Bratislava, located near the border of Austria and Hungary and situated on the bank of the Danube, is perfect for a short trip. Overshadowed by Vienna but never designed as a capital despite its history, Bratislava castle dominates the skyline. The city is compact, with several traditional pubs in the old town serving excellent Slovak cuisine. Read our guide to the best of Bratislava in 24 hours.
Travel Essentials – Bratislava in 24 hours
Airline: Wizz Air from London Luton (LTN) to Bratislava (BTS). From £50, return.
To the city: Take bus 61 for 17 stops to Hlavná Stanica. Change for the 93 bus for three stops to reach the city.
Cost: €1.20 adult single for a 60-minute ticket.
Journey time to centre: 40 minutes.
Need to know
Visa: From 1st January 2021, UK residents can visit Slovakia for 90 days maximum in any 180 day period.
Travel: See the FCDO website.
Currency: Euro (£1 = €1.11 approximately).
Language: Slovak and Czech. English is spoken and understood.
Best time to visit: May to September.
Time: GMT +1
First Impressions of Bratislava
- Plenty of street art and graffiti.
- Communist-style architecture.
- The old town covers most of the city.
- Pastel-coloured buildings.
- A laid back atmosphere.
Day 1 – Exploring Bratislava in 24 hours
- Hlavné námestie (Main Square) – Free.
- Michael’s Gate (Fishermans gate) – Free.
- Bratislava Opera House (National Slovak Theatre) – Free (from outside).
- Fairytale corner of the square – Free.
- St. Martins Cathedral (Katedrála svätého Martina) – Free.
- Pharmacy Salvator – Free.
- Pamataj Jewish Memorial Monument – Free.
- Bratislava Castle (Bratislavský hrad) – Free (from outside).
- UFO Tower – Free (from outside).
Hlavné Námestie (Main Square)
The city’s focal point, with several statues, where people congregate.
Old Town Hall (Stará radnica) – The tower, from 1370, houses the oldest museum in Bratislava, including an exhibit of torture devices. The best views are from the top.
Japanese Embassy – Randomly, this is above a green arts and crafts shop.
The man with the hat – The only silver statue in the square. The rest are bronze, and the only one of a real person. His name was Ignác Lamár. The story is that he loved a woman who did not love him in return. Sending him crazy, he started giving out flowers to women on the street, and being polite to everyone, hence the tipping hat.
Man at work – Also known as the watcher. Located at the corner of Laurinská and Panská, he represents a Communist-era worker who watches everyone else.
Michael’s Gate (Fishermans gate)
One of the oldest buildings in town, with its copper roof, is 51m (167.3ft) tall and spread over seven floors. The top has a statue of the archangel Michael, killing a dragon. Passing through the gate is the zero kilometre marker, listing the distances of 29 world capitals from Bratislava.
Bratislava Opera House (National Slovak Theatre)
Two Viennese architects designed this neo-Renaissance building. Founded in 1920, it is the second oldest professional theatre in Slovakia, set in Hviezdoslav’s Square. Tickets start at €4 for performances.
Fairytale corner of the square
Statues in the square include The Fountain Girl with the Deer and Hans Christian Andersen, both popular with children. Students shake hands with these statues during exam time to bring them luck. Another one is of Pavol Hviezdoslav, a famous Slovak poet and the creator of the first Slovak-English dictionary.
St. Martins Cathedral (Katedrála svätého Martina)
This Gothic-style Roman Catholic church from 1452 is next to the Nový Most bridge. At the top of the 85m (278.9ft) spire is a gold-plated replica of St. Stephen’s crown, weighing 150 kilograms. Formerly used for Royal coronations, it is also the resting place of St. John the Merciful.
Constructed in 1904 and shut down in 1996. Employees of the Slovak National Theatre occupy the upper floors flats, leaving the ground floor empty. There are still three entrances to the building. Austrians, Hungarians, and Slovaks can all live together peacefully.
