May 11, 2016
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A European gem: Bratislava

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Following the 2005 release of the horror film Hostel, we were told by our walking tour guide that Bratislava had lost 75% of its tourism over the course of ten years. The plot of the fictional film sees a group of travelers enticed into a hostel in the city where they are tortured and killed. The film portrays Slovakia as underdeveloped with high crime rates and rife prostitution.
Officials from Slovakia and neighbors, the Czech Republic, were outraged at the film director in fear of travelers being too scared to visit their countries. The film certainly was a turning point in the tourism industry for Slovakia and Bratislava was portrayed very wrongfully, in our opinion. We experienced the city over the course of five days and it was one of the most picturesque and welcoming places we have ever been to, a true hidden gem with the bonus of minimal tourists.

City of Bratislava, Slovakia, Europe

Wonderful Bratislava

Situated on the Danube River within close proximity to two neighboring capitals, Vienna and Budapest. Both cities can be reached by boat in under two hours. Bratislava and Vienna are the two closest capital cities in the world being only 66km apart.

Bratislava Castle view, Slovakia, Europe

The Danube River

Lots of communist buildings are still present in the city along with a rich history of music. It is said that Strauss composed the first melodies of Waltz in Bratislava back in 1852.
Map of Bratislava

The centre point of four countries

Austria and Hungary can both be seen from the Crown Tower of the Bratislava Castle. The Tower is the oldest part of the castle offering a 360-degree view of Hungary and Austria, as well as the city itself and the Czech Republic.

Bridge over the Danube river, Bratislava, Slovakia

Austria, Czech Republic and Hungary can be seen from the Castle Tower

History
Between 1867 and 1918 Slovakia, Austria and Hungary were all part of the same country. Two world wars and 40 years of communism helped shape the culture of Bratislava. The city still speaks three different languages and the name of the Slovak capital is just under 100 years old.

bratislava-city-slovakia

Bratislava is less than 100 years old

Prior to being named Bratislava, the city was known as Pressburg(Germany), Pozsony(Hungary) and Prešporok(Slovak).

A significant part of recent history was the building of the Communist-era highway that slices right through the Old Town severing off St Martin’s Cathedral in the process. Our tour guide told us that Bratislava’s Jewish Quarter was demolished for the building of the highway, destroying a significant part of the city’s history in the process. She also told us the city was chosen over Prague to construct the major road and that wasn’t necessarily a good decision for the city.

Highway by St Martin's Cathedral, Bratislava, Slovakia

The highway destroyed the city’s once vibrant Jewish Quarter

The Coronation
For many years, the King Of Hungary’s coronation was held in the city of Esztergom in Hungary. In 1563 when Maximilian would be crowned as the new Hungarian king, the Ottoman Turks took control of Etzergom so it was no longer an option to hold the coronation there. The most obvious solution would be to move the event to Bratislava, which in 1563 was ‘Pozsony‘. They chose the city because of its double fortification city wall that partially stands today.

Hlavné námestie (The Main Square), Bratislava, Slovakia

The Main Square

King Maximilian was so happy at the new hosting city for the coronation, he built the beautiful fountain in Hlavné námestie (The Main Square) for the people of Bratislava. The fountain still stands today.

Water fountain, Hlavné námestie (The Main Square), Bratislava, Slovakia

A gift from King Maximilian

Ten Hungarian kings and eight royal consorts were all crowned on the ground of Bratislava following Maximilian proving the move from Esztergom was a successful decision. The coronation ceremony involved a public parade around the city starting at St. Martin’s Cathedral.

St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava, Slovakia

St. Martin’s Cathedral

The coronation route is now marked with small gold crowns on the floor of the street.
Coronation parade pavement marking, Bratislava, Slovakia

Coronation parade markings

Sightseeing
Bratislava Castle
Bratislava Castle was first referenced in literature dating back to the year 907 and it has been through extensive redesign and restoration as a result of being occupied by different empires over centuries.

Bratislava Castle, Slovakia, Europe

Centuries old Bratislava Castle

The castle stands on an isolated rocky hill on the Little Carpathians which is part of the Carpathian Mountain range. The grounds can be entered for free allowing visitors to experience the best views of the city via the Castle Tower.
Inside grounds of Bratislava Castle, Slovakia

Free entry to the grounds

Like most castles, the highest point offers 360 degree views of the city and because of Bratislava’s perfect location, three different countries can be seen on a clear day.
Views of Austria, Czech Republic and Hungary from Bratislava Castle, Slovakia

Views of Austria, Czech Republic and Hungary

The castle building is made up of four towers (one on each corner) and a courtyard with a 260 ft deep water well. The statues and monuments around the grounds are truly magnificent, we really took our time here to appreciate them.
Knight statues, Bratislava Castle, Bratislava, Slovakia

Knight statues within the grounds

The courtyard offers entrance to the Knight’s Hall where the new constitution of independent Slovakia was signed back in 1992.
The Palace Courtyard, Bratislava Castle, Slovakia

The Palace Courtyard

The courtyard was reconstructed back in 2010 and visitors can now see the newly erected statue of King Svätopluk I by Slovak sculptor Ján Kulich. The statue was unveiled during a nationally televised ceremony.

