One of Europe’s smallest and newest capitals, Bratislava Slovakia retains an authentic provincial charm harmoniously blended with a dynamic, modern outlook. There are countless things to do in Bratislava for those in search of a veritable, off the beaten path experience that amounts to more than the usual day trip from Vienna or Budapest.
Although we’ve visited countless times, we still enjoy spending a weekend in Bratislava every now and then, strolling the cobble-stoned old town or uncovering new dining and shopping opportunities. However, a visit to the city’s landmarks never gets old – here’s our list of favorite places to check out while in Bratislava.
Top Things To Do in Bratislava Slovakia!
Visit Bratislava Castle
Majestically towering over the Danube basin from atop a cliff Bratislava Castle is the city’s most famous landmark, recognizable from afar due to its rectangular shape and four corner towers. There’s even a legend that claims the castle used to be turned upside down and used as a breakfast table by a giant until the inhabitants managed to redirect his daily route.
Coming back to our realm, the castle shared the city’s history as the seat of the Hungarian monarchy after the capture of Buda by the Turks in the 16th century. Nowadays, it houses several interesting exhibitions from the Slovak National Museum and it is a preferred venue for the magnificent vistas you can get over the entire area from its “Yard of Honor”.
Slovakia’s is the only capital in the world that neighbors two countries (Austria and Hungary), thus taking in panoramic views of the surroundings from different vantage points is one of our favorite things to do in Bratislava.
See the House of the Good Shepherd – Europe’s Most Narrow House
Very easily missed at the foot of the castle hill is the House of the Good Shepherd, which raises a claim to be Europe’s narrowest house. It is home to a very good local museum dedicated to clocks, but it is more famous for the pub downstairs.
On summer evenings the area gets very crowded as outside seating is available here and at its neighboring bars – a constellation affectionately named by locals “the Bermuda triangle”.
Even if you’re neither into clocks nor into pubs, you should still pay it a visit as it is one of the few original 18th century houses left in the area after the demolition of the Jewish quarter.
Admire St. Martin Cathedral – The Largest Church in Bratislava
Literally right across the street is the beautiful Gothic Saint Martin Cathedral, the largest church in Bratislava. It contains the remains of Saint John the Merciful and its tower features a 150 kg replica of the crown of Saint Stephen, the patron saint of Hungary. This is to commemorate the cathedral’s role as coronation church for the kings and queens of Hungary between 1563 and 1830.
Right next to the cathedral is a monument to the synagogue, demolished in the 1970s to make room for the new Nový Most bridge.
Visit the UFO Observation Deck
Across the street from both the castle and the cathedral, the UFO tower and bridge marks the city’s new-found status as a European capital.
It’s the 7th largest hanging bridge in the world and we highly recommend taking the elevator up to the open-air observation deck on top of the tower. A high-end restaurant is also available there if you want to pair your dinner/lunch with stunning views over the entire Danube basin.
Stroll Through the French Gardens at Grassalkovich Palace
One of our favorite things to do in Bratislava is to stroll through the French garden of the Grassalkovich palace, open to the public and most beloved by locals. Nowadays the residence of the president, the palace is an impressive building that saw its fair share of cultural and historical events over the past 250 years.
Joseph Haydn premiered several of his works here and several balls of the Habsburg royal court took place in this palace, as its owner was an intimate friend of Maria Theresa. Normally not open to the public, the palace can be visited on one open door day per year, every June.
Visit St Michael’s Gate
One good point to start exploring the labyrinth of cobblestoned streets in old town is the old Saint Michael’s Gate, another one of Bratislava’s landmarks. It is the only medieval city gate preserved and it currently houses an exhibition of weapons from the city museum.
If climbing to the top of the gate is on your list of things to do in Bratislava, be aware that the staircase is quite narrow and not recommendable for the more claustrophobic among us.
Visit Bratislava’s Main Square
The Main Square (Hlavne Namestie) is the heart of Bratislava’s historic center, the famous clock tower of the Old Town Hall clearly visible from all over town. An iconic spot for coffee and cake is Café Meyer, built and run in the old tradition of the Viennese coffee house.
