Bratislava - Capital of Slovakia
Bratislava, the city with about half a million inhabitants, certainly belongs to Europe's most relaxed capitals. The city has its old-town charm, one of the best hotels in the world, great restaurants, traditional pubs, good music from jazz to opera, an impressive number of historical sights, and of course a human scale, which means that as a visitor you will not spend hours trekking in and out of underground stations or getting from the airport into the city. All this and Europe's greatest river as a backdrop. What more could you wish?
Known as Pressburg to German-speakers or Pozsony to Hungarian-speakers, Bratislava got its present name only 90 years ago, however, the city has a long and proud history that dates back to pre-Roman times. It is located in the southwestern part of the country, along the Danube where the river has cut a ravine in the Little Carpathians (Malé Karpaty) nearby the meeting point of the borders of three neigboring countries - Slovakia, Austria and Hungary.
Photo: Devín Castle, the oldest castle in Slovakia with Danube, the longest European river in the background © Peter Babiak
The hillsides on the edge of the city have been home to vineyards for centuries, and close to Bratislava are wine towns such as Modra, Pezinok and Svätý Jur, where you can taste one of the best that Slovakia has to offer.
In the city itself there is plenty to do and see. Bratislava's long history, as home to Celts, Romans, Germans, Hungarians, Jews and of course Slovaks means there is an impressive range of architecture, languages and cuisine.
The handsome homes of the Austro-Hungarian noble families who built palaces here glamorise the city, and many of them are now open to the public as museums and galleries. The monumental building of the Bratislava Castle, with its long and chequered history, underwent a major and splendid restoration. There are great views over the medieval old town and the Danube valley from its fortifications. Among many must-see historical monuments surely are the influential Devín Castle, and of course St. Martin's Cathedral, the former coronation church between the years 1563 and 1830.
Photo: Bratislava Castle
Bratislava was once one of the most important centres of Jewish learning in Europe. A unique memorial to its most renowned rabbi, the Chatam Sofer, and the city's Museum of Jewish Culture celebrate this heritage.
Photo: Chatam Sofer Memorial
The river Danube itself is, of course, one of this city's main assets. There are several cafes along its banks, within walking distance of the city centre. The 'UFO' itself contains an eponymous bar high above the river. The pedestrian decks of the SNP and Old Bridges are good places to watch the river traffic, including huge barges, gliding past. Alternatively, you can take to the water yourself as daily hydrofoil services link the city with nearby Vienna (Bratislava and Vienna are the two closest located capitals in the world!) or Budapest.
Photo: SNP Bridge with the 'UFO' © Tomáš Šereda (www.ttstudio.sk)
A succession of four- and five-star hotels have opened in the city over the past few years and quality accommodation is now readily available. There are also more cheap options than ever before, with several backpacker hostels in the city center.
Big pop acts often play concerts in Bratislava, while the Slovak Philharmonic, the opera and ballet of the Slovak National Theater regularly put on world-class performances.
Photo: Slovak National Theater © Tomáš Šereda (www.ttstudio.sk)
Numerous restaurants offering international cuisine from Slovak to French, from Argentinian to Japanese, and excellent local beer and wine fill the city centre, alongside lively bars, lounges and clubs.
Photo: Bratislava and its landmarks © Tomáš Šereda (www.ttstudio.sk)
After enjoying a delicious food and drink, visitors may fancy walking, cycling or skating - there are almost unlimited opportunities in the forested hills to the north of the city, or along the Danube to the south, where inline skating is also very popular on the scores of kilometres of traffic-free paths.
There is always a lot going on in Bratislava, whatever the time of year. The city's character changes from summer to winter, and with each season comes a range of different things to do. Here are some suggestions for sights to see:
Presidential Palace Garden