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How To Spend 3 Days In Bratislava, Slovakia

Last updated on June 3rd, 2024 at 12:26 pm

Bratislava is the capital city of Slovakia but it isn’t as high profile as its neighbours Prague, Budapest and Vienna. I wasn’t sure what to expect during my 3 days in Bratislava but I found a city with gorgeous architecture, an interesting history, lots to see and really nice food and drink!

I think Bratislava is an underrated destination and one I would highly recommend including in your Europe itinerary. In this post I’ll share what you can do in 3 days in Bratislava, give you some further options to add to your itinerary and offer up a general travel guide and some travel tips so you too can have a great time visiting Bratislava.

Image shows a view of the old buildings with Bratislava Castle in the distance. The image was taken from a window up in the Tower overlooking the Main Square in central Bratislava

A Bit of Bratislava’s History

Like the rest of Europe, Bratislava has a long and interesting history. Formally known as Pressburg, the area was first settled back in Neolithic times. The Romans dominated the region from the 1st to the 4th Century AD, during which time they began a tradition of wine making which continues today.

The Slavic people arrived between the 5th and 6th Centuries. By the 9th Century, the castles at Bratislava and nearby Devin were important centres but by the 10th Century, Bratislava became part of Hungary.

Bratislava was granted ‘town privileges’ in 1291 by Hungarian King Andrew III and declared a free royal town in 1405 by King Sigismund.

In 1536, Bratislava became the capital of Hungary and the coronation town for Hungarian Kings and Queens.

Bratislava grew in importance during the 18th Century although that began to wane toward the end of the century and into the 19th.

In 1918, Czechoslovakia was created, however by 1938 the First Slovak Republic split away with Bratislava as its capital. Primarily known for having collaborated with the Nazi regime, the Republic was abolished following World War II and once again became part of Czechoslovakia.

In 1948, Czechoslovakia became part of the Easter Bloc when it fell under communist power. It remained there until the so called Velvet Revolution of 1989. The subsequent dissolution of Czechoslovakia (also known as the Velvet Divorce) resulted in the creation of the independent states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Getting to Bratislava

Direct flights to Bratislava are available from London and Manchester in the UK to Bratislava Airport (BTS). Flight times will of course vary depending on where you are departing from, but from the UK you’re looking at a little over 2 hours. You can research your flight options here:

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Given its location in Central Europe, Bratislava is also accessible by train, bus and car. If you are planning a trip to Central European cities of Vienna, Budapest or Prague, you could consider catching a train from any of them to Bratislava. Average travel times are:

  • Vienna to Bratislava – around 1 to 1.5 hours
  • Budapest to Bratislava – around 2 to 2.5 hours
  • Prague to Bratislava – around 4 hours

For train options check here:

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If you prefer to use the bus network, then check available options here:

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If you prefer to hire a car and travel in the region generally, then check available options here:

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Getting To/From the Airport

To get from Bratislava Airport to the city centre there are the following options:

1. Taxi

Bratislava Airport’s partner taxi is Airport Service. According to the Airport website the “prices are communicated clearly on info panels located in front of the Arrivals Terminals”.

2. Transfer

If you prefer arriving knowing transport is already arranged, then you can pre-book a transfer to your accommodation. Check available options and prices here:

3. Bus

The cheapest option will always be public transport. Bus number 61 links Bratislava Airport with the city centre and the main railway station, Hlavna Stanica. Bus tickets have a time limit and prices do vary depending on the time validity – check the public transport website for current pricing and ticket information in advance of travelling.

Currency

As a member of the European Union, Slovakia has adopted and uses the Euro (€).

Where to Stay in Bratislava

As with many other European capital cities, Bratislava has a variety of accommodation options available to suit any budget.

I stayed in the Elisabeth Old Town Hotel which is located just a short walk from Bratislava’s Old Town and an even shorter walk to the famous Blue Church!

Check here for accommodation options that may suit you:

Bratislava Card

Once you have settled on your Bratislava itinerary, you may want to consider purchasing a Bratislava Card. The card will give you free or discounted access to many sites and activities.

