Bratislava packs a vast selection of cultural and leisure attractions into one pocket-sized capital, with a huge choice of museums, galleries, churches and historic monuments.
The city is also one of the greenest in Europe and there are numerous parks and sporting facilities to try out. If your time in Bratislava is limited, here are a few suggestions for the places you shouldn’t miss to get a real feel for the vibrant Slovak capital.
St Elizabeth’s Church is a stunning example of Art Nouveau architecture and, with its light blue ‘icing’ and decorative elements, is considered the most beautiful church in Bratislava.
According to legend, Elizabeth, the daughter of Endre II of Hungary, was born in Bratislava in 1207 and was the city’s only well-known saint. It was decided that a church be built in her honour and permission was asked from the Hungarian archbishop Vászáry. The Hungarian architect and ‘father of Hungarian Art Nouveau’ Ödön Lechner was commissioned to design a church in 1907, on the 700th anniversary of Elizabeth’s birth, while Antal Durvay was in charge of the construction work.
Lechner used concrete for the church and covered the exterior with plaster painted in several shades of blue, decorated with ceramic floral tiles in darker blue. He knew the legend of St Elizabeth well and used her rose motif many times in the decoration. Budapest painter Gyula Tury decorated the altar showing Elizabeth giving alms to the poor outside Wartburg Castle.
Bratislava’s iconic castle has dominated the city skyline since the 11th century and houses a fascinating museum of Slovak history.
In A Time of Gifts, Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote that ‘the symmetry of the huge gaunt castle and the height of its corner towers gave it the look of an upside-down table’ (although he saw it before it was restored and painted white as today). Also described somewhat cruelly as an ‘upside-down bedstead’, the present Bratislava Castle was constructed in 1430 by King Sigismund of Luxembourg.
St Martin’s Cathedral
Bratislava’s mini cathedral is the most important church in the country. Between 1563 and 1830 it was the coronation church for the kings of Hungary and witnessed the crowning of 11 Hungarian kings and eight royal spouses.
The first complete performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis took place here in 1830, and Franz Liszt conducted his Coronation Mass here in 1884.
The UFO hovers 80m above the Most SNP and offers an unparalleled view of the city. The bridge and UFO were built in 1967–72 and declared ‘Building of the Century’ in Slovakia in 2001.
Until 2000 it was the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge that has one pylon and one cable-stayed span. The asymmetrical structure has a main span length of 303m, and the unique attraction is the flying-saucer-shaped object housing a restaurant, bar and lookout platform above. The viewing platform above the restaurant offers stunning views over the Danube, the Old Town and the Petržalka district.
Slovak National Theatre
Do not miss the opportunity to see world-class opera or exciting modern theatre at bargain prices, in a beautiful historical setting.
Opera and ballet start at €6 for lesser-known works and from €8 for Aida or Turandot.
So technically this isn’t in the city centre itself, but it is most definitely worth a day trip. Devín is a village 10km west of Bratislava along the Danube, considered a vital part of Slovak history. Its castle is an impressive sight when you arrive, probably by bus or boat – you see it rising up on a 212m-tall crag above the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers
This is one of the oldest castles in the country and has played an important role in Slovakia’s history.
Discover more of the city’s highlights in our comprehensive guide: