Bratislava Travel Guide: A City Of Contrast

Bratislava wasn't a place that was originally on my Eastern Europe itinerary, but the intrigue of a city with such a stark contrast of new and old, was too much and I booked the train. It has a unique mixture of medieval, Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau buildings, intersected by brutal Communist architecture which makes it an interesting city to wander. The compact city of Bratislava has only been Slovakia's capital since the country received independence in 1993.
Often the Slovakian capital is visited as a day trip from nearby Vienna, but the city has a lot to offer travellers wanting to overnight and extend their stay. Less crowded than other Eastern European destinations, Bratislava is a fantastic place to learn about a huge variety of historical periods, explore a city of great contrasts, and sample some rich Slovak fare. I ended up being grateful that I scheduled a couple of nights in Bratislava to really get to explore a place that offered something a little bit different.
My top recommendation for Bratislava is to take a guided walking tour. Personally, I didn't know much about Slovakian history and culture before visiting for the first time, and the walking tour helped me get my mind around it! There are several paid options but I personally prefer the free walking tour. The guide will take you around the major landmarks of the city, explain the historical significance of buildings, and recommend the best food for you to try.
Bratislava has several interesting museums which you can explore including the Museum of Pharmacy and the City History Museum. The City History Museum is in the old Town Hall and covers the interesting history of Bratislava which will help you contextualise all that you see.
There is no doubt that the number one thing to do in Bratislava is soak up the atmosphere in the Old Town. Structured much like other Eastern European old town squares, I loved Bratislava because it was less touristy and busy compared to places like Prague. The demarcation between the Old Town and the newer, Communist sections is stark. Once you leave the boundary of the Old Town, you will see extensive brutalist architecture and get a feel of Bratislava's contrasts.
In the Old Town, there are a few locations that are definitely worth visiting. St Martin's Cathedral is the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bratislava which was built in the 1400s and has served as the location of several important coronations and historical events. See Michael's Gate - the only remaining old gate to the city - and the remaining city walls. The Slovak National Theatre is a stunning building with incredible ballet and opera performances regularly occurring, so you should try and see a show!
Bratislava Castle is the most recognisable place in Bratislava. The huge rectangular hill-top castle sits in prime position overlooking the Danube river and the Old Town. On a clear day you can see Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary from the castle!
The castle's hill has been an important site since prehistory, and there has been a basilica or castle on the hill since the 500s which is pretty impressive. The current castle is a reconstruction which started in the 1950s after the castle was bombed by Napoleon in the early 1800s and it slowly decayed. The restoration of the castle has taken many years and has been interrupted several times, with updates still ongoing, notably the courtyard restoration in 2010.