Arriving in Bratislava’s Old Town, you’ll feel as if you’ve just joined an endless party; the cafés and bistros are packed, and in the warmer months the venues explode on to the pavements. Stroll around this friendly capital and admire the history in its castles, palaces and churches, or take time out in the many parks along the Danube.
Discover a building pretty enough to eat
It is safe to say that an overwhelming majority of Bratislava itineraries will include the almost edible Blue Church. Designed in 1907 by the ‘father of Hungarian Art Nouveau’, Ödön Lechner, the church was built to honour the city’s only well-known saint – Elizabeth, the daughter of Endre II of Hungary.
It is said that St Elizabeth spent all her time looking after and feeding the poor and needy. She built a hospital at the foot of the mountain where her castle stood, and tended the sick against her family’s wishes.
Once, when she was taking bread to the ailing poor, her husband, Prince Louis of Thuringia, stopped her and asked to look under her apron to see if she was carrying roses, as she claimed. When he lifted the apron the bread had been miraculously changed to roses. Lechner was very much aware of this legend, and, in a bid to commemorate Elizabeth’s generosity, used her rose motif many times in the decoration.
Admire the city’s eclectic mix of architectural styles
Lechner’s Blue Church is by no means Bratislava’s sole architectural curiosity. Indeed, throughout the city visitors are continually confronted with an eye-catching fusion of historic and modern architecture. Both styles are equally worthy of attention as they provide insight into Slovakia’s historic and Socialist past.
From Bratislava Castle and St Martin’s Cathedral to Most SNP and the Slavín Monument, visitors will find it relatively easy to navigate the compact capital and take in the main sights. Additionally, the otherworldly UFO Tower houses an excellent observation deck which offers stunning views of the city’s ever-changing skyline.
Hunt for the city’s remarkable statues
It’s hard not to be bowled over by the Old Town’s charm, and its many quirky statues are undoubtedly one of the Slovakian capital’s most intriguing features.
Each statue presents a unique photo opportunity to tourists and locals alike – from the favoured Čumil, a man peering out of a manhole cover and ‘looking up skirts’, to the Napoleonic army soldier leaning over the back of a bench, smiling smugly at the city he once tried to destroy.
Explore the city’s outstanding greenery
Bratislava is a very green city, with 809ha of parks and forests and 34 protected reservations. Most of this is formed by the Bratislava Forest Park (Bratislavsk lesopark) to the north of the city. In Slovak, the chamois or small, goat-like mountain antelope is called kamzík vrchovsk, and Koliba-Kamzík, the hilly area north of Bratislava, bears the same name, although they’re no longer found in this area.
It’s the best-known part of Bratislava Forest Park underneath the TV tower. Kamzík Hill (439m) offers cool woods and a range of trails to follow at the southernmost tip of the Small Carpathian mountain range. At the top is a huge meadow with skiing in winter. In summer, a bobsleigh (bobová dráha) run follows the slope for 360m.
Join the never-ending party
It often seems as if Bratislava is in the grips of a year-round festival. Tourists are likely to find themselves in the midst of the festivities as there are so many events scattered across the calendar year. The celebrations arguably reach their peak with the city’s Coronations Days in June.
This is an annual event to bring visitors and locals closer to the rituals of the coronation of 19 kings and queens in Bratislava. Participants drink wine from the fountain, shout ‘Vivat rex!’ (‘Long live the king!’), feast on an ox roast and dance in the streets. Actors in period costumes take solemn vows before making a regal procession through the Old Town, and the merry celebrations typically end with the dubbing of knights.
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