Arrive at Grand Hotel River Park, A Luxury Collection Hotel, sitting on the banks of the Danube. Check into your Presidential Suite, which affords its own private terrace, with views across the river and not one, but three countries. Take some Zen time in the hotel’s luxe Zion Spa or catch up on emails and a bite to eat at the Executive Club Lounge, where free-flowing wine and a buffet awaits.
Exit the hotel from the rear entrance, which opens to the city’s lively riverbank promenade. Head left towards Nový Most (New Bridge) and enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Danube River, which flows through the city’s heart. If you’re feeling peckish or need something to quench your thirst, hop on board one of the floating restaurants that reside here during the warmer months.
Cross beneath Nový Most and walk towards the imposing St Martin’s Cathedral, which marks the edge of the former city walls. Take a right onto Hviezdoslavovo Námestie – the city’s long tree-shaded avenue and square, dotted with cooling fountains – and continue towards Slovak National Theatre (+421 2 204 72 111; www.snd.sk), Bratislava’s cultural centrepiece, which boasts a beautiful neo-renaissance façade.
Continue along Gorkého Street and take a right onto Štúrova, where you can admire decorative art-nouveau façades in rainbow hues. This should whet your appetite for the nearby Church of St Elizabeth, a blue art-nouveau fantasy built in 1911 by Hungary’s answer to Gaudí: master architect Ödön Lechner. Influenced by folk art and eastern decoration, and filled with Hungarian flourishes, the church is as eccentric as it is beautiful.
Cross Štúrova to Laurinská Street and head back to the city’s compact Staré Mesto (Old Town), taking a right on Radniná Street, which leads you to Hlavné Námestie (Main Square), crowded with baroque palaces and colourful kiosks filled with locally crafted pottery, glass, carved wood and knitted woollens. It’s worth taking a look at the town hall’s small museum (+421 2 591 008 47) for its changing exhibition of Slovak historical artefacts, but the real draw is its tower, which affords impressive views over most of the city.
Back on ground level, nip next door to the Primate’s Palace (+421 2 593 563 94) – a handsome neoclassical building housing a fine collection of 17th-century English tapestries. Take a sugary diversion to Panská Boulevard where local haunt Koun (+421 9 174 922 19; www.koun.sk) whips up unusual (and very much homemade) ice cream flavours – the fig and ricotta is standout.
Retrace your steps back to the main square and negotiate the cobblestone street of Františkánske Námestie, passing the beautifully restored rococo Mirbach Palace (+421 2 544 315 56), which houses some of the City Gallery’s art. Continue to Zámonícka Street and make a pit stop at the Grand Cru Wine Gallery (+421 9 086 562 59), an intimate setting where you can sample some of the best Slovak wines in the city while learning about the country’s fascinating viticulture.
Continue along Zámonícka until you reach St Michael’s Tower, which was one of four original gateways into the old city, and the only surviving watchtower. If you’re feeling energetic you can climb the 110 stone and wooden steps to the top for yet another postcard-perfect view over the Old Town.
Take a slow meander down Venturska Michalska, Staré Mesto’s main street flanked by candy-coloured, 18th-century buildings, and enjoy a spot of people watching while sipping on an exotic-flavoured lemonade (lavender is our favourite) in one of the many al-fresco cafés. Take a right at Panská and marvel at the vast, darkly romantic, gothic-style St Martin’s Cathedral, a 14th-century church that has crowned 11 Austro-Hungarian monarchs, including Queen Maria Theresa.
Neatly tucked behind the cathedral in a shady spot is Pinot u Bruna (+421 9 052 865 41), a former burgess house that serves up homemade soups, pâtés and cakes – try the borscht (beetroot) soup and raspberry and banana cake, washed down with a local wine from Hacaj.
Sufficiently fuelled up, it’s now time to climb the winding streets and battlemented ramparts that take you to the city’s most recognised landmark – Bratislava Castle (+421 2 544 114 44). Cross Staromestská to the House of the Good Shepherd and make your ascent from Beblavého Street until you reach the imposing victory gates decorated with military sculptures.
Standing sentinel over the city, the 15th-century, eggshell-white, four-towered castle was largely rebuilt in the 1950s – dating back to the 13th century, the Crown Tower is its oldest extant feature. A branch of the Slovak National Museum is housed inside, but what you really come here for is the panoramic vista over the medieval town’s red-tile rooftops, the Danube into Austria, and even Hungary on a clear day.
Make your way back down to Staromestská and get your afternoon caffeine fix at Kava Bar (Skalná 1944 1 811), a Viennese coffee house with quirky décor, before hailing a cab for some out-of-town sightseeing. A nine-km scenic drive through endless vineyards and open country will take you to Devín Castle (+421 2 657 301 05), a dramatic ruin with an equally dramatic history, perched on a craggy hill with an epic mountain backdrop. Once a strategic post during the Turkish Wars, in the 13th century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire, and even featured on a coin and note of the former Czechoslovak currency, the koruna.
Head back to the Grand Hotel River Park and freshen up before enjoying a few pre-dinner tipples at Arte Wine and Tapas. Take in an evening walk along the embankment, towards Nový Most – the city’s retro treasure – and continue across the bridge to the futuristic UFO tower that rises over 85 metres above the Danube.
Be prepared to take a juddering elevator ride to the tower’s open-air viewing platform – a perfect spot to take in a Slovakian sunset. For a culinary experience with a view, make a reservation at the UFO’s Taste restaurant (+421 2 625 203 00; www.redmonkeygroup.com) and indulge in its degustation menu – a seven-course extravaganza that includes pork-knuckle broth and venison rack with glazed chestnuts, paired with local wines.
Night owls won’t be disappointed with Bratislava’s nocturnal offerings. The capital has a fine classical music pedigree and the Slovak Philharmonic is one of the best in central Europe (+421 2 204 752 18; www.filharmonia.sk). Alternatively, acquaint yourself with the city’s new wave of old-school beer halls – top of our list is the Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar, or more simply the Bratislava Burgess Brewery (+421 9 445 122 65; www.mestianskypivovar.sk), a stylish bar with
its own microbrewery.