A day trip to Bratislava

A revolving restaurant inside a flying saucer. A bronze statue peeping out of a manhole. A church that reminds you of a delectable cupcake. Buildings draped head to toe in art. Scary puppets as the most common souvenir. Bratislava is quirky with a capital Q. It has one of the coolest names for a city and a personality to match.  

art in bratislava
Buildings covered in art in Bratislava
Scary souvenirs

Bratislava probably won’t give you enough reasons to travel halfway across the globe to visit. But if you are in the neighbourhood (especially Vienna or Budapest), missing it will be a sin.

We made a day trip from Budapest. The train journey takes around 2.5 hours. We got there at 10 am and had about 8 hours in town before catching the train back. Bratislava packs more than its fair share of curiosities so we were always going to be stretched for time on a day trip. Now I am never in favour of skimming through a place to cross it off but on this occasion, the lure of visiting Bratislava (and hence a different country!) triumphed. But we decided to take it easy and see whatever time permitted without getting pressured into packing in a lot. 

The journey from Vienna takes only an hour and connections are more frequent so a daytrip from Vienna offers more time in the city. I referred to train bible seat61 to plan the journey.

Our circuit covered most of what is noteworthy though I can’t claim to have seen everything I wanted to. We covered all of it on foot, starting from the railway station.

Everything’s within a 5 km stretch

St Michael’s Gate

St Michael’s Gate

St Michael’s Gate is about 2km from the train station and is the entry point to the tourist circuit. It is the only surviving gate out of four that once served as the portals to fortified medieval Bratislava (then known by its German name, Pressburg). The original Gothic tower was replaced in the 18th century by a Baroque tower. The tower and a small museum inside are accessible for a fee and views of the town square from the top of the tower make the climb worthwhile.

Below the tower is the zero kilometre plate that marks the directions and distances to 29 leading cities in the world and it makes for a nice photo-op.

Main Town Square

Panorama of the Main Square

For a small city, Bratislava has no dearth of impressive squares. But the main square, as the name suggests, is, well, the main square. This is your quintessential European town square with a fountain in the centre, surrounded by lovely colourful buildings and is a prime spot for people watching. The Old Town Hall dating back to 15th century is worth checking out.

We wandered off the main square to explore surrounding alleys, some paved some cobblestoned but all lined with evidently old and pretty buildings. It felt like one of those places that uplifts the spirits even if you are just walking through, without encountering anything of note or repute. That is when you tend to notice beautiful potted flowers on a home’s window sill or a wisecrack on a shop board or some locals getting on with life. You know, the little capsules of joy. 

Cumil the sewer worker

We also came across Cumil, a bronze statues of a sewer worker peeping out of manhole. His head has been knocked off many times by careless motorists and he has, in turn, tripped many a careless drunkard who failed to notice him. Speculation abounds on whether he is a benign sewer worker or in fact a peeping Tom looking up women’s skirts. To me he looks like a philosopher trapped in a worker’s body.   

Church of St. Elisabeth

The Blue Church

This church is located just a short walk away from the main square. It is popularly known as the blue church because the entire exterior and interior is painted in some or the other shade of blue. I have seen much more imposing churches but never a prettier one.  This may be borderline blasphemy but I just couldn’t stop thinking that this looks like a delectable dessert. The church was built in the art nouveau style in the early 20th century.  

Blue interiors of the Blue Church

St Martins Cathedral

Clock Tower of St Martin’s Cathedral dominates Bratislava’s skyline

The largest church in Bratislava has been historically important as the coronation church of the Hungarian empire’s Habsburg dynasty for almost three centuries. The tower of the church was initially a part of the fortification of the city and served as a defensive bastion. Though we couldn’t quite find time for it, the crypts are said to worthy of a visit.

Hike up to Bratislava Castle

The site of the castle has been inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC and has always been historically important once serving as the border of the Roman Empire. It was the main castle of the Kingdom of Hungary when the Ottomans captured present day Hungary in the 16th century and held sway till late 18th century before losing prominence.

The UFO Bridge across the Danube

Unfortunately, we had little time to explore the interiors and delve into the history. We went up the castle hill just for the panoramic views of the city. The vantage point offers views of the old town on one side and the new vibrant Bratislava on the other side across the Danube. It also looks upon Novy Most, the glittering bridge across the Danube and its flying saucer shaped restaurant and observation deck.

As we took in the views of the glorious historical town on one side and the vibrant and resurgent city across the river, a drizzle broke out.  A look at the looming clock tower of the St Martin’s Cathedral told us that it was time to make the walk back to the station.

We would have liked to explore the castle and dine at the UFO restaurant, walk along the Danube and over the UFO Bridge. Nevertheless, we went back delighted with the charming Bratislava and were very happy with our decision to spend a day here.

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