Bratislava Christmas Market

I love a good Christmas market but unfortunately, my visit to Bratislava was in October not December! That said, based on my 3 days in Bratislava, I think the city would be a great destination for anyone looking to visit a European Christmas market. I can imagine there being a wonderful Christmas atmosphere in the City Center with Christmas trees and lights everywhere.

As with Christmas markets elsewhere in Europe, I would expect the Bratislava Christmas market to be open from November in each year perhaps until Christmas or the New Year.

In addition to the traditional Christmas market stalls in the Main Square, I understand that there are also markets in Hviezdoslavovo Square (also known as Hviezdoslav Square) near the Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava Castle and the Eurovea shopping centre. In addition, there has, in the past, been an Advent concert and a decorated Christmas tram travelling though the city. I would expect there to be many more events happening in different places around the city.

The markets sell the usual decorations, knitted goods, toys, cookies, candles etc. You can buy traditional Slovak food including potato pancakes, chimney cake and, of course, mulled wine!

If like me you love Christmas markets then give Bratislava’s a try…I’m definitely tempted! Check the Bratislava Tourism website for up to date visitor information.

If you’re interested in Christmas market city breaks elsewhere in Europe, do read my posts about Krakow Christmas Market, Prague and Vilnius in December.

How to Spend 3 Days in Bratislava

Although Bratislava isn’t a large city, there’s much to see and do so don’t forget to pack your comfortable shoes! Here are my suggestions of 12 of the best things to do in Bratislava:

1. Join a Walking Tour

I’m a huge fan of walking tours and joined several during my 3 days in Bratislava. In my view, walking tours provide a great introduction to a new city and an opportunity to spend time with a local. They will get you to all the main sights and you can then decide which, if any, you want to return to and explore in more detail after your tour.

Travel Tip: I joined 3 free walking tours offered by Free Tours Bratislava and really enjoyed them. These tours are tips based meaning you pay what you think the tour was worth.

2. Visit The Blue Church

The Church of St Elizabeth is also known as the Blue Church (for obvious reasons!). It’s a Hungarian-Secessionist Catholic Church built between the years 1908-1913 and a beautiful example of art nouveau architecture. The main entrance to the Blue Church features a mosaic of St Elisabeth. Born in Bratislava Castle in 1207, she was the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary. The Blue Church is her symbolic mausoleum.

Travel Tip: The Blue Church has limited opening hours so do check before you visit – the inside is beautiful so don’t miss out on seeing it!

3. Visit Bratislava Castle

Perched on a hill above the city, Bratislava Castle (Bratislavsky hrad) is an imposing sight. The first written record of the Castle dates from 907 AD however the hilltop upon which it’s located was ruled by the Celts in the 1st century AD with the Slavs arriving and building a fortified settlement in the 5th and 6th centuries. The Castle burned down in 1811 and fell into disrepair until the second half of the 20th century.

The Castle overlooks the River Danube and out toward other suburbs of Bratislava and toward Austria. It is also home of the Slovak National Museum – Museum of History.

Travel Tip: There is a charge to go into the Castle but the Castle gardens are free to enter. Check the official site for up to date ticket pricing.

4. Explore Bratislava’s Old Town

Wandering around medieval old towns is always enjoyable and Bratislava is no different. The Austro-Hungarian influence can be seen in the beautiful architecture whilst the narrow streets will make you feel as though you have stepped back in time.

Travel Tip: Old Towns are also great to explore at night on a ghost tour! I think they’re even more atmospheric if your tour is a walking one!

5. Hang Out in the Main Square

The Main Square (Hlavné námestie) is regarded as the city centre. It’s a large open space surrounded by colourful, architecturally beautiful buildings housing restaurants and embassies. It’s also home to a few of Bratislava’s famous statues – read more below!

In the Main Square you will also find Roland’s Fountain (also called Maximilian Fountain). King Maximilian ordered the fountain be built in 1572 as a public water supply. A fire in the area had taken too long to extinguish due to a lack of water hence the need for the fountain.

Travel Tip: Chocolate lovers must try the hot chocolate at Schokocafe Maximilian in the Main Square!

