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Why you need at least one day in Bratislava

by Roberto
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This is the harsh truth I learned from a recent stopover there. Three hours in Bratislava simply isn’t enough. And yet despite my limited time in the Slovakian capital, I gave it a go to see as much of the city as I could. In that short period of time I gained an insight into what attractions are worth seeing in the city and why. With one day in Bratislava I may just have realised all my sightseeing ambitions. Read on to see our suggested Bratislava in one day itinerary.

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A short history on Bratislava

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia as I’m sure we all know. But here’s a bit more on its background. Pressburg was Bratislava’s old moniker and it received its town charter in 1291. For centuries it has been in a tug of war between its neighbours Austria and Hungary. It even served time as the capital of Hungary, in defiance of the marauding Ottomans.

The 18th century brought the best of times to Bratislava, with many of its palaces and buildings being built. And so it would remain till the end of World War I. A new state, Czechoslovakia was then founded, a merger between Slovakia and the Czech Republic. In 1919 Pressburg eventually became Bratislava. For the first time during World War II, a Slovak republic was formed but this was short lived. With the communist party taking control in Prague, another 45 years as Czechoslovakia beckoned. In 1993, Slovakia finally came here to stay.

Needless to say I didn’t learn about this in my 3 hours in Bratislava. Nowadays Bratislava sits in an area surrounded by vineyards, on the banks of the Danube river. With a population of only 430,000 it’s certainly a small city. It’s compact city centre is pedestrianised and all the better for it.

One Day in Bratislava

We only happened to travel to Bratislava as a result of flights to Budapest being inordinately expensive. So we deliberated to fly to Bratislava and take the train form there to the Hungarian capital. It appears Budapest is a victim of its own success, and prices are rising as a result. If you are wondering why, my Ultimate Guide to Budapest should put you in no doubt.

Bratislava day trip

Bratislava is the perfect destination for a day trip. With its close proximity to Budapest and especially Vienna you can attach it to a visit to either. It’s a sleepy capital and clearly was never intended to serve as one. The aforementioned train is the best way to travel to Bratislava from Budapest, with trains taking 2 hours 43 minutes. Not the best for a day trip I’ll admit. Better to make that 24 hours in Bratislava.

From Vienna to Bratislava however the train only takes 1 hour and 7 minutes (from €11) on and 60 minutes by bus (from €6). That’s like a morning commute. And for those who only like to travel by water, a boat from Vienna takes a mere 1 hr and 30 minutes to Bratislava.

After all that we arrived by plane. Our flight to Bratislava from Dublin arrived at 10:45 am. It’s an ideal time to arrive if you plan to spend the day exploring. However with our trip very much against the clock, we had to make as much of it as we possibly could. Our train to Budapest was at 13:57. Bratislava uses the Euro so that meant we could save time on currency exchange.

Bratislava Airport to the city

Bus 61 is the easiest way to travel from the airport to the train station in the city centre. The bus stop is located to the right of the terminal building when you exit, and the bus takes 30-45 minutes to reach the city. The correct ticket will cost you €1.20.The machines at the airport are a little old and a bit hard to understand. Tickets are priced in 15 minute increments so be sure to select an option that covers the length of your journey.

This is best practice to avoid an unpleasant start to your trip. As we witnessed first hand, the local bus company preys on tourists on this route. Near the end of the trip three plain clothes and burly ticket inspectors boarded, and requested tickets off those with suitcases. On our bus they cornered two couples who had the incorrect tickets and on the spot fines were issued of over €50. Further research suggests this is a common tactic. Not the best welcome to Bratislava.

Things to see in one day in Bratislava (or 3 hours)

Arriving, we purchased our train tickets and set to work touring Bratislava. The train station is about a 20 minute walk to the main square, but we set out with the intention of doing a loop. It was very much by chance then that I came across one of the first things I look for in a city.

