Unlike neighbouring Budapest and Vienna, Bratislava hasn’t firmed up its name on Europe’s tourist circuit. But if the Slovakian capital falls on your way while travelling in central Europe, why not stop by for a day (or may be, half a day)? There’s not much material on the internet about “things to do in Bratislava”, but that’s the charm of a really quaint place. Recently, as I reached the Bratislava railway station after a one-hour journey from Vienna, a banner said: “Welcome to Slovakia — Little Big Country”. That pretty much sums up the experience here, which starts at the historic Old Town, passes through the Presidential Palace, and culminates at the ultra-modern UFO Bridge across the Danube.
Statue Walk in Old Town
Slavin, the largest war memorial in central Europe, at 52 metres, dominates the city’s skyline. It is the burial ground of more than 6,000 soldiers of the Soviet army who died during the liberation of Bratislava in World War II. But, besides that, if you walk around in the 18th century pedestrian-only Old Town, you encounter several other heroic images. A bronze statue of a Napoleonic soldier commemorates the siege of Bratislava by Napoleon in the early 1800s. Another statue, that of Schone Naci — a kind-hearted local from the 20th century — is also an integral part of the promenade, with most tourists stopping by for a selfie op. So is Cumil, a 1997 sculpture by Viktor Hulik, of a man half-emerging from a sewage drain right in the middle of the touristy bylane, and who seems to spend his time watching people. There is also the statue of Papparazzi, seen photographing the street from behind the corner of Laurinska street.
Slovakian White House
Home to the Slovakian President, Grassalkovich Palace was once the meeting place for several members of the Austro-Hungarian and Habsburg aristocracy. It was built in 1760 by Anton Grassalkovich, president of the Royal Hungarian Chamber and advisor to Queen Maria Theresa. The palace is situated in a huge, open park with a baroque garden, which is open to the public even when the President is in residence. Best part: there is always some art exhibition going on in the open courtyard which offers you a deeper sense of the place and its tryst with the Soviet invasion.
In case you want a bird’s eye view of Bratislava and its castle, it may be a good call to go to the observation deck atop the UFO Tower on the other side of Danube. The 1971 structure is a souvenir of the Slovak communist architecture and blends into Bratislava’s skyline, that is dotted with centuries-old architecture. Situated 300 feet above the river, the bridge has a walkway for pedestrians and an elevator to the observation deck. The deck has a popular but expensive restaurant called UFO, but one has to make a reservation here. But you can also skip the eating part and just enjoy the views.