The capital city of Slovakia sits astride the mighty River Danube, close to the Austrian and Hungarian borders and a mere 60km from Vienna. Forget any pre-conceptions of dreary, Soviet-era urbanity - Bratislava shook off the communist mantle over a decade ago and is now a vibrant, modern city, Europe's newest capital, with a rapidly expanding economy and a population of 450 000.

Archaeology on the site of modern Bratislava dates back as far as the late Stone Age, although the first written reference to Bratislava was not until AD 907, when the Great Moravian Empire collapsed after a century of dominion in the region. During the 10th and 11th centuries, the city played a key role in the administration of Hungary; and by the 15th century, Bratislava had become an important centre for trade and craftwork. In 1536, Bratislava became capital of Hungary and, for the next three centuries, the site of coronation for Hungarian kings. The city's fortunes nose dived in the 19th century, though some status was recovered with the disbanding of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. In 1939 it was made capital of the Nazi Slovak state. Three decades later, in October 1969, it became capital city of the Slovak Socialist Republic. Finally, following the "Velvet Divorce" from the Czechs in 1993, Bratislava became capital of the independent Slovak Republic.

Ruled by Celts, Romans, Hungarians, Germans and Jews, Bratislava has been influenced and shaped by many different cultural traditions and, as a result, the city today retains a cosmopolitan air as well as a fine architectural legacy. Scrubbed clean and regenerated in 1999, Bratislava has never looked better.


Bratislava is satisfyingly compact - easily explored on foot over the course of a few days.

You'll spot Bratislava's fortress-like castle long before you reach it. The "upturned bedstead" shape is the result of 17th century remodelling by the Hungarian Viceroy Pal Palffy, the original having been constructed in 1430. Tackle the steep climb and you'll be rewarded with far-reaching views, lovely gardens and the fascinating [ Slovak National Museum], which is housed in part of the building. For a collection dedicated to arms and weaponry and superb views of the old town, head for Michael's Tower, formerly a gate in the city ramparts and now the Town Museum.

Religious buildings of note include St Martin's Cathedral, built between the 13th and 15th centuries, with crypts below containing royal tombs, and the Blue Church of St Elizabeth. The latter is much more recent, built in 1907 to commemorate the 700th anniversary of St Elizabeth's birth and is uniquely attractive, with delicate blue plasterwork and Art Nouveau influences.

A bus trip to Devin Castle is a must if you're interested in Slovakia's archaeological heritage. Even if you're not, the castle's cliff top location and the surrounding forest are reason enough to visit. The castle is sited at the confluence of the Danube and the Morava, and the area is superb for hiking and cycling.

One of Bratislava's quirkiest attractions is the Cumil - a sculpture in bronze of a man's head and shoulders poking out of a manhole. It's one of the many tongue-in-cheek artworks found around Bratislava - just make sure you keep a close eye on the pavement or you might find yourself literally falling for this offbeat attraction!

For a change in pace, take a trip on the river Danube - frequent cruises depart for Budapest and Vienna. The [ Lod boat company] organises a range of sightseeing tours and you can even combine your trip with dinner aboard the Restaurant boat eilina.


It may have fewer shops than nearby Vienna, but Bratislava is still well endowed with designer boutiques, jewellery workshops, wine cellars and chocolate makers. The swankiest shops are found on Michalska and Venturska, while a short taxi ride brings you to Polus City Centre where you can buy everything under one roof. New shopping malls are springing up all the time.

As the locals do, head to the central market, Stara Trznica, where you will find pies, pancakes and doughnuts as well as dried fruits and nuts sold by weight - perfect for a quick, cheap snack. If you're in Bratislava at the right time of year, don't miss the Christmas market, which runs from 26th November to the 23rd December.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Slovak cuisine can be a little on the heavy side, though the food is frequently delicious. Try bryndzove halusky, potato dumplings with sheep's cheese and bacon, gulas, a paprika-laced meat stew, and finish with a palacinky - a sweet pancake stuffed with chocolate or soft cheese. The Small Carpathians bordering Bratislava produce excellent wines - don't go home without sampling the red Frankovka Modre and Devin, a full-bodied white.

The Old Town is packed with eateries, the best idea being to wander until you find a menu and ambience to suit you. For stylish eating, it's hard to beat Le Monde, a perennial favourite with Bratislava's more affluent citizens, while Preego is one of the city's best-kept secrets. The attractive cellars of Modre hviezda, (Beblaveho 14), provide friendly service, good wine and food at moderate prices (2-8 Euros for main course).

From spring to early autumn, residents of Bratislava make the most of the sunshine and patronise the many street cafes and open-air restaurants. After enjoying a glass of Slovak beer, head for the National Theatre for a night at the opera, a classical recital or a dramatic performance. Last-minute tickets can be incredibly cheap - as little as 3 Euros.

For livelier night-life, choose from over a dozen popular clubs. The more unusual offerings are Cirkus Barok, a disco-boat moored on the Danube, and Flamenko Music Club, devoted to all things Latin. Bratislava's strip clubs and casinos attract plenty of stag parties.

Tourist Information

Main Tourist Information OfficeKlobenicka ul. 2,814 28 Bratislava

Telephone: + 421 2 5443 3715E-mail: Website: []


Bratislava is served by the M R Stefanik Airport, situated 9 km north east of the city. Buses run to the city centre and taxis are also available - expect to pay around 8 Euros for the 20 minute journey. Air Slovakia, easyJet, Ryanair and SkyEurope all fly direct to Bratislava from the UK.

A greater range of airlines is available if you fly to Vienna and transfer to Bratislava by road or rail - it's a mere 64km from Vienna Schwechat Airport to the Slovak capital.