‘Underrated’ is a term that I feel is used way too often, but yet it is the perfect way to describe Bratislava, capital of Slovakia.
Before I visited Bratislava in 2017, I had only heard bad things from my fellow travellers. People complained that it was boring, that an afternoon there is more than enough, and that there are no fun things to do in Bratislava.
They said that Bratislava nightlife was bad, the locals were unwelcoming and that you should only visit Bratislava if you have some time to kill on a layover.
I call bullshit
I have visited Bratislava on two separate occasions, and it remains one of my favourite capital cities in Europe, and definitely takes the prize for one of the most underrated destinations I’ve visited.
With this in mind, I decided to put together a list of the best things to do in Bratislava that will ensure you enjoy and appreciate this enchanting Slovakian city just as much as I did!
13 Things to Do in Bratislava, Slovakia
Bratislava in a Nutshell
What is Bratislava like?
Bratislava (and Slovakia as a whole) is somewhat of an enigma. Lots of people have never even heard of Slovakia, and for many that have, their only point of reference may be the 2005 horror movie Hostel, which was set in Slovakia and didn’t exactly paint the country in the best light.
Many people who visit Bratislava are looking for an alternative to Prague, and flock to Slovakia looking for wild parties, strip clubs and cheap booze, only to be sorely disappointed when they realise that while you certainly can find those things, Bratislava isn’t the ideal place for a lad’s holiday.
However, that is not to say that Bratislava isn’t a worthwhile choice for your European city break. With a dinky, pedestrianised old town, an abundance of coffee shops and beer houses, awe-inspiring medieval architecture and hearty comfort food, Bratislava is definitely worth a spot on your European bucket list.
Psst – after you finish reading all about the best things to do in Bratislava itself, you should definitely check out this article about all the cool day trips that you can take from Bratislava!
Things to Know Before You Visit Bratislava
While your parents may know it as Czechoslovakia, Slovakia has been an independent state since January 1st, 1993, when it separated from Czechia.
Slovakia has been a member of the EU since May 1, 2004, and the currency in Slovakia is the EURO.
The official language in Slovakia is Slovak, but you will not struggle speaking English in Bratislava.
Is Bratislava safe? Don’t let Hostel put you off visiting Bratislava – Bratislava is a very safe city and crime rates are very low, with violent crime being almost non-existent. Bratislava is also very safe for solo female travellers. The biggest threat that you may face in Bratislava is pickpocketing (more of a nuisance than a safety risk), and even then, the rates for pickpocketing in Bratislava are much lower than in Europe as a whole.
Is Bratislava cheap? YES, Slovakia is the seventh cheapest country in the European Union, and while it isn’t the cheapest place I’ve visited in Europe, Bratislava is definitely cheaper than Prague and Budapest (which are both affordable in themselves).. A meal in a traditional pub will cost between 5-10 EUR, beer was usually 1-2 EUR, and dorm beds in hostels start at around 12 EUR.
Shops are usually closed on Sundays, so make sure you buy everything you need in advance!
Slovakia has a great train system, meaning that travelling around the country is super easy. Train travel costs 5 EUR per 100KM, which also makes it super affordable!
You can drink the tap water in Slovakia.
Compared to other European capitals, Bratislava is still somewhat off the beaten track, with many people skipping it in favour of its trendy neighbours, Vienna and Budapest. While over 5 million people chose to visit Slovakia in 2017, most of those were from Czechia, Poland and Germany, with not many visitors coming from further afield.
Despite traditional Slovakian food being very meaty, there are tonnes of vegetarian and vegan options in Bratislava which I will cover in more detail later!
Bratislava Old Town is totally pedestrianised, as well as being very compact. This means that you can see all of the main Bratislava attractions in a couple of hours without getting blisters or taking public transport everywhere!
The traditional drink in Slovakia is Borovička, similar to Rakija in the Balkans.
The Best Things to Do in Bratislava
1. Attend a Free Walking Tour
Free Walking Tours are one of my favourite things to do whenever I visit a new European city, and Bratislava was no exception. As well as getting to visit all of the main things to see in Bratislava, you will also learn a tonne of fun and historical facts about the city, and you will be able to ask your local guide for all of their best restaurant recommendations, as well as any other burning questions you may have.
My favourite part about this particular Free Walking tour was the fact that we got to see so many of the quirky statues around Bratislava Old Town and learn about the legends and traditions that surround them. A personal highlight for me was shaking hands with the statue of Hans Christian Anderson – apparently I’ll be a successful writer now!
Most of the major Bratislava attractions that I will cover in this list were included on my Free Walking Tour.
You can find more information about the Be Free Free Walking Tour here.
2. Sample Traditional Slovakian Food at Slovak Pub
Slovak Pub, despite its touristy-sounding name, was recommended to us on our Free Walking Tour, with our guide telling us that it serves good food at great prices, and that local Slovak students love it.
