Back in the historic center, I set out on a walking tour offered by the tourist board. We see some of the major landmarks in and around the old town, such as Michael’s Gate (the 14th-century gate to the city) and the eighteenth-century Primate’s Palace, with its pink façade, pillars, and statues arrayed along the roof. You can see traces of the Gothic underpinnings in one small part of the Town Hall, and in the nearby Frantiskanske Church, whose 1240 portal was all that remained after an earthquake and is still there behind the Baroque one. While in the town center, I visit the Town Hall building’s City Museum (Primaciálne námestie 3. Tel: +421-2- 5910-0847. www.muzeumbratislava.sk/en/museum-city-history), where the displays on Bratislava life covered are diverse and fascinating. You’ll see sacramental gowns, monastic art, and relics from the mid-18th century. Ceramics, tiles, glass. A fourth-century oil lamp, paintings, etchings, glassware, scales, vials, an antique bicycle, and much more. On and on and on the rooms go, from the religious to the royal to the life of everyday commerce. The building itself is just as fascinating as the exhibits, with its ornate vaulted ceilings and curving staircase that leads to a balcony with a spectacular view over the main square and old town.
The same complex holds two other museums, which you enter around the corner. The Museum of Viticulture (Radničná 577. Tel: +421-2- 5910-0856. www.visitbratislava.com/places/museum-of-viticulture) is on the first floor, with an interesting assortment of antique winemaking equipment and other artifacts of the industry (the collection of Slovak wines and tasting room are in the basement). On the second and third floors lies the Museum of Period Rooms (Radničná 577. Tel: +421-2- 5910-0830. www.visitbratislava.com/places/period-rooms-museumapponyi- house/), a stunning collection of period furniture, from the Red Drawing Room with its frescoes and embroidered Rococo-style armchairs to a dining room with gilded table. I stop to admire the most incredibly overblown dress in history, along with a man’s outfit fit for the biggest of dandies. They’ve packed a lot onto these two floors, and it’s well worth a visit. Down by the river, the Slovak National Gallery (Námestie L’udovita Štúra 4. Tel: +421-2-2047- 6100. www.sng.sk/en) has wonderful exhibits of contemporary art. So does the Danubiana Muelensteen Art Museum (Bratislava-Čunovo Vodné dielo. Tel: +421-2-6252-8501. www.danubiana.sk/en), a short ride from the city, with a stunning collection of contemporary art (and an equally stunning architectural design) on a peninsula in the middle of the Danube. Be sure to go on a nice day, because the outdoor sculpture garden is not to be missed!
One day, I pick up a footpath that leads over the SNP Bridge. I’ve chosen the perfect time to do it, just as the sun is beginning its descent over the Danube. It’s a beautiful walk, and I keep turning around to look at the old city, the river, and the castle perched above. At the end of the bridge is the UFO Tower, open since 1972 and looking for all the world like Bratislava’s own Space Needle. While there’s a long green area along the Danube that you’ll definitely want to explore, for now let’s take the elevator to the observation deck on the top to admire the panorama. Even better, have a meal in the restaurant, watch.taste.groove (Most SNP 1. Tel: +421-2-6252-0300. www.uf- o.sk/en/index.html), where you might expect them to get by just on the view, but where, in fact, the food is actually really good. If you’re lucky, just as you’re digging into your beef fillet with Jerusalem artichokes or curried pumpkin risotto, the sun will plunge into the hills behind the Danube and the entire town will be bathed in an indescribable light.
This leads us right into the subject of food, which is a particular delight in Bratislava, from modern/international cuisine to traditional Slovak cookery. Among the former, I love Fach (Ventúrska ulica 10. Tel: +421-918- 734-129. www.fachbratislava.sk/en), which offers both a bistro and juice bar. The food in the bistro is unbeatable, a surprise to me as it’s right on a much-touristed street of Old Town. It features tables with white chairs, curving ceilings, and a clean-lined, unpretentious and hip look. I, of course, sit at a sidewalk table and take advantage of the warm day and this car-free street. The food is spectacularly fresh and flavorful, from a cauliflower cream soup with fermented kohlrabi, spinach, buckwheat, and parsley oil (a study in contrasting flavors, colors, and textures) to simple roasted corn-fed chicken, arranged in a crescent around mashed potatoes and little mounds of stewed apricots. Until my dinner at Fach, I’d almost forgotten how flavorful chicken can be.
For more traditional food, try Zylinder (Hviezdoslavovo námestie 19. Tel: +421-903-123-134. www.zylinder.sk), which feels like a trip to a Slovak country house (not that I’d really know what one of those looks like), with a traditional menu, from Pressburg Schnitzel with Slovak potato salad and Duck Confit with red cabbage to Bryndza Dumplings (my choice), little potato noodles not unlike mini-gnocchi, made with a distinctive Slovak sheep cheese called Bryndza and topped with diced bacon. Like most traditional recipes here, it’s superfilling, and boy is it good. I love the vibe here, so down-to-earth and welcoming, and the sidewalk tables along Hviezdoslavovo Square makes for a relaxing as well as delicious meal. Another great choice for Slovak dishes is Modrá Hviezda (Beblavého 14. Tel: +421-948- 703-070. www.modrahviezda.sk), not far from the castle and dishing up delights from beet/farmer’s cheese strudel to roast pork with chestnuts, in a room filled with rustic charm, all rich wood, upholstered chairs, and windows. Having undergone a renovation, they should be back in business by the time you read this.
My favorite for breakfast: Urban House (Laurinska 14. Tel: +421- 904-001-021. www.urbanhouse.sk). As I walk up, the first thing I notice is a sign outside: “A banana contains 105 calories. A glass of prosecco has 80. Choose wisely.” Okay, they’ve won me over already! Inside, there are couches at low tables, a bookshelf piled with books, great music, lots of plants, and a feeling that’s hip and (of course) urban. I get a “Melbourne Breakfast,” which is avocado toast supplemented with spinach, and little dishes of sliced cherry tomatoes and mushrooms. They even have cold brew, so of course I’m in heaven. It’s not only a breakfast spot, though I do love it as a place to start the day. At press time they were looking for staff and preparing to reopen, so they should be up and running by the time you get there. I also love Urban Bistro (Michalska 5. Tel: +421-948-569-003. www.urbanbistro.sk), another place named “Urban” that serves three meals a day but where I stop for breakfast (try the amazing salmon pancakes with zucchini noodles and Hollandaise). It is super friendly, cozy, and in a town full of caffeine they serve up some of the best coffee in town.