As one of the youngest capital cities in Europe, the city of Bratislava as it is called now has spent the last thirty years developing an identity of its own. Now the city is free from the clutches of various empires and socialism and it’s transforming into a modern, fast-developing metropolis.
It’s complicated past means that if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that the locals are quite resourceful! The city and its increasingly multi-cultural community of Slovaks, international students and expats like us and from neighbouring countries have together changed the story of this small but important city.
What is there to do in Bratislava?
From a tourist’s standpoint, when you arrive into the city you first notice how small it is for being the capital of Slovakia. Beautiful, but it seems like there’s not a lot happening outside the old historical centre.
It doesn’t have that obvious grandeur, with museums aplenty and the streets seem comparatively empty to the hustle and bustle of most capitals.
The population of Bratislava is only around the half a million mark and old town Bratislava is easily explored within a day.
It may not be obvious, but there is a rich history here which we talk about at length in our full guide to Bratislava, which includes helpful itineraries and lots of things to do either in or around Bratislava.
Unusual and unique things to do in Bratislava
Once you’ve hit up the ‘tourist hotspots’ you might want to delve deeper and get involved with some of the more unusual and innovative ways to experience Bratislava tourism.
When you first arrive, if you’re like us the first thing you want to do is a walking tour. Fortunately Bratislava is made for getting about on your feet, but that doesn’t mean you’re limited to that specific mode of transport!
These are two companies started by locals who offer some very unique ways to get to know the city, and the history of Slovakia in an extremely entertaining way.
This is a concept not unique to the city, but it’s definitely a different way to explore Bratislava. These are Escape Rooms situated in the Jewish Quarter and the guys at BrainTeaseLava have developed a City Tour game.
Just like a normal escape room, the idea is to follow a set of clues and mini quests around the city to try and find the whereabouts of a missing man who may or may not have a connection to the secret police.
You’re given his backpack full of things to help find him and along the way you’ll read interesting facts about the city as well as have fun trying to decipher the clues.
It can be done in groups of up to 5 in a team and it will take you through the historic old town, and when we did it there was a free pancake at one of our stops!
Cost – €49.00 (max 5 people per team)
Post – Communist Tours (by car, bicycle and on foot)
Some very enthusiastic and knowledgeable locals have set up a company called Authentic Slovakia, giving tours real facts and stories from 20th century Slovakia in some very unique ways.
You can ride in a Škoda car looking at the communist points of interest around Bratislava. By bicycle ride through the old town to a WWII bunker or do a working class food tour beyond the city’s old town. You can even do a village pub crawl in the Záhorie region exploring authentic Slovak pubs with the locals.
Their mission is to give tourists an unadulterated look into life here in Slovakia. What it is that makes Slovakia the country it is today post communism and to answer your questions about Slovak society and its recent history.
Cost – Varies on tour and number of people – check website
Unique places to drink and dance in Bratislava – where to go out?
Bratislava nightlife is something you have to research before you hit the tiles. Yes, there’s the obligatory stag party hanging around strip bars and Obchodna Street but there’s some amazing unique bars in the city, and yes Bratislava is safe and cheap for a night out!
Have a Drink in a former public toilet
This might not sound terribly appetising, but Steinplatz bar is an amazing find while you’re here in Bratislava. You’ll need a keen eye to spot this bar – it’s mostly located underground on SNP Namestie with outdoor seating on the ground level.
It’s sat opposite supermarkets and across the street from some of the city’s most popular local eateries and bars.
Steinplatz is cheap and the beer selection is worthy of a visit to this spot. You’ll find a mix of locals and visitors and a chilled out atmosphere.
Go dancing in a communist-era shopping centre
If you’re wondering where all the cool kids go, it’s to KC Dunaj the former communist era shopping centre turned bar and nightclub.
It’s in the old town situated on Nedbalova Street and it specialises in thematic and alternative music nights – everything can be found here from Balkan beats to Indie nights and swinging retro parties.
There are various spaces inside the venue including an outside bar with views across to Bratislava castle, which looks glorious all lit up at night.
You’ll also find all kinds of events here – clothes swaps, vinyl record markets and retro fairs. It’s an all-round sub-culture hot spot!
Find the hidden prohibition style cocktail bars
Explore Bratislava’s hidden cocktail bar scene in the old town and find yourself transported back in time.
There are actually a few hidden bars, in true prohibition style you’ll find them underground, through the doors of a wardrobe and behind curtains but there’s no password required.
These might not be the cheapest options while you’re in the city but if you’re a cocktail aficionado it’s something you’ll enjoy.
