Bratislava

Town square © Judith Duk

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and the country's largest city. Situated on either side of the Danube River at the borders of Austria and Hungary, it's within easy reach of the Czech Republic. It is the centre for arts and culture in Slovakia and boasts many museums, art galleries, palaces, and ornamental churches in and around its historic Old Town.

Bratislava takes pride in this cultural heritage, with a musical history going back to Mozart, Beethoven, and Hummel. Music concerts and ballet performances take place almost daily in the city, competing for attention with the likes of those in neighbouring Vienna, Prague, and Budapest.

The Old Town district is crammed with historical structures representing the different cultures and nations of its past, centring on the famous town square called Hlavné Námestie. The historic Old Town can easily be explored on foot.

The 11th-century Gothic Cathedral of St Martin is found within the Old Town, together with numerous Baroque palaces. The Old Town also contains the town hall, which houses the oldest museum in the country, as well as a gate preserved from the medieval city fortifications. One of the most conspicuous structures in the city is Bratislava Castle, a former frontier post for the Roman Empire situated on a plateau overlooking the Danube.

While still lagging behind Budapest and Prague in terms of popularity, word of Bratislava's picturesque charm and affordable elegance is spreading and the city is rapidly being thrust into the limelight as a popular European destination. An increase in low-cost flights from around Europe is also partly responsible for its rising recognition.



Attractions

Bratislava Castle
Bratislava Castle © Digital Nick

Bratislava Castle

Situated on a hill 269 feet (82m) above the city, Bratislava Castle is a prominent structure on the city's skyline and provides excellent views of the city, as well as over Austria and even as far as Hungary in fine weather. It has been inhabited for thousands of years due to its important location on the Danube River in central Europe, and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in its history, undergoing a series of reconstructions and extensions. Four towers make up the enormous castle building, enclosing a courtyard, a Treasure Chamber, and collections of the Slovak National Museum.

Address: 811 06 Bratislava; Website: www.snm.sk


Old Town Hall
Old Town Hall © Thaler Tamas

Old Town Hall

Set in the heart of Bratislava's historic city centre, the Old Town Hall is the perfect place to begin your holiday in Slovakia's capital city. The oldest stone building in the downtown area, its Gothic tower was erected in 1370 before the rest of the building was completed in the 15th century by joining three adjacent townhouses together. A distinctive building with its colourful roof, it now principally functions as the home of the Bratislava City Museum. The museum is small but certainly worth a look, housing a collection of strange and unsettling artefacts: torture instruments, the old town dungeons, antique weapons and armour, and even a cannon-ball that was shot into the wall by Napoleon's forces in 1809. In the summer, the Old Town Hall hosts open-air music concerts in its courtyard. Many of Bratislava's other great tourist sights (such as the Main Square and Primate's Palace) are within easy walking distance of the Old Town Hall and there are numerous cafes and eateries serving excellent Slovakian cuisine.

Address: Hlavné námestie, 811 01 Bratislava-Staré Mesto; Website: www.welcometobratislava.eu/old-town-hall-tower/


Piestany
Piestany © Bjalek Michal

PiešŇ•any

Located just an hour's drive north of Bratislava, PiešÅ¥any is Slovakia's premier spa resort town and a great place to go for tourists looking to relax and rejuvenate in style. The range and quality of treatment available in PiešÅ¥any is world class. But due to its relative obscurity, it is far more affordable than similar spa towns in more tried-and-tested areas around the continent. PiešÅ¥any is situated in the beautiful, forested region of the Vah River Valley and is fringed by mountains to the north. The spas are the town's main attractions, catering to mostly foreign patients with chronic rheumatic and arthritic diseases. In the summer, tourists arrive looking for mud therapy, massages, and even dietary advice. PiešÅ¥any offers a range of accommodation and resort amenities, like a nine-hole golf course, Jacuzzis, and steam baths. Other sights and activities in the town include a 13th-century monastery and a number of great walking and hiking trails. In summer, PiešÅ¥any hosts a popular arts festival as well as celebrations of country and folk music. Budget-conscious travellers looking to spend some time in a top-class European spa resort should seriously consider PiešÅ¥any, which, like the rest of Slovakia, is an unassuming gem of a European holiday destination.

Website: slovakia.travel/en/spa-piestany

Excursions

Devin Castle

Perched 696 feet (212m) above the confluence of the Morava and Danube Rivers, Devín Castle is one of the most important archaeological sites in Slovakia. Its image is depicted on postage stamps and Slovakian money. The oldest traces of settlement date back to 5,000 BC, and mighty fortress citadel was impenetrable for centuries until the arrival of Napoleon's troops who sacked it in 1809. The village of Devín is also quaint and worth visiting, with a number of shops and restaurants. The river, while photogenic, is a haven for mosquitoes, so visitors are advised to arm themselves with effective insect repellent.

Address: Muránská, 841 10 Bratislava-Devín; Website: www.slovakia.com/castles/devin-castle/


High Tatras National Park

The majestic peaks of the High Tatras are a must-see in Slovakia, stretching through Tatra National Park and across the northern part of the country in the Carpathian Mountains near Poland. The mountains, valleys, and lakes of the Tatras offer innumerable opportunities for hiking, cycling, skiing, swimming, river rafting, and relaxing in a pristine natural environment. Small but increasingly popular resorts in the area include Strbské Pleso, Starý Smokovec, and Tatranská Lomnica. There are scenic cable cars and funiculars scattered about, including those at Lomnický Stít and Hrebienok.

Website: www.slovakia.com/national-parks/high-tatras/


Vlkolínec

The small town of Vlkolínec is the best place to experience the famous and unique folk architecture of Slovakia, consisting of medieval houses and churches often built from logs joined without nails. Located about three hours from Bratislava, near the Czech Republic border, Vlkolínec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see for tourists who are interested in European history and the folklore of the Carpathian Mountains. With a name derived from the Slovak word for 'wolf', the town is set in a picturesque alpine landscape and features around 45 of the distinctive wooden houses, numerous carved wooden statues, and a museum exhibiting the instruments that were used during the construction of the town. There is also a Baroque chapel with a wooden belfry. Vlkolínec is one of Slovakia's premier tourist destinations and not to be missed.

Website: www.slovakia.com/museum/vlkolinec/