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13 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Bratislava

Written by Diana Bocco
Feb 18, 2020

Even by European standards, Bratislava, Slovakia, is a small capital city at just under half a million residents. But don't let that fool you — the city's ideal location on the banks of the Danube has had a big impact on its historical and economic development. Today, Bratislava is a foodie's paradise, a city of fairy-tale palaces and stunning architecture, and a great destination for those wanting an affordable holiday.

While most visitors who stop in Bratislava are just passing by — and on their way to the country's incredible mountains and national parks — the city has much to offer, and it's worth exploring. Whether you're looking for castles, unique buildings, or quirky art, Bratislava won't disappoint. Plan your sightseeing with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Bratislava.

1. Bratislava Castle

Bratislava Castle at sunset

The massive four-tower structure is hard to miss anywhere you are in Bratislava, as it sits in the middle of town, atop a rocky hill. Not only do you get a great view of Bratislava from the towers, but on a clear day, you can see all the way into Austria and parts of Hungary. The oldest of the towers, the 47-meter-tall Crown Tower, dates back to the 13th century and once housed the crown jewels.

The castle went through a number of renovations over the centuries, including a large expansion and conversion of the castle when Maria Theresa of Austria became queen in 1740. In the early 1800s, however, the castle went through a series of disasters: first, it was shot with cannons by Napoleon, then it caught fire just a few years later and was eventually abandoned and left in ruins. It wasn't until 1953 that restoration work started.

Today, the castle is home to a branch of the Slovak National Museum, housing documents, photographs, and objects showcasing the development of the area starting in the Middle Ages. You'll also find the remains of the 11th-century Great-Moravian basilica on the grounds of the castle.

2. Michael's Gate

Michael's Gate

Michael's Gate is the only remaining city gate from the fortified walls and towers built in the 1300s. At the time, the only way in and out of Bratislava was through one of the secured four city gates. The gate went through several reconstructions through the years, including a Baroque-inspired one in 1758 that included the addition of the current massive St. Michael and the Dragon statue on top of the gate.

Today, the tower houses an exhibition of weapons, as well as documents, photographs, and models showcasing the history of the city walls and how they influenced the city over the centuries. Visitors can also make their way up to the top of the tower to access a balcony that opens up over the Old City and offers one of the best views in town.

3. Slovak National Theatre

The old Slovak National Theatre

The Slovak National Theatre consists of two buildings: a Neo-Renaissance one in Old Town — which originally opened in 1886 as the City Theater — and a newly designed structure that opened in 2007. Although the newer theater officially holds all three ensembles (opera, ballet, and drama), both buildings are used for performances and practice.

The old theater is located right on Hviezdoslavovo Square, in an area famous for its café offerings. When it first opened, it only featured Hungarian and German theater performances, and it wasn't until after the end of WWII that operas started to be presented in their original language (with Slovak subtitles). The new theater sits on the banks of the Danube river, in an upscale residential area famous for its upmarket shops and restaurants.

In recent years, the theaters have focused on a mix of foreign performers and shows with traditional writers known worldwide.

Official site: http://www.snd.sk/en

4. Kamzík TV Tower

Kamzik TV Tower at sunset

The 196-meter-tall Kamzík TV Tower sits at the top of Kamzik hill and within the borders of the Bratislava Forest Park. The park, which offers great views of the city, covers an area of 27 square kilometers and offers a long network of hiking trails, a dry bobsleigh run down the hill, a treetop ropewalk, and plenty of places to grab a snack. It's also possible to catch a cable car here to make your way down into the Železná studnicka valley.

The tower's best feature is the observation deck, which offers stunning views of Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary in the distance. A rotating restaurant, a café, and a second smaller eatery are also part of the tower.

5. Grassalkovich Palace

Grassalkovich Palace

A Rococo/Baroque building with an exquisite formal French garden, the Grassalkovich Palace is the official residence of Slovakia's president since 1996. The building dates back to the 1700s and was originally used for aristocratic society events and musical performances — Haydn premiered and conducted some of his most famous works here.

The gardens of the palace are open to the public, and visitors can walk around from dawn to dusk to discover the many old trees; a statue of the Empress Maria Theresa (who originally ordered the construction of the palace); a number of statues by old and modern Slovak sculptors; and the famous Fountain of Youth, a beautiful design of three naked statues playing in the water.

6. Primate's Palace & Hall of Mirrors

Primate's Palace

The 18th-century Neoclassical Primate's Palace in the heart of Old Town has a significant place in history. This is where the fourth Peace of Pressburg was signed in 1805 between Napoleon and the Holy Roman Emperor to end the War of the Third Coalition. Today, the palace is the seat of Bratislava's mayor, though parts of it remain open to the public for tours.

Perhaps the most famous room in the palace is the Hall of Mirrors, a stunning, lavish conference room decorated in reds and golds. Special classical concerts and events are sometimes held here. After walking through the palace, head out into the inner courtyard to find a fountain with a statue of St. George, known as "the dragon slayer."

7. Danube River

Danube River in Bratislava

Europe's second-longest river crosses right through Bratislava and served as inspiration for the famous waltz by Johann Strauss, who composed part of it right in this city in 1852.

