Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and its political, cultural and economic center. With a population of about 430,000, it is the largest city in the country, but still one of smaller capitals of Europe.
It has several universities, many museums, theatres and galleries, as well as the headquarters of many Slovakia’s large businesses and financial institutions.
It is a small city, easy and quick to explore on foot, from the historic Old Town to the modern UFO Bridge.
As always, in order to save your time and feet, I will offer you a quick itinerary to visit its top sites, without making any unnecessary steps.
- The Blue Church
- The Slovak National Theater
- Hviezdoslav Square
- The Holy Trinity Column
- St Martin’s Cathedral
- The Cumil Statue
- The Old Town Hall
- The Primate’s Palace
- The Roland Fountain
- The Holy Savior Church
- The Franciscan Church
- Michael’s Gate
- The Trinitarian Church
- The Grassalkovich Palace
- Bratislava Castle
- The UFO Observation Deck
The easiest way to start the tour is from The Blue Church because it offers plenty of space to park if we come by car.
The Church of St. Elizabeth, commonly known as The Blue Church because of the color of its façade, mosaics and blue-glazed roof, was built in the Art Nouveau style at the beginning of the 20th century in the eastern part of the Old Town in Bratislava. It is a Hungarian Secessionist Catholic church, which initially was a part of the neighboring high school where it served as the school chapel. Now it is a popular place for weddings and baptisms.
Grösslingová and then Jesenského Streets will lead us straight to our next destination The Slovak National Theater (Slovenské národné divadlo).
It is undoubtedly one of Bratislava’s most beautiful buildings, constructed in 1886 in the Neo Renaissance style, with the lovely Fountain Ganymed in front, in one of its most famous and picturesque squares, Hviezdoslav Square (Hviezdoslavovo Námestie).
The square has existed in the Kingdom of Hungary for 1000 years. Before the reconstruction at the end of the 20th century, it was just a small city park, but now it is a marvelous city promenade.
The magnificent Holy Trinity Column with the Statue of the Virgin Mary on the top stands at the end of the square, on the spot where the bodies of those who died from the Plague were burnt to prevent the disease from spreading.
St Martin’s Cathedral (Katedrála svätého Martina) is the Roman Catholic Cathedral, situated at the western part of the historical city center, below the Bratislava Castle. It is the largest and one of the oldest churches in Bratislava, and it was the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary between 1563 and 1830. A gilded replica of the coronation crown on the top of the cathedral tower at a height of 85 meters reminds of that glorious age.
The church and the castle, similar in their striking Gothic lines and colors, dominate Old Town’s skyline.
Walking along Panská Street, we will get to one of many famous bronze statues of Bratislava, “Man at Work” (Cumil), a small good man spending his time by watching people and the life of the Korzo. There are many other attractive statues here like “Napoleon’s Army Soldier Statue“, the sculpture of a soldier with a big Napoleon hat, standing on the Main Square near the Roland’s fountain behind a bench.
One of rare statues with a real story behind it is “Schone Naci Statue“, the sculpture of a real man, Ignac Lamar, born in the family of shoemaker who suddenly became a legendary person of streets, cafes and restaurants of Bratislava being one of the most elegant men of that time.
Thus, we get to the heart of Bratislava and to its Main Square with the Old Town Hall (Stará Radnica) as the most eminent building there. Actually, it is a complex of buildings from the 14th century created by connecting three townhouses. It is the oldest city hall in the country with the tower built approximately in 1370. It is easy to recognize by its colorful tiled roof.
It houses the Bratislava City Museum, its oldest museum, founded in 1868, featuring the exhibition of the city history and of torture devices.
Behind it, there is the beautiful Primate’s Palace (Primaciálny palác), a neoclassical palace built from 1778 to 1781. In 1805 this palace and its Hall of Mirrors were the location of the signing of the fourth Peace of Pressburg, after the Battle of Austerlitz, which effectively ended the War of the Third Coalition. Today, it serves as the seat of Mayor of Bratislava.
In the middle of Main Square, as one of the downtown’s favorite meeting points, there is the Roland Fountain or Maximilian Fountain (Rolandova fontána or Maximiliánova fontána), the most famous fountain in Bratislava, ordered by Maximilian II, the king of Royal Hungary, in 1572 to provide a public water supply.
Next to the Old Town Hall, there is the Holy Savior Church or the Jesuit Church (Kostol Najsvätejšieho Spasiteľa, Jezuitský kostol), originally a protestant church from the 17th century, built for the growing number of protestants of German ethnicity in the city.
By the King’s decree it could not resemble a Roman-Catholic churches, so it was built without a spire, presbytery or the entrance from the main street.
Just a little bit further there is the Franciscan Church (Františkánsky kostol or Kostol Zvestovania Pána), the oldest existing religious building in the Old Town of Bratislava, consecrated in 1297.
The building was damaged several times by fire and earthquake and just a small part of its original form is preserved. The adjoining Chapel of Saint John the Evangelist built in the 14th century is considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the city.
Zámočnícka Street will take us to Michael’s Gate (Michalská Brána), one of the best-known symbols of the town.
In the medieval times, the town was surrounded by fortified walls, and had four heavily fortified gates. This one was the smallest gate of the four, but the only one that has been preserved. Built around 1300, it is ranked among the oldest town buildings. Its present form is the result of Baroque reconstructions in 1758, when the statue of the Archangel Michael, slaying a dragon was placed on the top. The tower with an elegant copper roof, houses the Exhibition of Weapons nowadays.
Michalská Street will lead us to the Trinitarian Church (Kostol trinitárov), a Baroque-style church, on the Župné námestie square, built on the site of the older Church of St. Michael, which was demolished in 1529, during the Ottoman wars.
The Trinitarian Order started construction of the church in 1717 and it was sanctified in 1727.
The Grassalkovich Palace (Grasalkovičov palác), situated a bit further on Hodžovo námestie, is the residence of the president of Slovakia. The building is a Rococo and late Baroque palace built in 1760 with a French garden, which is now a public park.
Before we leave this beautiful town, I would highly recommend a visit to two sites offering a marvelous view of the city.
One is Bratislava Castle (Bratislavský hrad), the former seat of the rulers of Bratislava, and today the seat of the Museum of History. It is a massive rectangular building with four corner towers, standing on an isolated rocky hill above the Danube River. Due to its size and location, it has been a dominant feature of the city for centuries.
The other is the UFO Observation Deck on the New Bridge (Novy Most), the flying saucer-shaped structure atop the bridge’s 84.6 m (278 ft.) pylon, which is one of the most iconic structures in Bratislava. The top with a restaurant is reached by the lift, and can be crowded, but is definitely a point not to be missed in Bratislava.
As always. please leave me your comments if you find my itinerary helpful or if you have some suggestions!