Authored by Peter Korchnak
Slovakia’s tiny capital Bratislava gets so few tourists compared to the nearby Vienna, Budapest, or Prague, that there is hardly a beaten path at all.
Still, it seems most travelers hike up to the Castle, roam around the Old Town, stroll on the Danube promenade, take the elevator up the UFO Bridge and call it a pleasant day, or, in many cases, a few enjoyable hours. Yet when it comes to visiting Bratislava, size isn’t everything.
Explore Socialist Architecture
Bratislava may be Slovakia’s capitalist hub nowadays, but socialist architecture continues to shape the city. Like many former Eastern Bloc cities, Bratislava features swaths of boxy apartment buildings thrown together in gray, featureless developments. In fact, it boasts what’s said to be the most densely populated residential district in Central Europe—Petržalka.
Watch from the Castle as the development stretches to the Pannonian Plain horizon or see if from one of the many buses that traverse it.
Continue your tour of socialist architecture at the UFO Bridge viewing platform, from which you can see how in the 1970’s the highway from Petržalka stabbed the Old Town and decimated the Jewish Quarter into a few buildings below the Castle.
Proceed along the left-bank Danube promenade to the Slovak National Gallery extension and follow the tram tracks to Kamenné Squareand TESCO/Hotel Kiev tandem of commercial edifices. Finish your tour at the bizarre inverted pyramid of the Slovak Radio building.
A little known fact: Bratislava boasts a number of excellent microbreweries, and three are within walking distance on the edges of Old Town.
Richtár Jakub (Reeve Jacob) is tucked in a side street near a major police station. Try the lighter Anna or the stronger Jakub lagers.
Walk through the beautiful Medical Garden park and stroll down the nearby Dunajská (Danube) Street to enjoy the outdoor patio or the stylish black-and-white interior of the Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar (Bratislava Burgher Brewery). Their specialty is the lager (you are in Central Europe after all), which goes well with pretty much anything on the extensive meat-based menu.
The brewery’s second location, behind the Crown Plaza Hotel, is on the way to the final stop of the craft-beer tour: Zámocký Pivovar (Castle Brewery). Their lagers will fuel you for the ascent to the Castle itself. Please say hi to the chimps for me!
Get Outta Town
Bratislava’s surroundings are just as worth visiting as the city itself. Take the bus #29 from under the UFO Bridge to the terminus and visit Castle Devín (what’s left of it anyway). Perched on a cliff, it towers over the confluence of Morava and Danube rivers and boast thousands of years of history as well as one of the most photographed spots in the country, the Maiden Tower.
Stroll around the area below the Castle where the Gate of Freedom commemorates all those who perished while attempting to flee communist Czechoslovakia. And afterward hike to the Devínska Kobyla Mountain natural reserve to find a fantastic diversity of wild plants, eccentric sandstone formations, and, if you’re lucky, leftover fossils.
The Danube River is one of Bratislava’s defining natural features. To experience it in full, take a boat trip downriver to the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum and the Čunovo Dam. The boat leaves on weekends at 2 pm from the main port on Fajnorovo nábrežie (you can also take the #90 or #91 buses and hike a bit, but that’s like cheating).
Shaped like a ship and plonked on a little peninsula jutting out from the dam into the middle of Europe’s grandest river, Danubiana is a truly unique modern art gallery.
The point is: When you travel to Bratislava, venture beyond the obvious. I lived there from 1995 to 2000 as a university student, I stay in the city whenever I visit Slovakia, and I still see something new there every time. May our paths cross there some time—I’d be happy to show you around.