“Brati-what?” and “Where is that, anyway?” were just two of the most common responses when I laid out my travel plans for Christmas break. Understandable, as Bratislava isn’t exactly a major European tourist attraction. As Berlin was my #1 travel destination this year, Bratislava was Adam’s. His family is Slovak and so the ancestral homeland was on the list. Fortunately, Ryanair had a flash sale between the two capital cities so our itinerary was set.
Bratislava is an underrated city, and the Old Town was beautiful. However, it was clear from our arrival that the city was behind the Iron Curtain. Bratislava is not Prague, or Budapest, or even East Berlin. The Soviet influences are much stronger than in those tourist hubs, but to me it made the city have a realness to it and showed that its still developing, that Bratislava is not finished yet. I could really tell this was Central Europe.
Our first day in Bratislava, we
kind of definitely got a little a lot lost finding the Old Town. After misreading some street signs and realizing we had gone in the complete opposite direction from the historic center, we found our way back, but we did manage to sneak in parts of the city we probably wouldn’t have seem otherwise, so that’s a plus! (Or is it just guilt that I apparently don’t know how to read a map…?)
Hlavne namestie- the main square
Nearly every single European town or city has a main plaza- and we completely did not realize Hlavne namestie was Bratislava’s! We walked right through it only to be pointed back the direction we came from with the sign saying “Main Square”. Its small, but charming. The buildings are very colorful, just like in Prague!
Michalska brana- St Michael’s Gate
One of the iconic images of Bratislava is of the last remaining medieval fortifications in the city. The street leading up to the famous gate and bell tower is lined with shops and traditional Slovak restaurants. Originally built in 1300, St Michael’s Gate has been reconstructed over the centuries and today makes for a pretty good picture!
St Martin’s Cathedral
I was surprised learning about this 15th century church- it was the location of 250 years worth of coronations for the Kingdom of Hungary! Yes, Hungary. When the Ottoman Turks defeated the Kingdom of Hungary in 1526, the territory of the Hungarian Kingdom was pretty much split up between the Turks, the Hapsburgs, and the Transylvanians. While this led to the eventual decline of the Hungarian monarchy, for 250 years Bratislava functioned as the capital of Hungary. These coronations included Maximilian II, the Holy Roman Emperor and Empress Maria Theresa! I’m still not entirely sure why the Hapsburgs were crowned in Bratislava instead of Vienna, but its fascinating nonetheless.
Silly story- when I was planning the trip and opening hours/costs and everything I stumbled upon the term Hrad Bratislava Castle and assumed Hrad was the name of the castle. So I would google Hrad Castle and got lots of images of OTHER castles- like in Prague and Budapest! So I was confused until I learned that Hrad is Slovak FOR castle, and the word overlaps into Czech and Hungarian. So I had been researching the Bratislava Castle Castle for ages 😉
In all seriousness, the Bratislava Castle is the iconic image of the city. Its located on top of the hill overlooking the Old Town and the Danube River and can be seem through the winding streets of the historic center, especially since its bright white! For 4 euros we could go inside, learn about the history of the castle, Slovak nationalism, see St Stephen’s crown, and some pretty snazzy views of the city.
The castle was originally built starting in the 9th century, with additions being made for another thousand years, when the castle fell into disuse and a fire eventually left it in ruins. Starting in 1953 it was rebuilt and recently made into a museum and tourist attraction for the city.
St Elisabeth- The Blue Church
This 19th century tourist attraction really lives up to its name- and was absolutely beautiful on grey and cold New Years Day!
One of my favorite parts of Bratislava was the quirky sculptures scattered around the city!
Have you ever been to Bratislava? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!