Is Bratislava worth visiting?

Travelers in Vienna, Prague or Budapest often ask “is Bratislava worth visiting?”, and I only reply with one word: absolutely! Gorgeous architecture and no crowds, it doesn’t get better! – Experiencing the Globe #Bratislava #Slovakia #TravelPhotography #IndependentTravel #SoloFemaleTravel #BucketList #Architecture #ArtNoveau #Brutalism #ManAtWork #SchoneNaci #Petrzalka #UFObridge #BlueChurch

Many times I’ve heard people wondering why visit Bratislava when you can spend more time in Vienna, Budapest or Prague. What they don’t know is that the Slovak capital is the perfect place to see a beautifully conserved medieval city without the crowds of the Western European capitals. It also has stunning architecture –from Art Nouveau to Brutalism– and a series of endearing and quirky sculptures all over town, which give it a special personality. So, is Bratislava worth visiting? I’d say absolutely!

Travel is only glamorous in retrospect’ read a painted wall of the hostel I stayed during my first visit to Bratislava. I stopped for a minute to fully grasp the concept, because I’ve never thought about it like that, but, hell, how much truth it held (and what a travel lesson it taught me!). After a miserable walk from the bus station in a cold and dark evening in the middle of winter, I was trying to get some feeling back to my frozen toes. I was in fact miserable, but I knew I was going to have fond memories of the trip. Because when you think back, you idealize and completely forget about the crappy times.

Even when you’re cold, scared, sad, or feeling lonely, questioning why you’re not in the comfort of your bed, after having a hot shower and a hearty meal, it dawns on you. It’s because comfort might make your heart warm, but adventure makes it beat. Seeing the world makes you feel alive. Being too comfortable becomes uncomfortable.

Misery was quickly replaced by joy, and my warmed heart helped to warm my feet too. So I headed out to explore. Slovakia was nothing like I expected. I think it’s a completely underrated place. Probably because people visit after Vienna, Prague or Budapest, and Bratislava can’t compete with such grand cities. But what it lacks in splendor it compensates with rawness, in a good way. It’s a smaller place, with beautiful architecture too, and full of little treasures.

That first trip was back in 2015, and I just re-visited in 2020. This time the winter was mild, so no misery, only good times. Yay!

Michalská street and St. Michael's Gate, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
Michalská street in the Old Town

Basic facts

Bratislava is the capital of the Slovak Republic, better known as Slovakia. It borders Austria and Hungary, which makes it the only national capital that borders two countries. These countries have a different name for the Slovak capital: Pozsony in Hungarian and Pressburg in German.

It’s inhabited by less than half a million people. It has a rather mild climate, with an average temperature of 21 °C (70 °F) in the warmest month and −1 °C (30 °F) in the coldest month.

It’s part of Schengen area and the Eurozone, which means that if you go overland from any of it’s neighbors you won’t even need to show your passport (you actually won’t even notice when you cross the border!).

Why visit Bratislava?

Art & Architecture

Divadlo Bratislavsky Gasparko, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe

The sculptures

Playful sculptures were what caught my attention first. The city center has several real sized statues, waiting to surprise you while passing by. I’ve read about the Man at Work (that’s how it made it to my travel experiences bucket list), so I was on a quest to find him. It wasn’t hard. After being beheaded a couple of times by reckless drivers, the city placed an original sign showing his location. 

Čumil, his actual name, has many ‘explanations’. Some say it’s a satire, a way to describe the laziness of Slovaks. Others see him as an anonymous hero, like the many men that helped with the reconstruction of the city. It’s also rumored that this man is just trying to sneak a peek under the ladies’ dresses. Probably they were all present in the mind of the sculpture, Viktor Hulík. What we do know it that a little statue can say a lot about the character of a place. You can find him at the junction of Laurinská and Panská streets.

Man at Work Bratislava Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
Found him! : )
'Man at Work' Bratislava Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
What are you thinking about, Čumil?

Another charming sculpture is Schöne Náci, a mid-20th century character (actually named Ignác Lamár) that was inspired by his grandfather, a famous clown, to bring happiness to people in the streets. Wearing a tailcoat and tipping his hat at the passersby, when a lady headed his way, he’d greet her with an “I kiss your hand”, which he would say in Slovak, German and Hungarian. Another legend states that he lost his mind because his love for a woman was never reciprocated. That’s why he was trying to find a new love on the streets. In any case, now the sculpture is a testament to his whimsical personality. He is immortalized on Sedlárska street.

