Bratislava – the capital of Slovakia – is mostly known for it’s towering castle, the rolling hills surrounding it and the Danube floating directly through the city. But when spending 24 hours in Bratislava you’ll notice that the city has more to offer. Especially the winter time with it’s Christmas markets has a special kind of magic atmosphere!
The Christmas tree in front of the Old Town Hall is lit up beautifully at night.
From sunshine to thick flocks of snow
We got lucky – when we spent two days in Bratislava in the end of November – we got one day with sunshine and the second day the whole city was covered in a layer of snow. It doesn’t get more cast-a-spell Christmas magical than that!
Day 1 in Bratislava: Sunshine and the last autumn leaves.
Day 2 in Bratislava: It had snowed all night!
What to see & do
Bratislava’s tourist center is definitely the Old Town (called “Stare Mesto”) just north of the Danube. Here you’ll find cobblestone streets, old architecture, charming bars and cafés, hip restaurants and the most beautiful Christmas markets.
View of the Main Square in the Old Town called “Stare Mesto”.
Exploring the parts outside of the Old Town is something that we would recommend for a second visit of Bratislava or if you have very specific interests. The newer city districts like “Petržalka” are 100% made of socialist buildings, huge concrete blocks, that make a very special atmosphere. These districts can be interesting if you’re up for architecture photos or peaks into the real life of residents there.
View of Petržalka district – as seen from UFO observation deck.
Here are our 5 highlights for 24 hours in Bratislava:
1. Climb the Tower of the Old Town Hall at Sunset
Definitely take the steps up the tower of the Old Town Hall for a spectacular view of Bratislava. The tower is located right at the Main Square and you’ll see all of Bratislava’s main attractions from up here.
Go later in the afternoon and watch the sun set behind the Old City, the churches and Bratislava castle and then wait until all the Christmas decoration is lighting up step by step – first the stalls of the market, then the lanterns, the chandeliers… it’s a beautiful spectacle and you won’t get enough of that sight.
Stay until the charming ladies of the Old Town Hall climb up the tower and ask everyone to leave for closing hours 😉 We actually came early in the afternoon and then asked if we could come back later with the same ticket and they agreed – that’s how cute they are (even though their English is not really existent 😉 ).
And since it snowed so heavily at night we decided to come a third time the next day for a different kind of view over the rooftops of Bratislava!
Tipp: Ask for a ticket just for the tower and skip the museum if you’re not interested in learning about the city’s history (Entrance Fee 2,50 Euros).
2. Eat freshly baked Trdelník (Pyramid Cake) at a Christmas market
The most popular Christmas market is located at the main square (called “Hlavné námestie”).
We found the market at Hviezdoslavovo Square to be even more charming (and it has a small ice rink as an added bonus in the middle).
Being used to Christmas markets in Vienna we were especially surprised by the tasteful music (the whole market at Hviezdoslavovo Square is treated with one playlist with really nice Christmas music – as opposed to each stall trying to drown the others in their music).
More infos about Christmas markets in Bratislava.
3. Get up on the UFO observation deck to watch the city from above
The so called “UFO” is an observation deck, restaurant and bar built on top of one of the main bridges crossing the Danube. It’s UFO shape is recognisable from far away!
We heard the restaurant should be overpriced and not good and therefore decided to pay the 7,40 Euros entrance fee for the observation deck instead. A rather shaky old elevator takes you up through one of the sloping pylons until you reach a height of 84 meters. From up here you’ll have a great view of the old and new city alike.
4. Visit the blue church
This landmark church is actually called “Church of St. Elizabeth” and is an Hungarian Art Nouveau gem.
Unfortunately it only opens for church services during the week – which are held before sunrise and after sunset in winter – so there was no chance for us to take good photos of the interior.
Tipp: If you want to see the impressive interior properly make sure to check the website for the opening hours.
5. Walk around the Old Town until Bratislava Castle
Actually the best views of Bratislava Castle are from the UFO, but you won’t want to miss the view in the other direction.
The views of Bratislava from the Castle are also quite nice!
Also it’s worth to check out the result of the ongoing renovations at the castle. The castle’s garden have been finished just this year!
On your way up to the Bratislava Castle make sure to also pass by St Michael’s Gate (Michalskabrana).
And also don’t miss the most photogenic street of Bratislava – Kapitulská street.
The perfect 24 hours in Bratislava
If you have checked off all of our top 5 highlights you’ll probably have enough time left to just stroll around and enjoy the city in one of the various restaurants or bars.
After strolling the streets of Bratislava it’s good to plan a few pit stops.
Where to eat & drink
We were impressed by the variety and quality of all the places we visited and would definitely deem Bratislava a foodie heaven! Here are our highlights:
Gyoza at Foodstock
Foodstock is a small Asian-Vegetarian take-away place with a couple of sitting options. You order at the counter and there are only a few items on the menu. While the Ramen was a bit bland, the Gyoza were incredible – actually the best we ever had! Also make sure to try one of their homemade ice teas.
Soups & bread at fach
fach is an institution in Bratislava. It’s not just a restaurant, but a juice shop, bistro, bar and just a really beautiful place to hang out in. The furniture is very Scandinavian and the menu is also inspired by the masters from the North.
Everything we ate here was a pure treat to the taste buds, seasoned to perfection and also beautifully arranged. We had: A potato soup with grilled salad, ash baked potatoes with sour cream, a carrot soup with fermented ginger and a Beluga lentil ragout with sweet potato. Definitely finish off your meal with dessert here – the cinnamon or cardamom bullars are fantastic!
Take-away from Urban Bistro
Winter is the perfect time to eat take-away in your hotel room. Especially since we had a very uncommon reason for our stay in Bratislava (as reported in this blogpost, I got an eye laser treatment there) – I wanted to relax in the hotel at night instead of going out. Urban Bistro is part of a very hip chain in Bratislava – the take-away avocado bread with chilli and lime was a real treat!
Chocolate Espresso at Mondieu Laboratoire
Mondieu is available at multiple locations in the city of Bratislava. The menu offers vast breakfast options and that’s why we went here. The waffles with berries and avocado toast with poached egg just sounded delicious.
We should have been warned by the photos in the menu. Whenever a place has photos in the menu it’s a bit of an alarm sign 😉 The food was tasty, but not great. While my poached egg and sauce hollandaise were nearly cold, the omelette didn’t really hit all the high notes on the taste scale. But: The chocolate coffees are divine. You can get those as coffee to go as well!
Where to stay
Bratislava’s hotel scene is growing, but we stayed in the partner hotel of our eye clinic – a very traditional house. The 4 star “Hotel Devín” is located super conveniently directly at the Danube and behind the beautiful Christmas market of Hviezdoslavovo Square.
The hotel has the charm of a very old school luxury hotel – think a Christmas tree in the lobby decorated in red and gold and dark wood panelled walls.
But the room we got was really incredible! We were upgraded to a Premier Suite (#106) in the first floor, which was unbelievably spacious and very cozy and comfortable. Our bedroom felt bigger than our whole apartment at home. And the views of the Danube and the UFO were quite something! This is definitely a great homebase for a stay in Bratislava (be it 24 hours or longer) 😉
Also check our other 24 hours city guides: