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Last updated: April 6, 2021 – Bratislava is the capital city of Slovakia. Located on the eastern edge of Central Europe, the city has a rich history with ancient castles, a charming Old Town, and interesting food. Because of its proximity to Vienna, many just visit Bratislava in a day trip. Although we visited Bratislava in a day, in retrospect we should have spent more time in the city. Better yet, it would have been worth extending our trip to explore the rest of the country, as there is much more to Slovakia than Bratislava.
About Bratislava, Slovakia
Slovakia is one of the lesser visited countries in mainland Europe. The landlocked country borders Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ukraine, and Poland. Although one of the youngest countries in Europe, Slovakia has a long history that dates back to the 900s, but the Soviet Era and post-communist history of Slovakia and it’s capital city is most fascinating. In fact, you can even book a tour that focuses specifically on the city’s communist past. The history as well as the boarding countries make for a mix of strong cultural influences. The result is a beautiful eclectic blend of traditions and both modern age-old architectural styles.
One-day itinerary for Bratislava
Here is a brief outline for an easy one-day Bratislava itinerary that covers most of the city’s highlights!
- Arrive in Bratislava by train or car
- Visit, pass through, or climb St. Michael’s Gate
- Tour St. Martin’s Cathedral
- Explore Old Town and find the famous Bratislava statues
- Lunch in Old Town
- Tour Bratislava Castle
- Check out the UFO Bridge
- Drive or take a bus to Devin Castle
Looking for a guided tour? Compare prices, read reviews, and find all guided tours in Bratislava HERE.
What to do in Bratislava in a day
Bratislava sits on the border of Slovakia and Austria, about an hour and a half from Vienna. The two cities are so close that you could easily take the train from Vienna to Bratislava just for the day. Although the train is a convenient and popular way to visit Bratislava on a day trip, we were roadtripping through Europe when we visited, so we didn’t take the train. It is the most popular means of travel between the two cities and gets you from Vienna to Bratislava in about an hour. The main train station is approximately a 15 minute walk from Old Town, where any one-day Bratislava itinerary should start.
We left Vienna early in the morning with plans to visit Bratislava for a day before heading to our next destination, Brno, Czech Republic. Although, having visited Bratislava, we would encourage you to spend at least one night in Bratislava, if time allows. But if you only have one day to spend in Bratislava, don’t worry! You can easily see most of the popular sites in Bratislava in a day.
St Michael’s Gate
Like many European cities, Bratislava was heavily fortified during medieval times. Back in the 14th century, the city had four gates that allowed access to Old Town Bratislava. St. Michael’s Gate (Michalská brána) is the only remaining gate to still standing. It has been preserved and restored and ranks among the oldest buildings in Bratislava. You can climb to the top of the white tower with its green copper roof, or simply pass beneath the gate to access the living area of the Bratislava known as Old Town.
Old Town Bratislava
If starting your one day tour of Bratislava in the morning, there are various cafes and restaurants located right inside St. Michael’s Gate where you can grab breakfast. After breakfast, spend a few hours leisurely exploring Old Town, the historic center of Bratislava. With a mixture of the baroque-style buildings and architecture, the restored district of Old Town Bratislava will transport you back in time. For a more comprehensive experience, you can book a private walking tour with a local guide who will provide insight into the history and the various landmarks and sites in Bratislava. If you prefer to explore on your own, there are plenty of souvenir shops and beautiful churches to visit as you roam this tourist area.
Take some time and relax in the town square and enjoy an authentic Slovakian meal for lunch. Traditional Slovakian food is much different than American cuisine, to say the least, but it’s delicious! A must try is sheep cheese. It has a very distinct flavor that you will either love or hate. You’ll find it in several popular Slovakian dishes, including Bryndzové Halušky, the national dish of Slovakia, which is similar to gnocchi. Not a meat and cheese eater? Don’t worry! There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options in Bratislava, as well.
St Martin’s Cathedral
St. Martin’s Cathedral (Katedrála svätého Martina) is the oldest and largest church in Bratislava. Located in the heart of Old Town, it is only a short stroll from St. Michael’s Gate. From the outside, you would possibly consider skipping St. Martin’s Cathedral, as the exterior just isn’t very impressive. But the inside of the church is beautiful with traditional gothic architecture. Underneath the cathedral are narrow passageways of crypts and catacombs that you can tour if you’re brave enough!
Quirky Bratislava statues
There are several quirky bronze statues in Bratislava that have become somewhat of a tourist attraction themselves. Man at Work, which is a statue of a smiling sewer worker coming out of a manhole, is perhaps the most famous and photographed of the Bratislava statues. As you explore Old Town make it a point to find all of the iconic statues sprinkled around the area. You will literally just stumble upon these whimsical statues as you stroll through the town. Usually, there are crowds of people taking photos around the statues in Bratislava, so follow the crowds and you are bound to find them.
If you are visiting Bratislava with kids, finding the statues can be a fun treasure hunt that will keep your kids engaged and interested as you are sightseeing. We had fun taking silly photos and being tourists, which I think everyone should do from time to time.
Bratislava Castle is just outside of Old Town perched up on a rocky hill. You will immediately notice the prominent castle as you drive into town. The square castle with its four corner pillars has been updated and renovated. It now houses various Slovak National Museum exhibitions. Touring the castle and museum’s exhibits will give you a good appreciation for the country’s history. Plus, you will get an exceptional view of the city!
The walk up to Bratislava Castle can be steep. It takes approximately 15 minutes to walk to the castle from Old Town. If you prefer, there are hop-on-hop-off sightseeing buses that will drop you off at the castle and include admission so you don’t have to wait in line to buy your ticket to the castle.
The seemingly random statues in Old Town are not the only quirky thing you’ll find in Bratislava. The town boasts one of the most famous bridges in Europe. But unlike most famous European bridges that get their notoriety from their ancient beauty, Bratislava’s well-known bridge is famous for a different reason. It’s modern and peculiar design gives it its nickname – the UFO Bridge. Constructed in 1972, this cable bridge, which was originally named Most SNP, or ‘Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising’, is better known as the UFO Bridge because of it’s flying saucer-shaped observation deck atop the bridge. You’ll also find a restaurant inside the saucer-shaped structure, so if time permits make a reservation and have dinner inside a UFO!
Devin Castle is about a 15-minute drive from Old Town. It is a wonderful step back into ancient times and another attraction worth visiting in Bratislava. Believed to date back to the 5th century B.C, the well preserved ruins sit perched on a cliff overlooking the banks of the water where the Danube and Morava rivers meet. It’s a long, uphill hike to get to the castle from the parking lot but worth every step. Surrounding the castle and running along the river, is a paved walkway that is great for a stroll on a nice day.
The castle costs approximately €4 a person to get in, but beware, they only take cash. We actually found several places through Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland that did not accept credit cards. It is definitely beneficial to take out cash in all three countries, which unfortunately all use different currency, too. We did find many of the places in Czech Republic and Poland would also accept euros, which is what they use in Slovakia and most of Europe, but not all of them.
So many 1-day Bratislava itineraries skip Devin Castle, but you would be remiss if you did not visit this historic Bratislava landmark. It was the highlight of our one day in Bratislava. While it is an easy self-drive, if you took the train to Bratislava, you can book a 3-hour tour to Devin Castle, which would give you plenty of time to see the castle and everything in the area.
Day trip to Bratislava – Is Bratislava worth visiting?
If we had this trip to do over again, we would have spent at least one night in Bratislava to give us more time to explore. The city is a great combination of beauty, history, and quirky character. Despite our short time there, Bratislava is definitely worth visiting, even if only for a day.
While one day in Bratislava gave us a small sampling of the city, we didn’t get to see all the city has to offer or explore the rest of Slovakia. We would love to someday venture further into Slovakia and especially check out the beautiful region of Northern Slovakia and the High Tatras.
There are so many great places to visit in Slovakia, and spending one day in Bratislava only scratches the surface. If you decide to stay for at least one night, we’ve included a handy map below of the closest hotels and lodging options available near Old Town.
Have you visited Bratislava, Slovakia? Was a day in Bratislava enough or did you stay longer? Let us know in the comments below!