We had two busy days exploring Bratislava, the Slovak capital. It was an easy task to find tourist attractions in Bratislava the kids enjoyed. A city rich with history, food and a castle is always a favorite with my children.
Following the maze of cobblestone streets, we were at once smitten with the old world charm of this city situated along a bank of the Danube River. Impressive pastel buildings line the streets, showcasing the historical grandeur of Bratislava during the Hungarian Empire. The city was of such importance that Queen Maria Theresa of Austria ordered the city walls torn down in order to expand the capital. They couldn’t have nobility residing outside the city walls!
Our first chore on day #1 was to schedule our FREE guided walking tour as part of the Bratislava City Card with the Bratislava Tourist Board. Our enthusiastic guide discussed the long history of Bratislava and took us to visit some of the most famous spots around Old Town.
We learned that Bratislava has been in 12 different countries over the past 100 years. At one time it was part of the Hungarian Empire, became part of Czechoslovakia after World War I, later came under Nazi control, then communist control before finally becoming the capital of the Slovak Republic in 1993.
Another tidbit of information – the current name of the Slovak capital is less then a hundred years old as it only dates back to 1919. Prior to that, the city was known as Pressburg in German, Pozsony in Hungarian and Prešporok in Slovak. Luckily for us, Bratislava is a name I can actually pronounce!
Simply wandering the quant Old Town should be on the top of your attractions list. Keep kids interested by having them look for cannonballs stuck in the walls. For 2 weeks in 1809, Napoleon bombarded the city from across the Danube River. Owners of buildings with damage from these cannonballs didn’t have to pay taxes for 2 years. They needed that money to fix the damage!
One of these cannonballs can be found in the wall of Old Town Hall. This is also where you can see three styles of architecture. The Baroque style with the clock tower (and cannonball), Renaissance and Gothic. When the mayor of Bratislava needed more space, he just purchased the building next door.
Our day also included seeing the Church of St. Elizabeth (Blue Church). It’s a stunning building! Lucy said it looks like Elsa’s castle. Unfortunately we were not able to tour it, but I’ve seen pictures online and the pews are blue as well. It’s probably a good thing we couldn’t go inside as Lucy likely would have been twirling around singing “Let It Go.”
We did get to go inside St. Martins Cathedral with it’s tall spire and massive stained glass windows. Here, the coronation of 18 monarchs from the Hungarian Kingdom took place. It’s also worthwhile to admire the artwork on the outer wall of the church.
From St. Martins Cathedral you can walk across the road and up to the reconstructed Bratislava Castle and see 3 countries from this high vantage point. View Austria’s wind turbines to the west and the just behind the Communist buildings on the opposite side of the Danube River is Hungary.
The Crown tower is the oldest part of the castle and used to house the Hungarian crown jewels. The jewels were later moved to the Hofburg in Vienna. Fortunately, the jewels had already been moved when a fire swept through the castle in 1811. Reconstruction of the castle started in 1957. It is free to visit the castle and gardens, however, there is a fee to go inside and view the exhibitions of the Slovak National Museum.
Kids can search for crown medallions on the pavement in Old Town. These images mark the coronation route. Lucy enjoyed running along and following the route of past Hungarian monarchs. The route started at the Castle and goes down to the Old Town, stopping first in St. Martin’s Cathedral for the coronation, then the Franciscan Church where the new monarch would confer knighthoods during the 16th – 19th centuries.
St. Michael’s Gate is the only gate that has been preserved from the medieval fortifications. The tower now houses the Museum of Weapons and City Fortification. We didn’t have a chance to visit this museum, but we were told the view from the tour is amazing. Beneath the gate is a “zero kilometre” metal map showing the distances to other cities of the world. It’s 4,667 km to the North Pole from that location.
Have kids hunt down some of the famous statues scattered throughout Old Town. Stop to snap a picture and mark it off your list.
:: čumil (Rubberneck) is a statue of a man sticking his head out of a manhole and is one of the most photographed art icons in Bratislava.
:: Statue of fairy-tale author Hans Christian Andersen in Hviezdoslavovo square. Some of his most famous fairy tales include The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, and Thumbelina. You’ll also find many characters from his stories as well.
:: Schöner Náci statue in the Main Square commemorates one of Bratislava’s unforgettable figures, Ignác Lamár. He is know for his exceptionally good manners and his outfit.
:: Statue of Napoleonic Soldier is also located in the Main Square. This soldier is wearing the uniform of Napoleon’s Army. We didn’t get to take a good picture of the soldier statue as he was amongst the back of the Christmas Market stalls.
On our final day in Bratislava, we visited the Old Town Hall Museum. A discount is available for Bratislava City Card holders or it’s just 10€ for a family ticket. It’s likely this museum wouldn’t be of much interest to little kids and the stairs could be dangerous for young visitors as well. Both of my kids (ages 9 and 12) liked the museum, especially the views. Lucy was thrilled to look at all the tea sets and ceramics and K just wanted to take selfies.