Slovak Pub is especially interesting because it has its very own bio farm, where chefs produce local delicacies daily from the produce, and an on-site keg room where they make fresh beer. Not only that, but it is the largest bar in Bratislava, divided into eleven rooms, with each room representing a different era of Slovak history (one room is an original 150-year-old wooden cottage!).
Slovakia’s national dish is called bryndza halusky, a hearty and stodgy dish consisting of potato dumplings topped with sheep’s cheese (bryndza), greasy bacon bits, Speck and sour cream. When my friend Rob and I visited the Slovak pub, we opted for creamy garlic soup served in bowls of homemade bread (4.50 EUR), followed by the ‘Slovak platter for 2 persons’ (13.50 EUR) and pints of cold beer.
The Slovak platter was huge and we definitely should not have ordered starters before attempting it! This delicious platter consisted of halusky potato dumplings with bryndza sheep cheese, pierogi stuffed with sheep cheese and topped with onions and cream cheese, and halusky dumplings with cabbage and bacon.
3. Hlavné námestie and Bratislava Old Town
One of my favourite things to do in Bratislava (and any European city!) is to wander around the medieval Old Town and allow myself to be swept away by the charming cobbled streets, gothic architecture and secret passageways.
Bratislava Old Town is not as polished as some other European capitals, but don’t let that put you off – Bratislava Old Town has a real and authentic charm, and when you step into the main square, or Hlavné námestie, you will feel like you stepped right onto the pages of a fairy tale. Hlavné námestie is also home to Maximilian’s Fountain, Stara Radnica (the courtyard of the old Town Hall), the National Theatre and St. Martin’s 15th century Gothic Cathedral.
Amuse yourself by taking pictures with some of the many statues in Bratislava Old Town, such as that of Schoner Naci, a carpet cleaner who used to love giving flowers to beautiful women, and Cumil (the ‘Man at Work’), poking his head up from a manhole.
It is in Bratislava Old Town that you will also find Michael’s Gate, the last of Bratislava’s four medieval gates which dates all the way back to the start of the 14th century. You can go up inside the tower to see an exhibition about the old fortifications of the city and medieval weaponry, or head straight up to the sixth floor for a breathtaking view over the Old Town.
4. Visit Bratislava Castle
Castle enthusiasts and locals alike are not huge fans of Bratislava Castle, with some comparing it to an upside down table and others saying that it’s only worth visiting to check out the views of Bratislava and the Danube river with the UFO Bridge from the terrace.
Over days gone by, Bratislava Castle played a crucial role in the history of Central Europe, and from the 16th century it has been the coronation city of the Hungarian Kingdom. Today, Bratislava Castle is still under reconstruction after the fire in 1811, but it is open to visitors and there is a museum inside that chronicles Slovakia’s history.
5. Check Out The UFO Bridge
Perhaps the most recognisable symbol of Bratislava is the Soviet Most SNP (Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising), complete with its brutalist ‘UFO’ structure at the top, which hosts an expensive restaurant and bar.
If you don’t fancy a fancy meal but are still eager to see the view, you can take the lift up to the observation deck and have a wander around for 7.40 EUR.
6. Eat Vegan Food!
Vegan food in Bratislava?!
Traditional Slovak cuisine is very meat-centric, and most articles that I have read about the best things to do in Bratislava mention that you may not want to visit Bratislava as a vegan or vegetarian.
To this, all I have to say is – seek and ye shall find, my loves.
I visited Bratislava with my vegan friend, and so the two of us were constantly on the search for yummy vegan food in Bratislava. While it is true that most of the meals you will find in Bratislava restaurants are meat-based (even the cabbage soup comes with sausages!), there are plenty of 100% vegan eateries all around town to keep you going.
Our favourites were:
Balans Bistro – Balans Bistro is a fully vegan cafe just outside Bratislava Old Town that was absolutely jam-packed when we visited. Nadia and I both opted for a creamy tempeh stroganoff served with rice and chunky chips and both agreed that it was delicious!
Vegan Kiosk – the ‘first legendary vegan street food in Slovakia’ food stand serves up a yummy mix of vegan junk food. Nadia went for a meat-free hotdog with homemade celery mayo, vegan cheddar, caramelised onions and chilli dip (4.50 EUR) and I opted for a burrito with smoked tofu, jasmine rice, bean-tomato stuffing, homemade celery mayo, lemon, onion, corn and tomato (7.00 EUR) and both of us gobbled our food down in no time.
Enjoy Bistro – A stunning little café in Bratislava Old Town with smoothies, salads and sandwiches. This isn’t a vegan café but there are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options available. I ordered sourdough toast with feta cheese, rocket, smashed avocado and cherry tomatoes (6.50 EUR) and a smoothie with baby spinach, strawberries, banana and orange (4.90 EUR) while Nadia opted for pumpkin soup served with sourdough bread (3.90 EUR) and a glass of homemade lemonade (3.80 EUR).
