It might be a small city but for sheer friendliness, party stamina and overall good looks it pretty much ticks every box. Bratislava is a historic and picturesque city that deftly blends old world charm and modern restaurants, bars and nightclubs; a top option for those after a unique and extremely reasonably priced weekend.
Bratislava is a young European capital with an ancient heart. Gorgeous Medieval monuments, traditional houses and huge palaces are what pull the crowds and keep them enthralled. But no way is Bratislava about to settle for being an attraction. It’s keen to compete with the rest of Europe and isn’t shy when it comes to a business opportunity. Plenty of the city is smart and contemporary and it makes the most of its natural advantages. And (as long as you don’t compare Bratislava to Prague) the locals couldn’t be friendlier or more fun to be around.
Bratislava at a glance:
- Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia but a relatively young one – the country gained independence in 1993 following the ‘velvet divorce’ from what is now the Czech Republic
- It boasts a Medieval Old Town that is one of the most picturesque in Eastern Europe
- Proudly claims the nickname ‘Partyslava’ thanks to endless bars, clubs and pubs
- Has its own famous bar ‘strip’ and you can even party on a boat on the Danube
- Currency is the Euro and beer costs about €1,50 a pint
Stare Mesto – not just for tourists
The beguiling Old Town is Staré Mesto’s big ticket to the unforgettable – and it’s enchanting. From the might of St Martin’s Cathedral to the charm of its straight-laced townhouses, graceful squares and iconic Hvár Castle, if being a tourist for a bit is your thing then this is where to indulge. But don’t deprive yourself of the area’s earthier attractions. Clubs, bars, cafés and restaurants cluster by the dozen in Staré Mesto (in the Old town and beyond) and Slovakia’s most famous shopping mall, Eurovea, is also in this part of the city.
Nove Mesto – new town, great attitude
Most tourists give Nové Mesto a miss, it’s not big on medieval and nobody’s ever going to describe it as quaint. That’s good news for more adventurous types who don’t mind some real life in the visitor mix. Best described as Bratislava’s business district, Nové Mesto is all about getting things done. It feels urban and contemporary, everyone’s busy and if you need to shop this is where the city helpfully concentrates almost all its major malls.
Best bars in Bratislava:
UFO, Most SNP Bridge
Easily identified flying above the Most SNP Bridge over the Danube, UFO is easily the highest place in the city for stunning views. Give the Observation Deck a go before you get into their amazing cocktails, just to be on the safe side.
Gallery Andy, Beblavého 287/4
Paying tribute to the world’s best known American Slovak, Andy Warhol, this is one of the city’s smartest and most intriguing bars with an ever-changing interior style. In the Old Town near Hvár Castle.
Trafo Music Bar, Ventúrska 269/1
This is where Bratislava fashion and media types swarm to be beautiful, achingly cool and endlessly admired. Industrial styling, urban cocktails, a 15m concrete bar and a dance floor.
Cocoloco, námestie snp 1
120 cocktails and right in the heart of the Old Town. Slick, seductive lighting and seriously good sounds.
Slang Bar, Hviezdoslavovo nam 23
Just off Hviezdoslav Square, unpretentious and pulls a mix of party tourists and locals. The bar’s long, the beer and wine list is big and everyone’s very chatty – language is not an issue once the booze is flowing. Unpretentious and fine fun.
Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar, Drevená 575/8
One of five microbreweries in the centre of the Old Town. Slovakian beer at its best is the way it goes down here and traditional, high-carb food is served to soak up the excess. Always busy.
U-Certa, Beblavého 286/2
Name means ‘The Devil’ in Slovakian and a demonically good tour of the country’s best beers, wines and liqueurs it is too. Nod to an international audience comes from a range of whiskies and rum.
Lemontree & Sky Bar Restaurant Bratislava, Hviezdoslavovo nám 7
Clear focus on the purest spirit here with over 80 different vodkas to choose from. Great views from the terrace and the rooftop bar attracts Bratislava’s beautiful people. Especially good on warm summer evenings.
The Dubliner, Sedlárska 6
It’s all Irish but strangely Bratislava too. Guinness gets a run for its money with local favourites. Sports on TV competes with loads of live music gigs. And it’s the only Irish bar in the city so it’s busy and boisterous and good for a party.
Best clubs in Bratislava:
This city centre building isn’t beautiful from the outside but don’t let that put you off. This is a city legend and the crowd’s cool, creative and good to be around. Always something going on and the pints are even cheaper than the Bratislava norm – really, really cheap.
Channels, Župné nám 2 Several floors of Slovak party so take your pick here. It’s just outside the Old Town on SNP Square and attracts a young, cute crowd with a mix of sounds and events.
Food: eat like a local:
You can’t visit Bratislava and not try Halušky. It’s the Slovakian national dish and basically consists of little potato dumplings (think gnocchi but stodgier) with a rich, sheep’s cheese sauce and a liberal sprinkling of smoked bacon or pork rind. Traditionally this hearty (or heart stopping) dish is served with Žincica (sheep’s milk whey drink) – alternatively you could just have more of the country’s fine beer.
Right in the heart of the Old Town on legendary bar strip Obchodna, 1 Slovak Pub (www.slovakpub.sk/) is the best Halušky restaurant in the city. Reasonably priced and lots of alternatives to the sheep’s milk whey for washing down your dumplings.
At Café Vienna the name’s the only thing this great breakfast café has in common with one of the most expensive cities on earth (Vienna’s just 60km from Bratislava). Here €5 or thereabouts will get you bacon, egg, rolls and fantastic coffee – it wouldn’t even get you the waiter’s attention in the Austrian capital.
Beer Palace – Traditional pub style food with a Bratislava angle and great value fixed-price lunch menus is the deal at Beer Palace. Big on meat but looks after vegetarian and gluten intolerant diners well too.
If the only thing you want is a fantastic steak cooked just the way you like it then Towers is for you. You choose the cut, the weight and one of the 15 different sauces, they cook your steak and serve it up on a bed of bacon and beans – the last bit is kind of odd, but when in Bratislava…
When to visit:
Summer weather is mostly sensational and the city has over 10 lakes and even a man-made beach to cool you off – or you can head into the mountains for a bit of shade. Bratislava is Eastern Europe so it does the big magical Christmas thing without a second thought. The winter weather is cold but ice skating, mulled wine, traditional decorations and all that Medieval prettiness trimmed with frost is worth wrapping up warm for.
The best view of the city:
One of the best views in the city is from the battlements of beautiful Hvár Castle. It’s in the Old Town, of course, and the walk up is almost as rewarding as looking out over the city when you get there.
Bratislava’s tram and bus services are excellent and most routes operate from 5am to midnight. But the ticketing system is complicated so best bet is to buy a Bratislava City Card (all public transport is included in the cost) or opt for 24 or 48-hour passes. Taxis to get you about after midnight and before 5am aren’t too expensive and go everywhere in the city.
A small, friendly and very safe city, Bratislava doesn’t have any major problems to watch out for. There are pickpockets in the well-known tourist districts but that’s not unusual and you just need to be careful with your valuables. And, if you visit in summer, use mosquito repellent especially in the evening by the river.
Hello = ahoj
How Are You? = ako sa máš?
Do You Speak English? = hovoríš po Anglicky?
Nice To Meet You = teši ma
Cheers! = na zdravie!