The 25 years old capital – A travel guide to Bratislava
Parading soldiers, elderly playing chess, musicians playing Mamma Mia on the street, youngsters taking a refreshing dip in the public fountains – this is a usual image of a Saturday in Europe´s one of the tiniest capitals: Bratislava. With a population barely over half a million, Bratislava has become capital of Slovakia on the first of January in 1993. The new millennia brought the city continuous prosperity, the old town was renovated and the economic development lead to the construction of new buildings, skyscrapers which eventually became landmarks of the city. The vibrancy of the modern life changes during the weekend when the city slows down and gives place to the joys of life.
Visiting the following places you can get a glimpse of the history and life of Slovakia, one of the youngest independent states of Europe.
The Bratislava Castle is a massive white building on the peak of the Slovakian capital´s hill, close to the old town. It is a 15 minutes walk distance from the St. Martin´s Cathedral on a rather remote path offering a beautiful view over the city as you climb higher and higher. From the main gate you can get a direct view over the Danube and the UFO bridge with the restaurant on its top. At the main entrance you can find the Statue of King Svatopluk I who was the ruler of Great Moravia between 871 and 894. At that time Great Moravia occupied the current South Germany, South Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and North Hungary. The reign of Svatopluk I was however quite short and the Hungarian conquest put an end to it in 902. Svatopluk remains however a distinctive historical character and contributes to the national identity of the Slovakian people.
The castle was built between the 9th and the 10th century, during the Hungarian reign it had an important defensive role against the Bohemian and the German attacks. The researchers found archaeological proof that the hill was inhabited already in 2800 BC due to its position in Central Europe where the Carpathian Mountains meet the Alps, but the castle was built by the Slavic people when they conquered Bratislava.
The Slavic reign lasted 3 centuries and then the Hungarian ruled the region for almost a millennia. The castle was an important place of the ever fighting Hungarian kings. After the conquest of Hungary by the Turks in the 16th century, the Hungarian capital was moved from Buda to Bratislava and the Hungarian crown was kept in the Bratislava castle. Currently there is a reconstruction of the crown in the lower part of the Crown Tower. You can climb up in the tower, but windows on the top floor are closed and hence the view is not impressive.
A turning point in the castle´s life was the moment when Maria Theresa was crowned Queen of Hungary, because she loved Bratislava and stayed many times in the castle. During her reign, the castle was extended, restored and decorated. Following the queen´s death, the castle was abandoned, Albert of Sachsen-Teschen and his wife Marie Christine of Austria, the beloved daughter of the queen left Bratislava and took with them the furniture and the art collections.
The castle was restored in 1953 and opened as a museum. Since the castle was emptied, we cannot get a glimpse of the life the royals lived centuries ago. The only royal element in the interior reminding us that the building was once a castle is the baroque Grand Staircase. On the second floor in the Slovakian National Museum and the Treasury Chamber. On the next floors archaeological exhibitions are put at display through which you can get a glimpse of the history of the Slovakian people. The Hungarian era is less represented, however there are plenty of rooms exhibiting the communism era: at this point Slovakia was already part of Czechoslovakia and after a peaceful separation from the Czechs in 1993 it became Slovakia.
The castle is remarkable and offers an introduction to the history of the Slovakian people.
Opening hours: Monday – closed
Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 – 18:00
Entrance fee: 10 euro (reduced 4 euro) (20% discount with Bratislava card)
The ticket office is at the main entrance on the right of the statue of Svatopluk I.
House of the Good Shepherd, Clock Museum
Located half way between the Castle of Bratislava and St. Martin´s Cathedral, the House of Good Shepherd is a Rococo style house built in 1760 – 1765 in the Jewish quarter. Since then the Jewish quarter was almost entirely destroyed, the House of Good Shepherd however survived. The ground floor served and still serves commercial purposes, while the upper levels where transformed from a living area to a museum. Currently the museum has more than 60 clocks on display and most of them are masterpieces of local clockmakers. It is an homage to the tradition of clockmacking as Bratislava is the city where more then 100 clockmakers set up shop in the 18th century.
Opening hours: Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Friday: 10:00 – 17:00
Saturday – Sunday: 11:00 – 18:0
Entrance fee: 2.50 Euro (reduced 1.50)
The UFO Bridge or originally called Most SNP (Most Slovenského národného povstania) is the second bridge of Bratislava built over the Danube. ˝Most˝ means bridge in Slovakian and its full name would be Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising. The uniqueness of the bridge lies in its architectural achievement and design. Besides the engineering ingenuity, there is one more feature which makes it immediately recognizable: the flying saucer shaped restaurant on the top of the only pylon of the bridge. The restaurant is open and has Mediterranean menu on offer beside an amazing view over the city.
Address: Most SNP 1, 811 06 Bratislava
Opening hours: Observing deck: 10:00-23:00
UFO Restaurant: 12:00-23:00, bar 10:00-23:00
Entrance fee: 7.40 euro for the observing deck (free if you visit the restaurant)
St. Martin´s Cathedral
Named after the Pannonian native bishop St. Martin of Tours, St. Martin´s cathedral is the biggest and the oldest church in Bratislava. The first church built on this place was built by King Emeric of Hungary in 1221 from the desire to move the liturgy kept in the chapel of Bratislava Castle to a larger church. In 1331 the church was extended and rebuilt in Gothic style.