Pamataj Jewish Memorial Monument
A memorial erected in 1996 commemorated the 105,000 Holocaust victims from Slovakia. Topped by a Star of David, a sculpture is on a black granite platform with the words ‘Remember’ inscribed in Hebrew and Slovak. Flowers replace stones at the memorial, as they do not die.
Bratislava Castle (Bratislavský hrad)
The main attraction in Bratislava, with panoramic city views, overlooks the Danube from the 47m (154.2ft) high crown tower. The castle stores the Royal coronation jewels. At the main entrance is a statue of Svatopluk the Great, the King of Great Moravia. Walking around the castle at night overlooking the city is a popular pastime.
Perhaps the most striking landmark in Bratislava, the 95m (311.7ft) tower houses an observation deck on the SNP bridge, with visibility of up to 100km (62.1 mile) on a clear day. The Tower bar attracts Bratislava’s trendy crowd.
Day 2 – Exploring Bratislava in 24 hours
- The Blue Church (The Church of St. Elizabeth) – Free.
- Hotel Kyjev – Free.
- Fountain of Union – Free.
- Slovak Radio building – Free.
- Presidential Palace – Free (from outside).
- Climb St Michaels Gate – €5 (Adult).
- Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross – Free.
The Blue Church (The Church of St. Elizabeth)
This art nouveau style church is a 15-minute walk from the old town. The bright blue façade is more prominent in direct sunlight. It is blue as this colour replaced the previous pastels colour of the church. Entry is allowed, but not during mass, unless for prayer.
This 16 storey concrete Soviet-style building constructed in 1970 has 175 rooms. The first visitors were Soviet government officials, along with a KGB office and a presidential suite. The hotel later became a place for budget backpackers seeking cheap, no-frills accommodation. It remains unaltered, with retro furniture, an overdose of wood panelling and several bullet holes in the door of room 1212. Although it is no longer open, it has an interesting history.
Fountain of Union
The largest fountain in Europe, built in 1980, had water flow stopped in 2007. The cost to restart flowing water is €1 million, hence why it probably remains dry.
Slovak Radio building
At 80m (262.5ft) tall with a 522-seat concert hall, a daring architectural design started in 1967 and completed in 1983. The first test broadcast aired in 1984, with regular broadcasts from 1985. The Telegraph, UK newspaper voted it as one of the 41 ugliest buildings in the world.
Known as Grassalkovich Palace, a rococo summer palace from the 18th century now serves as the seat of the President of the Slovak Republic.
Climb St Michaels Gate
The only preserved gate of the city dates back to the 14th century. The 51m (167.3ft) tower houses the Museum of Arms. Entry is part of the ticket. On the sixth floor is a balcony with views of the old town, Bratislava castle, and the surrounding areas.
Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross
Built in 1860, it belongs to the Greek Catholic church. The fresco decoration from the second half of the 14th century is only present here. The church possesses Gothic wall paintings inspired by old Church symbols.
Bratislava offers plenty of food choices at relatively low prices. Regarding breakfast, try Mondieu, which has excellent food iat resonable proces. A small, relaxed place to grab a coffee with a great ambience is Kava bar, located near the Kapucínska bus stop.
Slovakia’s main dish is sheep cheese (Bryndzové halušky), along with a variety of different soups. Most Slovakian people’s staple diet is meat (predominantly game and pork), so vegetarian and vegan options may be limited.
Like most European capital cities under Communist rule at one point, street art is an urban feature. The images convey political messages, a snapshot of that era. The Bratislava Street Art Festival is a three-day event bringing together street art and graffiti.
The verdict – Bratislava in 24 hours
Bratislava comes out second best when compared to its famous neighbour, Vienna. It is a cheap option for a weekend break, although things to see and do might be limited. A Bratislava card that costs €25 for 48 hours provides the best value. It includes entry to several attractions and free transport.
Plenty of cafés and restaurants are in the old town, often colourful buildings. Several museums provide an insight into the city’s turbulent history. Exploring the city on foot is easy. Bratislava is ideal for a short trip, but best to combine it with another destination.
Read about our European weekend breaks.