How to Spend One Day in Bratislava
After our day in Czechia, we headed to our next country – Slovakia. With an overnight stop at a lovely peaceful lake near the border, we headed south to Slovakia’s capital city for the day – Bratislava. For a capital city, it’s pretty small – and most of the sights are all within walking distance of each other near the Old Town. A lot of tourists visit on a day trip from Vienna, as it’s only an hour or so bus trip from Austria’s capital, or on Danube River Cruises. It’s actually small enough that you can see most of the main sights if you know where you’re headed! So here’s my quick quide of how to spend one day in Bratislava.
We parked the van at a carpark across the Danube River and took a lovely walk into the Old Town, stopping by the Hviezdoslavovo Námestie Square on the way. Lined with restaurants, souvenir shops and at the end of it, the Slovak National Theatre. We then headed over towards the Old Town and castle past St Martin’s Cathedral before heading up the hill to Bratislava Castle.
After getting lost in the Old Town, we headed up and up and up the huge hill, finally making it to the entrance of Bratislava Castle. It towers over the entire city, and you can see it from pretty much everywhere as you drive or walk around the city. The original castle located in the same place was built in the 9th Century and over the years has been destroyed, re-built and renovated to be what it is today.
Back in the 10th Century, Bratislava became part of the Hungarian State where it housed the crown jewels for over 200 years, and was called Pressburg Castle. In the 15th Century, the castle was built in a gothic style, along with a new entrance.
In the 16th Century, the castle was re-built in a renaissance style, and then baroque style in the 17th Century – so it’s had a lot of changes over the years. In 1811, the castle was caught in a huge fire which destroyed most of it and over the years, the ruins deteriorated until 1953 when archaeological research started and restoration works then started in 1957 to re-build the castle in the final baroque style, keeping some gothic and renaissance parts. We overheard some tour guides saying that not much of the original castle stands today, which is why it looks so new.
Although there’s not much to see inside the castle like most castles, it does house the Museum of History. We didn’t visit as it’s only open for a few weeks of the year, but from what I’ve read, it’s not really worth a visit anyway. The views from the main entrance over the Danube river are stunning – from one side you can see the river and UFO bridge, and from the other side the old town.
We walked around the outside of the castle exploring the viewpoints, before heading to the newly renovated Baroque style gardens which opened up in 2016, and was my favourite part of the castle – I could have sat there for hours! Lined with rows of tree’s and flower gardens, it was just so calming compared to the busy city.
It’s definitely worth a visit on your trip to Bratislava – I’d say give it an hour or two depending on how long you want to spend in the gardens. The views over the city are lovely, and I’ve heard it’s one of the best locations to watch the sunset over the city. It’s only a 10-15 minute (uphill walk) from the centre of the old town, and just across the bridge from the UFO tower.
The UFO Tower
Another famous viewpoint of Bratislava, the UFO Tower is sadly somewhere we didn’t have the time to visit, but I really wish we did! It was built in the 1970’s and houses a restaurant and observation deck with views across the Danube towards the Old Town and Bratislava Castle. It’s the world’s longest bridge to have only one pylon. You get to the observation deck via an elevator which takes only 45 seconds taking you 95m above the ground, giving a visibility of up to 100kms on a clear day.
The Observation deck is open daily from 10am-11pm and costs €7.40 or €9.90 for day and night entry. If you’re eating at the restaurant at the top, you get free entry to the observation deck! You can get more info here.
Bratislava Old Town and St Michaels Gate
My favourite part of Bratislava (other than the castle gardens) was wandering the streets of the Old Town. Filled with colourful buildings, plenty of delicious smelling restaurants and plenty of gelato shops. After all that walking, we had to stop for some gelato – I got the coconut which was bloody amazing by the way, and a mango (I think) sorbet, which was ok. Definitely get the coconut!
St Michaels Gate towers above one end of the Old Town. It’s the only preserved gate of the city fortification dating back to the 14th Century. You can climb to the top of the tower for €4.50 for views over the old town. There’s also a couple of famous statues dotted throughout the streets that we somehow missed – it was super busy!
You can also head up to the viewpoint of the Old Town Hall which overlooks the main square. On the day that we visited they had a massive street food festival happening, but it was still lovely. Entry to the tower costs €5pp.
Other Things to Do
Walk along the Danube River – lined with boats from the river cruises, the Danube travels through 10 countries (more than any other river in the world) and is Europe’s second longest river at 2,850km long!
Visit the Blue Church – is it bad if I admit that I didn’t actually do any research before visiting Bratislava? All I knew was that I wanted to see the castle, visit the UFO tower and wander the old town, but now I wish we’d have stopped by the Blue Church too, since we apparently parked just around the corner from it!
I loved our few hours in the city! We’re not city people – we defnitely prefer to be out in nature in the mountains or by the beach or a lake, but Bratislava had such a small town feel, even if it was super busy while we were there, that we really enjoyed it!
Have you been to Bratislava? What did you think?