6. Visit the Old Town Hall

The Old Town Hall is a complex of buildings located in the Main Square and dating from the 14th century – the oldest part is the tower built in approximately 1370. Climb to the top of the tower for wonderful views over the Main Square and surrounding buildings, including a great view of St Martin’s Cathedral and Bratislava Castle

The Old Town Hall is also home to the Bratislava City Museum. Tickets to access both the museum and the Old Town Hall cost €8 or, if you just want to climb the tower, €4.

Travel Tip: When you climb to the top of the tower, look for the small window through which you can capture a great photo of the Main Square, Spire of St Martin’s Cathedral and Bratislava Castle – see photo above.

7. Stop By Primates Palace

Nearby is the wonderfully pink Primates Palace. Built between 1778 -1781, it serves as the seat of the Mayor of Bratislava. A couple of rooms are open to visitors (entrance fee is €3), including the Hall of Mirrors where Napoleon signed the Peace of Pressburg Treaty in 1805. At the centre of the inner courtyard is a fountain with a statue of St George.

Travel Tip: Look up and be sure to see the 150kg model of the hat worn by the first occupant of the Palace, Cardinal Jozef Batthyanyi, crowning the building.

8. Visit St Martin’s Cathedral

St Martin’s Cathedral is one of the most important churches in Bratislava. Built in the 14th century, the Cathedral was the coronation temple of the Kingdom of Hungary with 19 coronations having taken place between 1536 and 1830. It was built into Bratislava’s city walls and now, with modern development, is located right next to a main thoroughfare.

Travel Tip: There is no charge to enter, but do check the official website for tourist visiting hours.

9. Visit Michael’s Gate

Michael’s Gate is the last remaining gate into the Old Town. It was built in around 1300 and houses a museum. The 51 metre tall tower offers panoramic views over the Old Town (or so I’m told – it was undergoing repair when I visited and was shrouded in scaffolding and plastic). The tower has now reopened – tickets to access it cost €6.

Michael’s Gate is also where you will find the “zero kilometre” plate showing the distances to various other destinations around the world.

The Gate played an important role during the coronation of the Hungarian Kings, Queen and Royal spouses who would leave the city via this Gate. Small brass plaques of a crown embedded into the roads show the coronation route from St Martin’s Cathedral.

Travel Tip: Look out for the marker next to Michael’s Gate identifying the house of Bratislava’s executioner! The small street to the left, Baštová Ulica, was once known as Executioner’s Street.

10. Track Down Interesting Statues!

There are quite a few statues in Bratislava. My favourite is the “Man at Work” sculpture. Also known as Čumil, the watcher or the peeper, there are a couple of theories surrounding his name – the first is that perhaps he’s a typical communist era worker who worked a little and watched a lot or alternatively, he’s looking up women’s skirts. He appeared in 1997, a few years after Slovakian independence when the city was improving its image following its communist past. 

Image shows one of the most famous statues in Bratislava. It's called Čumil and is a statute of a man with his head peeping out of a manhole cover.
Čumil

Keep a look out for statues of Napoleon’s army soldier, Schöne Náci, Hans Christian Andersen, the Town Guardhouse and the monument to witches to name but a few!

Travel Tip: If you’re travelling with kids, get them to keep a lookout for the statues and tick them off as you find them (big kids might like this challenge too!).

11. Enjoy the Local Food and Drink

Bratislava offers up a wonderful array of food and drink. Here’s a selection of the things I ate:

Breakfast/Brunch

Coffee and a popular poppy seed pastry known as Bratislavsky rožok served as breakfast on my first morning in Bratislava. These pastries are available in bakeries and come with a variety of fillings.

I also ate at Urban Bistro and enjoyed their coffee and Urban Toast.

Lunch

For lunch try soup in a baked edible cup from Soup Culture located near Michael’s Gate. I had the pumpkin soup in a classic cup but the latter also came in turmeric, spirulina and vegan varieties. The soup was delicious and the edible cup made for quite a filling meal.

Dinner

There are many restaurants to choose from but whatever you do, be sure to try traditional potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese (Bryndzové Halušky) topped with crispy bacon and some chives. I ate at a small kiosk close to the Main Square. They were also selling mulled wine…I couldn’t not indulge (more than once!).