Bratislava Street Art

While en route to the Blue Church, my walking tour took me to Rajska street and a couple of beauties. Bratislava has a reputation as being a decent street art city and the Welcome to Bratislava site has a good listing of both murals and sites with more info.

Blue Church, Bratislava

When I realised I was visiting, one attraction had to be on my Bratislava itinerary. That was the Blue Church. The subject of many social media posts it is the city’s stand out attraction. Originally entitled the Church of St Elizabeth, it is only just over a century old, after its consecration in 1919. The Hungarian secessionist architectural style (a personal favourite of mine) heavily influenced the design.

The definitive blue colour wasn’t here initially. This was a later addition, and a very welcome one. The colours are reflected in the interior which is also delightful. However we only got to see it from the door as opening hours are limited to between 630-730 in the morning and 1730-1900 in the evening.

Blue Church Bratislava
Blue Church Bratislava

From the Blue Church, it’s a ten minute walk to the old town. Next to the Blue Church is the grammar school for which it was originally built, and an attractive building in its own right. The centre becomes pedestrianised en route. Those palaces of the 18th century began to become more evident now. I recall remarking just how quiet the streets were, a welcome escape from the overcrowded modern cities that we have became accustomed too.

Primatial Palace

The first palace to really catch the eye is the Primatial Palace. Built for the Archbishop in 1781, it now houses the mayor of Bratislava. The building is distinctly neoclassical in style. We had just enough time to enter the courtyard and see the fantastic fountain of Saint George slaying the dragon.

Primatial Palace

Of course that wasn’t nearly enough. If I was on a Bratislava one day trip, by all accounts the interior of the Primatial Palace is unmissable. For an entry fee of a mere €3, you can tour the hall of mirrors where concerts and meetings take place. It is also where the Treaty of Bratislava was signed in 1805 by Austria and France. Furthermore a collection of rare English tapestries are on show in the Palace. The palace opens daily from 10-5 and you should allow about one hour for a visit.

Old Town Hall Bratislava

Pretty much instantly after the Primatial Palace we happen upon the Old Town Hall. This complex of buildings dates from the 14th century, and represent some of the most stunning in Bratislava. Certainly from the outside anyway.

Old Town Hall Bratislava
Old Town Hall Bratislava

On a Bratislava one day itinerary, the Town Hall serves as the Bratislava City Museum, with exhibitions from the history of Pressburg including a torture museum. Admission is €5 and the museum opens Tuesday through Sunday from 10 to 5. You can also scale the tower of the Town Hall for a view over Main Square. It is one of 8 locations of the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava. All the locations are covered by the Bratislava Card which is available for a reasonable €18 per day online.

Main Square of Bratislava

Bratislavas main square is an attractive one. Surrounded by colourful buildings it was surprisingly peaceful on that day in February. The palaces of the Hungarian Exchange bank, and Palugyay are distinctly attractive. The 16th century Maximilian’s Fountain is the centrepiece of the square, with its subject presented as a night in armour. The square hosts Bratislava’s Christmas markets too.

Main Square Bratislava

Street sculptures

The Main Square is the starting point to start taking in some of Bratislava’s unusual sculptures. The first of these I encountered was the Guard’s Booth. It reminded me of the time Han Solo was frozen in carbonite.

Next up on the corner of the square of Rybarska Brana is the Schoner Naci. This is a tribute to a larger than life figure who would dress in top hat and tails, and greet people all day long on the square.

A mere minutes walk south from here and the undoubted biggest draw of the sculptures, the Man at Work, peeps out from a manhole in the ground. It’s a fun statue, and the biggest attraction in the city for the selfie brigade.

Man at work sculpture

Further south towards the Danube there are a host of other statues and squares worthy of detouring to.

From Hviezdoslavovo Namestie, the free walking tour of Bratislava is ran. These tours run daily from 11am and 3pm (2pm in winter) and give a two and a half hour detailed tour of the city. A little like what I did but with more local expertise. As ever with walking tours, the tour may be free but please tip, to show your appreciation for the guide.

