Bratislava is a charming city and has enough attractions to keep a visitor busy for a couple of days. Visit the place before mass tourism invades the city and destroys its quaint medieval charm
Many of my friends laughed when I revealed my intention to visit the Slovakian capital city of Bratislava for a day or two. Most of them said it is a boring and monotonous town with not much to do and explore. Notwithstanding the negative review, we went ahead and decided to break the journey from Prague to Budapest and make a brief halt in Bratislava.
Though not as popular as its ‘bigger’ neighbours such as Vienna, Prague and Budapest, the city has a unique charm of its own and has enough attractions to keep a visitor busy for a couple of days. With mass tourism yet to arrive in a big way, it is the right time to visit this scam free city, soak in the local culture and enjoy its quaint medieval charm.
Things to see/do:
Old Town: Never have I seen a historic centre as compact as the one in Bratislava. Easy to navigate, you can walk through the old town in 3-4 hours. Some of the important buildings and areas include the Primate’s Palace, Town Hall, Old Town square, Michael’s Gate, Slovak National Theatre, Presidential Palace, Trinity Church, St Martin’s Cathedral and the Bratislava Castle. Apart from these there are many other palaces and churches to be found on the various alleys across the main square.
Bratislava castle and St Martin’s cathedral were closed due to some restoration work, however the terrace of the castle is open which affords excellent aerial view of the city.
Museums and Galleries: Bratislava has a number of museums and galleries showcasing the glorious Slovak history and culture. Two of the more important ones are: Slovak National Museum (www.snm.sk) and Slovak National Gallery (www.sng.sk) .
Novy Most (New Bridge) and the River beach: This cable stayed bridge across the Danube River with a flying saucer shaped ‘UFO’ restaurant at one end, is one of the most important landmark of Bratislava. Once finished with the Old Town, make it a point to walk across the bridge, the pedestrian’s passage being under the car lanes. Take an elevator to the top of the ‘UFO’ which has an observation deck, restaurant and bars. The observation deck is open from 10:00 to 23:00 and admission charges are 6.50 Euros, free if you have booked a table in the restaurant.
Just below the UFO there is also a River beach (free admission) which is usually open from June to September every year. There is a restaurant and bar where you can relax, enjoy the river scenery and marvel at the spectacular views of the city and the castle. Every Friday and Saturday evening, live music is also played to make the evening even more entertaining.
Bratislava Zoo (Mlynska dolina 1; +421 26542 0985; www.zoobratislava.sk) is the ideal place to spend some time especially if your travelling with young children. Plenty of animal and bird species can be found here, we especially liked the White tiger, orang-utans and the chimpanzees. My son had a great time in the Dinopark, one of the biggest attractions of the Zoo. Statues of dinosaurs of different types and sizes can be found here, they even move and make sounds to make it appear realistic.
Opening hours 9 am – 6 pm during summers (April-October) and 10 am – 3 pm during winters (November-March). Entry tickets for adults and children(Age 3-15) during summers are 4.30 Euro and 2.70 Euro respectively, while in winters it is 3.30 Euro and 2.00 Euro. Children under 3 years of age are admitted free.
Boat Trips: A number of cruise options are available from Bratislava, just sit back, relax and enjoy the view of Danube’s natural beauty. We took the Bratislava round trip cruise (4 Euro) which lasted for 45 minutes covering the area between the five bridges of the city. Seated on the top deck, we could catch a glimpse of most of the attractions of the city. Light refreshments were also available at an extra charge.
Another popular cruise is the trip to the Devin castle (5.50 Euro), close to the Slovakia—Austria border. The total duration of the trip is 4 hours, with a 2 hour stopover at Devin where tourists can explore the various permanent exhibitions at the castle. Regular cruises are also available to the nearby capital cities of Vienna and Budapest. Return tickets for Vienna and Budapest are 33 Euro and 99 Euro respectively.
Toy Train: Known locally as ‘Presporacik’, a leisurely ride in this environment friendly vehicle is a must for every visitor to Bratislava. Most of the tours start near the Slovak National Theatre and multilingual commentary is also available, just make sure that you board the coach of your preferred language.
We took the combination of ‘Old town and Castle tour’ as it saved us the energy sapping climb to the castle. Priced at 10 Euro, the vehicle chugged past the churches and palaces of the old town and finally reached the terrace of the Castle. The castle was closed due to restoration work but the terrace offered nice and refreshing view of the town and the Danube river banks. After a halt of 15-20 minutes, the vehicle continued on its journey back to the National Theatre.
Where to eat:
Normally we do not prefer restaurants located in the heavily touristy parts of the old town, but Bratislava was an exception. We tried the Roland Restaurant (Hlavni namesti 5; www.rolandcaffe.sk) , located in the heart of the Old town square and were surprised by the wide range of dishes available at affordable prices. The ambience was good, the settings perfect for a romantic evening against the backdrop of the old clock tower and the fountains. Main course meals are available from 10-12 euros.
How can you leave the city without dining in the iconic UFO restaurant (Novy most, Tel +421262520300; email firstname.lastname@example.org ; website www.u-f-o.com/sk) . I was a bit reluctant but my wife was adamant to sky dine, we took the elevator which whisked us to the 94 metre restaurant in no time. 3 course meals are available from 30 Euros, the menu is dominated by Mediterranean and Asian dishes. The view from the top was fantastic and the overall experience was worth the money spent.
Casino-cafe Reduta (Medena 3, Bratislava; +421 2544 32021; www.casinos.sk ; Opening hours 15:00 to 04:00) is the ideal place for people interested in trying their luck at affordable prices. Entry is free and minimum bets can be placed for as low as 2-3 Euros. Housed in a historic building originally intended to serve as a granary, the casino is also served by a bar and restaurant offering a variety of dishes and drinks.
Where to stay:
We stayed in Hotel Kyjev (Rajska 2, Bratislava) located in the centre of Bratislava and just 5 minutes' walk from the Historical town centre. Double rooms are available for around 40 Euros, inclusive of breakfast. Wireless internet is available free of charge in the rooms and the ground floor lobby also has internet enabled computers for the use of guests. The top floors of the hotel offer panoramic views of the town. Tesco supermarket is also located in the same block which is quite convenient for buying drinks/water and various other food articles.
The rooms however need some maintenance to keep up the high standards it maintained in the 70s and 80s. The breakfast was delicious and quite filling except for the juices which were diluted to a large extent.
Devin Hotel (Riecna 4, Bratislava) is another excellent hotel located close to the Old Town and the Danube river. The Old town, Slovak National Theatre and St Martin’s Cathedral are all within walking distance from this stylish hotel. Double rooms are available for around 90 Euros inclusive of breakfast and all the rooms have mini-bar, Wi-Fi, LCD TV and air-conditioning.