
Dunajsky Pivovar serves craft beer on the top deck of a boat which also functions as a hotel. The boat is docked in the Danube with fabulous views towards Bratislava’s Old Town. You can relax on their lounge chairs on the deck for hours, trying each of the different kinds of brew. If you get hungry, their restaurant also serves great pub food.
Attend an Opera at the Old Building of the Slovak National Theatre
Put on your best clothes to attend an evening opera at the Old Building of the Slovak National Theatre, conveniently located in the center of the Old Town. The building exudes old-fashioned charm in a Neo-Renaissance building which dates to 1886. There are many different operas held here throughout the year, so check the schedule to see what’s on and buy your ticket in advance for the best seats!