Wild Elephants Hostel – While you can’t just pop in here for a quick meal, you should definitely stay at Wild Elephants hostel if you are a vegan travelling on a budget. Wild Elephants is a fully vegan hostel that serves up a vegan ‘family dinner’ each night, cooked by the volunteers. The meal is 4 EUR and comes with a can of local beer, and when I was there we had mushroom soup with homemade garlic bread, vegetable curry and rice, and spaghetti bolognaise. The food wasn’t the best I’ve eaten but it was cheap and cheerful and a great way of meeting other travellers.
7. Drink Beer!
No mention of hostels would be enough without a nod to drinking beer and one of the best things to do in Bratislava is to drink copious amounts of local beer!
Slovakia may not have as much of a reputation for beer-drinking than Czechia, but the Slovaks certainly love their beer, with every other building in Bratislava Old Town being either a beer pub, brewery or craft beer house!
All of the beer in Bratislava is super affordable (I never paid more than 2 EUR for 500ml) and it’s all good. Win win.
8. Get Bargain Vintage Clothes
There are tonnes of vintage stores (or thrift stores) in Bratislava, and Nadia and I happened to be there at the best time of the month! Each month, the stores get in new stock and announce this by placing balloons outside on the street. This is the perfect time for vintage enthusiasts, who will queue outside in order to snap up the best pieces.
However, the further away you get from this date, the prices continue to decrease, until the last few days when everything in the shop will be 1-2 EUR! We spent a whole afternoon raiding the thrift stores in Bratislava and came away with some real bargains – I ended up with a cute bag, a few necklaces and a red satin jumpsuit, all priced at just 1 EUR each!
9. Amble Down The Promenade
One of the main things to do in Bratislava is to take a stroll down the main promenade, Hviezdoslav Square. Beginning near the Most SNP and ending at the National Theatre, the promenade is lined with trees, fountains and statues with an abundance of gelato shops, bars and restaurants to choose from.
The boulevard takes its name from Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav, a turn-of-the-century Slovak poet and dramatist who also translated works by Schiller, Shakespeare and Goethe. There is a large statue of him half-way along the promenade.
10. Magio Beach
Yes, you read that right – Bratislava has its very own city beach! Magio Beach is a man-made sandy beach along the Danube river that is located about a 20 minute walk away from Bratislava Old Town, in the Petrzalka district of the city.
Unfortunately when we visited, it was too windy to fully enjoy ourselves, so we all had a cider and then went in search of somewhere warmer! However, in summer this is where Bratislava locals hang out, drink cocktails, and listen to music. There are also two beach volleyball courts which are free to use, street food stands and stunning views of the Danube and Bratislava Castle.
If you have extra time then you may want to explore the Petrzalka district, which is full of Soviet-style apartment buildings and is apparently the biggest neighbourhood of its kind in Europe!
11. Go swimming in Zlaté Piesky!
There are numerous lakes near Bratislava where you can cool down and get your feet wet, but the one that my friends and I visited was Zlaté Piesky, located about 20 minutes by bus from the city centre.
There are several paid entrances to Zlaté Piesky lake, and two free ones. The entry that we took was near wakeboard tow and was free, with a pleasant 10 minute walk down a dirt track to the grassy banks of the lake, where we waded out to a small island in the middle of the lake. It was a wonderful spot to relax and unwind for the day, and definitely one of the lesser-known but most fun things to do in Bratislava!
12. The Blue Church
The Church of St. Elisabeth, more commonly known as the Blue Church, is a beautiful example of the Art Nouveau architecture of the region, and it looks like something straight from a Disney movie.
Located just East of Bratislava Old Town on Bezručova Street, the Blue Church is a unique blend of Romanesque, Baroque and Oriental design, and the chief architect, Ödön Lechner, has often been referred to as the Hungarian Gaudi.
13. Devin Castle
Of all the things to do in Bratislava, the one Bratislava attraction that I regretted missing was Devin Castle.
Devin Castle is situated a short bus ride from town, and is perched on a 212-metre cliff at the confluence of the Danube and Morava Rivers. Tracing all the way back to the 5th century BC, Devin Castle is one of the three oldest castles in Slovakia and it used to control the trade route along the River Danube.
It may only be a ruin today, but Devin Castle and its surroundings are still so beautiful that they are definitely worth the 10KM trip.
13 Things to Do in Bratislava, Slovakia | Final Thoughts
This just about concludes my list of the 13 best things to do in Bratislava, Slovakia. I hope I have shown you that you should definitely visit Bratislava properly and give it more time than most day trippers from Vienna do.
Bratislava may not be the most popular European city break, but in my opinion, that is precisely what makes Bratislava so special. There are no hordes of tourists, no organised pub crawls and gimmicky beer baths, and only a few stores selling overpriced tourist crap.
If you visit Bratislava, you will be visiting a working Slovakian city, and you will enjoy a truly Slovakian experience. Bratislava may not be the destination for you if you want to plan a stag do, but if you want to feast on hearty local grub, drink litres of beer in cosy candlelit pubs and sip coffee in Viennese-style cafes on cobbled streets, then perhaps Bratislava is the place for you.
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