The old guidebook which I found still refers to Bratislava by its pre-1919 German name Pressburg. The name is perhaps a fitting tribute to the city which has remained in an Austro-Hungarian time-capsule for the past century. The capital of the Magyar Kingdom under the Habsburgs from 1536 to 1783, Bratislava again became a capital in 1993, after Slovak independence.
The least known of the Danube capitals, Bratislava is slowly catching up: it now boasts a beautifully restored old town with thriving cafés, fashion industry and nightlife. However, if one is visiting the city for history (most tourists in Slovakia are), the Old Town is the place to go. The oldest part is the medieval fortifications, of which Michael’s Gate is the best preserved. It should be visited not only for the great views from its tower, but also for its gun museum. The oldest building is a small Franciscan Church, dating to the 13th century, has been a place of knighting ceremonies.
The most memorable building of Bratislava will be its Castle, on a hill overseeing the Danube. First constructed in the 10th century, the castle was remodeled in to Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque styles at different points in its life. The walls and corridors still contain the fragments of this various construction styles, but the original castle had been destroyed in 1811. It was rebuilt since the 1950s in the style Queen Maria Theresa under whom the castle became famous throughout Europe.
The castle’s courtyard contains notably 80 m deep water well. The biggest of four corner towers is the Crown Tower (south-east) of the 13th century, which housed the crown jewels. Near the main entrance is the walled up entrance gate from the 16th century. A grand Baroque staircase, leads the Slovak National Museum (City Museum is in the Town Hall), which contains the Treasure Chamber, which houses, among other precious archaeological findings, a prehistoric statute called the Venus of Moravany. The Slovak Parliamentary Council still meet in the Castle.
The walk up to the Bratislava Castle passes through the old Jewish quarter, half demolished to make way for the brash Novy-Most (New) Bridge, built by the communists with a revolving, flying saucer café on top. En route, three delightful museums waits – one for clocks, another for decorative arts, and a third for folk music. A curiosity underground (formerly ground-level) is the restored portion of the Jewish cemetery, at the base of the castle hill.
In addition to the Castle, Bratislava is known for its numerous palaces: the Grassalkovich, built around 1760, is now the residence of the Slovak president. The Slovak government has its seat in the former Archiepiscopal Palace. The famed Peace of Pressburg between Austria and France after the Austerlitz was signed in the Primate’s Palace in 1805. After Revolutions of 1848, Ferdinand V also signed the abolition of serfdom, at the Primate’s Palace, which now houses the mayoral quarters.
The most famous ruins in the capital was Devín Castle (in German: Burg Theben) at the confluence of the Morava and the Danube Rivers. Not only strategic but also important to national identity, Devín Castle was destroyed by Napoleon’s troops in 1809. The last owners were the Counts of the Pálffy. Only some restored parts of the castle can be visited, but it houses an interesting archeology museum.
The University Library, erected in 1756, was used by the Diet of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1802 to 1848. The Gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral built in the 13th–16th centuries, seen the coronations of eleven kings and queens of Hungary. The Art Nouveau Church of St. Elisabeth is better known as the Blue Church for colour.
Bratislava has various parks and forests, natural and man-made lakes because of its proximity to the Little Carpathians mountains. (Slavin Military Cemetery offers an excellent view of the city and the Little Carpathians.) Even if a visitor has no time, he should drive through in the Rusovce borough which has Roman ruins. The district is own for its neo-Gothic Rusovce mansion, with its English park, and Rusovce lake, popular with nudists.
From nudists to voyeurism, just off Hlavné Square in city centre is a pavement sculpture of a workman idly peering out of a manhole called Peeping Tom. Our tour-guide said it was a statement on the way communists dished out hollow jobs. Up the street from Hlavné Square is the Art Deco Roland Café, the green-roofed 14th-century town hall.
Music is a key to the city: in the picturesque Venturskala Street, a couple of precocious kids (nine-year-old Liszt and six-year-old Mozart) once awed the citizens. Even today, many young people are amazing the visitors with various musical instruments in the streets. The Bratislava Opera is popular among international tourists for its quality as well as for its prices. The Opera is located in a Habsburg building in the center of the city on Hviezdoslavovo Square. The Opera is only subtitled in Slovak or German. Performances usually start at 7 pm, and can be booked one month in advance. Also on the Square is Reduta Building, the abode of Bratislava Redoute, Slovak Philharmonic, and Hotel Carlton. Tickets for Opera and Philharmonic can be as cheap as a tenner for the citizens, but for foreigners, it is SKK 600 (EUR 19.78).
Also on the Hviezdoslavovo Namestie (Square) is famous Slovenski Restaurancia, which serves traditional cholesterol-laden Slovak cuisine. Slovaks being who they are, the meal starts with a trolley (literally) of spirits wheeled to your table. Only Becherovka (a herbal spirit) is recommended for the beverage but roast goose, pancakes with red cabbage, and apple strudel are other Slovek specialties.
Look down on the town, up to the bobsleigh, skiing and toboggan runs on Kamzik Hill, then across the Danube to the concrete jungle of Petrzalka and its acres of Soviet tower blocks. From the quayside you can take the hydrofoil to Vienna. The uniquely designed Kamzík TV Tower has an observation deck and rotating restaurant.