So you want to spend 24 hours in Bratislava? First tip: don’t. You need much longer than that. This quirky little capital city is packed with history, surrounded by forests, lakes, vineyards, and (most excitingly) edged by the Little Carpathian mountains.
But we get it, you’re short on time. So were we. For us, Bratislava was a quick stopover on a larger bus/train-hopping trip that took us from Prague through Brno, Budapest, and Krakow. (Tip: If you’re coming from Brno via public transit, take the bus. It takes a little over an hour and costs around €5. We booked via GoEuro, which is always handy if you don’t speak the local language— you can wave your ticket at people instead of saying words when you don’t know which bus to get on.)
In this case, we landed on a good one. This basement studio was compact, but as a former goat shed it had a lot of personality. We spent $20 each (there were two of us traveling on this particular trip), and counted ourselves lucky. It was also one of those rare Airbnbs that was stocked with FOOD. We feasted on muesli, noodles, and some Slovakian biscuits that may or may not have been stale.
You won’t need a car for a stopover in Bratislava, unless you’re planning an extended stay and want to spend some time exploring Slovakia’s gorgeous countryside. The city is extremely pedestrian friendly, public transit is abundant, and Uber is available at a ridiculously low price.
The Old Town
First and foremost, head into the old town. This is the historic center of Bratislava, and it has all the cobbled streets and eclectic old buildings you could dream of. Your assignment in the old town is very simple: We want you to walk aimlessly around. Grab a steaming hot lunch of sausage and onions and a cup of mulled wine from a street vendor and take in your surroundings.
Stop in some of the old churches while you’re there. Although they’re missing the ornate splendor you may have become accustomed to in European churches, they have a kind of rough, resounding beauty to them. Think carved stone, understated oak benches, and faded mosaics.
On a darker note: Bratislava was behind the Iron Curtain, and the old town is steeped in that history. Take the time to acknowledge it while you’re there. Read the signs, understand the steps you’re tracing. This is not a stop your parents could have made back in their traveling days.
The Food Culture
We were surprised to find that Bratislava has a lively food and entertainment scene. As we were traveling on a budget, we made do with simply walking through the restaurant district, window-shopping the menus, and breathing in the delectable smells. If you’re on less of a budget, plan on eating a lot while you’re in the city.
What to Do with the Rest of Your Time
24 hours is a very short amount of time, especially when you factor in the time it will take you to get to Bratislava, leave Bratislava, and (assuming you’re not a superhero or a vampire) sleep. So you really only have time for one big agenda item. With that in mind, we’re going to tell you to skip over Bratislava castle (the big, fancy castle overlooking the city).
We’re going to send you to Devín Castle, instead.
Devín Castle is only about a 20 minute drive out of Bratislava, and trust us when we say it’s well worth the trip. We got there via Uber (approx €5 each) and returned via the local bus service (free because the bus driver wouldn’t take our money and we couldn’t figure out how to use the ticket machine onboard).
Devín Castle sits above the Danube River, looming impressively over a backdrop of the ruggedly beautiful Slovakian countryside. Its most photographed feature is known as the Maiden’s tower—a perilously balanced lone watchtower. Legend has it the king once imprisoned his maiden daughter in the tower to keep her away from her lover, until she jumped to her death.
Entrance to the castle is €4, and once inside you’ll be able to explore to your heart’s content.
Pssstttt: You might meet some goats on your climb up to the castle!
Take a Hike
Don’t worry, this is a pretty short hike — we know you’re running out of time. At the base of the castle is a scenic trail that will take you along the banks of the Danube river.
Scenery aside, you’re in a place of strong historical significance now. the Iron Curtain once ran along the riverbanks of the Morava and Danube, and your view from the peacefully serene trail you’re walking would once have been of military installations, watchtowers, and barbed wire. In recognition of this, a memorial called the Gate of Freedom Memorial now stands.
Make the Most of the Rest of Your Day
By the time you return to Bratislava from Devín Castle, the day will be drawing to an end, but the city won’t be winding down. Head back towards the restaurants and bars of the Old Town to watch the street performers, drink in the atmosphere, and grab a drink of Slivovica—a traditional Slovak beverage. It has a plum taste and is best enjoyed chilled.
That’s about all you have time for, folks. We hope you have an amazing 24 hours in Bratislava and that you enjoy this personable little city as much as we did. Questions? Let us know. We’re your friendly neighborhood traveling whales!