Brand new hotels, floating restaurants, and shopping complexes stand along the river, which also offers a great riverbank walkway, a number of bridges, and plenty of shady spaces to stop along the way.

Of the many memorials along the river, the pole crowned by a barbed wire heart is the most stunning one — a reminder of the fence that once stood here to separate East from West during Communist times.

In summer, you can board a riverboat here to reach either Vienna or Budapest, both less than two hours away. The port is near the Old Town area, near the National Gallery, and surrounded by lush, colorful gardens and stunning architecture. For the most adventurous souls, there are also downstream canoe trips available.

8. Statues in the Old Town

Statue in Old Town Bratislava

Bratislava is full of whimsical, quirky statues everywhere — it's a stunning contrast to the Communist-era buildings that still dot the city streets. Whether you're in a quest to find as many as possible or just want to keep your eyes open in case you see them as you walk around, some of them are a truly exciting find.

Perhaps the most famous of the statues (and definitely the most photographed) is Cumil, a sewer worker coming out of a manhole, just sitting there and watching the world go by. The Napoleon's Army soldier statue, leaning over a bench while tipping his top hat, is another popular photo spot — tourists often lean back on the bench as they join in the courteous bowing.

If you're visiting the Hviezdoslav square, look for the statue of Hans Christian Anderson set in the park to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth.

9. Blue Church

The Blue Church

The Art Nouveau Church of St. Elizabeth is best known to everybody locally as "the blue church" because of its colorful exterior. Built in 1909 as a Hungarian Secessionist Catholic church, the tiny one-nave church was initially meant to be just a school chapel.

It was originally painted in just pastel colors — as the blue paint, tiles, and mosaics were added, the little building became a popular sight, and its doors were open to the public. Today, even the benches, ceiling, and the walls are painted in blue and covered in majolica and blue-glazed ceramic tiles.

The church is dedicated to Elizabeth, the 19th-century Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, and is a popular place for weekend weddings.

10. Hviezdoslav Square

Hviezdoslav Square at dusk

The Hviezdoslavovo námestie town square has been around for over 1,000 years in one form or another. It was named after Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav, Slovakia's most beloved poet — you can see a statue of him next to one of the park's fountains. In its modern incarnation, the square is a pedestrian green zone with benches, fountains, and an outdoor podium where live music and special cultural events often take place.

The Slovak National Opera Theater and the Slovak Philharmonic sit next to the square, with cafés and restaurants lining up the streets around it. In summer, the square is a popular meeting point, while in winter it becomes the main destination for Christmas markets.

11. UFO Bridge

The UFO Bridge at night

The SNP bridge — affectionally known as the UFO Bridge because of its flying saucer-shaped observation area — crosses over the Danube, and it's one of Bratislava's most famous structures. The 303-meter-long bridge has two levels: one for four lanes of traffic and one for bikes and pedestrians.

Sitting almost 95 meters up in the air, the UFO houses a restaurant serving traditional Slovak food and an observation deck offering panoramic views of Bratislava — this is a great place to photograph the Castle, Old Town, and even the Kamzik Tower in the distance. The only way to access the tower is via an elevator located inside one of the "legs" of the bridge.

12. Slovak National Gallery

Exhibit at the Slovak National Gallery | Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / photo modified

The Slovak National Gallery is actually housed in several buildings around the country and in two buildings — the Esterházy Palace and the Water Barracks, which sit next to each other and near the Danube riverfront — in Bratislava. The gallery focuses on both classical and modern painting and sculpture with a strong connection to Slovakia.

The ground floor of the buildings showcases items from the permanent collection, while other floors focus on temporary exhibits and visiting artists. Exhibits have included everything from a library project dedicated to Slovak writer and book collector Kornel Földvári to a children's interactive projection about art history.

Official site: https://www.sng.sk/en

13. Devin Castle

Devin Castle ruins

Located in the suburbs of Bratislava near the border with Austria, the ruins of this 9th-century castle sit on top of a 212-meter-tall cliff, at the point where the Danube and Morava rivers meet. Although the castle went through many expansions and reconstructions between the mid-800s and the 15th century, the major changes were introduced in the 1600s. Two hundred years later, the castle was bombed during the Napoleonic Wars and left in ruins.

Today, visitors can stroll around the maze of staircases, courtyards, and walls that make up the ruins. An ongoing archaeological project is hoping to restore some of the structures and even reconstruct the Great Moravian church that once stood here. The most photographed spot here is the Maiden Tower, set on a lone rock away from the castle and right over the river — legend goes that scorned, heartbroken lovers have jumped off this tower to their deaths.

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More to Discover Nearby: This is a country with much to discover. If you have time to get outside of the capital, see our list of the top things to do in Slovakia. Bratislava sits next to two international borders and close to the cities of Vienna in Austria and Brno in the Czech Republic. While in Bratislava, you can jump on a ferry and make your way to visit the sights of Vienna in less than an hour. If you would rather cross into the Czech Republic, read more about the top attractions in Brno, including easy day trips.

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