One day is Bratislava, is it enough time? Well the first time we visited it we spent two hours in the city having cycled there from Austria. The second time we took a day trip from Vienna. Two hours for our first visit was too short, the day trip from Vienna a just about perfect duration.
Bratislava: A Day Trip from Vienna
As soon as we started to plan our Austrian holiday I factored in a day trip to Bratislava from Vienna. The two hours that we had spent whilst on our cycling holiday down the Danube had whetted our appetite for more. What we didn’t check was when the Slovak National Uprising Anniversary holiday was and ended up visiting on it, that meant lots of things were closed! Here is a handy list of all the Slovak public holidays, so you don’t make the same mistake! https://www.mzv.sk/en/web/en/slovakia/public-holidays
How to get to Bratislava from Vienna
Bus, train or boat are your choices for travel between Vienna and Bratislava. Initially I thought that boat was the way to go, but on close examination it was both the slowest and most expensive way to travel. Catching the Flixbus is the cheapest option, takes about an hour and half. We plumped for the train. Trains leave the central station in Vienna every half an hour and take just under an hour and cost €22 return. You can buy a Bratislava ticket or Euregio Slovaki ticket for €18 which also covers public transport in Bratislava. I didn’t realise about this until after we made the trip as the ticket is not obvious on the OBB website … follow this link for the Bratislava ticket
Arriving by Train at Bratislava
Bratislava train station is an 18 minute walk downhill to the centre. There are numerous buses immediately outside the station but tickets are sold only from ancient machines that only accept cash. We walked! Once you are in the centre everything is within easy walking distance.
What to see in one day in Bratislava
The first time we visited Bratislava we cycled in. Approaching from the Hungarian side of the river and at first glance we saw a mass of Soviet era apartment blocks. Then we saw the castle. From then on everything was chocolate box pretty. Cute streets, lots and lots of cafes with people sat outside, blue churches and pink palaces.
Walking down from the station the first place you come to is the Presidential Palace. You can’t go in but at noon when the President is in residence you can watch the changing of the guard. Unfortunately we chose a day when the President was elsewhere but enjoyed looking through the railings anyway.
St Michael’s Gate
Once upon time Bratislava had four gates into the city, now only St Michael’s Gate remains. Your walking route from the station takes you right under gate. There is a small museum in the gate and you can climb to the top for views across the city, entry costs €6.
Cute Medieval Streets
As soon as you pass through St Michael’s Gate you are in a maze of cute medieval streets. As you descend further into the city the buildings become newer and bigger but still incredibly pretty. It is the city with the most appealing cafes that I have ever been to. The first time we visited at the end of a long day cycling through three different countries, it was hard to resist the lure of sitting under a shady umbrella and having a drink.
Main Square or Hlávne Námestie
Those medieval streets meander down to the main square Hlávne Námestie. Handsome buildings line the square. One side is taken up with the 14th and 15th century gothic Stará Radnica or old town hall and another with the Neo-baroque Palugyayov Palace. In the centre is Roland’s fountain with a statue of that reputedly bows once a year, on New Year and Good Friday. Only native Bratislavans with a pure heart who has never harmed anyone can see this occur. Anyway there are three fine cafes in the square in which to sit and watch for movement.
Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall is actually a collection of buildings ranging from the 14th to the 20th centuries. Inside you will find a museum dedicated to the history of Bratislava and the opportunity to clamber up the tower for views across the city. Entry is €8.
Stand outside an marvel at the pink prettiness of the Primate’s Palace. This is the building that I most wanted to see inside in Bratislava. Mercifully it was actually open on the Slovak National Uprising Anniversary. Why did I want to visit? Well because it was here, in the Hall of Mirrors, that the Treaty of Pressburg was signed by Napoleon that effectively meant the end of the Holy Roman Empire. As well as the hall of mirrors there is a glorious enfilade of rooms filled with rare and beautiful Mortlake tapestries. Entry costs €3.
Blue Church of Bratislava or St Elizabeth
St Elizabeth Catholic Church is the proper name of the blue church in Bratislava. Edmund Lechner designed the church and neighbouring grammar school in the early 20th century. It is a symphony of blue inside and out. Visiting hours are extremely short but the doors were open when we visited allow a glimpse inside. In the evenings the church is open from 5.30pm – 7pm and in the morning 6.30am – 7.30am (noon on Sunday), there are regular Catholic masses during the day.
So called because it looks like a UFO hovering above the Danube. Built in the 70s it offers great views across the river. Lifts to the observation deck take less than a minute and cost €9. It is a great place to enjoy a sundowner drink with views across the city, drinks are pricey but then you are paying for the view too.
Stroll along the banks of the Danube
The Danube is one of the great European rivers, rising in Switzerland and meandering to the Black Sea in Romania. Stroll along the river front in Bratislava to see the many cruise ships moored up. Maybe even have a drink on one of the restaurant boats.
St Martin’s Cathedral
St Martin’s Cathedral was the place where Hungarian Kings were crowned from 16th to 18th centuries. On their way to their coronation the monarch’s followed a set route, you can follow in their footsteps. Look for crowns embedded in the streets of Bratislava, click here for a handy map to point you in the right direction. Inside the Cathedral is quite humdrum as Cathedral’s go (and I say that as a Cathedral enthusiast). Entry is free.
Modern sculpture is dotted around the centre of Bratislava. Mast famous of all is Čumil, who appears to be emerging from a manhole. Then there is a Napoleonic era soldier resting on a bench in the main square. Our favourite was two old fashioned bicycles, perfect for twins who are cycling down the Danube as we were on our first visit.
Bratislava Castle overlooks the city. It is a white fortress. If you are only visiting for the day it probably isn’t worth the steep climb up to the top. Should you clamber up the hill there is a museum inside.
Eating in Bratislava
Everywhere you look in Bratislava there are cafes, in the summer people are sat outside enjoying the sunshine. Both times that we have visited we went to Schokocafe Maximilian on the main square, the first time because Mr CW is called Max and it seemed rude not to. The second time because the hot chocolate and chocolate ice cream from there are the among the best that we have had anywhere. For lunch we ate at Pod Kamennym Stromom, which is hidden away in a courtyard, through an archway off Sedlárska which leads to the main square. In the winter there is a cellar bar.
Pozsony, Pressburg or Bratislava?
I am a keen reader of novels and histories and was a little puzzled that Bratislava had not featured in any of them. A little delving reveals that that is because Bratislava is the Slovak name for the city, only now that the Slovaks are in charge of their own country does it proudly present the name to the world. Before it has been known by the Hungarian Pozsony or the German Pressburg.
Where is Bratislava?
Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and in the top right hand corner of the country. Fun fact: Bratislava is the only capital city that shares a boundary with two other nation states, Hungary and Austria. It is equidistant from Vienna and Budapest with both about an hour away by train.
Is the Bratislava Card worth it for a day trip?
First of all what is the Bratislava Card? It comes in two versions with and without transport. For one person with transport it costs €23 and without €21. For that you get free entry into the Old Town Hall and St Michael’s Gate plus a discount on entry to the UFO bridge. There are many other free entry and discounts but they are not mentioned in the this post. We decided not to get the pass as the major draw of Bratislava is wandering around the extremely cute city centre and that is free. If you do decide to buy the Bratislava card buy it before you go and download it to your phone.
Our first visit to Bratislava was part of our cycling holiday down the Danube, one of our most enjoyable holidays of the teenage years, you can read about our cycle and cruise down the Danube here.