Bratislava's sights tell a story of the Slovakian capital city. Some sights, such as Bratislava Castle and St. Martin's Cathedral, have been used by humans well before the present structures were built. Others – think Bratislava's famous, whimsical sculptures – represent the city's present-day culture and modern attitude.
Old or new, admired or reviled, the following pages depict and describe some of Bratislava's most famous, recognizable, significant, and memorable sights. You'll see many on your tour of Old Town Bratislava, which is an important and enjoyable attraction in itself, even if you have only a couple of hours to explore. If you can take advantage of a longer stay in Bratislava, you'll find museums and concert halls beckoning for your patronage, and you'll also want to take some time to simply soak up the atmosphere of this underrated European city.
Bratislava Castle overlooks Old Town Bratislava and the Danube River. The four-cornered, pale-stone structure is visible from the old town. It famously protected the Hungarian crown jewels (now in Budapest's Parliament Building) and now acts as a museum.
History of Bratislava Castle
During the Middle Ages the castle was greatly modified to meet prevailing standards, though the Sigismund Gate is the only preserved portion of that medieval structure that can be seen by visitors. It was during this time that the Hungarian crown jewels were protected in the Crown Tower of Bratislava Castle.
Other modifications to the castle changed its appearance significantly, and it underwent both Renaissance and Baroque remodeling. A low point in Bratislava Castle's history occurred when fire ravaged it after it was pummeled with Napoleonic canon fire. The castle fell into dire disrepair in the middle of the 20th century.
During the 21st century, major reconstruction efforts were undertaken and the castle stands as proud as it once was today.
What to See at Bratislava Castle
Bratislava Castle is now run by the Slovak National Museum. A fee is required for entry into the castle, but this sight is one of Bratislava's recommended attractions, so definitely don't miss your opportunity to explore this important historic structure when you visit Slovakia's capital city.
St. Martin's Cathedral
St. Martin's Cathedral is located in Old Town Bratislava. This cathedral is one of Slovakia's oldest and is known for is role as a place of coronation for Hungarian kings.
History of St. Martin's Cathedral
The cathedral was used as a site of coronation for Hungarian royalty from the 16th to 19th centuries. Today's coronation festival recalls St. Martin's esteemed connections with monarchical figures. Every September, a re-enactment of the crowning of Hapsburg rulers takes place, attracting visitors from far and wide. In the past, the crown jewels of Hungary were taken from their secure location in Bratislava Castle to be used in these important coronation ceremonies. Understandably, the precious Hungarian crown jewels are not used today, though they can be viewed during a tour of Budapest's Parliament Building.
Sights in St. Martin's Cathedral
The tower of the cathedral is topped with a replica of the Hungarian crown. The cathedral's grounds are also home to a 17th century bell. Part of the city's walls still exist, as well, so it's possible to get a feel for how the city looked when it was enclosed in defensive structures.
Directly across from St. Martin's Cathedral stood a synagogue, though this structure was destroyed in the last century. A memorial to the synagogue has been placed here.
The Primate's Palace, built and used by an archbishop in the 18th century, is an expansive Neoclassical building famous for being the site of the signing of the Treaty of Pressburg between France and Austria. As a result of this treaty, the Holy Roman Empire collapsed and massive territories changed hands. From the beginning of the 20th century, the Primate's Palace took on the role of town hall of Bratislava.
The Primate's Palace is open to the public and is home to artwork and period decorations. One of the most notable rooms of the palace is the Hall of Mirrors, where the infamous Treaty of Pressburg was signed and where grand balls were held in the past. Today, concerts are held in the Hall of Mirrors, which looks larger than it is due to the extensive use of mirrors.
Portraits, a set of rare tapestries from the 17th century, a large ceiling fresco, and other find art works are also housed in the Primate's Palace.
The Primate's Palace is open to visitors every day excluding Monday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Attend a concert in the impressive Hall of Mirrors to be spirited into another era.
Bratislava's Old Town Hall
As in many centuries-old cities in Eastern and Central Europe, the town hall was an important part of city life. Bratislava's city hall still stands on its main square; it's an unmissable attraction and a significant feature of the historic district. It's also the oldest town hall in Slovakia with a tower that dates to the 14th century!
Bratislava's town hall is unusual because it was not originally built as a town hall. Rather, the structure comprises several buildings that were joined together to form a unified whole. One of the main sections of the building once belonged to a 14th-century mayor. Interesting details are built into the town hall's exterior, including a cannonball that commemorates an early 19th-century French attack on the the city.
Today the town hall acts as the Bratislava City Museum, and festivals and concerts are held in its inner courtyard.
Slovak National Theater
The Slovak National Theater and opera house is one of Old Town Bratislava's most recognizable sights. Building construction was begun in 1885, and in 1920, the Slovak National Theater was founded and procured the use the opera house, which took the name of the theater as well.
In front of the Slovak National Theater building is the Ganymede Fountain, designed shortly after the construction of the opera house was completed. A native Bratislavan sculpted the fountain, which represents the Greek legend of Ganymede and indigenous wildlife.
Located on Hviezdoslav Square, the Slovak National Theater opens for evening performances and famously hosts an invitation-only ball. The Slovak National Theater also holds performances in a modern building, though the old building remains a favorite venue for opera and ballet enthusiasts.
St. Michael's Gate
St. Michael's Gate is the only one of four city gates now standing. Located at what used to be the north entrance of the walled city, it is one of the oldest structures in Bratislava, having been built in the early 14th century. Today's visitors will notice its much younger Baroque-style facade and its tall, delicate tower where a watchman used to stand guard.
Due to its relationship with the town's former defense system, St. Michael's Gate now houses a museum of weaponry and fortifications.
Shoppers can use St. Michael's Gate as a guiding compass – shops selling luxury goods and designer labels have branches here.
Bratislava's Novy Most
When you visit Old Town Bratislava, the Novy Most, or New Bridge, is an unmissable feature of the horizon. The building of the bridge and its attached highway in the 1960s came with a significant sacrifice to a section of the historic district. Much of the Jewish section of Bratislava was lost, and a monument to the synagogue that once stood in front of St. Martin's Cathedral has been erected in its place.
The destruction of the historic section of Bratislava between the castle and the cathedral casts the new bridge in an unfavorable light, but visitors can get one thing out of the bridge: panoramic views of Bratislava. The UFO restaurant, perched on the top of the bridge, is a famous spot for enjoying a cocktail and the excellent views.
Bratislava is famous for its sculptures, some of which capture sense of humor in the subject matter. Old Town Bratislava offers a great opportunity to see many of these.
Cumil, or the Watcher, emerges from a manhole and is said to peer up women's skirts. A Napoleonic soldier rests his forearms on a bench with his backside to the French Embassy on the main square.The bronze photographer, pictured above, looks ready to snap a photo any second. Other sculptures depict poets and composers, though in a more serious tone.
The 13th-century Franciscan church is the oldest church in Bratislava – even older than St. Martin's Cathedral. It was originally built in the Gothic style of architecture, but it now exhibits a Baroque-style facade. The interior of the church is also a combination of styles, and Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles are represented.
The church can be viewed by visitors when mass is not being held. Classical music concerts performed here in the evenings offer another opportunity to see the inside of the Franciscan church.
Main Square in Old Town Bratislava
Hlavne namestie, Old Town Bratislava's main square is a hub of life and activity. It's here that visitors can shop for souvenirs at the souvenir market or for gifts and decorations at the Bratislava Christmas Market. The main square swarms with people during festivals and holidays and is home to several Bratislava sights.
Buildings of various architectural styles, from Romanesque to Art Nouveau, stand on the square. Former palaces, hotels, restaurants and cafes, a bank building, the Old Town Hall, and the sculpture of the Napoleonic soldier are found on Hlavne namestie. The Maximilian Fountain is the square's centerpiece.
The square is perfect for getting a bite to eat, snagging a souvenir, people watching, catching some street entertainment, and for getting your bearings as you explore the old town.