Once I’d booked my flights and started researching places to visit in Bratislava, I quickly became discouraged. There seemed little of note to see, and much less chatter on social media and travel blogs about the wonders of this hidden European gem. I solicited recommendations on a few occasions and was met with sullen silence. This did not bode well for my trip, and admittedly I was not expecting a great deal from the city, but prepare to be impressed.
A weekend itinerary highlighting places to visit in Bratislava
This baroque beauty has more than enough hidden treasures to keep you entertained for 48 hours. Indeed, you could spend much longer in the city, visit the nearby cities of Vienna and Budapest, and other attractions around the city. With budget flights available from Manchester and London, now is the time to book a weekend getaway to Bratislava. Go before the word gets out and don’t forget to take this guide.
Day one in Bratislava
Early Saturday morning – Old Town
Head to the Old Town (Stare Mesto) and wander the cobbled streets, lined with pastel coloured baroque palaces, restaurants and souvenir shops. Onion domes dot the city, outdoor cafes line the squares and tourists throng the alleyways gorging on ice cream and beer. It’s a fabulous place to people watch, and there are some truly sublime sights.
If you don’t fancy walking, you can jump on the city train (pick it up in the main square by the church) and take a one-hour tour of the Old Town for €10. Headphones are provided and commentary is available in 11 languages.
Late Saturday morning – Bratislava castle
History fiends may also wish to take the castle tour from Nam Suchona. For €10, the tour takes in the sights around the old town and drops you at the castle. It waits just twenty minutes, but I hopped on the first one which came along when I returned to the drop off point. It then heads back to town, saving your legs the arduous walk up the steep hill from the centre.
It’s more a regal palace than a traditional castle but I LOVED it. I wandered aimlessly around the walls, inner courtyard and beautiful formal garden for well over an hour, entirely free of charge. From the castle walls, you have fabulous views of the city and Danube, not to mention the UFO observation tower.
If you wish to visit the museum of Slovak history inside, this costs €7.
Early Saturday afternoon – UFO Tower
This UFO shaped flying object, floating high above Most SNP bridge is 95 metres high, and is a popular destination for those wishing to get a bird’s eye view of the city. It’s a short walk to the bridge and you will need to follow the underpass to the UFO base on the other side.
For €7.90, adults can ride to the observation deck, although I recommend paying €9.90 for the day and night pass. This allows you to visit twice in the same day – once during the day and again at night. It pays to do both, as the view is totally different by night and the bar is a great place to enjoy a beer or cocktail. Unlike many such Sky bars, prices are reasonable and there were no queues when we arrived at 9pm.
From the observation deck, you can soak up spectacular views of the old town and surrounding wilderness. On a clear day, you can see up to 62 miles!!!! Closer to home, I was astonished by how much greenery there is in the city, with parks and forests skirting the Danube.
Admittedly, Bratislava has its fair share of soviet-era concrete blocks, built for purpose rather than aesthetics, but slowly a new, glamorous and sophisticated side to Bratislava is emerging.
Saturday Mid afternoon – Riverwalk
If your feet can take it, wander the riverbank between the UFO bridge and Most Apollo bridge. Be warned, the distance is deceptive, and although the two bridges look close, it’s around 1.5 miles. If you are feeling particularly energetic, you can even continue over the bridge and follow the cycle path back along the other side. The full circuit is around 3.5 miles.
Whilst you catch occasional glimpses of the city from the opposite bank, it feels more like you are in a country park. Cycle and running paths connect the four bridges of the city, a perfect escape if you cannot bear the hustle and bustle of the old town any longer.
You will also spot amazing sculptures during your walk, such as this one!
Saturday evening – UFO and old town
Split your time between your return visit to the UFO and the idyllic old town. Key landmarks glisten under spotlights whilst the Danube glitters below. The Old Town bustles with revellers enjoying dinner and drinks at one of the many street cafes. There’s plenty of places to choose from and prices are very reasonable at a few Euros for a large beer and main courses for less than €10.
You may spot the occasional stag or hen party but thankfully, the cheap beers and lively atmosphere seem to be a well kept secret.
Day two in Bratislava
Sunday morning – Bratislava Forest Park
After breakfast, head to the Bratislava Forest Park. It towers above the city as you stare up at the castle from the Danube waterfront. It is instantly recognisable by the big steel tower perched on top, and is a great place to witness Slovakians making the most of balmy summer days. The scent of barbecue smoke wafts around makeshift campsites sprouting fire pits and temporary banqueting shelters.
