Bratislava – the Sleeping Beauty of the Danube

Like many travelers who purposely visit Bratislava or accidentally wander into it, we didn’t know what to expect from this city on the banks of the Danube river. But Bratislava is full of nice surprises, especially in the old city center, which I also liked the most because, if you didn’t know, I’m crazy about art and history.

My love for art and architecture mainly refers to extremely old and classical styles (Gothic, Romanesque…) or to modern architecture, which has attracted me more and more recently. What I really can’t stand is the socialist architecture that can be found at every turn in the former USSR and the countries that were under the iron curtain and the communist regime. Soviet architecture fills me with horror, anxiety, uneasiness and I am not exaggerating at all when I say that.

After this quick psychological profiling, after which it’s 100% clear to us how much I dislike Soviet architecture, I have to mention that Mr. M, my partner, adores it. Should we be surprised, given that opposites attract? He is the yin to my yang or whatever the saying goes.


Give him a concrete block or even better several of them stacked on top of each other and preferably some monumental statue/sculpture that stands for something (or nothing at all) but sticks out in a sea of other concrete and he will hyperventilate with happiness. I’ll probably be breathing into a paper bag and have to watch some sweet sugary American family movie on Netflix to recover from the shock and enjoy the beauty of capitalism, at least on TV.


If you are looking for some socialist nostalgia, Bratislava is the best place to visit. “Oh, what a horror!!!” I said as we approached Bratislava, and creepy, huge, concrete and colorful buildings began to appear under my eyes.

“Ah yes, Petržalka”, replied Mr.M dreamily, watching with love in his eyes the true horror of Soviet architecture designed with the idea of cramming as many people as possible into as little space as possible, without the slightest thought about the quality of life. After all, who needs quality of life when you have ugly concrete blocks?

Hey, you get a cheap apartment in exchange for working at the post office, shut up and be grateful, and leave the golden retrievers, lawns, and white picket fences parked in front of the station wagons to the Americans and their movies. We’re from across the pond and we love concrete.

If I had only visited Petržalka in Bratislava, and nothing else, I would have run out of it after 10 minutes and would never, ever, ever return to that city. In addition, I would tell everyone how terrible it is and that it’s not worth visiting. Fortunately, the story went differently.


Petržalka is the very heart of Soviet architecture in Bratislava and a remnant reminiscent of the communist period. Wanting to improve her appearance a little, they decided to paint it in colorful colors. Honestly, I can’t decide if it’s a better or worse decision, but you decide for yourself.

Petržalka is also called the Bratislava Bronx. As many as 65% of the inhabitants of Bratislava live in it, and it’s also interesting to note that it’s one of the largest settlements in Central Europe and the most densely populated settlement in Central Europe, which extends over more than 2,000 hectares of land.

The history of Petržalka actually dates back to the early 17th century when it was just an island and a village that was not part of Bratislava. As there was a lot of fertile land on the island, the inhabitants engaged in agriculture. Precisely for this reason, at the beginning of the 20th century, Petržalka got the name it still bears today, which means parsley and which was actually a slightly derogatory name used to mock all the plants that grew there and the inhabitants who were exclusively farmers.

During the Austro-Turkish wars (1529 – 1791), Petržalka became home to numerous refugees from Croatia and Germany who fled from the Turks and then stayed in Slovakia forever.

During the communist period, the construction of residential concrete blocks began, which, in accordance with this philosophy, were gray and devoid of any charm. After 1989, it was decided to paint them with bright colors, and this idea has remained until today.


Petržalka is connected to the rest of Bratislava by five bridges, and on one of them is the legendary UFO. If you want to see the seventh largest suspension bridge in the world, then you are looking at it right now, and it is the Nový most or UFO bridge, above which there is a flying saucer that is a restaurant.

This bridge is 430.8 meters long, and the UFO is at a height of 84.6 meters. In addition to the restaurant, there is also an observatory on it. As there are better and higher vantage points in the world, I wouldn’t recommend going just for the view if you don’t plan to go to the restaurant. The lift costs 6,50€ (for adults) and the amount will be deducted from the bill of the restaurant, which offers traditional and international cuisine, and which won the restaurant of the year award in 2011.


You will have the best view of Bratislava from the castle (Bratislavský hrad) from which these pictures were taken. The castle with four towers was built in the period from the 9th to the 18th century, it’s located right in the city on a small hill called the Little Carpathians just above the Danube and from its walls there is an absolutely perfect view of Bratislava, the Danube, Austria, and when the weather is nice you can also see Hungary.

