by Rich Rubin
Danube river, Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava is a dream destination for tourists with its compact walkable streets, a multitude of cafés, and a slew of good restaurants. There are also fascinating sights to see, beautiful streets to wander, and impressive museums.

Rich Rubin

I’m surprised, actually, that more people haven’t visited Bratislava as it lies only an hour from Vienna  and is a perfect side-trip from that well-known city.

Bratislava, Slovakia is a dream destination for tourists with its compact, walkable streets, a multitude of cafés, and a slew of good restaurants. There are also fascinating sights to see, beautiful streets to wander, and impressive museums. Linger over coffee and an amazing Slovak pastry, or relax along the Danube and watch the world go by. It’s a laidback city, one of Europe’s smallest capitals, and it still has an undiscovered air. People are nice, the welcome is warm, and you can spend your days in beautiful indolence or constant activity. It’s really up to you.

As Bratislava prepares to open to foreign tourists again (at press time, the dates were not yet announced), it’s definitely a place you want to keep on your radar. Having been hard hit by the pandemic, they are eager to reopen, with a lot of upgrades having occurred over the past few years. When I asked the tourist board about the current situation, they told me: “Bratislava is preparing for the tourists again. Many restaurants and hotels were renovated during the lockdown. Even the city went through a facelift, and many beautiful public spaces were created. The capital of Slovakia is looking forward to welcoming foreign tourists, who will find original culture and great food.”

I’m surprised, actually, that more people haven’t visited, as it lies only an hour from Vienna (45 minutes from Vienna Airport) and is a perfect side-trip from that well-known city. You can take the train, or transfer directly from the airport, but I would suggest doing the voyage on the Twin City Liner (www.twincityliner.com/en), which whisks me from Vienna to Bratislava in just over an hour. It’s a pleasant trip on the Danube, with the occasional narration when we pass a landmark. It’s a smooth and lovely ride that deposits me right at the heart of Bratislava, just steps from my hotel.

Bratislava Castle, Main Square and the St. Martin's Cathedral

Bratislava Castle, Main Square and the St. Martin’s Cathedral

Let’s check in, and then start exploring. One good choice for your accommodations is the splendiferous old Carlton Hotel, now the Radisson Blu Carlton Hotel (Hviezdoslavovo námestie 3. Tel: +421-2-5939-0000. www.radissonhotels.com) on lovely, flower-lined Hviezdoslavovo Square. You know it’s gonna be fabulous when you see the fountain out front with the changing colors. It’s perfectly perched above the Danube and just steps from the old town and Twin City Liner’s dock. Bratislava also has some great boutique hotels. I’d suggest Roset Boutique Hotel (Štúrova10. Tel: +421-2-3217-1819. www.rosethotel.sk/en), an Art Nouveau wonder with gorgeous suites and a great location just steps from the Old Town attractions. Another good possibility: Marrol’s Boutique Hotel (Tobrucká 4. Tel: +421-2-5778-4600. www.hotelmarrols.sk), a stylish property right in the historic center, with lovely rooms overlooking the garden or Old Town, a nice spa, and enough art to open their own museum!

You’ll probably spend most of your time in the old town, which really is beautiful. Obviously, it’s Bratislava’s showpiece, but here the beauty is real, despite more than a few touristy shops. The architecture is an amalgam of styles, with the occasional Gothic remnants overlaid by everything from Baroque to Art Nouveau. Despite the jumble of periods, though, it all presents a harmonious whole, and the wide-open main square (Its Slovak name, Hlavné Námestie, literally translates as “Main Square”) is a model of beauty and old world appeal. Make that Eastern European appeal, which is unlike any other in the world.

I discover something very cool as I walk down the promenade and my phone buzzes: the Bratislava Tourist Board (www.visitbratislava. com) provides free Wi-Fi for all visitors throughout the old town, effectively converting the entire area into a hotspot. I mean, how great is that? It’s actually the first time I’ve ever heard of a city doing that, though maybe others have and I just didn’t know, but it’s a symbol for me of how Bratislava combines the time-honored (just look at the ancient streets!) and the forward-looking. Later in our journey we’ll move beyond the confines of the old town a little bit and see the vibrancy of this city that’s so much more than just a cute tourist zone. There’s great beauty here, and some wonderful spots everywhere in town. Hint: get a Bratislava Card (www.card.visitbratslavia.com) from the tourist board for free and discounted attractions.

SNP Bridge and UFO Tower in Bratislava, Slovakia

SNP Bridge and UFO Tower
Photo: Travelographer

To see the entire city from aged to gleamingly modern, I hike up the long curving road to Bratislava Castle (Zámocká 2. Tel: +421-2-5441- 1444. www.snm.sk), on a hill above town. Walk around this gleaming white monument turreted with rust-colored towers, and you’ll see a different view of Bratislava from whichever path you take. Look one way, and you’ll see the tile roofs of the Old Town, spires rising in the distance. Walk a couple of minutes, and you’ll see the Danube, with the ultra-modern SNP Bridge leading to the UFO Tower. Venture inside the castle for interesting historical exhibits. Stand in the courtyard outside the museum and imagine yourself back several centuries as you look through arched openings in the wall at the city beyond. Walk back out to see the green on the banks of the gleaming Danube. Relax for a while on a bench or grassy area before heading back down narrow, curving alleyways, a trip that’s worth the castle visit in and of itself.

Related: What’s New in Vienna, Austria

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