Schöne Náci, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
“I kiss your hand”

A quirky one is The Witch (Bosorka in Slovak). The artist created her as a monument to all the women who were accused of witchcraft in medieval times. Her hair blows wild and a bunch of birds accompany her, while staring. She lives in the garden below the Bratislava Castle.

The Witch, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
Bosorka and her birds

As for street art in Bratislava, the trend is just starting to develop. Still, there’s a few cool murals around the city center that are worth looking.

Brutalism

There are several examples of Brutalist architecture in Bratislava, as you’ll find them in every other Eastern European country. Ask the locals and they will point you to the “Kukurica” and the Istropolis in Nové Mesto (the modern part of the city). But you don’t need to go away from the Old Town to find examples.

The most visited one is the UFO bridge (I’ll come back to it and its unique features on the next section, as it’s considered a must see in the city).

My personal favorites are the Slovensky rozhlas, the Slovak Radio and TV building, a reversed pyramid made of steel; and the Druzba, the Union fountain, a concrete pool with an impressive stainless fountain shaped in a very brutal interpretation of a linden flower –which is a symbol of peace, luck and happiness in Slavic mythology.

Slovak Radio and TV building, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
Union fountain, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe

If you want to see an entire neighborhood built with a Socialist ideology, go across the Danube river into Petržalka. It’s the biggest suburban area in Slovakia, full of paneláky apartment blocks –pre-fab and low-rise concrete apartment blocks. Notoriously, the first post-Communist President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, called them “undignified rabbit hutches, slated for demolition”.

You would expect them to be grey and dull, but during the 1990’s people started to bring color to the place. And color did they bring! Nowadays Petržalka, known as Bronx of Bratislava, is a vibrant neighborhood, a symbol of the city vivacity and artistic culture.

UFO bridge and Petržalka, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
UFO bridge and Petržalka in the background

Art Nouveau

The most prominent example of Art Nouveau in the Slovak capital is the Blue Church (more about it on the must see section). The streets around it are also dotted with buildings in this style. Stroll around Bezručova, Gajova or Jesenského to discover special constructions, including a huge gymnasium.

What I haven’t heard of, and I stumbled upon during my last visit, is that the streets that extend from the Presidential Palace up towards Slavín are too sprinkled with stunning Art Nouveau. Walk through Kuzmányho and Tolstého streets and you’ll see beautiful grand palaces turn Embassies, hotels and banks. If you pay attention, you’ll even run into a Buddhist temple!

Buddhist temple, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe

What you must see in Bratislava

Bratislava Castle

The castle is the symbol of the city. It sits on top of a rocky hill that’s part of the Little Carpathians, overlooking the Danube river. There’re records of the hill being inhabited from as early as the late Stone Age. From a stone fortress it was turned into a Gothic palace, later rebuilt in Renaissance style, until its last transformation, in the 17th century, when it got the baroque style we see today. It houses now the Slovak National Museum.

Castle Bratislava Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
From the city center looking at the Castle, in a foggy and cold day on my first visit to Bratislava
Bratislava Castle, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
Much nicer weather during my second visit!

Staré Mestro

The Old Town is a well-preserved medieval city center, home of most of the landmarks of Bratislava:

  • St. Martin’s Cathedral, a Gothic church from the 15th century.
  • The Old Town Hall, the former seat of the city and nowadays the Bratislava City Museum.
  • The Primartial Palace, an 18th century Classicist palace which serves as the seat of the Mayor of Bratislava.
  • St. Michael’s Gate, the only surviving gate of the 14th century’s city fortification system.
  • Laurinská Brána, the site where another city gate used to be, but was destroyed in the 18th century.
St. Michael's Gate, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
St. Michael’s Gate

Blue church

Even though its color defines it, this quirky Art Nouveau church is named St. Elizabeth, because its consecrated to Elisabeth of Hungary, daughter of Andrew II, who grew up in Bratislava Castle (when it was called Pressburg Castle). It was designed by the architect Ödön Lechner, and built at the beginning of the 20th century, following the Hungarian Secessionist fashion.

Beside its bright blue color, what makes this church unique are the details of its façade, such as mosaics and majolicas. The interior is also a delightful surprise, decorated with light pastel shades of blue.

Blue Church, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
Blue church, Bratislava – Experiencing the Globe

Presidential palace

Nowadays the seat and residence of the President of the Slovak Republic, this Rococo/late Baroque edifice was built as a summer palace for the Croatian-Hungarian aristocrat Antal Grassalkovich in the 18th century, from whom it got its name: Grassalkovich Palace (Grasalkovičov palác in Slovak).