Take a moment to appreciate the Maximilian fountain at the center of the square, featuring Bratislava’s protector Maximilian II of Hungary in full knight armor. Affectionately known as the Roland, it is thought that the knight looks towards the town hall throughout the entire year. However, as midnight is struck on New Year’s Eve, he turns around and bows in the direction of the former town hall.
Visit Primate’s Palace
Walk through the narrow passage under the Clock Tower in the Main Square and you’ll reach a smaller square that houses the Primate’s Palace, the seat of the Mayor of Bratislava. Not only does it host the meetings of the City Council, but it is open to the public as a noteworthy tourist attraction and fine example of neoclassical architecture.
Throughout history, the famous Hall of Mirrors in the Primate’s Palace saw many historic events such as the signing of the Peace of Pressburg (Bratislava’s Old Name) in 1805, following the Battle of Austerlitz, that put an end to the Holy Roman Empire.
Snap a Pic of the Town Statues
Do not leave the Main Square without taking a photo with the statue of Napoleon’s soldier as he leans on a bench in a carefree, playful manner. His name is Hubert and he stayed in Bratislava and became a producer of sparkling wine after he fell in love with a local girl.
Such statues in human size are scattered across the old town and make the delight of visitors, thus be sure to spot the Man at Work as well as the Paparazzi and the Schone Naci. As with everything in Bratislava, they each have their own special legend/story which you can read here.
Stroll Hviezdozlav Square and Admire the Slovak National Theater
As your tour of the old town comes to an end, make sure to reserve enough time to stroll on the Hviezdozlav Square in front of the Slovak National Theater. This is a beautiful tree-lined avenue with shops and souvenir stalls and checking out what is going on there is one of the best attractions in Bratislava.
Cultural events take place on the centrally located podium, while two fountains run along the square. It is here that George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin gave speeches as they visited the city in 2005 as part of a summit.
Be Stunned by the Blue Church
Slovakia’s most famous Art Nouveau building is the Church of St Elizabeth, built at the beginning of the 20th century in Hungarian Secessionist style. A nice 15-20 minutes walk from the city center will get you there, passing through narrow streets lined with coffee houses and small shops.
The monument contrasts with everything else in the city and reminds us of Gaudi’s Barcelona, especially on sunny days with blue sky.
Visit the Slavin Memorial
Another off the beaten path attraction in Bratislava is the Soviet war memorial on the Slavin hill. It is connected to the military cemetery of 7000 Soviet soldiers who died liberating Bratislava at the end of World War II. Locals appreciate the quiet parks and surroundings which offer exquisite panoramic views of the city itself. A downhill walk will take you back to the center in about 15 minutes.
Take a Quick Trip to Devin Castle
From times immemorial, a settlement crowned the hilltop that oversees the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers. Located only 12 km away from Bratislava and easily reached by public transport or private three hour tour, Devin castle and the surrounding area are well worth half a day of your time.
Its geographical and strategic position made in an important stop on the ancient Amber road and a border point of the Kingdom of Hungary before the country’s integration in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Following its destruction by Napoleon’s armies in the 1800s, the castle has not been rebuilt. Its ruins, however, have become popular with Romantic poets from both Slovakia and Hungary, raising its status to that of national symbol.
Visitors nowadays are welcomed by very well marked paths and tours, as well as by several good traditional restaurants in the area. that’s why we included Devin Castle among our suggestions for day trips from Bratislava.
There’s more to Slovakia than Bratislava and more to Bratislava than a quick day trip, and we hope our list above has convinced you to spend a few days exploring this amazing city and its surroundings.
Take a Three Hour Tour of Bratislava
Want to see many of the sites mentioned in this article but don’t have a lot of time? Then an organized tour might be the perfect way to do it. This three hour guided tour leads you to many of the best attractions in Bratislava!
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Disclaimer – We have included a few handy little affiliate links in case any of our readers want to book a tour. We receive a small commission for any sales made, without any additional cost to you, our dear reader.