King Svätopluk I statue, Bratislava, Slovakia

King Svätopluk I statue

For some of the best views of the area, enter the grounds for free but be prepared for hills and steps.

Grounds of Bratislava Castle, Slovakia

A sight not to be missed

Michael’s Gate
At 51 meters high, the tower above Michael’s Gate is one of Bratislava’s most noticeable landmarks. It is also one of the city’s oldest standing buildings after being built as one of four city gates into the city back in the 14th century.

Michael's gate and the streets of Bratislava city, Slovakia

Mighty Michael’s Gate

At the very top of the green copper tower visitors can enjoy the Museum of Weapons, as well as experiencing a great outlook onto the streets of Bratislava.
Michael's gate and the streets of Bratislava city, Slovakia

The tower hosts the Museum of Weapons

The Golden Circle can be found directly under the gate, also know as Zero Kilometer, this is the point in which distance is measured to and from the city.

Golden Circle, Bratislava, Slovakia

A small pedestrian bridge over the summer reading garden leads to the tower, the garden is a great place to relax in the city.
Summer Reading Garden, Bratislava, Slovakia

Church of St. Elisabeth
Also known as ‘The Blue Church’, the Church of St. Elisabeth is located in the eastern part of the Old Town and was built to commemorate Elisabeth of Hungary.

Blue church, Bratislava, Slovakia

The ‘Blue Church’

This is one of the most unusual and beautiful churches we have ever seen purely because of its pastel façade decorated in Hungarian Art Nouveau style.
The Blue Church, the Church of St. Elisabeth, Bratislava, Slovakia

One of the most unique churches in Europe

The interior is just as easy on the eye with rich decoration consisting of illustrations and pillars decorated in gold and pastel shades. We were told by our tour guide that many weddings are held at the church and it represents Bratislava as a landmark across the world. It was fascinating to see a contrast of surrounding buildings that differ in age, style and colour like the Franciscan Church, built in 1207.

Franciscan Church, Bratislava Castle, Slovakia

The pink Franciscan Church

A stunning Secondary School, Gamča, sits beside the church. The building was designed by famous European architect, Ödön Lechner who decorated his buildings with Zsolnay tile patterns replicating the old Magyar and Turkic folk art. The Blue Church was initially built as the school’s chapel but now stands as an independent landmark.

Gamča Secondary School, Bratislava, Slovakia

Gamča Secondary School

An old worn down hospital stands directly opposite the church that has been standing abandoned since the Communist era.

Abandoned hospital building, Bratislava, Slovakia

Abandoned hospital building

Lots of colourful street art lines the streets of Bratislava giving it a quirky and cultural feel.

Hlavné Námestie (the Main Square)
The Hlavné Námestie is often considered the center point of Bratislava. The square is made up of beautiful historical buildings such as the Old Town Hall, Slovak eateries, foreign embassies and souvenir shops.

Hlavné námestie -the Main Square, Bratislava, Slovakia.

The centre point of the city

Quirky commemorative statues are spotted around the square and it is said that the Napoleon solider statue was built after a soldier, named Hubert, fell in love with a local girl during the era of Napoleon’s invasion on the city back in 1805. Legend has it that he stayed in the city to be with his love and he started to make sparkling wine. Hubert is now used as the name of Slovakia’s most popular sparking wine brand.
Napolean Statue, Hlavné námestie (the Main Square), Bratislava, Slovakia

Statue of Napoleon Soldier in front of the Old Town Hall

One of our favourite statues sits on the edge of the Main Square. Čumil (the Watcher) is a statue portraying a resting worker as people pass on by. He draws attention to himself with an accompanying sign saying ‘Man at Work’. Be careful not to trip!

The Čumil statue, Man At Work, Bratislava, Slovakia

The Čumil statue

Our guide told us that by stroking the head of the Čumil statue, he will bring you good luck.
The worker statue, Bratislava, Slovakia

The Old Town Hall has been standing in the square since the 14th century. After being used for many operations throughout the passing centuries, such as a Mint and a prison, it now houses the Bratislava City Museum, consisting of exhibitions of Pressburg’s history. One of the most noticeable features is the cannonball lodged into the face of the tower.

Cannonball wedged in Old Town Hall, Bratislava, Slovakia

Cannonball wedged in the Old Town Hall

The cannonball was allegedly shot into the wall by Napoleon’s forces back in 1809.

Souvenir shops and stalls also line the square selling items typical of Slovakia such as Corn Husk Dolls and honey based Mead Wine.

Dolls, Bratislava souvenir shop, Slovakia

Sit with the handmade lover dolls

St Martin’s Cathedral and the ‘Pedestrian Zone’
Once the ground for coronation ceremonies, the Gothic style St Martin’s Cathedral was built on the place of the former Romanesque temple in 1452. The Cathedral is free to enter at certain times of the day offering visitors a chance to see a Hungarian crown from the 19th century, a wonderful sacral Baroque and many Gothic artworks.

