Are you looking for things to see and do in Bratislava? The capital city of Slovakia since the break-up of the Czechoslovak Republic on January 1st 1993, Bratislava is a jigsaw of east European history.
The Gothic old town area is full of ancient medieval architecture, cobbled streets and bright, wide alleyways.
Seek out Hungarian baroque-style palaces, old churches and the renaissance-style Bratislava Castle overlooking the city from its hillside location.
If your interest is post-war communist-style architecture, make your way to Petrzalka. Here you will find plenty of what were stark, rectangular apartment blocks built during the communist period.
Now, modernized and individually painted in attractive pastel shades, they sit in pleasant areas, with lush, green open spaces.
Stylish modern shopping centers, cafes, bars, restaurants and nightclubs have taken root, to provide all the facilities increasing visitor numbers expect during their stay.
If your interests lie in ancient architecture, churches and castles, it’s all here. If you want to learn about ‘panel houses’ and life under communism, you can.
Soak up the culture, and enjoy the walking, hiking and cycling trails through the beautiful countryside.
Sample the many Slovakian regional and international dishes in fabulous restaurants.
Enjoy a quiet drink in one of the many chic bars. Or let your hair down in a pumping beer hall.
If we have whetted your appetite to learn more about this magnificent city, read on for the best places to go, and 20 of the best things to see and do in Bratislava.
20 Best Things to Do in Bratislava
1. Hlavné Námestie, Bratislava’s Main Square
Time is often of the essence on a short two or three-day city break. If you’re staying in the old town area, drop your bags at the hotel and head for the main square.
Grab a terrace table at one of the many cafes and enjoy a coffee while you make your list of what you want to do in Bratislava.
Not only is the square the hub of Bratislava’s lively cafe culture, but is also awash with examples of magnificent 14th and 15th-century Gothic architecture, palaces, churches and castles.
Several of which we highlight in this blog. Even the square’s large fountain, known as Roland’s fountain, dates back to the mid-1500s, and was originally the town’s public water supply.
2. Visit the Old Town Hall and Museum of City History
Built during the 13th century, this Romanesque property was once owned by a local mayor before being transferred to the city.
Over time, the council acquired other properties, and the ancient town hall now comprises several old buildings and is a surprisingly attractive hodgepodge of Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, and Renaissance architecture.
The Gothic tower gives excellent views of the city. Inside, you can enjoy a tour of The Hall of the Extended Municipal Council, the Court House, The Period Rooms Museum and the Viticulture Museum, where you can sample the local wines.
3. Bratislava Castle, rebuilt in the sixties, with a history going back centuries
This magnificent fort has a recorded history dating from the 9th century. It is ideally situated overlooking the old town, and on a good day you can see across the Austrian and Hungarian borders.
In the 15th century, it was remodeled into a Gothic castle, and in the 16th century it became a Renaissance-style fortress.
Unfortunately, after a fire in 1811, it was left in ruins, and during WW2 received further damage. In the mid-1960s, the castle was finally rebuilt in typical Renaissance style.
The oldest surviving part of the original building is the Crown Tower, which dates to the 13th century, and also provides great views across the city.
Painted brilliant white and lit up overnight, it makes a spectacular evening sight illuminated against the skyline.
Tickets are required to enter the castle, but you can wander the gardens for free. It is one of the most popular attractions to see in Bratislava, so early booking is advised.
4. Do a little statue hunting and keep the kids busy
There are estimated to be over 100 statues and sculptures dotted around Bratislava. Except for one, which is silver, all the rest are bronze.
They can be found in the parks. In the streets. In shopping malls, squares and along the river bank. When it comes to Bratislavan statues, you will find the ordinary, extra-ordinary, and downright weird.
Look out for Cumil, a life-size sewage worker emerging from a manhole in the pavement. He can be found at the junction of Panská Street and Laurinská Street.
Mr ‘No-name,’ an older gent dressed in tails can be seen doffing his hat to all who pass by. He can be found on Sedlárska Street.
The paparazzi photographer, with his camera, can be seen spying around the corner of Radničná and Laurinská streets.
Then there’s the Napoleonic soldier, leaning on a park bench in the main square. Or the two girl skateboarders, resting on a working post box.
All are great for those selfies or a little fun photobombing, and the kids will love hunting around different areas trying to find them.
5. St Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava’s oldest and largest church
Rebuilt on the ruins of an old Romanesque church in 1291 when Bratislava became a town, this majestic Gothic cathedral was finally consecrated in 1452 and was the coronation church of Hungarian royalty for over 200 years from 1563.
To emphasize this honor, the spire is topped off with a 300kg gold-plated crown.
Nestling in the shadow of Bratislava castle to the west side of the old town. The cathedral interior has its altar, a statue of St Martin, three naves and four chapels dedicated to four saints.
6. Hviezdoslavovo Námestie, relaxing sightseeing at its best
Wherever you are in this compact old town area, bright, wide, tree-lined pedestrianised alleyways will invariably bring you to one of the large public squares.
Hviezdoslavovo Námestie is one such plaza, named after the Slovak poet Hviezdoslav, whose statue sits in the square.
On the way, the ambience and aroma from independent artisan shops, chic cafes, ice cream parlours, bars and eateries will entice you to part with your euros.
Hviezdoslavovo Námestie is also the centre of many of Bratislava’s cultural activities and is home to Bratislava’s Christmas Market from early December.
Around the square you will find various embassies, the University Library, the Slovak National Theatre, and the neo-baroque Reduta Palace, home to the Slovak Philharmonic.
7. Michael’s Gate, the last of the city’s four medieval gates
Of the four access gates to 13th century Bratislava city, Michael’s Gate is the only one still standing.
The gate was initially built in the 14th century and majorly refurbished in baroque-style in the 1750s, when the dome and decorative finial were added.
You can enter the gate tower which has a small medieval armaments museum inside, and a stairway to take you over 50 metres to the top floor.
You can take some great photographic views of the surrounding streets and alleys.
8. Eurovea Galleria, one of Bratislava’s newest shopping and leisure centres
A little retail therapy is always a welcome break from rushing around, visiting all the things you want to see in Bratislava.
A modern, stylish shopping and leisure centre sitting on the banks of the River Danube, Eurovea Galleria is the place to head for those souvenirs, mementoes, or a pair of new designer shades.
The complex is a mix of independent, high street and designer stores, bars and restaurants, hotels, businesses and apartments.
You will also find a public swimming pool, casino and cinema, and a pretty park for a stroll along the river.
9. Botanical Garden of the Comenius University
Bratislava is blessed with several large parks and gardens for those who love nature, gardening and the great outdoors, allowing people to get away from the bustling town and city centres.
If your interest goes deeper, Comenius University’s Botanical Gardens, located in the Karlova Ves district next to the old town area, is well worth a visit.
Established in 1942, the garden covers over six hectares.
The university maintains over 4,000 plant species, including over 120 species of rose, as well as cacti, orchids, tropical and subtropical palms and ferns, rhododendrons and azaleas.
The garden is open from the beginning of April until the end of October.
10. The Slavín War Memorial
Just 1.5m north of Bratislava’s old town and perched on a hilltop above the city, the Slavin War Memorial is the final resting place of over 6,000 Russian soldiers who died liberating the city from the Nazis in 1945.
Located in an affluent area of the city, with large detached mansions and several foreign embassies, work began in 1957 to construct the memorial.
It was completed in 1960 and declared a National Monument in 1961. The area also offers some excellent views overlooking the old town district.
Organised tours are available, or you can get there by taxi, hire car or trolley bus numbers 203 or 207 from Hodžovo námestie.
11. Put the Blue Church near the top of your things to see in Bratislava list
Approaching the Art Nouveau Church of St Elizabeth, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled upon the latest Disney castle film set.
Laying just east of the old town boundary, this pretty building is painted a beautiful pastel blue with white mouldings and blue glazed roof tiles.
Constructed in the early 1900s as a chapel for the local grammar school, it has become a well-known landmark throughout Slovakia. The interior is plain but pretty.
Pews are painted the same shade of blue as the exterior, but with gold leaf patterns. Above the altar, you will also find a painting of St Elizabeth distributing alms to the poor.
Admission to the interior is limited, so check visiting times.
12. Grassalkovich Palace, official residence of the Slovakian President
Situated on Hodžovo Square and built in 1760, this palace was initially constructed to hold various balls, parties and classical music concerts organised by the Habsburg royal court in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
During the 1939-45 war years, it became the seat of the President of the first Slovak Republic.
However, in 1950 it was taken over by the communists as an ‘activity centre’ for the city’s school children, and badly damaged during their time in residence.
Eventually, after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the city claimed it back, and extensive refurbishment was undertaken during the early 1990s.
It became the official home of Slovakia’s president in September 1996, with its gardens becoming a public park.
Today, although the president is no longer in residence, it is used to greet various heads of state and for ceremonies and other official functions.
If you visit at midday, you can watch the changing of the guard.
13. Most SNP Bridge, futuristic engineering from the 1970s
In the 1970s, with an increasing population, Bratislava began extensive infrastructure works, including a new major road and a new bridge to carry it over the Danube.
Completed in 1972, the UFO bridge opened with its official title of ‘The Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising.’ It still holds the world record for the longest bridge with a single tower and just one set of cables.
As you approach the bridge and look up at the tower, you could be looking up at a Martian that escaped from the set of George Orwell’s War of the Worlds, but this pylon is more than just a pylon.
Inside are fast lifts to whisk you up to the observation platform. If you want to stay a while, you can book a meal in the observatory’s restaurant and enjoy birds-eye views across the city.
14. Soviet and Post-Communist Era
Make your way to Petrzalka and other areas outside the Old Town and discover Bratislava´s post-war communist-style architecture.
Tours are also available. Travel in a retro and legendary 1970-1990s Škoda car and visit the Slavin Monument, a 1930s bunker line, abandoned factories, the former Iron Curtain border zone, the SNP bridge (UFO bridge), and buildings from the Communist-era.
