People milling around the Main Square in Bratislava, Slovakia

Exploring Bratislava's Old Town

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As one of Europe's smallest capital cities, Bratislava’s beautiful historic centre is compact and walkable. This means you can visit most of the major attractions in a short amount of time and see the Old Town in as little as an afternoon.

If you're pressed for time, you can squeeze Bratislava into a day trip from Vienna. It's only an hour's drive away, and you can get there by train, bus or car. If you arrive by train, you’ll soon see that Bratislava's main train station isn't the most visually pleasing… but don’t let that discourage you. As soon as you get to the Old Town, you'll discover the more picturesque part of the city.

Here are some of the must-see attractions in the historic centre, along with a couple of lesser-visited destinations. If you view them in this order, you can enjoy an easy walk around the Old Town.

Looking towards Michael's Gate, the oldest entrance to the city

1. Michael's Gate

An excellent way to start your exploration of Old Town is by entering through Michael's Gate, one of the most iconic landmarks in Bratislava, Slovakia. This tower is the only remaining gate from the city’s fortification.

The gate was built in the 14th century and was named after archangel Michael, depicted atop the tower slaying a dragon.

For a small fee, you can climb the stairs to the top of Michael's Gate to see a panoramic view of Bratislava's Old Town and surrounding areas. The tower also houses a museum of arms.

After you pass through the gate, you can immerse yourself in the typical European town atmosphere full of old architecture, cobblestone streets and places to eat and drink. This area is a great spot to hang out and admire all the main Bratislava tourist attractions.

Right by Michael's Gate, you'll find Chimney Friends, a little bakery shop where you can sample Slovak traditional chimney cakes topped with ice cream.

Another one of Slovakia's must-try dishes can be found in this part of town - try bryndzové halušky in Slovak Pub on Obchodná Street.

People milling around the Main Square in Bratislava, Slovakia

2. Old Town Hall and the Main Square

The Old Town Hall on the Main Square is one of the oldest buildings in Bratislava. If you're curious about Bratislava's history, the Old Town Hall houses the Bratislava City Museum.

In front of the Old Town Hall, you'll find a quirky Napoleon soldier statue and Maximilian's fountain. This statue is a reminder of when Napoleon's troops marched through Bratislava in 1805.

One of the soldiers fell for a local girl, so he decided to stay in Bratislava. Later, he started making sparkling wine that was named after him: "Hubert". It's a popular brand in Slovakia to this day.

Primate Palace and the Old Town Hall in Bratislava's main square

3. Primate's Palace

Next to Old Town Hall, you can admire the Primate's Palace, an elegant neoclassical building which was originally constructed for Archbishop József Batthyány, the primate of Hungary, in the 18th century. It later played a key role in European history when the Treaty of Pressburg was signed here in 1805, marking the end of the War of the Third Coalition between Napoleon and the Austrian Empire.

As you approach the palace, you’ll see the stunning facade, adorned with intricate stuccowork and statues, but the highlight of the palace is the splendid Hall of Mirrors. This elegant space once hosted lavish balls and significant political events and is decorated with chandeliers and columns.

One of the palace's main attractions is the rare collection of six 17th-century English tapestries, known as the Bratislava Tapestries. These exquisite works of art depict the ancient Greek myth of Hero and Leander and were discovered during a renovation in the early 20th century.

The Primate's Palace also serves as the seat of the mayor of Bratislava and houses the city's council chambers.

The entrance to Gallery Nedbalka with umbrellas hanging overhead

4. Gallery Nedbalka

Gallery Nedbalka is a contemporary art museum showcasing Slovak artwork from the late 19th century to this day. 

What makes this place special is the interior. Housed in a beautifully restored building, the gallery's unique spiral design offers an immersive experience for visitors. The gallery is filled with light that pours from a round open ceiling with large windows, creating an inviting and inspiring atmosphere.

Art is displayed in four circular spiral levels and includes works by prominent Slovak artists. The permanent exhibition spans four floors and showcases Slovakia’s artistic development from the late 19th century to the present. In front of the gallery, you'll also find a funky umbrella street.

View of Bratislava church tower from the castle

5. St. Martin's Cathedral

St. Martin's Cathedral is an impressive Gothic-style church dating back to the 14th century. It once served as the coronation church for Hungarian kings and queens from 1563 to 1830, including the renowned Maria Theresa.

The cathedral’s 85-meter-high spire is adorned with a gilded replica of the Hungarian royal crown and dominates the city skyline. Inside, admire the beautiful Gothic architecture, intricate stone carvings, and stunning stained-glass windows.

The cathedral has several chapels, each with its own unique history and artwork. Highlights include the Baroque-style Chapel of St. John the Almoner and the Chapel of St. Anne, which houses the tomb of celebrated Hungarian poet György Szerémi.

Don't miss the opportunity to visit the cathedral's crypt, the final resting place of notable historical figures such as members of the noble Pálffy family, who played a crucial role in defending Hungary against the Ottoman Empire.

Bratislava Castle at sunset

6. Bratislava Castle

Bratislava Castle is located on a hill overlooking the Danube river, Bratislava's old town and modern skyline. And, for obvious reasons, the most popular thing to do when you arrive in Bratislava is head up to the castle for a breathtaking view of the city

The castle was built in the 9th century and has witnessed Celtic rulers, Great Moravian magnates and Hungarian kings. Today, it's a historical museum. Getting up the hill is a bit of a climb, but the views are well worth the effort.

Pro Tip: On select days, you can take a free walking tour of the city. Options include a castle and city tour, spooky legends tour, 20th-century tour or Old Town tour.

An illusion at Gallery Multium in Bratislava

7. Gallery Multium

Once you tick off all the must-see places to visit in Bratislava, you can add Gallery Multium to your list. Gallery Multium is on Zámocká Street, leading downhill from the castle and is dedicated to contemporary art and optical illusions.

Perfect for families, you can explore a variety of mind-bending exhibits, including 3D installations, holograms, and trick art.

It's a small gallery, and the exhibits are interesting and interactive. The visit will take you roughly about 20 minutes. Just keep in mind that it's necessary to book your ticket upfront.

Want to explore the Old Town in more depth? Book an off-the-beaten-track walking tour.

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Kamila Jakubjakova

Author - Kamila Jakubjakova

Kamila is a freelance writer and blogger originally from Slovakia and now based in Canada. On her blog, she and her partner share useful tips for expat life in Canada. When she isn't writing, you can find her on a yoga mat or enjoying a cup of tea.

Last Updated 20 April 2023

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