As Europe is full of myths and legends, numerous stories are also associated with the castle. From its haunted parts to the story of a giant who got tired on the way to Germany and decided to use it as a table one evening. He turned the castle upside down, and the four towers served as table legs. The local witch reprimanded the giant, and he returned the castle to the right side and did not turn it anymore.


Another location that knocked Mr. M off his feet and filled me with horror was Freedom Square (Námestie Slobody), which the locals call Gottko and which is actually the main city square, but I could have survived without it, really.

If you like Soviet architecture, then you might like Freedom Square because it offers everything that a fan of communist architecture is looking for – lots of concrete, cubic concrete blocks in gray color with window to window in line, a metal sculpture that only the author knows what it represents (I hope) some planned greenery, and a charmless concrete water fountain.


Since 2007, the water fountain has been out of order, full of garbage and graffiti, due to damage in the underground machines that move it, and the restoration of which would cost 1 million euros, which Slovakia does not have. The square is also home to the largest post office in the world, which you can see in the photo above.

Forget Petržalka. If you want to step into the past and into communist times, Freedom Square is your time machine. As if from old faded postcards, you can almost imagine people going in and out of the post office building, sitting on the benches of the planned park and looking at the water fountain.


It is this mixture of styles, classic Austro-Hungarian history mixed with communism and, in recent times, capitalism, that is the reason why I cannot send anyone to Bratislava with the words “You have to go, you will like it very much!” Bratislava is not for everyone. Between Prague and Vienna, she is like that quiet and inconspicuous middle child that her parents forget about because they don’t have time for her.

Personally, I could survive without the communist-soviet architecture, which I truly dislike. With elements of brutalism and modernism and hints of dystopia, it offers a perfect look into a dark and rather depressing era that is not to everyone’s taste. That’s the part of Bratislava that I didn’t like.


In addition to the historical center and communist architecture, Bratislava also has a new urban part that belongs to recent history. Thus, in 2010, the Eurovea shopping center was opened in the very heart of the city, next to the promenade along the Danube.

An ideal location to escape the summer heat or the winter cold and stroll around the shops, restaurants and cafes. Right next to Eurovea, a new settlement of modern apartment blocks has sprung up right next to the Danube.


Here you will find luxury apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows and river views. Modern urban buildings. Beautifully decorated cafes and lounge bars at the foot of the buildings that stretch the entire length of the promenade, and in the evening offer a handful of entertainment for all travelers eager to go out.

Did I like this modern part of Bratislava? You can bet on it! After Freedom Square and the largest post office in the world, this was a real refreshment. Let’s quickly find a cafe with a view of the Danube, drink lemonade and eat pancakes and relax a little.


It’s actually very nice after a day spent on your feet exploring the city to sit by the water and enjoy watching the boats and river cruises plying the Danube.

I still wouldn’t dare to recommend Bratislava to anyone, even though it was so nice for me that I visited it twice, and it didn’t disappoint me on the second visit either. Of course, I would be lying if I said that it is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

It’s not even the most attractive city. Not even the neatest. Not even the most organized. Nor does it have the best offer of culture and entertainment I’ve ever seen. I can’t even say you need to go for more than 2 days. But Bratislava left a great impression on me. I liked the vibe in the city. I felt good and comfortable. Relaxed…and I think that’s what sold her to me and made me love her (yes, occasionally I address her in the feminine gender, I like her so much).


Bratislava has a beautiful old and historic city center, just like other cities of Central and Western Europe, full of history, classic architecture and interesting stories.


There are also entire streets that are about to collapse, but what city with this kind of history doesn’t have them? Like any city that suffered under the communist regime, Bratislava also has a lot of unrepresentative parts that are really not pleasing to the eye and that look like they are from some cheap Russian movie.

Of course, if you like communist architecture and brutalism, then you won’t agree with me, but that’s ok. We don’t all have to agree on everything. If that were the case, then this world would be a very unhappy place.


If you find yourself in Vienna, consider visiting Bratislava as a day trip. If you are critical and start comparing it to other cities you have visited you will probably be disappointed.

But if you give it a chance and approach it objectively, without too many expectations, if you allow yourself to casually stroll through its streets and absorb its interesting history and good vibes, it could positively surprise you too.








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