Slovakia’s capital as well as its cultural and economic centre, Bratislava is a popular fixture on river voyages which include the lower region of the Danube on their itineraries. Indeed, its past Greek name, which translates as ‘Danube City’, certainly gives an indication of the important role that the city has always played in the iconic river’s history. Bratislava has the distinction of being the only capital city which borders two different countries, in Slovakia’s case, Austria and Hungary. This unique geographical location, coupled with its long history, means that the city boasts a wide range of cultural influences, from the Habsburg and Hungarian monarchies to Communist occupation, as a well as a wealth of cultural attractions to discover.
Despite Bratislava’s growing reputation as a contemporary and vibrant destination it is firmly in touch with its rich past, something which can be satisfyingly explored with a visit to its historic Old Town. Past nobles’ palaces stand shoulder-to-shoulder with more modest dwellings, but wherever you turn, the architecture is always a delight. Key sights here include the Old Town Hall, St Michael’s tower, which offers you a fantastic view of the Old Town from above if you climb it and the beautiful St Martin’s Cathedral, which is one of the city’s oldest structures. If you feel the need to take a load off after taking in the sights, Hlavne Namestie is the Old Town’s central square and the perfect place to sit back and enjoy a drink, a snack or indeed both. If you want a further insight into Slovakian art, then the Nedbalka Gallery is the place to go and is also conveniently located in the Old Town.
Other key attractions in the city include the Slovak National Theatre, which as well as being a pleasing piece of architecture is great for opera fans, being that tickets tend to be very reasonably priced. St Elizabeth’s, otherwise known as the Blue Church, certainly lives up to its name and offers a satisfying slice of Art Nouveau to all those who visit it.
Overlooking it all though, is the celebrated Devin Castle. Unmissable in every sense, this iconic attraction is located just a few miles out from the main city and dates back to the time of Roman occupation. Ever since then it has played a strategic role in the city’s past, owing to its commanding location. There are excursions and guided tours on offer from a number of river cruise lines, but it’s also possible to take a public bus up to see the castle. Once there, you’ll find that, despite the fact that this once awesome structure is now a ruin, you’ll be easily transported back in time as you explore the building. There’s also an informative armoury museum and restaurant at the castle, not to mention some truly spectacular views of Bratislava and the beautiful countryside which surrounds it.
If trying the national dish is your thing, then don’t miss Bryndzove halusky when you visit, which is dumplings served with sheep’s cheese and topped with meat. Kofola meanwhile is the local (less sugary) alternative to Coca Cola.