Five reasons why Bratislava, the ‘Little Big City’, should be next on your travel list.Read more...
Bratislava - When and where to visit
When the sun comes out, Bratislava's Old Town turns into one big pavement café, with tables spilling out on to the car-free, cobbled streets © gadzius, Shutterstock
Slovakia’s climate is temperate with warm, wet summers and cold, hard winters. Bratislava is located in a mild climatic zone of continental nature, characterised by wide differences between temperatures in summer and winter and, until recently, by four distinct seasons. Average temperatures in Bratislava for winter are -1–4°C (30–40°F), spring and autumn 9–21°C (49–69°F) and summer 24–26°C (75–79°F), although over the last decade spring and autumn have merged into the more dramatic seasons, meaning that spring, usually a delightful season in the Old Town, has sadly almost disappeared. The average annual temperature in the Bratislava region has risen by almost 2°C since 1951 and will keep increasing, bringing hotter, drier summers. Snow cover on the mountains in the north is less than it has been in the past. The lowest annual temperature is in the mountains at Lomnický štít (peak) (-3.7°C). The warmest zone is the Podunajská Lowland (10.3°C).
Slovakia achieved independence only in 1993 and, as one of Europe’s youngest capitals, Bratislava is also one of its most progressive. There’s never been a better time to visit.
It takes only 2½ hours to fly there from London, while on the ground it is an hour from Vienna, two from Budapest and three from Prague. The ‘little big city’ is a strategic hot-spot with a leisure industry to match.
Spring and summer in Bratislava can be really gorgeous. Come during April and you’ll probably have the place to yourself, apart from the occasional stag party (easily identified and avoided by their matching T-shirts proudly announcing ‘Gary’s Gang’ or ‘Plastered in Blava’), but the weather can be glorious. At the end of the month, out come all the terrace tables and chairs outside the pubs, restaurants and cafés, turning the Old Town into ‘one big open-air café’.
In the height of summer, the River Danube moderates the heat and there are many green spaces such as Devín and the Kamzík Hills to escape to, countless lakes to cool off in (the nearest being Zlaté Piesky, a tram-ride away), and scores of leafy squares.
The autumn colours are beautiful. There are many parks in town and it is still warm enough to sit outside a café and contemplate the historic scenery. Winter is also atmospheric, with the snow, the Christmas markets and the hills nearby if you want to ski or hike. Do bear in mind that some museums and castles such as Devín may be closed during this season, and shops and bars also have limited opening hours.
Don't miss the opportunity to see world-class opera or exciting modern theatre at bargain prices, in a beautiful historical setting © Roman Sigaev, Shutterstock
Opera at the Slovak National Theatre
The historical building and the new building by the Danube are both architectural masterpieces, and the performances are world class, too.
Bratislava’s iconic castle contains an excellent museum and the grounds are the perfect spot for a picnic with a view.
UFO restaurant and bar
The restaurant is top-notch and the view from the observation deck is outstanding.
Koliba-Kamzík and altitude
The revolving restaurant on the top of Kamzík Hill has a spectacular view of three countries: Slovakia, Austria and Hungary.
This scenic castle makes a great day-trip destination for walks along the Danube and Morava rivers.
The lovely little church dedicated to St Elizabeth is an Art Nouveau gem.
Pálffy and Mirbach Palaces
These historic buildings have fabulous interiors and galleries to match.
St Martin’s Cathedral
Once the coronation venue for Hungarian monarchs, this little cathedral packs a big punch.
The historic tower can be climbed for a great view over the Old Town.
Staying a weekend
• Walk along the coronation route of Hungarian kings through the Old Town (look for the little brass crowns set into the pavement) or, if you’re feeling lazy, sit on the tiny Prešporáčik red tour ‘train’.
• Check out the history of the country in the Slovak National History Museum and take in a breathless view from the Crown Tower. Sit out on the lawn and admire the view of the Danube and the Brutalist concrete Petržalka housing estate, past the UFO café.
• Travel up the lift to the UFO restaurant and bar for a spectacular, panoramic view of the Old Town centre, the castle and the Kamzík Hills in the distance.
• Soak up the sun on a pavement terrace in the beautiful Old Town; Bratislava is packed with cafés, bars, pubs and restaurants.
• Walk up to the Slavín Monument for a view of the business heart of the city and, in the other direction, over to Bratislava Castle and the UFO.
• Take the bus to Devín Castle for a Sunday afternoon stroll among the castle ruins and along the Danube and Morava riverbanks.
• Work your way through half a dozen excellent local beers, finishing off with a shot of borovička or slivovica.
• Try the Slovak national dish; bryndzové halušky – gnocchi with sheep’s cheese and bacon bits.
• Take in a performance of world-class opera at spectacularly low prices; good seats for €10.
• Visit the Blue Church, one of the most amazing churches in Europe, seemingly covered in blue icing.
Staying a week or longer
• Take the trolleybus to Koliba-Kamzík and, after a tramp through the woods, enjoy a slowly spinning view of Bratislava and its surroundings from the Altitude restaurant or café at the top of the TV tower.
• Hire a canoe and paddle along the Danube.
• Hire a bike and do one of the tours along the riverbank, visiting the sights along the old ‘Iron Curtain’ border.
• Travel the length of the Small Carpathian Wine Route, sampling along the way.
• Visit the largest medieval cellars in central Europe at Červený Kameň.
• Visit Košice, Slovakia’s second city, to get a feel of the east. Don’t miss a Tokaj wine-tasting session!
• Visit the Gabčíkovo Dam wildlife region and see the Danubiana Meulensteen Modern Art Gallery at Čunovo.
• Take a boat trip to Vienna or Budapest, or visit underrated Brno by train.
• Try relaxation at its best on a weekend break at Piešťany Spa.