Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia
Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and is located in the western part of the country. It’s really close to both Austria and Hungary. Slovakia was part of the Austrian Hungarian empire until the end of World War I in 1918. When Austria-Hungary was on the losing side of the war the minority countries in the empire could break free. This is what Slovakia, together with the Czechs did. Because of their similarities in language and more they created an alliance and the independent country called Czechoslovakia. Except for during World War II (when Bratislava was German) they continued to be one country until 1993 when they dissolved the alliance and became Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Bratislava airport is about 30-60 minutes away from the city. There are very cheap local buses going there. I haven’t tried it myself though.
Since Bratislava is so close to Austria and Vienna you can easily fly to Vienna and then travel by bus from there. I took a Flixbus from Bratislava to Vienna airport which was really simple and fast. The bus stop was in the centre of the town and the trip took about 1 hour.
I really recommend going on a free walking tour when you’re here. There are several different tours, some covering the old history and some the more modern history.
The old town
The old town of Bratislava was in my opinion very nice. It wasn’t very big, but filled with nice houses and lots of restaurants.
St. Michaels gate
One of the most famous sights is the St. Michaels gate. It’s the only one of the old city gates that’s still standing. It was built around year 1300.
You can go inside the gate and look at the view…
Old Town Hall
On the main square in old town Bratislava stands the Old Town Hall. The yellow tower of the building was part of the old town wall. The building was used for administration in the city, but also had three other main functions. It served as a mint, an armory and a prison. Nowadays it houses the Bratislava city museum which is dedicated to the city history and also contains exhibitions for armory and paintings.
On the tower there’s an old inscription that once said “February 1850 Bratislava”. Now you can only see the 5 and the 0. It’s a remembrance to the very cold month that made some parts of the river running through the city freeze, causing difficulties for the water to pass through. Because of this the river had too much water which flooded the city. The people in the city weren’t so happy about it cause it flooded all of their basements, where they stored their alcohol…
If you look closely you can see that there’s a cannon ball stuck on the wall. It is a memory from the days when Napoleon Bonaparte in 1809 was on his way to Russia and bombarded the city and castle. Many buildings in Bratislava were heavily damaged by this.
And of course you can visit the tower and step out on the small balcony to get a view over the square and Bratislava castle.
St. Martin’s Cathedral
St Martin’s church is the biggest church in the old town and has a lot of history. It was built during almost two centuries, from 1311-1510. This was a very important place for royals and many have been crowned here. All over the old town you can see small crowns on the ground. These marks the royal way that was used during coronations. It starts by Bratislava castle and leads to the cathedral. After the coronation the newly crowned continued through the center of old town and celebrated with the people.
On top of the church there’s a golden crown too. Inside the small crown there’s a small ceiled box with old coronation documentation.
By the small square just next to the big church there’s a black marble wall with a painting of the Bratislava Jewish Synagogue that used to be here. When the communists had the power in Czechoslovakia they decided that Prague would be the historical centre and that Bratislava would be the industrial capital of the country. So during the 1960s och 1970s the city industrialized and the whole town suffered from it. They destroyed the synagogue and more parts of the old town. That’s why the old town of Bratislava nowadays is relatively small.
This place also serves as a Holocaust memorial and remembrance for the loss of the Jewish town. 60 000 people from Bratislava were sent to the concentration camps. On the monuments on this memorial there are several smaller stones that people have put there. It’s a Jewish tradition that instead of flowers put stones on graves.
The most famous statue in Bratislava has to be “Man at Work”. It was built in 1997 and is located on one of the busy streets in the old town. There has been many theories on this statue, some say it represents a lazy Slovak worker or a man peeping under women’s skirts. But he is just supposed to be a nice representation of the good vibe on the Bratislava promenade.
Another statue is the silver man called “Schön Nazi”. This statue is actually based on a real person who used to live in Bratislava. He was supposedly a very unlucky and poor man. After his father had died he inherited a top hat and shoes, which was basically all he had. So he started to walk around in town greeting people in Slovak, Hungarian and German. His name was Ignazi and people started to call him “Schön Nazi” because he was so nice. He then started making his living by helping people with small tasks like furniture repair and bringing coal. From the tasks he could either get a meal or a small financial reward.
…or “the long square” that I call it. It’s a lovely square in the center of the old town that stretches about 400 m. The square is lined with trees and several historical buildings. In the northeastern end stands The Slovak national theatre.
A stone throw from there is the Radisson Blue Carlton Hotel. A hotel that has a very important role in the square’s history and the Bratislava people are proud of. Many famous people throughout history has visited, like the famous writer Jules Verne, Albert Einstein, Alfred Nobel, Thomas Edison, Theodore Roosevelt, George W Bush and Vladimir Putin.
Along the square there are some souvenir shops and also a statue of the man who gave name to the square. In the end of the square there’s a fountain with some pillars. It is a nice looking memorial to commemorate the series of devastating plagues that struck the city during the 17th century. More than 25% of the city died.
The Bratislava castle
The Bratislava castle has a very nice location on top of a hill in the middle of the city and just next to the river Danube. The castle has a lot of history and has undergone many rebuilds and constructions during the years. It has played its role as a fortress protecting the city and has stood up against many historical armies, like the Mongolian army and the army of Napoleon. Two years after Napoleon and his army bombarded the castle it was struck by a massive fire. All that was left after it was an empty stone shell, nothing at all inside. The following decades there were many discussions on what to do with the castle. When the communists had the power they actually wanted to destroy it, but after a popular vote it was saved. In 1950 it had a major construction and many details of the castle changed. It wasn’t until 2011 it got the color white again, which matches the original design more.
Nowadays the castle houses a small museum. I didn’t go in cause I heard from others that it was a bit disappointing. There are interesting parts in the castle, but those are used for political purposes and only open to the public a couple of times a year.
It also has a small garden..
From the hill that the castle is standing on you get a view over the southern parts of the city and all the way to Austria in the west. But the first thing that catches your eye is the bridge with the UFO-tower. From there you get a very nice view…
On the other side of the river is the tower called UFO. It is supposed to host the most expensive restaurant in the city. But apparently the cooking and drinks are just mediocre, but has very nice views. The good thing is that you can visit the observation deck without a reservation in the restaurant. For only 7 euros you can take the elevator up 95 m and get a stunning view of the city.
The castle and St. Martin’s church really sticks out when you look out over the old town.
The view to the old town is very nice, but it’s really interesting to watch the view to the opposite side too. The very colorful houses that looks like Lego was all grey when they were finished in the 1970s. They were built during the massive urbanization that took place during the communist era. Building the future suburbs like this with identical houses was the cheapest solution for the government. As Bratislava was transforming into an industrial city many workers came to the city to work and needed somewhere to live.
This wind park is actually in Austria.
When the sun sets the view from the UFO-tower gets even better.
Yes, I can recommend Bratislava for your next weekend getaway. :)