Project Description

Bratislava, also historically known as Pressburg in German or Pozsony in Hungarian, is the capital of Slovakia. It is located in the extreme southwest of the country, very close to the Austrian border (60 km from Vienna), as well as Hungary and Czech Republic. The city is crossed by the Danube and is a mixed of different influences. From a tourist point of view, Bratislava deserves a one-day trip, even if it is nothing compared to his Czech sister, Prague. However, it remains a small town full of charm and give the Western Europe tourist a glimpse of Eastern European culture.

Bratislava or “Vienna’s Suburbs”

I took the opportunity of being in Vienna for a few days to enjoy a “one day trip” in the heart of the Slovak capital city. There are several ways to reach the city from Vienna: bus, train and even boat during the high season. For my part, it will be the bus which is also the cheaper choice in term of transportation. The journey is a little longer than by train or boat, as we stop several times in Vienna and its airport, and between Austria and Slovakia before finally arriving right next to the historic center of Bratislava. Arrivals by boat are approximately in the same area, while Bratislava main train station is somewhat remote from the center and requires taking a bus or tram to reach the old town … Unless you have good legs and are not afraid to walk for 20 good minutes!

Once out of the bus, I do not waste any time and follow some nearby signs leading me on a nearby hill on top of which is situated Bratislava Castle, recently renovated. Prepare yourself for a steep climb, but the well-deserved reward is the castle itself and the panoramic view of the Danube from the ramparts, nice!

Construction of the castle began in the 10th century and the monument is today a true symbol of the city – it is even represented on the Slovak coins of 10, 20 and 50 euro cents, just so you know! From the castle or rather its ramparts we can admire the view over part of Bratislava, the neighboring Austria and if the weather permits, Vienna and Hungary, but the sky is not that clear today.

From the huge walls made of brick and stone, we can also see the New Bridge suspended above the Danube since 1969, and the Cathedral of St. Martin on the edge of the old town. Let’s have a look at this church, right after having admired the castle and the small but nice garden just next to it.

Built in the early 14th, the famous Gothic St. Martin cathedral is one of the oldest churches in Bratislava and is especially known for many sovereigns who have been crowned in which was the Kingdom of Hungary between 1563 and 1830. From this prestigious function, the building has kept a remarkable inside all of carved wood with many works, including a very nice painting of “The Last Supper”. At the top of its huge tower, which access is unfortunately not available today, is a copy of the Hungarian crown and a panoramic view of downtown Bratislava.

Now begins my trip within the old town of Bratislava, a charming maze of narrow streets where are situated, next to each other, many houses, churches, palaces, squares and fountains. The ubiquitous tourists markets and stands are very picturesque and it is possible to buy many traditional Slovak products there. The curious tourist as myself can also have fun in flushing out some unusual statues which I will write about a little lower in this article. There are also numerous restaurants and you will be spoiled for choice as to where to take your lunch or dinner. Be careful though to avoid restaurants situated on main squares and crowded streets, because these “touristy places” are much more expensive and do not necessarily offer food of a good quality… Nothing bad, don’t worry about that, but far too expensive for what it really is!

Throughout my walk through the streets and alleys of the old town, I finally reach Michael Gate (Michalská brána), another landmark of Bratislava in the heart of the historic center. This is actually a fortified tower which houses a weapons and fortifications museum that can be visited (after having payed a small entrance fee). After having visited the museum spread on each of the first four floors, I do not miss of course the opportunity to reach the top of the tower to admire the panoramic view from up there, quite nice indeed!

After this visit, I go back on dry land and settle down on the terrace of a nearby restaurant. After having enjoyed a typical local dish, I resume my visit of the city. I leave for a few moment the old town to find myself before the Grassalkovich Palace of Bratislava, residence of the President of the Slovak Republic and located next to the Summer Palace of the Archbishop. Conducted at the request of the Croatian count Anton Grassalkovich, who was at the service of the Hungarian monarchy, it has long been a center of Slovak culture. In the communist era, it was transformed into a “House of Pioneers” before becoming the Presidential Palace after the independence of Slovakia. In front of the main entrance of the building is a large and lovely fountain with a huge globe inlaid with doves symbolizing peace between peoples.

