Located within a day’s drive of Prague, its Czech cousin, Bratislava contains almost as many of the medieval era charms that the former city possesses, but with a much smaller crowd to take away from it all. As such, if you are looking for a Central European experience in high season that won’t be affected by high prices or swarms of tourists, the capital of Slovakia might be a worthy addition to your travel itinerary.
Like many strategically placed towns throughout Europe, Bratislava had its fair share of castles defending the populace throughout the medieval period. Devin Castle should be the first of these sights that you visit in the area, and while it is currently in a state of ruins through most of the structure, its lofty position above the joining of the Morava River with the Danube makes its a scenic way to begin your tour of cultural and historic sights in and around Bratislava.
Bratislava Castle, this city’s namesake keep, is also well worth seeing for its four corner towers, courtyard and its opulent interior. While only a portion of the premises is open to the public, the portion that is contains a branch of the Slovak National Museum that weaves in the history of this fortification and royal residence with the story of the nation as a whole.
Those wanting to learn more about the lives of Slovakia’s royals will want to move on to one of Bratislava’s two palaces. Grassalkovich Palace should be one of the first places you should check out, as this former summer palace is presently home of the president of the nation.
Visitors are only permitted to tour the interior one day per year, but access to the French garden in the rear is permitted year round. In addition to its greenery and flower beds, the lawns of this beautiful spot is a favored place for locals to hang out when the weather is fine, so be sure to do the same if you are looking for a place in Bratislava to have a picnic.
Primate’s Palace is another royal residence worth touring, as you are allowed to enter here as opposed to the restrictions in place over at Grassalkovich. This Neoclassic building contains many of the trappings of the era when the House of Hapsburg ruled over much of Europe. As such, expect plenty of grand portraits hanging on the walls, fine crystal chandeliers suspended from the ceilings, and stately statues and fountains in its courtyard.
While the Allies were on the march across Germany and points west during the closing days of the Second World War, the Soviet Union closed in on the Nazis from points east. This meant that the battle to liberate Bratislava was fought by Russian forces, at a great cost to human life.
Slavin is the war memorial that pays tribute to the fallen during those trying times, with a white marble mausoleum and obelisk being the centrepiece to a site that contains six mass graves and 278 individual tombstones. The scale of this solemn place is yet another reminder of the mass carnage of war that occurred not that long ago.
After the heaviness of Slavin, cheer yourself with a day spent enjoying Bratislava’s Old Town. There are many sights to enjoy as you stroll its narrow but charming streets, the highlights of which include St. Michael’s Gate (the last remaining one from the time when Bratislava was a walled city), the Church of St. Elisabeth (known for its baby blue exterior and Art Nouveau stylings), and the Slovak National Theatre (where the finest performing arts acts can be found in Bratislava). Looking for something completely different? Then checking out the so-called UFO Bridge will satiate your appetite for the unusual, as this bridge is one of the world’s longest that is supported by a single pylon. On top of this support is a flying saucer shaped observation deck, hence the bridge’s nickname. Standing more than 80 metres (or 250 feet) above the water below, it is a great place to have dinner if you are traveling as a couple, and are looking for an idea for a great date night activity. Seeking nature during your time in Bratislava? Head up Devínska Kobyla, the tallest peak in the area. Standing 1,600 feet above sea level amidst the recovering remains of what used to be a virgin forest of oak trees, this park is just the break you need if the tourist crowds in the city centre are starting to get to you.