Bratislava – Europe’s Youngest Capital City
Archeological finds suggest that people have been living here ever since approximately 5000 BC, which means that the heritage of Bratislava is definitely rich. The history of the city as capital of Slovakia, however, is very short. It was only in 1993 that Bratislava received this new status, after the Velvet Divorce (the dissolution of Czechoslovakia) and the formation of the new Slovak Republic. The young capital is also the economic, cultural and political center of the country, and it has plenty of interesting and exciting things to show to its visitors.
The fertile valley of the Danube has been a major attraction for people from the earliest times. The first to settle here were the Celts, followed by the Romans, who apparently brought grapes into the area and started a wine making tradition that still exists today. The next to occupy this territory were the Slavs, who established a settlement here in the 6th century.
Then, at the beginning of the 11th century, the Hungarians integrated the territory of modern Slovakia into their empire, and under the rule of King Stephen I the city’s first coins were minted, bearing the inscription “Breslava civitas”, which meant “The City of Bratislava”. An important year in the development of the city was 1526, when the king of Hungary decided to move here from Buda. Ten years later it became the new capital of Hungary, and the new city of coronation for kings, in St. Matin’s Cathedral.
Naturally, the city saw a period of growth, and many new buildings were erected, while the infrastructure was also improved. It became significant enough for important cultural events to be hosted here, including concerts by Mozart, Haydn (at Grassalkovich Palace), and Beethoven. After a period of decline, Bratislava became the most important city in Slovakia at the middle of the 19th century.
It continues to keep this status even today, when it has a friendly rivalry with Vienna (there are less than 40 miles between them). The city that was once famous for its fabulous balls is still attracting numerous people who are looking for a fun experience. But if you are not here to party the night away, then you should make a list of all the other things to see and enjoy across the capital.
You should start with the Old Town, with the iconic Bratislava Castle, the Grassalkovich Palace, and the Old Town Hall, which now houses the city’s oldest museum, founded in 1868: the Bratislava City Museum. The Main Square in the Old Town center invites tourists to rest and enjoy a coffee at one of the many outdoor cafes. Also nearby you will find the Apponyi Palace which holds a museum dedicated to the cultivation of grapes, the Primate’s Palace (the Primate was the religious ruler of Hungary), and the Mirbach Palace in a beautiful Rococo style.
When you feel that you need to rest a little, you should cross the New Bridge over the Danube and head to the other side of the capital. Yes, Bratislava occupies both riverbanks, and while one side holds the Old Town with its impressive buildings and monuments, the other side boasts vast parks that invite visitors to unwind and enjoy the sun. Crossing the bridge itself is a remarkable experience, simply because this is the longest cable-stayed bridge with one cable-stayed plane and one Pylon. Oh, and do stop for a drink and a superb view from the UFO restaurant on the tall pylon.
- Probably the best time to visit Bratislava is in autumn, but summer is also recommended.
- Food enthusiasts should try vol-au-vents, nougat, cabbage and mushrooms soup, poppy-seed pancakes, and various wines.
- A very special attraction is the UFO restaurant, situated about 280 feet high at the top of the New Bridge over the Danube. There is also a viewing platform above the restaurant.
- Music lovers shouldn’t miss the Bratislava Music Festival that takes place every year in autumn. The Bratislava Christmas Market is also a wonderful event that tourists and locals always look forward to.
- Good souvenir choices include linens, wooden toys and watches.
- Really good hotels in Bratislava: Crowne Plaza opposite the Presidential Palace (Grassalkovich Palace), and the Radisson Blu Carlton Hotel. There are many other good choices, of course.