Unusual Art Spaces
Quite often we get asked if Bratislava is worth a visit. The answer is yes it’s worth visiting and their devotion to art and developing creativity amongst the country’s artists is for one thing very exciting and there are galleries all over the city including some very unusual ones!
Discover an island art museum
On the outskirts of Bratislava you’ll find Danubiana – an island art museum perched on the Danube River.
With modern art and a garden of sculptures, this is a uniquely placed gallery of wonders. It covers modern art by local artists, contemporary art and it has various exhibitions throughout the year.
The café inside the venue is gorgeous with views across the river with easy access to the garden.
A number 90 bus from Eurovea Shopping Centre will take you straight to the door, it’s about 50 minutes on the bus but very worth much worth the trip.
Cost – €10.00 adult
Search for a gallery in an artist’s flat
If you don’t feel like the trip on the bus, stay in the city centre and find a secret gallery not many people are even aware of!
Flat Gallery is a concept that comes from places like Berlin and it is an actual gallery set up by an artist in their flat which you can find on Baštová in the old town.
The artist showcases work not just by him but other artists that he knows and he can tell you the history and inspiration behind every single piece. He does speak in English too, making it a tourist friendly experience.
It’s an experience trying to find the galley but once you’re on the street, look for the Flat Gallery buzzer by a big wooden door and ring the bell. If Andrej is in he will show you around!
Cost – Free
Alternative dining and local delicacies in Bratislava – where to eat?
This isn’t a guide on where to eat cheap in Bratislava – for that check out our Bratislava Food Guide – these are the things you can’t experience outside of Slovakia!
Fine dining in a UFO
If you’re going all out then why not visit the UFO for a fine dining experience with views across the Danube and over Bratislava.
The flying saucer-shaped restaurant and observation deck is part of the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) which because of its shape is now referred to as the UFO.
The Groove Restaurant is at an altitude of 85 metres and if you come here to dine the entrance fee for the lift up is free.
On offer in the restaurant is a focus on fusion food, often with a Mediterranean or Asian influence and the waiting staff will talk you through your food choices.
It’s a beautiful setting with attentive service and some pretty spectacular cocktails too. Some might say – out of this world!
Eat a Pressburg bagel
This is a bagel but not as you know it!
The local delicacy is a crescent shaped pastry filled with either walnuts or poppy seeds and it’s been trademarked by the EU since 2012.
Pressburg was the name of Bratislava during the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the locals have been making this pastry roll since the 16th century but it was made famous in the 18th century.
The legend goes that a baker named Scheuermann baked a special treat for St Nicholas’ Day in 1785 – the “prešporský bajgel”.
Nowadays you’ll find them in markets and shops, the best ones we think are available from the Stara Trznica market on a Saturday morning.
Vienna and Budapest fought for the trademark of this sweet treat but lost to Bratislava and we think they are highly underrated.
Try some local currant wine from the outskirts of Bratislava
One thing you may not know about Slovakia is that it has an abundance of wine production which has been going on for centuries.
Their biggest export is currant wine as it’s unique to the region and is often named the world’s best currant wine or ‘ríbezlák’ as it’s called in Slovak.
Traditionally this is something most people could make at home, many locals recall their grandparents making ‘ríbezlák’ from fruits in their garden, but now there are some fantastic semi-dry and dry options coming from wineries situated around the city.
The most popular is Thebener who are a local producer from Devin – a small village just twenty minutes from Bratislava city centre.
You can try their wine on site at a bar in the garden or there’s no shortage of bars in the city that will have a currant wine you can try.
Our recommended way to try the wine is hot during the Christmas markets, which you can read about in our guide to Slovak Christmas market food.
Family friendly activities in Bratislava – where to go?
The city has some great activities for kids, lots of parks with playgrounds, the children’s art museum Bibiana, but even for big kids these are great fun!
Visit a museum in an old steam engine train station
What better place to have a museum of transport than in the city’s old steam engine train station?!
Museum Dopravy (Museum of Transport) is located right next to Bratislava’s main (and still functional) train station.
The museum is filled with classic cars, wartime relics and generations of various trains on the railway lines at the back of the station.
This is one of the most interesting museums we’ve visited with some of the first motorbikes, WWII vehicles, and a replica of the old traffic office. It’s very much a family friendly day out!
It can be accessed via a pedestrian overpass over Šancová Street or alternatively via a curved road from the corner of Šancová and Pražská Streets.
Cost – €4 adult, €2 children (extra cost for taking photographs)
Travel by boat to see Devin Castle
It’s widely advertised that you can take a ferry to and from Vienna to Bratislava, but there’s also a boat that will take you to an old castle near the Austrian border!