You will learn about architectural styles known as Functionalism, Socialist Realism, and Brutalism.
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15. Bratislava Forest Park, a day for the kids to burn off that excess energy
If the kids are moaning about being dragged from pillar to post while you try to fit in everything you want to do in Bratislava, give them a day off. Bratislava Forest Park lies in the hills above the city, not far from the Slavin Memorial.
You can catch the 201 bus from the town centre and get dropped at the entrance to Kamzik Hill, a part of the Lesser Carpathian range.
The park is full of woods and forests, flora and fauna, walking, hiking and biking trails – and everybody’s go-to – The Kamzík TV Tower.
The tower is over 643ft tall, with the viewing platform over 1434ft above sea level.
The observation platform has a pleasant snack bar for a quick bite, or an a la carte revolving restaurant where you can dine while taking in the views.
Just a short walk from the tower is an open area where kids and adults can toboggan downhill in the snow. During the warmer months, they can use the dry run track, riding toboggans fitted with wheels.
If that’s not enough, there is a treetop ropewalk and log cabins selling snacks and drinks.
For the walkers and hikers, the trails are generally well signed and vary from easy to hard.
16. Visit some Museums
Are you an ardent Museum-goer, here are a few you may want to see in Bratislava
- The Museum of City History – Radničná 1 (The old townhall)
- Period Rooms Museum – Radničná 1 (The old townhall)
- Museum of Jewish Culture – Židovská 17
- Slovak National Gallery – Ľudovíta Štúra nám
- Bratislava Transport Museum – ul Šancová 1a
- Slovak National Museum – Vajanského nábr 2
- Museum of Clocks – Židovská 3
- Museum of Pharmacy – Michalská 26
If museums and other cultural attractions are at the top of your things to see and do in Bratislava, consider a Bratislava City Card.
They can be purchased online or on arrival, offering free public transport and entrance to many cultural attractions.
Significant discounts are also available to venues such as cafes, restaurants, sports venues, swimming pools, shops and stores.
17. Primate’s Palace, one of Slovakia’s most impressive classical buildings
Located at Primaciálne Square, this magnificent palace was built between 1778 and 1781 and was the home of Cardinal Jozef Batthyányi.
Statues and vases adorn the roofline, and ornate pillars and balcony guard the main entrance.
Period furniture adorns the five rooms, each named after the colour of the walls. The Hall of Mirrors is a must-visit, as are the six 17th-century tapestries that were woven in England.
Lost over the years, they were rediscovered during major reconstruction work in 1903 and put back on display.
Another connection to England is the fountain depicting St George on horseback, slaying the dragon and saving the damsel. The fountain sits in the inner courtyard of the palace.
18. Devin Castle, where Slovakia meets Austria
Just 10km west of Bratislava, Devín Castle sits on a 200-metres high cliff-top where the Rivers Danube and Morava join to form the border with Austria.
With a history dating back BC, it is one of Slovakia’s oldest castle ruins and a big local attraction with Slovakians from across the country.
In 1809 the castle was almost totally destroyed by French troops, and in 1961 was declared a Historical Landmark.
Access is easy from the city centre with organised trips available, or by hire car, bus, a river cruise or, if you’re feeling energetic, by cycle. The extensive bus/coach terminus and car park is set just below the castle ruins.
On the edge of the car park is a hotel with a restaurant open to non-residents and a smaller café selling snacks or more substantial meals.
A permanent exhibition chronicling the castle’s history from the 13th – 20th centuries, and views from the top of the castle as far as Vienna and the Alps on a good day, make it a trip not to be missed.
19. Stroll the Danube riverbank
The more hectic the itinerary, the more we appreciate a little downtime and time to relax and recharge the batteries. If this is you, then consider a stroll along the Danube. If you’re in the old town, the river bank is just a few metres from Hviezdoslav’s Square.
As you stroll the wide promenade, with separate lanes for walkers, cyclists and skateboarders, you’ll pass statues, hotels and restaurants on the bank, with trees and copious amounts of greenery in between, providing a pleasant rural effect.
Private cruisers and tour boats will glide quietly past on the water, with floating bars and eateries tied up to the bank for you to stop off for a drink or snack.
As you stroll the promenade, the River Park Complex will come up on your left.
A retail park full of leisure facilities, restaurants, bars, shops and stores, where you can take five to decide whether to go further or spend a little time on the grassy riverbank.
20. Cruises on the Danube, sometimes it’s nice to lay back and enjoy the views
Finally, if you want to experience as much of Bratislava and its surrounding countryside as possible in a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere, a river cruise could be the way to do it.
With various options available, you could cruise to Devin Castle in one direction, or Čunovo in the other, with a two-hour break to do a little exploring.
Evening dinner cruises are also available to make your break more romantic. Or party boat cruises for small groups of 5 to 13 with music, snacks and drinks.
Hopefully, this, our choice of 20 of the best things to see and do in Bratislava, will help you discover what it is that makes this stately city, and it’s warm and friendly peoples, such a shining light, in this increasingly popular area of ‘New Europe.’