Getting to Zelezna Studnicka and the TV tower
It is a pain to get to the forest on public transport, but surely the journey is part of the fun? I took bus 29 from Mata Selma (by the Eurovea shopping centre) to Lafranconi. I then changed to bus 37 (note, the bus stop is over the road) to Patronka. From Patronka, bus 43 winds through the forest, giving you lovely views of woodlands, fishing lakes, hiking and biking trails.
You can also take bus 144 to Kamzík but apparently there is a long walk to the tower from the bus stop. I didn’t take this route so cannot say which route is preferable.
Assuming you do as I did and travel from Patronka, jump off at the stop named Lanovka. From here, follow the trail just below the bus stop. You will pass a playground on your left and a flat expanse of grassland on your right. Take the bridge over the stream and climb the stairs to the chairlift.
This is an antique chairlift, which would not have looked out of place on a ski piste in the 1960s. I’m not entirely sure it would pass health and safety in the UK, but it’s an adventure right? The seat lifts and drops into place, and a rickety, rusted bar swings round to serve as both a safety barrier and a footrest. It grumbles and groans up the hillside for around 15 minutes, giving you panoramic views of the forest and the occasional glimpse of the Kamzík Tv tower.
Kamzík TV Tower
From the chairlift, it’s a short walk through the forest to the tower. Note it is not signposted, so when you exit the chairlift, take the road to the parking lot on the left. Take a right turn by the yellow and brown restaurant to reach a junction. Turn left and walk a few hundred yards to another junction. Turn right and take the path through the trees to the base (or walk up the road if the weather is bad).
Constructed in 1967, the tower is 194 metres high. It is supposed to resemble a wine bottle, but unless you have drunk a bottle of the stuff, I suspect you will fail to see the resemblance. The supposed shape nevertheless pays homage to the vineyards spread on the slopes below Kamzík at an altitude of 433.5 metres. Whilst I could not spot these from the tower itself, I could see them easily from the Slavic monument. Pretty amazing considering the proximity to the city, and as you know I like a wine!
Head to the restaurant and bar in the tower which is 633 metres high. You will have fabulous views to the little Carpathian mountains (they remind me hugely of the Blue Mountains in Carolina). If you look to the left as you enter the bar, pristine wilderness stretches as far as the eye can see. Out to the right you can see the plains of the valley, and the old and new towns merging into one.
Other activities at Zelezna Studnicka
Mountain bike trails
Mountain bike enthusiasts can take the cable car to the top, and descend a selection of routes based on difficulty.
There are also numerous hiking trails of different lengths, but I content myself with a cold beer and the view. A half litre of beer is just €3.50 and small glasses of wine start at €2.80. This is astonishing considering there is no entry charge for the tower observation decks of the restaurant and bar.
Early Sunday afternoon – Slavic monument
Jump on bus 43 from Zelezna Studnicka to Patronka and then 207 to Budkova. Walk back up the hill from the bus stop with the pizza restaurant and gelateria on your left and follow the road named Stara Vinarska to the left. It’s a ten-minute walk to the monument, but get to admire the mansions of wealthy locals and ambassadors from China and the United States.
Another option is to take the 147 from Budkova or Hodzovo Namestie. This is the only bus that takes you directly to the monument but it has limited service, with just one bus an hour.
It’s worth a trip to the monument for more amazing views of the city. Ironically, the site commemorates the deaths of 6,845 soviet soldiers who died liberating Bratislava at the end of the Second World War. Maybe that’s why they felt entitled to absorb the country into the Soviet Union!
There’s not a huge amount to see, although the Slavic tower of 52 metres is the highlight. It dominates the main square, keeping a watchful eye on the statues scattered beneath. Cross the square, keeping the monument on your left and descend the stairs to take in the cross and plaques commemorating the soldiers. Regardless of the history, to read the names of so many young men who perished, many not much older than 20, is truly saddening.
Unless you really love war memorials, you won’t need more than an hour to pay your respects, so head back to the bus stop and back to Hodzovo Namestie. This is your last stop of the weekend so make the most of it.
Late Sunday afternoon – Grassalkovich Palace
The palace dominates the square. It resembles a French palace with white shutters, flower boxes and ornate gates. The white stone shimmers in the sun, but the highlight for me was the fountain in the square in front. A huge steel globe hovers above azure waters, whilst fountains amuse children trying to cool off in the summer heat.
Once you’ve admired the palace and its gardens (free to enter), head back to the Old Town for a last glimpse of enchanting alleyways and lively squares.
A weekend in Bratislava
I promise you will not be disappointed by this city. It may not have the allure or reputation of Prague and Budapest, but it has enough sights for a long weekend. Maybe the fact that it is overshadowed by its neighbours explains why it is less busy and less expensive. Both pretty good reasons to visit in my opinion.
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