Devin is situated just on the outskirts of Bratislava. It’s a small, historically important village with vineyards and a castle that sits on a high crag next to the river.
Until 1989 the line of the Iron Curtain was drawn along this point, with settlements recorded here for centuries. It stands as a ruin, with rotating art exhibitions and a viewpoint across to Austria.
The boat tour takes you to Devin on a scenic cruise down the Danube River with refreshments along the way.
It also gives you time to explore the village, maybe try a currant wine and get a little bit of history along the way!
You can choose to get a one way ticket or return ticket – if you get a one way there’s a bus that goes straight to Bratislava city centre.
Alternative accommodation in Bratislava – where to stay in Bratislava?
You can choose to stay in a Bratislava hotel of which there are lots to choose from, but we do also have some leftfield options for you to consider.
Stay in a hidden tree house
It’s not common knowledge, but Slovakia is actually a very green country, with national parks, mountain ranges and these are all easily accessible from Bratislava city centre.
Just a 15 minute drive will bring you to a treehouse in Železná Studnička – the exact location is hidden and when you book they give you a permit to be able to drive in the forest.
You can book a treehouse for three/four people or it can be a romantic trip for two and it makes for the perfect eco-friendly experience.
There’s no electricity and only a dry toilet with no bathroom, so showers might need to be had someplace else!
The tree house does give you complete privacy, a comfortable setting and you can explore the surrounding nature, forests and use the outside barbeque to cook.
We do recommend taking drinking water, food to cook and something for breakfast, it’s a great place to switch off from the world.
Cost – €100 a night but check website as prices might change
Look for the wacky Hotel Galeria
From afar this looks like a streak of creative brilliance, but up close more like a house of horrors.
Hotel Galeria is a fully functioning hotel you can stay in, but we have no experience of what it’s like on the inside, or know the quality of the service you will get.
You’ll find this wacky mish mash of colours, textures and installations located at the back of the main train station. It’s fantastic to marvel at but you’ll have to read the reviews and decide if it’s worth booking!
Cost – Varied (available on booking.com)
Discover the communist era suburb of Petržalka
For a true insight into Bratislava life, head into this district of the city over the Danube River.
Walk the streets and marvel at the unique designs and colours of Petržalka high rise apartments, reminiscent of the famous birdcage apartments in Hong Kong.
This communist era residential area is now a colourful and creative hub and it’s the most densely populated residential area in Central Europe.
You can also find accommodation in Petržalka and you’ll find that being so densely populated there are apartments to rent here too.
It’s not far from the old town with lots of public transport and don’t be put off by the high rise buildings, it is safe and not considered to be a rough place.
As well as the unique designs and colours of the buildings make sure to visit Sad Janka Krala, which is actually the oldest public park in Central Europe, set up in 1774.
Here there are interesting statues and monuments and in the summer you can enjoy Magio Beach – a man-made beach on the Danube River with bars, eateries and an outdoor cinema in the evening!
Other hidden things to do in Bratislava – where to visit?
Aside from museums, galleries and architecture around the city you might want to find some of Bratislava’s hidden ‘Easter eggs’.
Statues and street art in Bratislava
All over the city you’ll notice there are some strange statues and if you venture outside of the old town you’ll also discover some impressive street art and installations.
In the old town look out for the ‘Man At Work’ Cumil as he seemingly takes a not so innocent break from work in his manhole. At Eurovea there are delightful circus themed statues by an English sculptor Colin Spofforth at every turn and the biggest fountain in Slovakia, Fontána Družby.
It was built in 1979 and it even has a tunnel and machine room underneath the base of it for secret activities we presume, although it’s out of order now!
To see the most interesting street art in Bratislava, walk two minutes out of the old town – the best place is to start at Kamenné Square.
Following the street art festival in 2016 there began a city-wide reclamation of rundown and abandoned spaces by young artists. Walk around the city and find murals, statues and even art projects that involved a full hotel makeover!
Lastly, there’s an art installation named ‘House Attack’ is in an industrial estate near the city centre that’s a little out of the way for tourists, but pretty unique.
We hope you enjoyed our guide to Bratislava’s bizarre and unique spots!
As expats in Bratislava, we’ve had a year of getting to know the city and had the time to write some more useful guides:
A first timer to Bratislava? Read our ultimate guide with itineraries and daytrips from Bratislava.
There’s even a guide to Slovak Christmas market food – some of which you can also get all year round.
Make sure to follow us on Instagram and become a part of our wee IG family – @hoopla_adventures
There are no affiliated links in this article, these are purely our own recommendations from our experiences living here.