Friday, October 3, 2014

"Must sees" in Bratislava, Slovakia

Following up on the last post by Tereza, a native of Slovakia, here is a post on what to do in downtown Bratislava:

Main Square in Bratislava
(Photo from Bratislava Tourist Board)
A “must do” in Bratislava is simply a stroll around the old town pedestrian area, better known as the “Korzo,” with its many palaces, churches, Michael’s Gate, the Main Square and the renaissance Town Hall. Hviezdoslav Square at the south end of the pedestrian zone transforms into the city’s public living room in the summer, with its many benches, sofas, and huge cushions where you can lounge and enjoy your ice cream or read a book taken from one of the available bookcases, or check out the revolving exhibits, listen to concerts, or just watch the passersby. A winter treat is a free skating ring set up in the square. At the end of the square you’ll find the beautiful National Theater, with Reduta to one side, which houses the Slovak Philharmonic. The US as well as other embassies are also located on this square.

National Theatre and Hviezdoslavovo Square
(Photo from Bratislava Tourist Board)
Since this blog is also about how to save money, I’d like to mention that I’ve noticed some young people wearing yellow T-shirts hanging out at the biggest square downtown (Hviezdoslavovo namestie), offering free walking tours in English that seem to be very popular. Another savings is live performances, such as classical concerts at the Slovak Philharmonic or operas and plays at the National Theatre tend to be cheaper than going to see a movie. Eating out is not as inexpensive as it used to be but it is worth noting you’re not expected to tip as much as in the US (10% is considered generous).  When it comes to food, cheaper alternatives, more popular with the locals, are pubs or trendy cafes.  Typical Slovak cuisine is distinctly central European: lots of fried meat and potatoes, Hungarian paprika is a common seasoning, along with cabbage, rich bean soups, and I shouldn’t forget our “signature” sheep cheese called “bryndza,” served with potato dumplings, called “bryndzove halusky." Recently we have seen an increase in the number of international restaurants, if your stomach is not up for heavy load of a typical Central European meal.

Bratislava Castle
(Photo from Bratislava Tourist Board)
You should definitely take the walk up to the castle (which looks new because it was restored in 1953, following a destructive fire in 1811, although its history dates back to Celtic and Roman times), where you will walk past St. Martin’s Cathedral, previously mentioned, and the flying saucer shaped SNP bridge, the Communist era construction of which destroyed the former Jewish quarter, along with its Synagogue. Besides its shape, the bridge is noted as the world's longest cable-stayed bridge to have one pylon and one cable-stayed plane. It is asymmetrical, with the pylon located at one bank of the Danube.  Inside the “flying saucer” at the top is a fancy restaurant offering 360-degree views of the city. It is possible to walk across the bridge, over the Danube, where you will find a number of good cafes and restaurants, as well as a forested park great for a picnic.

Another interesting walk from downtown is up the hill to the Slavin Monument, which is a military cemetery for Soviet Army soldiers who fell during World War II while liberating the city. It offers spectacular views of the city, and on the way up you pass a neighborhood of old, creepy villas.

Useful links:
Unofficial Bratislava Guide
Public transport planner

Check out next week’s post on what to do outside of the city center!

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