I then turns back toward the heart of the old town again, as there is nothing else to see in this part of the new town. In doing so, I reach a square around which are gathered several important monuments, such as St. Saviour Church, Protestant edifice built by the German community of Bratislava in 1638. Later, the church has undergone several modifications by the Jesuits to coat the Baroque style in 1672. Thus, the difference between the inside decoration, very rich and complex, and its exterior façade, simple and austere, is quite obvious to see. Another interesting thing to note is that the church has no steeple, as it was requested so by the King of Hungary who did not want to change the apperance of the area. But I wonder… A church without a steeple, it’s not really a church, is it?

Among other buildings on the square is the Primate Palace which is right next to the old city hall, the largest neo-classical building in Slovakia. Built in the late 18th century for the Hungarian bishop of Esztergom, it is in one of its room, the Hall of Mirrors, that Napoleon signed the Treaty of Pressburg, which ended the Austro-French war after the Battle of Austerlitz. The second floor of the Primatial Palace exhibits beautiful English tapestries from the 17th century. The tour is very interesting, but the pictures are not allowed.

Continuing towards the central square, I enter and then visit the Old Town Hall, the oldest building in Bratislava. Consisting of small white houses with red tile decorated with colorful mosaics and a gold and turquoise roof, the building now houses the Municipal Historical Museum of Bratislava which allows visitor to admire beautiful objects and fine restored dungeons, so new that it looks more like some hostel dorms than old cells!

I now reach the central and main square of the old town, very large and clean, and surrounded by colorful and beautifully decorated buildings. Some shops, as well as the most famous restaurants and hotels in the city are somewhere nearby, but the passing tourist will learn that it is better not to stop there, or be ready to spend more money than necessary! Now don’t get me wrong, these are great places, but the prices are definitely too high, at least for me and my wallet!

People are distributing free glasses of water at the center of the square, probably to help tourists coping with the ambient heat, how nice of them! I then grab a glass and walk around the square. Look, right there! In a corner of the square, I now see the first of the few statues scattered in the old town I mentioned above. This one is a soldier of Napoleon’s army relying on a bench. This soldier reminds visitors of Napoleon himself, because he wears the famous cocked hat. Bonaparte visited Bratislava in 1805 for the first time, then it’s in 1809 that his army destroyed Devin Castle, near Bratislava. Needless to say it is very difficult to take a picture of the soldier, as both tourists and locals follow and succeed in sitting on the bench, but things come to those who wait.

On a corner of the square is another statue, that of Schone Naci. Legend of Bratislava, Schone Naci was also a well-known figure of the 20th century. He was a poor and mentally disabled man who paraded in the streets of Bratislava in a very old but elegant set and dressed in a velvet coat. He greeted passersby with his top hat and bowed politely to the women he met.

Following a major street leading to another square, I come across the statue of Cumil, which appeared on the streets of Bratislava in 1997. The man who lived in the old city is among the favorites of tourists and inhabitants of the city. He is represented the upper half of the body coming out of a sewer and he looks like he’s resting with his arms crossed. Children love to pose for pictures, sitting on his head, and lively discussions take place when it comes to describe its core business. You decide if you think that he is simply resting at ground level or take advantage of his position to look under the skirts of girls!

At the other end of the street, I step foot on another square (I told you, its a maze!) where the Slovak National Theatre, founded in 1920 shortly after independence Czechoslovakia, is located. This is one of the major cultural institutions of the country, surrounded by a few fancy hotels and other luxury restaurants. Today, the Slovak National Theatre occurs in 2 buildings of Bratislava and is home to three professional art companies; theater, ballet and opera. Unfortunately for me, I will not attend any representation today, but I intend to make up for it at the Vienna Opera!

On the other side of the square towards the castle is a long and beautiful street lined with trees and decorated with a basin of water providing a welcome freshness around. Following the pool out of the aggresive sun, I finally find myself in front of the main bus station where I arrived earlier today. As I still have a little time before taking the bus back to Vienna, I savor a delicious iced coffee in the shade of a terrace facing a nice fountain, enough to finish the day in style! It goes without saying that after having seeing Prague or even Vienna, Bratislava does not necessarily impressed me in terms of architecture or culture, but it is the perfect day excursion for you to change your mind after two or three days in Vienna. Given the proximity of the two capitals, no reason for you not to go there during a long weekend in the Viennese capital!