Bratislava is astonishing. If you expect a capital, you’ll be disappointed, if you expect an open-air museum of communism, you’ll be disappointed, if you just expect a Baroque town, you’ll be disappointed. Bratislava is a little bit of the three, and much more.
Vienna and Bratislava are the two closest capitals in the world (65 kilometers as the crow files). If you come from Vienna, you can join Bratislava by two different means of public transport:
– by the Danube and the Twin City Liner which links the two capitals in 75 minutes; a one-way ticket costs 30€ on average in high season. The Viennese landing stage is on the Schwedenplatz and you can buy your ticket online.
I personally chose the train. I had to be in Budapest in the evening, so I was travelling with my suitcase and wished to leave it at the left-luggage office in Bratislava’s station. I learned too late that there was also a left-luggage office at the landing stage of the Twin City Liner in Slovakia… So feel free to choose any of these means of public transport!
At the Bratislava’s station, I left my suitcase in the left-luggage lockers (one or two euros for the day). You keep the key with you. There’s also a left-luggage office with real humans if you don’t trust the machine.
The station in itself will please those who are nostalgic of the Iron Curtain. It’s already Back to the Future. The pretty provincial station of the former Pressburg has been disfigured by an architectural addition in a outer space style probably built in the seventies.
The station’s surroundings are… Picturesque. The Štefánikova street is an arterial road which joins the city-center; if you come from Vienna, the contrast is quite hard. This city of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire has a rich heritage made of elegant fin de siecle buildings more or less decrepit and Soviet buildings of dubious taste.
You will go past the Grassalkovich Palace, now the residence of the president of Slovakia. Keep going down the street and turn left along the tramway tracks. On the Župné námestie square, you will pass the Trinitarian Church, a little Baroque gem with a concave facade which is reminiscent of St. Peter in Vienna and was unfortunately closed the day I was there.
There’s a nice castle view from this street; turn again left, go down the stairs in the Klariská street and you’ll be in the old Pressburg and pass the Clarissine Church around which I circled without ever finding the entrance.
The historical center of Bratislava is really small, you can explore it in a few hours.
In the east, the St. Martin’s Cathedral is bordered by the former Jewish district, now destroyed. The hard-surfaced bisections of a beltway have replaced it and a monument reminds us its location.
In the south, the Danube. By walking along the river, you’ll meet a building that looks like an aerial parking but it’s in fact the modern addition of the National Slovak Gallery (1969 – 1977); I didn’t visit it, but the art lovers who went to Bratislava recommend it.
Besides, you won’t miss the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising, built in a neo-spatial style. 7353 tons of steel and a panoramic restaurant at the height (the well-named UFO) that you can reach by using an elevator – by paying an entrance fee, if you didn’t book a table at the restaurant.
Slovak and Mediterranean food are served in this old cellar where locals and strangers rush. Central Europe food for me: émincé of veal with ceps and cream, and some rice balls. Prices reminds us Vienna: 14,50€! But it’s good and the staff is friendly, efficient and perfectly English-speaking. Well, a good adress!
Then, visit of the Franciscan church and convent; you have to see the beautiful Gothic chapel and its crypt, devoted to St. John the Evangelist and built in the 14th century!
Without taking a breather, we keep up exploring the old town by visiting the little Mirbach Palace, little rococo house built between 1768 and 1770. We were the only visitors and the staff was discreet, very kind and spared no effort to make our visit more pleasant, by giving some extra informations or… By turning on the light in each room we passed through.
The second floor was being renovated and the signage was missing, so that we ended up surrounded by imperturbable workers!
Then, we went to the Hlavné námestie square, heart of the historical Bratislava, surrounded by elegants Baroque palaces and Art Nouveau buildings; perhaps a traditional player of fujara will brighten up your chocolate time on the terrace of the Schokocafé Maximilian Delikateso from where you have a nice view on the oldest fountain of Bratislava (1572) and the bronze sculptures which make the historical center of Bratislava now more famous in Europe or even in the world. Here, a Napoleonic soldier leaned on a bench.
From this square, you can explore the Stará radnica, a buildings complex whose the oldest were built at the 14th century and host the former city hall and the Bratislava City Museum. The Stará radnica comes out on the Primatial Palace of Bratislava, where the Treaty of Pressburg was signed in 1809 by the emperors Napoleon I and Francis I of Austria.
End of the walk at the Danube’s edge before going back to the station for the last journey of the day, to Hungary and Budapest!
Bratislava has a rich past, a diverse heritage and it’s the fifth region of the EU. It’s a small capital which deserves your attention. Change your plans: come to Slovakia and explore the first city of the little Carpathians!
You can find a lot of informations and documents online on the official website of the Tourism board of Bratislava. Download the .pdf files on your smartphones or tablets to enjoy cultural informations during your stay in the Slovak capital!