Presidential palace, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe

Slavín

On a hill overlooking Bratislava Castle you’ll find the one of the largest war memorials in Europe. The tall monument dominates the city skyline. It’s the burial ground of almost seven thousand soldiers of the Soviet army who died during the liberation of Bratislava from German occupying forces in World War II.

On top of an obelisk stands a Soviet soldier hoisting up a flag and crushing a swastika with his foot. 

The views of the city from above are absolutely worth the walk uphill, so think active holidays and add it to your itinerary.

Slavín, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe

UFO bridge and Observation Deck

Most Slovenského národného povstania (Most SNP) means Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising, but due to its flying saucer shape is commonly known as the UFO Bridge (you might hear it also as Nový Most –New Bridge).

A remarkable architectural feature is that the bridge has no pillars in the river, standing in steel ropes only.

The Flying saucer itself houses an observation deck at a height of 95 meters (312 ft) and a restaurant aptly called UFO. Both are accessible using a lift located in the east pillar. The elevator costs 7.40€, and it allows you to go up twice –during day and night time. The fee is deducted from your bill if you dine at the restaurant, which serves both traditional Slovak and international cuisine.

The observation deck gives you stunning views of the Old Town and the Castle, as well as of Petržalka neighborhood, and the valley of the Danube. It even claims to have a visibility of over 100km (62mi).

Tower Bratislava Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
The fog is giving an even more UFO-like look to the UFO bridge

Pamätaj

On the site of the former Neolog Synagogue (demolished in 1969) there’s a Holocaust Memorial that commemorate the 105,000 victims from Slovakia.

The memorial is a black wall imprinted with the silhouette of the synagogue, and a sculpture that reads “Zachor” (remember in Hebrew] and “Pamätaj” (Remember in Slovak), topped by a Star of David.

Pamätaj, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe

Hviezdoslav’s Square

It’s a simple but big pedestrian square, with a statue of the most important poet in the Slovak history, Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav. The most important buildings around it are the Slovak National Theater and the Slovak State Philharmonic.

Slovak National Theater, Bratislava, Slovakia – Experiencing the Globe
Slovak National Theater

Pro tip: If you want to discover a different side of the city, take a Soviet Era and Post-Communist tour or a night walking tour with drink at Observatory Bar.

Practical information

How to get to Bratislava

Flying into Bratislava

Smart Wings, Wizz Air, Corendon Airlines, Tunisair, Ryanair, Pobeda, FlyDubai, Air Cairo, Cyprus Airways and Wizz Air all have direct flights to Bratislava Airport

From the airport to the city, take bus N°61. In about 25 minutes you’ll be in the main train station, Hlavná Stanica. From there either walk to the city (15-20 minutes) or take bus N°93 or tram N°1.

If you’re flying into Vienna International Airport, you’ll be able to catch a bus to Bratislava directly, without having to go to the Austrian capital first. Several buses going from Vienna to Bratislava stop at the Austrian airport.

Search and compare flight connections here.

How to go from Vienna to Bratislava

The cities are so close by that you could actually walk, if you had a day to spare. There’s only 55km/34mi apart (about 80km/50mi on the road).

The most picturesque way to get to Bratislava is by ferry. The Twin City Liner will take you on a journey of about 1 hour 15 minutes on the Danube. This is the most expensive alternative, and it only runs from April to October.

The eco-friendliest way to go is taking a train. They depart from Wien Hauptbahnhof and arrive to Bratislava Hlavná Stanica, with a journey of a bit over an hour.

The cheapest option is by bus. There are several lines going almost all the time (at least 4-5 departures per hour). The ride will take anywhere between an hour and fifteen minutes to 2 hours, depending on the traffic.

Pro tip: I checked the prices of the tickets at the station and they were more expensive than buying them online. Check Omio to see the latest offers, but expect prices from as little as 5€

How to go from Budapest to Bratislava

There’s a train from Budapest-Nyugati, but it only goes every 4 hours and you need to change trains in Vác. The whole journey takes 2 and a half hours, and it’s a bit more expensive than the bus. It is the most environmentally friendly choice, though.

Even with that said, the easiest option is to take a bus. Several lines go through this route, like FlixBus, RegioJet, Eurolines and SlovakLines. The journey will take between 2 and a half to 3 hours. Look at Omio to get the best prices.

Pro tip: if taking the bus, mind that Budapest has 2 international bus stations. Try to go to Könyves Kálmán körút, because it’s much easier to navigate than Kelenföld. The buses stop at the latter in the streets around the train station, and there’s no one to ask for info about your departure. The former is a normal bus station, with platform numbers.

