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I wasn’t expecting much when I was visiting Bratislava since I was told by so many people that there wasn’t much to do in this city, but I found so many great things to do in this fascinating place that became its own country only 26 years ago. Here are 11 things to do in Bratislava, Slovakia that I really enjoyed.
1. MAIN SQUARE OF OLD TOWN
One place you definitely need to stop by is Old Town and the Main Square is in the heart of Bratislava. There are some historical monuments, a few embassies (Japan, France and Greece), delicious restaurants and cute little shops. They also host a lively Christmas market during the holidays.
2. CUMIL STATUE
The Cumil statue is often called The Watcher or The Observer. The word Cumil means “the watcher” in Slovak. I thought there was some kind of significant story behind this statue but it was just put there as a joke and now it’s the most photographed statue in Bratislava. I love the Slovaks for making this ridiculous statue. It’s fun to take a picture with it and if you rub it’s head, it’s supposed to bring you good luck. It’s also said that if you touch his nose, you’ll become pregnant.
3. HVIEZDOSLAVOVO SQUARE
Hviezdoslavovo Square is named after a popular Slovak poet from the 19th century and it’s where the Christmas markets are held. It’s also the meeting spot for Be Free Tours, a free tour of Bratislava which I highly recommend.
The square also consists of the Slovak National Theatre, an opera house from 1886, and the Carlton Hotel. The hotel is considered a legendary hotel in Bratislava as there is a long history behind it and considered a VIP hotel because of all the famous people that stayed there like Thomas Edison, Alfred Nobel, Elton John, Rihanna, and more.
4. KAFFEE MAYER & STATUE
Kaffee Mayer (Cafe Mayer) is the oldest cafe in Bratislava from 1873. There are mixed reviews on the coffee and food, but it’s more well-known for it’s statue that’s in front of the establishment. The statue is of a man named Schönen Naci and he was a renowned Bratislava character of the mid-20th century. He didn’t do anything special except walk around Old Town, greeting people saying “I Kiss Your Head” in three languages: German, Hungarian and Slovak. He became very popular and everybody loved his bright, charming character. His statue is placed in front of Kaffee Mayer because it was his favorite cafe in Bratislava.
5. ST. MICHAEL’S GATE & BRIDGE
In the medieval times, Bratislava had fortification walls that were built in the 13th century and stayed up until the 18th century. At the time, there were 4 entrance gates into the city on the north, south, east and west. St. Michael’s is the north gate and the only surviving entrance.
The bridge is also known as a love bridge because of all the love locks on the fence. Couples place locks on the fence to symbolize their love and then they throw the key into the water… the only problem is that there is no water down there (although there used to be water below this bridge). That’s why the people of Slovakia say that this place is for couples who might have second thoughts later on because you can easily come back and find the key later.
6. UFO BRIDGE
The UFO Bridge (or Most SNP) is an icon of Bratislava and was built in the 1960s at the height of Communism in Slovakia. It is the world's longest bridge to have one pylon and one cable-stayed plane. There is also a restaurant on top that will give you great views overlooking the city. If you would like to walk the bridge, there is a lower level for the pedestrians and bicycles.
7. BRATISLAVA CASTLE
Bratislava Castle was originally built in the 10th century. It survived many significant events throughout the years but it did not survive a fire that happened in 1811. The castle was almost completely burnt down, so it just became ruins. In the 1950s, they started to rebuild the castle but since it was during the Communist regime, the Communists were not interested in rebuilding the castle and it was put on hold for a very long time. They finally finished reconstructing the castle in 2014, so that’s why it looks so new.
The castle now houses a museum on the history of Slovakia and is also used for official political meetings. George W. Bush, Tony Blair, presidents of Austria, Bulgaria, France, etc. have been here.
Bratislava Castle is about a 15-minute walk uphill from the main part of Old Town. The castle itself is a little boring and there are mixed reviews on the museum inside but the views from here are gorgeous. You’ll get an incredible view of Danube River along with the UFO Bridge and you’ll also see Austria in the distance with the windmills. On clear days, you can even see Hungary.
Slavín is a memorial monument and military cemetery situated on top of a Slavin hill. It is dedicated to the Soviet Army soldiers who fell during World War II to liberate the city. It is also a burial ground to thousands of Soviet soldiers. There are 6,845 soldiers buried in the cemetery. You can also get a beautiful view of Bratislava from this memorial.
Although the Slovaks did not agree with the Communism way of life, they still wanted to pay respects to the Soviet soldiers for liberating them from Nazi rule.
On the other side of the Danube River is Petrzalka, the most densely populated residential district in Central Europe. It is most well-known for having blocks of flats called panelaks, which were built during the Communist regime. Panelaks are panel buildings constructed of pre-fabricated, pre-stressed concrete and they are everywhere in Petrzalka. Citizens of Slovakia still live in these buildings today and you can see hints of art or symbolisms from the Communist era.
10. POST COMMUNISM TOUR
If you want to learn more about Slovakia’s history during the Communist regime, I highly recommend taking the Post Communism Tour of Bratislava with Authentic Slovakia. They will give you an in-depth look at what Communism was like and how things have changed today. My tour guide, Marec, was fantastic and it was so fun being driven around in a vintage Skoda car.
11. PRASNA BASTA
If you want to try some traditional Slovak dishes, Prasna Basta is the place to go. You’ll get tasty dishes at great prices located inside a 16th century building. One of our tour guides recommended trying duck in Slovakia and this restaurant cooked their duck perfectly. It’s tucked away in one of the alleys in Old Town and wasn’t as crowded as the other restaurants in the main part of the area.
I hope you found some interesting things from this list you’d love to do in Bratislava. I thoroughly enjoyed this city!