To my left lay the UFO Bridge (one of the world’s largest hanging bridges) and the rather unusual UFO observation deck. Of course its so known for its shape, and not its alien sightings. Panoramic views of the city are guaranteed though. The deck hosts a restaurant, which will help you avoid the admission cost of €7.40. Would be the ideal place to grab lunch if I had those 24 hours.

Bratislava Castle

It’s at this point the wheels fell off my plan to briefly see all I wanted to in Bratislava. We deliberated it was time to start working our way back to the train station. This was my best view of Bratislava Castle. Not good enough.

Bratislava Castle

On a Bratislava 1 day itinerary, Bratislava Castle would be near top of my agenda. It’s a 12 minute walk from the square, and sits on a elevated position above the town. A castle has defended this position from at least the tenth century. The castle we see now (or glimpse in my case) was rebuilt in the 17th century, in the baroque style. The castle hosts a wing of the Slovakia National Museum, and another highlight is the treasury. Between the grounds and the castle itself, 3 hours is recommended for a visit. Free entry is given to the castle with the Bratislava card, otherwise its €10 from Tuesday to Sunday.

St Martin’s Cathedral

We caught a glimpse of the exterior of St Martin’s Cathedral, and its 85 meter spire as we returned.

St Martins Cathedral Bratislava

This 13th cathedral is the most significant in Bratislava. For 2 centuries it served as the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary. Its principle features are its stained glass windows and the chapel of St John the Merciful. But as often with churches, what lies beneath is of more interest. Centuries of catacombs and crypts contain no end of history. Only one of these is open to the public though.

Michael’s Gate

Michael’s Gate is a 51 meter tower and a part of the old defensive fortifications from the 13th century. It’s a pleasure to walk under and appreciate its dominance of the street in which it lies.

Michael's gate

But, and there’s always a but in this blog it seems. The tower can be visited, though not on a Monday. For €5, the armoury division of the national museum can be visited. On the top floor of the tower stands a statue of the archangel Michael slaying a dragon. Dragons get a tough time in these parts it seems. The top of the tower is another prime place to view the city from. Shame I didn’t get to scale a tower on my trip.

Top tip: Don’t visit Bratislava on a Monday for a one day trip. All of the top things to do in Bratislava are closed it appears.

Grassalkovich Palace

As our trip neared an end, we did get to feast our eyes on the sumptuous baroque styling of the Grassalkovich Mansion. It’s currently the home of the Slovakian president. When built in 1760, it was the summer home of Maria Theresa, the only female ruler of the Habsburg Dynasty. The mansion has French gardens, and impressive interior decoration. Allegedly. It only opens one day in the year to the public, so at least my timing wasn’t the cause of my missing out.

Grassalkovich mansion

3 hours or one day in Bratislava?

Can I recommend only 3 hours in Bratislava? Of course not. But as a flavour of the city it did give me an insight into the places to see in Bratislava in a day. It’s not a destination I would probably recommend for a long stay, but as a springboard to exploring the country, it provides a nice introduction to Slovakia. Within reach of the city are a trio of castles, Schloss Hof, Devin Castle (in Western Bratislava), and Cerveny Kamen Castle, all which tell a story from different periods of Slovak history.

A longer stay in Slovakia should also take in the Slovak radio building, an unusual upside down pyramid construction, like a spinning top; and the Slavin hilltop war memorial. The memorial is dedicated to Soviet soldiers lost during World War II.

If staying the night in Bratislava, the vast majority of hotels in the city are spread between the old town, and the new town which is located to the east of the Grassalkovich Mansion. Personally a hotel surrounded by the history and attractions of the old town would be my recommendation.

I knew my three hours in Bratislava wouldn’t cut it. I was merely left wanting more. But we must endeavour to make the most of our time however long or short it is. To seize each moment as it comes.

Have you ever had a taster of a city that simply wasn’t enough?

One day inBratislava

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