Unlike some other capital cities in Europe, Bratislava does need an introduction.
Tucked into the western corner of Slovakia and not far from Vienna in Austria, Bratislava is a magical city that serves as the perfect introduction to Eastern Europe. With its charming architecture, delicious (and affordable!) eats, and unique attractions, Bratislava quickly vaulted to the top of my favorite cities in all of Europe.
Read on to discover what makes Bratislava magical.
Colorful Alleys in a Walkable Old Town
Bratislava is full of contradictions. It is vibrant and yet historic. It is somehow both quaint and buzzing with energy at the same time.
As you walk through the streets of Bratislava, you can't help but adore the pastel buildings and the cobblestone alleyways. This small city-center is extremely walkable. In fact, I think we covered every square inch during the two and a half days we spent here.
Hidden in the alleys that lead to the city center are small coffee shops, bookstores, and boutiques. They haven't been overrun with tourists, nor are they loaded with hurrying locals. Walking the quiet alleys of Bratislava is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of much of Europe in the summer.
Once you reach the Old Town, this city comes to life in patios and gelato stands. Enter through Michael's Gate, a 14th-century city gate with a museum inside. Walk the Old Town streets and browse the restaurants, dessert shops, and handicraft stores.
The architecture in Old Town and throughout Bratislava is mesmerizing! The restaurants in Old Town are cheap even by Eastern European standards, and you can find even cheaper options outside of the Old Town area.
Delicious Delicacies on the Cheap
Eastern Europe is known for its affordable dining, and Bratislava is no exception. In fact, our meals in the Slovak capital were some of the cheapest and most delicious we had on our trip throughout 13 European cities.
Most meals cost under €10 per person ($11 USD or so), with lunch specials at half that price. Beer and wine were just €1.50 a glass at most bars and restaurants – less than $2 USD!
One of our favorite restaurants was Pulitzer. A local chain with three locations around the city, Pulitzer had the cutest patios. Their lunch special was impossible to beat: appetizer, main course, and beverage of your choice for €5.60, or roughly $6.30 USD. Be sure to order Kofola for your beverage, which was the Slovak substitute for Coca-Cola back in the day and is a local favorite.
I was devastated that Konditorei Kormuth was under renovation during our visit to Bratislava, as it was one of the spots I was looking forward to most! This gorgeous cafe and sweets bakery has a magnificent interior decorated with antiques from the 16th to 19th centuries. Cakes are even served on rare antique porcelain plates. If it's open while you're in town, definitely stop in for their €10 tasting platter!
Two other restaurants we absolutely loved in Bratislava were Bratislava Flagship Restaurant and Prasna Basta. Both restaurants had mouthwatering appetizers and traditional mains at unbelievable prices. No matter where you dine, make sure you try the Bryndzové Halušky. It's a traditional Slovak dish, made of potato gnocchi and sheep cheese, topped with bacon. It's absolutely delicious!
If you're looking for a good brew, stop into one of the many well-regarded pivovars (breweries) and brewpubs in Bratislava. Ask your hostel receptionist or hotel bellhop for their recommendations: we were recommended Meštiansky Pivovar, Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar, and Castle Brewery.
Medieval & Gothic Architecture
Beyond the pastel buildings of the city center, Bratislava is full of medieval and gothic architecture waiting to be explored.
If you're up for a bit of a walk, head towards Bratislava Castle. We took a free walking tour one of the days we spent in Bratislava, hosted by a local company and recommended by our hostel receptionist.
Thrifty Tip: Never stayed in a hostel? It's a great way to stay with like-minded travelers, book accommodations for crazy cheap, and get local insight and advice from the hostel staff. Read up on why we love hostels, and learn how to book the best hostel possible.
On the way, you'll come across St. Martin's Cathedral. Step inside to admire its beauty, and be sure to check out the murals on the wall outside as well.
On the walk up to the castle, take in the view of the city walls from bridge beyond the cathedral. Seeing cars drive along a highway near a centuries-old city fortress wall is quite the sight!
The castle didn't necessarily blow us away, but it's a crisp white restored building with a museum inside. We skipped the museum, as our local guide said there wasn't much to see inside. The view from the hilltop the Bratislava Castle rests upon is fantastic, though.
Looking for a unique half-day trip a bit outside of the city? Check out the Devin Castle, just half an hour away from the city center.
You can book a day tour there and back for roughly €34 ($39 USD). Instead, we chose to take the city bus and paid a tenth of the price. You can take local bus 29 or 39 from the station underneath the bridge that leads to the UFO Observation Deck, just outside of Old Town.
We asked our hostel receptionist for directions to the bus station and a list of departure times. We paid €1.69 for a roundtrip bus ticket and rode the bus 20 minutes to the stop closest to Devin Castle. With our ISIC student cards, entrance to the castle was just €2.50.
The Devin Castle is mainly in ruins, but it's a fun way to spend half a day near Bratislava. There are several parts of the area to explore, plus some great walking and biking paths near the Danube River. They even have some archery and medieval activities for children to partake in and a museum on the grounds.
The memory of centuries long past is still very much alive in Bratislava. There are unassuming yet magical treasures from each century tucked away in every part of this city.
Other Quirky Must-Sees
If you've got some time to kill and are looking for more to see in Bratislava, check out the Multium space and mirror gallery. This small gallery uses mirrors to create a magical visual experience. With five rooms to experience, this attraction doesn't take long. But it's a little something different and a welcomed break from cathedrals and castles that dominate Bratislava.
Finally, walk away from Old Town and the city center to the Church of St. Elizabeth. This stunning blue church has some strange opening times, but was worth the walk to admire its beauty.
If Bratislava wasn't on your list of must-see cities in Europe, it should be now.
You cannot beat the mix of Old World beauty, crazy cheap Slovak specialties, and the rich historical architecture in this quaint capital city. Get here before the rest of the world discovers how magical it is!