Friday, October 2, 2020

Bratislava : The Ultimate 24 Hour City Guide

Nestled between imposing neighbours, Bratislava is a charming, yet often overlooked capital in Central Europe.

Bratislava City Guide and Svatopluk Statue

Slovakia is an oft-forgotten destination in the travel planning world. Sandwiched among prominent Central European neighbours it's easy to overlook this pint-sized destination - but if you look a little closer Bratislava is bursting with charm with a generous list of things to see and do.

After arriving at the Bratislava Main Railway Station at the crack of dawn we hopped in a taxi and made our way to the Hotel Tatra Bratislava. Cars are not permitted on the streets of the Old Town so we specifically chose a hotel just outside its boundaries.

Snagging an early check in meant we could take advantage of the entire day. We asked the hotel receptionist about the pearly castle on the mountain towering over the city. "Bratislava Castle" he advised us in his thick Slovakian accent, "only a 30 minute walk from here". We grabbed a map and with eyes on the skyline, began heading in the general direction of the castle.

Huffing and puffing, we made it to the lavish wrought iron and marble gates of the castle exactly thirty minutes later. Perched directly above the city, we admired the impressive grounds surrounding the castle and the 360 degree view of the Old Town (Stare Mesto in Slovakian) below us.

Before beginning our castle tour, our guide told us the mighty statue in front of the castle piercing the air with a sword is Svatopluk, the greatest King of the Moravian Empire.

Bratislava Castle English Gardens

Admiring its manicured gardens as we shuffled towards the entrance, we entered the discreet front doors of the whitewashed castle. We were told the 'castle hill' has housed numerous empires for over a millenia from the Celts to the Slavs and Hungarians, but today the castle functions as the official Slovak National Museum. We spent 2 hours roaming the castle learning about Slovakian history and admiring the art and history exhibitions.

Bratislava Castle English Gardens and Pomegranate Tree

After the tour we stepped outside the castle to wander the English gardens in the surrounding grounds. Immaculately manicured, there is a maze of large and small gardens enveloping the castle in every direction.

Bratislava Castle English Gardens and Pomegranate Tree

After a quick coffee we made our way back to the Old Town. Carefully descending the slopes of the castle hill we found refuge in a small garden square. A pack of tourists were snapping photos of a statue of a woman with luscious hair surrounded by ravens. A quick check of our paper map told us this one of Bratislava's many bronze sculptures scattered around the city. This one (called Bosorka in Slovakian) is a tribute to the women of the past wrongly accused of witchcraft and drowned in the waters of the Danube.

Bratislava Witch Bosorka Bronze Statue

Following the steep decline of the ground but no longer able to see the Old Town below, we found ourselves facing the fortifications surrounding the Old Town. Most of the medieval fortifications had been demolished but this small part on the outskirts of the city remained. Well preserved, the walls are a glimpse into the city's embattled past.

Crossing the bridge that separated us from the Old Town we stopped directly above the bustling highway and saw a peculiar shaped monument in front of us. We later found out this structure is the local 'UFO' and houses a restaurant, bar and observation deck.

Bratislava Wall Fortifications and UFO

Back inside the walls of the Old Town we found ourselves following cracked cobblestone roads and winding in and out of charming narrow lanes. We took our time enjoying the understated charm of Bratislava and admiring the history and mystery of the buildings and palaces we strolled past.

The streets of the Old Town are a 'car free' zone, which makes for the perfect opportunity to embrace 'slow travel' and soak up the envirnoment surrounding you at your own pace.

We stopped for lunch on an intimate road packed with cafes, galleries and restaurants. Our waiter informed us the tall white structure at the end of the road is Michael's Gate, a medieval fortification from a bygone era and the last of its kind. Built in the 14th century to keep guard over the city, it now houses a museum, luxury shops and restaurants.

Bratislava Old Town Lane Michael's Gate

In need of a post lunch stroll we continued roaming the Old Town and began noticing some quirky and imaginative bronze statues in various poses doing various things. Our favourite was Cumil, the 'Man at Work' taking a rest after a day of hard work cleaning the underground sewer.

10 of these statues can be found in different corners of the Old Town and were designed to scrub the dark communist past of Slovakia.

Bratislava Ground Sculpture Cumil Man At Work

Hitching a taxi back to the hotel, we decided we would try to get a dinner booking for the UFO restaurant. Our hotel receptionist made a 6pm booking for us over the phone; and we had a few hours to wind down in our room.
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After arriving at the UFO a little early we were ushered to the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. Perched above the Danube in the middle of the SNP bridge we savoured a panoramic view of Bratislava as the sun set over the city.

Bratislava UFO Restaurant Cocktail

We moved to the dining room when our table was ready and were faced with the difficult decision of ordering a la carte or the degustation menu. Not knowing if we could comfortably finish a 7 course meal, we designed our own 3 course meal each.

Bratislava UFO Restaurant Dessert

After leisurely basking in the ambience of the restaurant and enjoying our meal over a few hours the waiter suggested a visit the observation deck after dessert. Hiking up a narrow flight of spires we landed on the small rectangular observation deck no larger than 10 metres square. Spoiled with a spectacular view of the illuminated Bratislava Castle we had visited earlier in the day to the left; and the Old Town we spent hours wandering to the right; we were satisfied wrapping up our short stay in Bratislava.

Bratislava UFO Observation Deck

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