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When the old country of Czechoslovakia in Central Europe seized to exist in 1992, it was split in two: the Czech Republic, with Prague as its capital, and Slovakia.
Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, is situated between the lovely River Danube, whose waters flow past the city creating the border between Austria and Slovakia, and the Carpathian Mountains.
Bratislava is situated 62km from the border of the Czech Republic and only 60 km down-river from Vienna in Austria.
Filled with history, culture and architecture, here's our list of the top 5 things to do when visiting Bratislava.
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Bratislava Castle (Bratislavskýhrad)
Bratislava castle and parliament building on the Danube river in Bratislava, Slovakia
If you are lucky enough to be approaching Bratislava by boat, you will be totally captivated by the impressive sight of Bratislava Castle perched high on the rocks above the river.
Its landmark shape can be seen from great distances away. Imagine a child’s classic drawing of a castle - a massive rectangular building with four spired turrets, one in each corner - and that would perfectly describe the layout of Bratislava Castle.
Built in the 9th century on the site of former Stone and Bronze Age hill-forts, it has been a site of great geographical and strategic importance historically, particularly during the Great Moravian Empire.
From its heights you can see Austria across the river; panoramic views over the city itself, and the silky ribbon of the Danube sliding its way down towards Hungary and ultimately the Black Sea.
On the approach to the castle, in the Yard of Honour, stand two triumphal gates and imperial guard-houses. In the early part of the 10th century, Bratislava, named after the Czech ruler, Bretislav, became part of the new emerging Hungary.
The castle became the official seat, and place of coronation, for the Kings of Hungary. It housed the Hungarian crown jewels for 200 years.
During Bratislava’s chequered past, the city was returned to Slovakia in the 15th century, became part of Czechoslovakia in the early 20th century, before Slovakia was once again declared independent in 1992.
Over the centuries the castle - Bratislava Castle, Poszonýhrad or Pressburg Castle, depending on its historical era - has undoubtedly played an important part in both defending its city, as well as amply entertaining its visitors.
Inside the castle, The History Museum and the National Museum are worth a visit, as are its 3500 or so paintings, statues, and prints. You will find not only armour and weaponry on display, but also Slovakian glassware, furniture and clocks.
St Martin’s Cathedral
St. Martin's cathedral in Bratislava, Slovakia
Heading down from the castle towards the river, you will soon come across the oldest, largest and most important church in Bratislava, St Martin’s Cathedral, Katedrálasvätého Martina.
Built on the site of an old Roman church, work continued on the Gothic cathedral until the 16th century. Its tower, standing 85m high, is yet another distinctive landmark feature rising above the town.
Above one of the cathedral’s doorways you will see a Gothic relief of the Holy Trinity. The cathedral was used as the coronation church in the 16th century, during the time when Bratislava was the capital of Hungary.
You should be able to see St Stephen’s crown, a large copy of the Hungarian crown, standing 1m high on the top of the cathedral tower.
If you are interested in sculpture, there are many works by Viennese artist, Georg Rafael Donner, who worked in Bratislava in the 16th century.
On one of the altars of the cathedral is his statue of St Martin, depicting the compassionate saint having dismounted his horse to offer his cloak to a beggar, and in the Baroque chapel constructed to St John Almužnik during the 18th century, you can see Rafael Donner’s statue to Archbishop Esterházy.
By the side of the cathedral stands a monument to the former synagogue that stood for centuries next to the cathedral. It was destroyed in order to build the New Bridge.
Along with its picturesque ruined outbuildings, courtyard, tower and brightly-coloured stained glass windows, it is well worth lingering awhile here.
As darkness falls, the building looks equally attractive under its evening illumination.
UFO Observation Deck and Bridge
The UFO Observation Deck and Bridge in Bratislava
As you leave St Martin’s on your approach to the river, probably the first thing to catch your eye, as it most certainly will, is the UFO Observation Tower.
With its alien tripod legs supporting the ‘spaceship’ shape which forms its highest part, the New Bridge, Nový Most, is just a short walk from the Old Town. With a height of 85m, it is the seventh largest hanging bridge in the world and was built to link Bratislava with its borough, Petržalka.
Completed in 1972, the 430m long cable-stayed bridge allows traffic, cyclists and pedestrians to travel on its two decks across the river Danube.
The spaceship cupola houses a restaurant and observation deck and from there, you will be able to see yet another amazing city panorama panning out in front of you, not only of the river stretching out into the distance to left and to right, but also of the castle and cathedral you have just visited.
In order to access the restaurant and deck, if you still feel up to it after walking round the city, you can climb the 340 steps located in one of the legs of the tripod.
But don’t worry - if you are already trekked out, a lift is available in another of its legs to take you up for your welcome refreshment.
Old Town (Stare Mesto)
Old town and castle of Bratislava, Slovakia
Returning across the bridge, you might find yourself wandering back towards the Old Town which, in Bratislava, is where it’s all at; where tourists and locals alike meet friends; go souvenir shopping; eat, drink and chat in its cafes and restaurants.
The beating heart of the old town is the main town square (Hlavne namestie) with the Maximillian Fountain, or otherwise named, Roland’s Fountain.
At midnight on New Year’s Eve, the top of the statue on the fountain is reputed to rotate to bow towards the site of the former town hall (although only people born in Bratislava are supposed to be able to see this spectacle).
The Old Town Hall, Stará Radnica), incorporating two or three old buildings from different periods, houses the City Museum.
If history is one of your interests, you can learn about Bratislava’s historical past, see exhibitions of its weaponry, instruments of torture, armour, paintings, or visit its medieval dungeons. Why not climb to the top of the town hall tower for another panoramic view?
St Michael’s Gate (Michalskabrana)
St Michael's Gate in Bratislava
Exploring the old town further, through the narrow streets, you might find yourself on Michalska. Eventually the street appears to narrow into a cul-de-sac and in front of you stands a high white tower, not unlike a large lighthouse in structure.
On further inspection you will realise that it is no lighthouse. It is St Michael’s Gate, one of the city’s original defence towers, its copper roof yet another of Bratislava’s landmarks.
It was built in the 14th century, its Baroque features being added later, in the 18th century. Built with seven floors, the 51m-high tower commands another awesome view over the old town and is one of Bratislava’s top tourist attractions.
The gateway was originally defended by a wooden door and an iron gate. As you pass through this portal you cross a moat via a stone drawbridge which, in medieval times, would also have been made of wood.
Just across the road from here, is the New Town, Nove Mesto. Why not do some exploring for yourself? You might even finish off your tour by doing a spot of window- shopping on Obchodná, Bratislava’s shopping street.
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