A sedate pace, lively cultural pulse and close connection to nature are the crowning features of this charming Slovakian city. Comfortably nestled between the densely forested Carpathian Mountains and verdant flood plains, this city of contrasts carefully combines the rich 18th century architecture of historic old town with the socialist-era architecture and impressive modern-art spaces of the new.
Slovakia's capital city has had a spectacular rise in travel consciousness over the last 15 years, winning admirers with its well-preserved town centre, its unrushed pace and its lively cultural pulse. On the accommodation front, five-star boutique options such as the 33-room Arcadia Hotel (Františkánska 3) and the 54-room Marrol’s Hotel (Tobrucká 4) are typical of the stylish top-end properties in the Old Town, while the recently reopened Hotel Devín (Riečna 4), set on the banks of the Danube, and the three-star Hotel Michalska Brana (Baštová 4) are two of the best choices in lower price brackets.
Slovakia has a proud folk culture, something well evidenced by the range of handicrafts and souvenirs on sale in Bratislava’s historical centre. Classic keepsakes include hand-painted pottery, cut lead crystal and traditional embroidery. The city's atmospheric annual Christmas markets, in Hlavné and Hviezdoslavovo Squares, are particularly good for picking up carved wooden items. Year round, the vaulted covered market (Stará tržnica) is a good bet for fresh produce. For a complete contrast, the Avion Shopping Park (Ivanská cesta 16) is the largest mall in the country, with stores that include IKEA, C&A, Marks & Spencer and Sports Direct.
The local cuisine shares much with that of its one-time compatriot, the neighbouring Czech Republic. There's a historical emphasis on staples like potatoes, pork, sauerkraut and onions, although influences from elsewhere mean that today's menus are as spice-filled and varied as might be expected from a modern European capital. For a flavoursome traditional feed washed down with pints of locally brewed beer, try Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar (Drevená 8), while for refinement and an Italian-influenced menu book a table at the much-lauded Antica Toscana (Maďarská 27). Elsewhere, the cosy 19th-century confines of Modra Hviezda (Beblavého 14) make it good for couples.
Bratislava May Festival
A weekend-long city festival incorporating everything from theatre productions and adrenaline sports to live concerts and fireworks, the Bratislava May Festival is a relatively new addition to the annual calendar. It takes place on a site next to the Danube River.
A musical celebration held across four city centre venues, Viva Musica! takes place over the course of a week each June. It gives a platform for widely respected local and international artists, among them violin virtuosos, award-winning composers and jazz trumpeters.
A three-month shindig that celebrates art and performance in all its forms, whether that be juggling, literature, downhill cycling or youth choirs, Bratislava’s cultural summer can justifiably claim to cater for most tastes. It’s well worth checking ahead of time for upcoming highlights.
Bratislava Jazz Days
Now approaching its 40th anniversary, Bratislava Jazz Days is a long weekend of live music. Not all performers fall firmly into the jazz genre (Kool & the Gang headlined in 2012) meaning there’s usually a good eclectic line-up.
International Film Festival Bratislava
Usually shortened to IFF Bratislava, the city’s end-of-year international film festival has become a well-respected industry occasion since its founding in 1999. Films compete for the Grand Prix and are judged by an international jury.