Bratislava – Beauty on the Danube
Bratislava is located in the south-western portion of Slovakia. It is the capital city of that country, and is home to half-a-million inhabitants; it is considered a safe, friendly, and hassle-free place to visit, and there are many things to do in Bratislava for the discerning visitor. The city stands on both banks of the famous River Danube as well as straddling the left-hand bank of the River Morava. Bratislava also has the honour of being the only national capital in the world that borders two other independent countries in Austria and Hungary.
The city itself, as well as the area surrounding it, has had an eventful and varied history. First settled as early as 5000 BC, the first known permanent settlement was in 200 BC. Over the centuries, it has seen occupations and affiliations from and with many European powers. Ancient Romans occupied the area for about four centuries until the fourth century AD, after which Hungarian, Austrian, French, Nazi Germany and the Eastern Bloc all invaded, conquered or else had other influences in the area.
Despite being located in the smallest region of Slovakia (Bratislava Region), the region in which the city finds itself is the wealthiest and most prosperous on an economical level of all eight Slovak regions. The services sector is the largest employer in this area of the country, with tourism, IT, banking, trade and telecommunications being the leading industries.
Culturally, it could be said that Bratislava is the beating heart of Slovakia. A lot of this has to do with the city’s multi-cultural character, with many religious and ethnic groups playing a large part. As such, the city of Bratislava is home to a plethora of galleries, theatres, cinemas, museums, and concert halls.
Public transport is adequate in Bratislava, with the city running bus, tram, and trolleybus services. There are good rail and road services to and from the city, and the main airport lies just 9 km to the north-east of the city.
Things to do in Bratislava Right Now
Visit Devin Castle
Sitting on a rocky hill over 200 metres up, and at the confluence of the Danube and Morava Rivers, Devin Castle is an impressive sight and definitely something you should add to your list of things to do in Bratislava. This fortification, which sits almost on top of the border with Austria, is a well-preserved ruin of one of the oldest castles in Slovakia, with a history dating back to at least 864. The castle has had an interesting and varied past, changing hands countless times and used in both military and non-military guises.
Perhaps the most photographed part of this medieval site is the so-called Maiden Tower. This is an elegant, almost haunting tower with battlements atop; a bridge over a moat and stairs lead to the top platform. There are some truly panoramic views of the surrounding area from the tower.
There is a permanent exhibition on site, as well as the occasional cultural show and other exhibitions at various times throughout the year. Unfortunately, the upper castle has been closed to the public due to structural integrity issues since 2008, but the rest of the castle is open between the months of April and October. It is open from 10.00am to 4.30pm every day except Monday (closed) in April and October, whereas between May and September it opens between 10.00am and 5.30pm. There is a small entrance fee (at the time of this writing, this is €4).
Visit Bratislava Castle
Sitting some 85 metres above the level of the Danube on a splendid hill, Bratislava Castle is unmissable from almost anywhere in Bratislava. The magnificent structure sits in the middle of the city, and the views from it are spectacular in every direction.
Originally constructed in the ninth century, the building has an impressive history, with no less than eleven kings and eight queens crowned here. An interesting history seemingly ended in the early nineteenth century when fire gutted the structure, leaving only ruins in its wake. For the next 150 years, this is how the castle stood, until, in 1953, the decision was made to restore it; restoration started in 1957.
Exhibitions, festivals, theatre performances and concerts are all held at the castle throughout the year, and there are many reconstructed rooms and zones within the building that are accessible to visitors.
The castle is open all year round, every day except Mondays. Opening times are 10.00am to 6.00pm April through November, and 9.00am-5.00pm the rest of the year. At the time of writing, entrance cost €6 per adult and €3 for children.
Visit the Slovak National Theatre
Founded in 1920, the Slovak National Theatre is one of the oldest Slovak professional theatres; it comprises of three ensembles – drama, opera and ballet. A new, impressive building (completed in 2007) shares the honours of housing the Slovak National Theatre together with the ‘historic building’, which is located a few minutes away in Hviezdoslavovo Square. A truly magnificent structure, the new theatre building is truly a sight to behold should you ever visit.
The Slovak National Theatre hosts many performances throughout the year, but you would have to check the schedule to see what is playing on any particular day/season. Ticket prices vary and depend on the show or performance of the day. The address of the theatre is Pribinova 17, 819 01 Bratislava-Staré Mesto. If you are looking for things to do in Bratislava on your visit to the city, a night at the theatre could be just the ticket
Visit the Bratislava Transport Museum
The Bratislava Transport Museum can be found on Šancová Street, on the site of the first railway station in Bratislava. It is not too far from the current central train station of the city. The museum permanently exhibits a range of road vehicles that include cars, lorries, bicycles and prototype engine-less vehicles used in the early days. This includes around 100 cars and 25 motorcycles.
There is also an impressive railway display, with steam engine and electrical locomotives as well as freight locomotives and other special railway vehicles. Railway equipment is also showcased within the museum. A model railway sure to enthral little and ‘big’ kids is a highlight.
The Bratislava Transport Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10.00am to 5.00pm. At the time of writing, the entrance fee is €3.30 for adults and €1.50 for kids.
Visit Bratislava Zoo
Bratislava Zoo has been in operation since 1960. In that time, the zoo has grown to cover an area of 240 acres; it currently has almost 650 animals from 150 different species. A mix of outdoor and indoor enclosures offer visitors to the zoo an interesting mix, from the exotic to the outright bizarre.
There are quite a few rare animals residing at the zoo, including a white lion, a white tiger, white rhino, a Sri Lankan leopard, a red panda and a Barbary ape. The indoor enclosures typical house reptiles, birds and smaller mammals; these include African dwarf crocodile, snowy owls and meerkats.
The zoo is open daily, every day of the year except New Year’s Day, so if you are ever short of things to do in Bratislava, a visit to this wonderful attraction has to be a consideration. There are, however, different opening and closing times, depending on the season. The most expensive entry fee is the adult summer season daily price of €5. Children and seniors pay less.
Visit Michael’s Gate
Out of all the preserved medieval fortifications in Bratislava, Michael’s Gate is the only city gate that is preserved. The gate and its building were originally constructed in circa 1300, but the addition of the statue of St Michael and the Dragon on top of it in 1758 gave the building its present shape. One of four gates allowing entry into the medieval walled city of Bratislava, St Michael’s was the north gate and was so named because of the church that stood just in front of it, on the outside of the walls.
At present, the tower building is home to Bratislava City Museum’s Exhibition of Weapons. It is a highly popular site for both locals and visitors. The gate’s location at the top of Michalska Street means that there are also many exclusive shops, cafes and restaurants in the immediate vicinity, as well as souvenir sellers, musicians and street hawkers – everything the discerning visitor could hope for.