How to go from Prague to Bratislava

The train from Prague central station (Hlavni Nadrazi) takes approximately 4 hours, and there’s 8 to 16 departures daily, depending on the season.

As for buses, they’re slightly cheaper and the journey lasts for an average of 4 and a half hours. There are plenty of connections throughout the day, as many lines have Bratislava as a stop in their route from Prague to Budapest.

Check and compare fares in Omio, to get the best option for you.

Where to stay in Bratislava?

The city is affordable, so you’ll easily find accommodation for any budget you’re in. Check Booking.com latest offers for a hotel. Personally, in both my visits to the city I’ve stayed in hostels, which I booked through Hostel World.

What else to visit in Slovakia?

If you only have one extra day, I’d recommend that you take a tour to Devin Castle or to the Carpathian wine region. If you have more time to explore Slovakia, don’t miss the Tatra mountains. If you’re looking for another city break, add Košice to your itinerary!


Like this post? Pin it!

Travelers in Vienna, Prague or Budapest often ask “is Bratislava worth visiting?”, and I only reply with one word: absolutely! Gorgeous architecture and no crowds, it doesn’t get better! – Experiencing the Globe #Bratislava #Slovakia #TravelPhotography #IndependentTravel #SoloFemaleTravel #BucketList #Architecture #ArtNoveau #Brutalism #ManAtWork #SchoneNaci #Petržalka #UFObridge #BlueChurch
Travelers in Vienna, Prague or Budapest often ask “is Bratislava worth visiting?”, and I only reply with one word: absolutely! Gorgeous architecture and no crowds, it doesn’t get better! – Experiencing the Globe #Bratislava #Slovakia #TravelPhotography #IndependentTravel #SoloFemaleTravel #BucketList #Architecture #ArtNoveau #Brutalism #ManAtWork #SchoneNaci #Petržalka #UFObridge #BlueChurch
Travelers in Vienna, Prague or Budapest often ask “is Bratislava worth visiting?”, and I only reply with one word: absolutely! Gorgeous architecture and no crowds, it doesn’t get better! – Experiencing the Globe #Bratislava #Slovakia #TravelPhotography #IndependentTravel #SoloFemaleTravel #BucketList #Architecture #ArtNoveau #Brutalism #ManAtWork #SchoneNaci #Petržalka #UFObridge #BlueChurch
By Coni from Experiencing the Globe

22 thoughts on “Is Bratislava worth visiting?”

  1. I’ll get there one day, especially having read your article. I love how the city’s history is so clearly on display with its architecture and art work. Thank you for sharing your experiences, it’s definitely inspired me to take a trip to Slovakia.

    1. I’m happy I’m giving you a bit of wanderlust! Whenever you go to Vienna, Budapest or Prague, just add a few days to see a bit of Slovakia. You won’t regret it!

  2. You seem to be a person who does not often choose beaten pathways. It is interesting that you picked Bratislava to visit as opposed to other popular places like Vienna or Prague. Bratislava’s old town of Staré Mestro reminds me of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico to the extent that it seems to hold a lot of interesting history waiting to be explored. I am impressed by the your philosophical statement that “Being too comfortable becomes uncomfortable”.

    1. What a sweet message! Thanks Ingrid! You read me right. I love to go off the beaten path, I enjoy discovering new things more than anything! And that makes me the kind of person that doesn’t enjoy being too comfortable, as weird as that sounds.
      I haven’t been to Puerto Rico yet, but old towns all around Caribbean had that unexplored vibe. Most people go straight to the resorts, and miss out on the amazing treasures that are waiting to be discovered.

    1. Thanks so much for your words, Leigh! I love that you felt that way, because that’s exactly what I want to accomplish with my blog 💕 Please let me know when you go!

  3. Aditi Wardhan Singh

    Yeah, I wouldn’t go out of my way to look for something but if i find it , I would think of you for sure. Great pictures. Such wonderful memories

    1. Every trip is special on its own way, and you always learn something. That quote made that trip. It got me to understand that even the bad parts can be enjoyed, even if it’s only in retrospect…

  4. Wow! It looks so cute and quaint! you describe it so well, and the man at work is pretty cool! Hopefully one day I can travel and witness great places like this one, thank you.

    1. Thanks so much! I’m so happy to be spreading the wanderlust! 😊
      For a European capital city, it’s really cheap. Especially if you’re going from Vienna or Prague, you’ll feel like a millionaire! You can eat for a few euros, and have a nice beer for less than 1€!
      Please let me go how the trip goes. Happy travels!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe

Let's go round the world in 201 experiences! Get tons of tips and inspiration in your own inbox.

Check our Privacy policy

No spam. Just travel.