The museum is well done, and is bursting with the history of the city – textiles, pottery, archives and more. The museum was also much larger than I initially thought. It just seemed to keep going and going. The view from the bell tower is amazing! Well worth the price of the ticket. You’ll get panoramic views of Bratislava Castle and the square. Since we were visiting at Christmas, we were able to look down of the Christmas Market and see shoppers bustling about.
On the lowest level is the Barbarism of Torture. Be warned – this is not for young kids. K was probably the youngest you should take down, at 12. He thought it was the coolest place ever, but there were a few exhibits that I tried to turn him away from.
Other kid-friendly activities in Bratislava include the Atlantis Science Center and Zoo Bratislava. Both attractions are outside of the city center, but would be great options for children. Within the city center is the Slovak National Museum which houses the Children’s Museum. According to the pamphlet, English speaking visitors should arrange their visit in advance.
I would have loved to visit Castle Devín as well, but we didn’t have time during our short visit. The next time we’re in the area, I’ll definitely put that on our list.
We considered going up in the futuristic UFO on the bridge, but I was freezing and just wanted to return to the apartment. The views are said to be amazing. The restaurant is the most expensive in the city, but you can climb to the observation deck for 7.40€. Kids under 11 are free and kids 11 – 15 years are 3.95€.
English is commonly spoken making Bratislava ideal for travelers. While it’s polite to learn a few key words in the local language, we didn’t have a problem with our extremely limited Slovak. A few times when we didn’t speak the same language, it was easy to muddle through. It can be a good idea to grab a phrasebook before your trip. This one by Lonely Planet covers several languages in Central Europe.
Prior to our visit, we read that everyone in Bratislava is rude. Generally, we didn’t find this to be the case. Some of the older generation were less friendly, didn’t smile and were straight to the point of taking money and moving on. It wasn’t just to us as tourists, it just seemed to be the personality of other generations. Considering the history of the country, I wouldn’t consider them rude. On the whole, we found the people of Bratislava to be welcoming, kind and helpful.
It took us an entire day to see most of the tourist attractions in Bratislava and take the walking tour. This didn’t include going into any museums, but did include wandering the Christmas Market. On our 2nd and final day, we walked the markets again and went shopping for more treats in Old Town in addition to our visit to the museum.
Is the Bratislava City Card right for you?
Unlike some other city cards, the Bratislava City Card is fairly inexpensive, but as the price suggests, doesn’t include admission into attractions. The Bratislava City Card does include:
– Free unlimited travel on the select public transport networks (trams, trolleybuses, bus lines, and train routes)
– Free 1-hour walking city tour in 6 languages including English
– Discounts at select museums, restaurants, shops, tours and more
Kids 15 and under don’t need a card as they can join the walking tour for free with an accompanying adult with the card. Kids aged 6 and over also get 50% discount on public transport and discounted admission to all museums and galleries and to most attractions..
Children up to 6 years of age travel on the public transport for free and get free or discounted admission to all museums, galleries and attractions.
Options and prices:
1-day card: 12 €
2-day card: 14 €
3-day card: 16 €
The cost of the guided tour is 14€, so you’ve already made your money with the 2-day card which is what we had. I highly recommend the tour. It was informative and our guide interacted with the kids, making it interesting for them as well. The tour takes place at 2pm daily, but you must register by noon.
You can purchase individual transportation tickets or a 72-hour ticket for 8€. The 24-hour ticket is 3.50€. Single ride tickets range from 0.70€ – 1.20€ depending on the trip duration.
I rarely recommend specific apartments, but we were extremely pleased with our Bratislava accommodation. The apartment was well appointed, clean, updated and right in Old Town. You can’t beat location and the owner was friendly.
Use THIS LINK and get a $40 credit on your Airbnb rental!
With the closeness of the two capital cities – Bratislava and Vienna are the closest capitals in the world, separated by only 66 kilometers (41 miles). It’s common for travelers to also visit Vienna during a trip. The Hungarian capital of Budapest is 200 kilometers (124 miles) away. This makes another perfect connection and a chance to visit 3 countries in one short vacation.
Trains to Vienna cost 36.90€ for 2 adults and 2 kids. This was more expensive than the bus we took to the Bratislava bus station from the Vienna airport at 17.60€ total. The time was approximately the same, but the seats on the bus were more comfortable and you get free wifi.
Bratislava is an underrated city that deserves much more recognition for it’s history, architecture, food and culture. Add a day or two into your European itinerary for a visit to the largest city in Slovakia. It is rich in history but with inexpensive food, shopping and accommodation, it can easily fit within any travelers budget.
What other tourist attractions in Bratislava can you recommend?
Disclosure: We were guests of Bratislava Tourist Board. All opinions are 100% my own and may differ from others.