Vienna, Austria is often named as one of the world’s most beautiful cities and it is quite a stunning place. But after spending a few days admiring the whitewashed perfection in this beautiful but somewhat sterile city, I was ready for a change. So, I hopped on a bus and ventured over to neighboring Slovakia on a Vienna to Bratislava day trip.
In my travel research prior to my weeklong house sit in Vienna, I ran across a few blog articles that raved about this place called Bratislava. I knew very little about the city but their reviews intrigued me and, since Bratislava is less than an hour away from Vienna, I figured I had to check it out.
And they were so right!
My pre-Bratislava research also taught me a few basic facts. Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, which was once part of the larger country of Czechoslovakia. When the country divorced in 1993, the Czech Republic (now officially called Czechia) got the stunning city of Prague. Slovakia was left with the second largest city, Bratislava. Although they differ in size, they’ve got some similarities in architecture, food, and the Danube River running through town.
A few other fun Slovakian facts:
- Bratislava loves Andy Warhol (he’s got roots here) and boasts the second largest Warhol art museum.
- Slovakia is the world’s eighth newest country.
- It’s one of the 10 booziest nations in the world, according to those who measure such things.
- Vienna and Bratislava are the closest European capital cities, lying only 36 miles apart.
What’s there to do on a Vienna to Bratislava day trip?
Explore Historic Old Town
Most European cities have an “Old Town” and this is typically my favorite area to begin exploring. Flixbus stops right across the street from Bratislava’s Old Town making it easy to hop off the bus and dive right into the charms of the city.
Outdoor cafes, small shops, and gelato stands line the narrow streets of Bratislava’s Old Town. I honestly think there’s at least one gelato shop on every block of the Old Town area. There are also a few restaurants that boast “traditional” Slovak food. I sampled lots of Slovak ice cream but didn’t have room for the traditional Slovak food.
Many of the “must see” attractions and historic buildings of the city are located within the winding streets of Old Town.
Stop by the Old Town Hall
The Town Hall is actually a complex of really old Gothic buildings dating back to the 14th century. Over the years, the buildings were used for many purposes including a prison, a mint, and a town market.
Today, it houses the Bratislava City Museum which opened back in 1868 and currently features exhibits on the city history as well as an interesting (?) exhibit on torture devices.
Visit Primate’s Palace
Built in 1781, this stunning pink building is one of the most beautiful buildings in Bratislava.
This pale pink palace’s claim to fame is the signing of the “Peace of Pressburg” treaty in 1805 in the famous palace chamber, the Hall of Mirrors.
The Primate Palace also houses some artistic treasures dating back to the 17th century, the most famous being six rare English tapestries. These tapestries were discovered during renovations in 1903 with each wall hanging telling part of a tragic love story. Sounds lovely but I was busy sampling the Slovak ice cream and didn’t make time to visit the tapestries. I will next time I visit Bratislava.
The palace is currently the official residence of the Bratislava mayor and is open to the public.
Check out the street sculptures
In an effort to give a modern touch to the historic Old Town, the city has created a variety of human-sized street sculptures. The most popular (and most photographed) is the guy sticking out of the manhole cover. Local legend says that if you touch the head of the manhole guy, your wish will come true.
But who is this guy? There’s great debate over this question with some saying he’s a Communist-era worker who’s just being lazy. Others believe he’s some sort of creepy pervert who lurks there to peer under women’s skirts.
You can find him at the junction of Laurinská and Panská Streets. I almost tripped over him but, thankfully, I wasn’t wearing a skirt.
Pop into St. Martin’s Cathedral
Along the western edge of town is St. Martin’s Cathedral, a 15th-century Gothic church and probably one of the most photographed in the city. If walls could talk, this cathedral would tell stories of Hungarian kings on coronation day. Sitting at the base of the castle, it was used for the coronation ceremony for hundreds of years.
From the Cathedral, head up the stairs to Uzka Street to view the medieval city walls en route to the castle.
Walk Through History – The Old Medieval City Walls
As I was coming down from the castle, I accidentally stumbled upon this area and it was really interesting. Plaques dedicated to the most famous former citizens of Bratislava (most of them Jewish) line the ancient walls. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to walk through this history lesson and take a step back in time.
Hike to the Castle
Sitting high on a hill overlooking the Danube, the castle provides views over the city as well as neighboring Austria. On a clear day, you can even see Hungary in the distance!
Like all ancient structures in this part of the world, this castle dates back to the 10th century and has a long and traumatic history. In more recent history (the 1700s) Maria Theresa of Austria ruled the area as Queen of Hungary and spent much of her time in Bratislava. This castle was her part-time home.
The castle is now home of the Slovak Parliament and the Slovak National Museum. Check here for museum hours and prices.
See the Slavin War Memorial
Like the castle, the Slavin War Memorial is set high on a hill with beautiful views of the Bratislava skyline. The monument is dedicated to the 7000 Soviet troops killed during the liberation of Bratislava in 1945 and contains six mass graves.
The Slavin memorial is located in a wealthier part of the city full of embassies and mansions and is a 30-minute walk from the Old Town area. It’ll help you walk off all the Old Town ice cream calories, but if that sounds a bit too taxing there is also a trolly bus that will take you up the hill. Check here for public transportation details.
Explore the UFO
The most recognizable symbol of Bratislava is the SNP Bridge (SNP standing for Slovak National Uprising) but it’s often referred to as the UFO Bridge, thanks to the UFO-like thing built on top of it.
The UFO is built 96 meters above the Danube. There is an elevator up to the top where you can dine in the fine (and quite expensive) restaurant or go to the viewing platform to admire the most spectacular view of Bratislava.
Beer Therapy along The Danube
Bratislava is full of great pubs throughout the Old Town area, but I kept exploring and wandered down to the area along the Danube River. Luckily, I stumbled across the perfect riverside beach bar with cold beer, comfortable seats, and a great view of the Danube River and Slovakian life passing by.
I sank back into my comfortable wicker chair and hung out for a while, the sun on my face and a cold beer in my hand. I was mesmerized by the flowing water of the Danube.
Briefly, I wondered what strange twist of fate allowed me to explore such random cities as Bratislava. The feeling here was much different than what I had left behind in Vienna, which felt cold and sterile to me. Bratislava has a much more laid back vibe and is a place I could have lingered much longer. Sadly, I had to go back to Vienna to feed the cat.
But in this moment, the sun was warm, the beer was cold and life was good. One day in Bratislava was just not enough!
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(Photo disclaimer: My camera was stolen shortly after this trip. My sincere thanks to the following photographers for their excellent work!)