The cathedral got its current look in 1877 after several restorations and reconstructions. In 1563 the cathedral became the Coronation church of the Hungarian Kingdom as the Ottoman Turks conquered Székesfehérvár and the St. Mary´s coronation church. 11 kings and queens and 8 consorts were crowned in St. Martin´s cathedral, with the most notable being Maria Theresa. The church is still in use to such an extent that on Saturdays and Sundays you can barely enter due to liturgies and the many weddings.
Address: Katedrála sv. Martina, Rudnayovo nám. 1, 811 01 Bratislava
Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 9:00 – 11:30 and 13:00 – 18:00
Saturday: 9:00 – 11:30
Sunday: 13:45 – 16:30
Entrance fee: Free of charge, 2.50 euro for the treasury and the choir balcony
Michael´s gate is one of the four gates in Bratislava and among the oldest buildings of the city.
It allowed the entrance to the city on the northern side and was the place where the new king said his oath to the hands of the archbishop after his coronation and procession through the city. The tower of the gate can be climbed (it´s 51 m tall) and on the way up you can admire the weapon exhibition of Bratislava City Museum. On the top of the tower is a statue of St. Michael.
The view from the tower is superb: you can get a panorama view over the main square and the Bratislava Castle, ideal for photography at sunset.
Address: Museum of Arms, Michael´s Tower
Michalská street 22, Bratislava
Opening hours: Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Friday: 10:00 – 17:00
Saturday – Sunday: 11:00 – 18:00
Entrance fee: 4.50 euro (reduced 2.50 euro)
Bratislava City Museum
The Old Town Hall is the building where the Bratislava City Museum is currently set. The building served as a Town Hall already in the 14th century and has Gothic windows with rococo interior decoration. It was reconstructed in 1599 in renaissance style and the tower got a baroque shape in the 18th century. An additional neo-renaissance/neo-Gothic wing was built in 1912 thus making the building complex look like a melange of architectural designs. Just like the museum of the Bratislava Castle, the City Museum has a large exhibition focusing on the Slovakian people´s history from pre-historic era until the 20th century.
Clerical artifacts, priest robes, pottery, the town´s keys, coats of arms, furniture pieces and tools from the 19th and 20th century, confectionery utilities and many more are on display. On the upper level you can find the study of Dr. Ovidius Faust, the town archivist who largely contributed to the elaboration of the archiving system. He gathered a collection of 9000 books that he donated to the Bratislava City Museum.
Address: Primaciálne námestie 3, Bratislava
Opening hours: Monday: closed
Tuesday – Friday: 10:00 – 17:00
Sunday – Saturday: 11:00 – 18:00
Entrance fee: 5 euro (reduced 2.50)
Located in the city center, the Primate´s Palace is the seat of the Mayor of Bratislava. The classical style building was erected in the 18th century for the Archbishop József Batthyány. The inner court has a fountain with the statue of St. George slaying a three-headed dragon.
The palace´s rooms are decorated with English tapestries depicting the story of Hero and Leander from the Greek mythology. The rooms have kept some of the original furniture and portraits of Hungarian rulers are exhibited.The Chapel of St. Ladislau is built in the palace and its wall is decorated with a fresco representing the saint. The Hall of Mirrors was the place where important meetings and gatherings were held during which relevant treaties were signed. Today the Mirror Hall hosts mostly concerts.
Unfortunately, the photography is strictly prohibited and the kind ladies at the reception make sure to follow you along reassuring you comply with the rules.
Address: Primaciálne námestie 2, 811 01 Bratislava
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 – 17:00
Entrance fee: 3 euro
A ten minutes walk distance from the Primate´s Palace towards the East is a tiny yet outstanding church, the Blue Church or the Church of St. Elisabeth, dedicated to the princess Elisabeth of Hungary. According to one of the legends the princess was born in Bratislava in the 13th century and at the age of four left for Thuringia to receive German education and later marry Ludwig IV. She was canonized by the Catholic church for helping the poor. The Blue Church was built according the designs of Ödön Lechner in Art Nouveau style (called Secessionist style in Central Europe) and was dedicated to her.
The exterior is painted in blue and the wavy patterns are highlighted with blue mosaics and majolicas. The roof is blue glazed too. The interior bears similar design as the exterior: the benches are blue and the wall is a combination of white, golden and blue. The wavy patterns characterize the interior and grant it a gracefully delicate shape.
The church is closed to visitors
Address: Bezručova 2, 81109 Bratislava
Visiting the landmarks of Bratislava you realize how rich and diverse the city´s history is. The Slavs, the Hungarians, the Austrians and the Germans all influenced the evolution of the city.
There are still people who speak the 3 unofficial languages of Bratislava: Slovakian, German and Hungarian and cherish the times when the place belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire. And there are also those who embrace the possibilities created by a new era and technology, and head confidently forward leading the city to growth and wealth. Whether you like classical and historical times or prefer the modern and vibrant places, Bratislava has them all and is a wonderful place to spend some time.