St Martin’s Cathedral and the ‘Pedestrian Zone’

Perfectly situated in a quirky pedestrian zone

The streets surrounding the cathedral offer a pedestrian only route in and out of cobbled alleyways lined with beautiful historical buildings.

The Pedestrian Zone of Old Town, Bratislava, Slovakia

The Pedestrian Zone of Old Town

The incredibly picturesque route eventually leads back into the centre of town, passing by hidden bars and restaurants along the way.

Hidden alleyways, The Pedestrian Zone of Old Town, Bratislava, Slovakia

Amazing hidden sights

One of our favourite sights that makes Bratislava unique to us are the colours of the buildings and the characteristic street art. It reflects its Central European influence and blends nicely with quirky rebellion and Gothic styles.

Art work on buildings, alleyways in Bratislava, Slovakia

Amazing art splattered across buildings

In the Pedestrian area, you can also enjoy the live music being played from the many hidden Slovak pubs.

Hidden bars can be found in the ‘Pedestrian Zone’, Bratislava, Slovakia

Hidden bars can be found in the ‘Pedestrian Zone’

Everything in this article is within walking distance but if you are short on time or want to save your legs you can always opt for a guided Stadtrundfahrt tour!

Bratislava Stadtrundfahrt city train, Bratislava, Slovakia

The Stadtrundfahrt tours in the Main Square

It is good to get lost in a great place such as Bratislava, take advantage of the minimal tourists and capture moments in this incredibly underrated city which is a true reflection of cultural central Europe.

The narrowest kebab shop in Europe!
If you’re a sucker for stats and random facts, you can enjoy Europe’s narrowest kebab shop in the heart of Bratislava, Zwinger Kebab, also happens to be the 2nd narrowest building in Europe!

Narrowest smallest kebab shop in Europe, Bratislava, Slovakia

The narrowest kebab shop in Europe

Gastronomy
If a kebab from the narrowest shop on the continent doesn’t take your fancy, Bratislava has a lot more culinary delights to offer. The best way to experience the food of Slovakia is to find a restaurant selling traditional cuisine and order a Slovak platter. Slovak food is notoriously rich and filling and uses hunger banishing staples such as milk, cream, cheese, potatoes, dumplings and red meats. The cuisine stems from a history of rotating leaders and the heavy winters and cold summers of the nation. Bryndzové halušky is a popular dish in the capital that consists of potato dumplings with sheep’s milk cheese. We ordered this along with Bryndzové pirohy (cheese filled dumplings) – before we were vegan.

Bryndzové halušky and Bryndzové pirohy food of Bratislava, Slovakia

Bryndzové halušky and Bryndzové pirohy

Sauerkraut is also popular in a lot of dishes as is meaty sausage. Kapustnica is a popular soup made from sauerkraut and sausage and there are all kinds of concoctions on offer combining the staple foods of Slovakia.

Sausage dish, Bratislava, Slovakia

Rich sausage is part of many dishes

A delicious offering we took advantage of was the Garlic bread bowl. Filed with creamy garlic soup, you can eat the bowl afterwards which has formed into a deliciously soaked garlic bread.

Garlic bread bowls, food of Bratislava, Slovakia

Dripping garlic bread bowls

One thing we did notice during our stay in this beautiful city, Slovaks love their alcohol! Beer is so cheap here, take this green pint for example, yours for €1.90! It is 13% ABV too!

Green beer, Bratislava, Slovakia

Delicious green beer

Bars can be found scattered all over the city, most often host live bands and can be found in the hidden alleyways close to the city’s landmark attractions.

pub-in-bratislava-slovakia

One of many Slovak pubs

Delicious beer is everywhere and Slovakia is famous for unique types of wine too. We managed to find amazing beer while dining, and even found decent beverages in the famous ice skating arena.

Beer in Bratislava, Slovakia

Na zdravie! (cheers!)

The National Sport
The most popular sport in Slovakia is ľadový hokej” (Ice Hockey). The Slovakia national team have taken part in every World Championship since 1996 and have quite a collection of trophies and medals. These achievements have attracted a growing crowd of patriots who attend sell out games and follow the sport religiously. We were lucky that a match was happening while we were in town, against Sweden at the famous Ondreja Nepelu Arena.

Ice skating match, Bratislava, Slovakia

Our first ever ice hockey match

There are many top quality players from Slovakia, a lot of which play in North America’s National Hockey League (NHL). The quality of the game we saw was incredible and the atmosphere in the crowd was like something we had only seen as a spectator of an Olympic sports game.

Often overlooked as a place to visit while travelling through Europe, Bratislava is a beautifully unique city showcasing its rich history and culture. The city can easily be accessed by bus from its surrounding countries and the likes of Budapest and Vienna offer day trips via bus or boat. We urge you not to miss this underrated part of the world, get there before the tourists do!

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