Another popular spot for traditional Slovak food is the Slovak Pub.

Image shows traditional Slovakian potato dumplings and some mulled wine, all consumed during 3 days in Bratislava

Something Sweet

Cheesecake lovers will want to stop at Pollito Cheesecakes. I can recommend the salted caramel cheesecake and the coffee. Chocolate lovers must try the hot chocolate at Schokocafe Maximilian in the Main Square!

Travel Tip: In addition to the various café and restaurant offerings, Bratislava also hosts a Street Food Park once a month with food trucks selling food and drink in the Old Town. The event follows a zero waste philosophy – learn more about this including future dates on the Bratislava Tourism website.

12. Explore 20th Century Bratislava

Bratislava was under the yoke Communism for many years and during that time, saw its share of ‘interesting’ architectural developments. Two that stood out to me were the UFO Bridge and the radio building.

UFO Bridge

The UFO Bridge (whose official name is Most SNP Bridge) opened in 1972 and is the world’s longest bridge to have one pylon. Spanning the River Danube, the bridge is over 400 metres long. The UFO tower at the top houses an observation deck and restaurant. The bridge and UFO tower are clearly visible from Bratislava Castle so if you make it to the Castle and don’t fancy the walk to the bridge, you won’t miss seeing it.

Image shows Bratislava's UFO Bridge and UFO Tower

The construction of the UFO Bridge meant the destruction of one of Bratislava’s synagogues. A picture of the destroyed synagogue is now etched into a wall running alongside the road leading to the UFO Bridge. It is accompanied by a Holocaust memorial remembering some 105,000 Slovakian Jews murdered during WWII. The word “remember” is written on the memorial in Hebrew and Slovak. As a result of the demolition of the Synagogue and surrounding properties, St Martin’s Cathedral now backs right up to the road.

Radio Building

The Slovak Radio Building was completed in 1983 and stands 80 metres tall. It looks like an upside down pyramid and has been included in a list of the world’s 30 most ugliest buildings. It has been a Cultural Heritage Monument in Slovakia since 2017.

Travel Tip: Consider joining a walking tour to learn more about Bratislava’s 20th century history. I did and it took me past the Grassalkovich Palace (the Presidential Palace) which is worth seeing.

Is Bratislava Worth Visiting?

Absolutely! An easily walkable city, Bratislava’s medieval Old Town, long history, Castle, food and position on the banks of the River Danube make it a perfect city break destination.

How Many Days Do You Need in Bratislava?

I spent 3 days in Bratislava and think that was the perfect amount of time. Of course, the longer you stay somewhere the more you will be able to see but in 3 days you will experience quite a bit.

If you are considering a shorter stay, maybe a weekend in Bratislava, then you will need to decide which of my suggested activities you want to do. Maybe you will visit Bratislava from Vienna in which case you can adapt my suggestions and create your own Bratislava one day itinerary. 

If you only have a day to visit Bratislava, I would still go!

Extra Time?

If you are able to spend longer in Bratislava or you’re looking for something more to do, then you may want to consider:

  • walking up to the Slavin War Memorial
  • taking a half day trip to see the ruins of Devin Castle
  • joining a wine tour
  • taking a cruise along the River Danube
  • taking a day trip to Vienna, Austria

You can review all options from individual activities to day trips here:

Final Thoughts

Bratislava is easy to explore on foot and has a long and interesting history. Its 20th century architecture stands in stark contrast to its historic centre but to me the city felt quite youthful and vibrant with a growing café culture. Its location on the banks of the Danube River and proximity to Vienna are the icing on the cake. And don’t discount Christmas markets Bratislava as a potential end of year activity!

Three days in Bratislava is a perfect amount of time to experience much of what the city has to offer. If you are considering visiting as a day trip from Vienna however, then there is still much you can see if you are planning just the 1 day in Bratislava.

Either way, I would definitely recommend visiting Bratislava! If you need any further assistance in planning your visit to Bratislava, check my Resources page.

Disclaimer – Information correct at the time of writing but do check before visiting

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

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