Walking around Bratislava is an exciting architectural lottery: one constantly wonders whether the next corner will reveal another fairytale palace from a bygone age or a modern concrete monstrosity from a recent nightmare era. Slovakia’s extreme political switch in the twentieth century from Empire to Socialism, is clear to be seen in its capital’s preserved architecture. In and around the city’s Old Town, strikingly minimalist structures from the city’s post-war Socialist era stand shoulder-to-shoulder, or rather gutter-to-gutter, with ornate baroque and neoclassical examples from Slovakia’s Austro-Hungarian past, as can be seen in my short film here.
One can appreciate how very different in style a Communist-era structure like the Most SNP is to the more decadent medieval, baroque and neoclassic structures standing along the banks either end of it. Surprisingly though, the Most SNP appears to complement its opposing architectural neighbours. The precise straight lines and minimalist construction of the bridge actually draws one’s attention to these pre-war buildings along the banksides, and from certain angles, frames them rather beautifully.
Slavín is a Soviet memorial monument that sits on a hill a short distance north-west of Bratislava’s Old Town. It was inaugurated in 1960, fifteen years after the Red Army liberated the city from Nazi occupation which hailed the beginning of the end of the Second World War. The six-and-a-half thousand soldiers who died during the liberation are all buried here.
If the weather is clear and one can convince the rather inquisitive waitress at the entrance of the tower lift that one’s intentions on going up to the viewing platform above is solely to buy an expensive drink from the bar up there, then stunning panoramic views of Bratislava city can be enjoyed from the top of the Kamzik TV tower.
Back in the city, not all of Bratislava’s surviving relics from the Cold War era are being preserved. Although Czecho-Slovakia was not part of the Soviet Union, its Socialist-Communist status positioned it firmly behind the Iron Curtain resulting in, amongst other things, a paranoia and distrust for Westerners on a par with its Soviet neighbour. Just as in every major Soviet city at the time, western visitors to Bratislava during the Cold War were only allowed to stay in one, albeit most lavish hotel in the city. Standing just outside Bratislava’s Old Town, the Hotel Kyjek distracted and disarmed western guests with its opulence in order to secretly listen in to their every conversation. This key building in Slovakia’s Cold War history however, has recently closed down and is due for demolition. The adjoining 1960s PRIOR shopping complex however, survives for now at least.
The Blue Church is located on Modrý kostol sv. Alžbety, just off Gajova and is a short walk east of the Old Town. It is usually marked out on tourist maps of the city. The church is opened daily but usually only for a couple of hours in the morning and early evening in preparation for mass.
Pedestrian access to the traffic lanes of the New Bridge/Most SNP/UFO bridge is prohibited. Walkways underneath the traffic lanes are designated for pedestrians (east side) and cyclists (west side) and are accessed from the Old Town via Rybne nám at the far end of Hviezdoslavovo nám, the grassy boulevard in front of the National Theatre. Walking/cycling/driving across the bridge is free.
To gain access to the UFO observation platform on top of the bridge pillars requires having a meal or at least a drink inside the UFO restaurant housed inside the platform. Understandably, the restaurant and bar are popular with tourists and if choosing to eat there, it is wise to book a table at least twenty-four hours in advance. Presently (2017), I cannot find a working website to reserve tables there, so the best thing to do is book one with the bilingual receptionist sitting in the small enclosed area by the lift at the foot of the pillars along the south bank. Once allowed entry into the restaurant, access to the platform above is free and unlimited during your stay.
N.B: the UFO restaurant has gone to great lengths to give its customers every opportunity to enjoy its panoramic views, and I mean every opportunity. One can enjoy the view through the partially frosted floor-to-ceiling windows in the toilet cubicles, although bear in mind that if using the cubicle for anything other than admiring the view, one will in turn be ‘on view’ to the outside world.
Walking up to the Slavín memorial is – and no doubt deliberately – like a pilgrimage involving stamina and good knees. The most direct way to it is via the long steep steps by Puškinova, a short walk south towards the Old Town from the main train station, along the busy Stefaniková highway. There is a bus – the number 147 – that stops just by the final steps to Slavín. Unfortunately, I don’t know where in the city this bus can be picked up from and going by the timetable on the bus stop, it only passes by Slavín a few times a day. Entrance to the cemetery and around the monument is free and both appear to be open to the public twenty-four hours a day.
The Slovensky Rozhlas pyramid building is just north of Nám Slobody (Freedom Square). Strangely, it is not often marked out on tourist maps but cannot be missed whilst walking along Mytna. The number 23 bus towards Koliba from Hodžovo nám opposite the east wing of the Grassalkovich Palace passes close by. Apparently, the reception area is open to the public and it often hosts exhibitions about the history of the radio station.
Koliba is the southern entrance to the Forest Park and the same number 23 bus terminates there at least twice hourly every day. From the terminus, follow the road up into the forest and follow the path towards Kamzik TV Tower. There are few signs to point visitors in the right direction but there are plenty of people around to ask and follow. Entrance via the ground level bar of the tower is free. As soon as you wander over to the lift, someone working at the tower will try and discourage you from going into it. Say you wish to eat in the restaurant bar at the top. This should be enough to convince them to allow you to carry on into the lift and up to the viewing platform. The enclosed area is small and the bar is more like a manned vending machine, but you are not obliged to buy anything if you are unfazed by the barman’s pushiness. Apparently, the toilets here also have windows so you can always escape to the loo and enjoy the view in peace there.
Frustratingly, there appears to be few signs in the Forest Park to point people to the chair lift. It is not far from the TV Tower, but don’t mistake it for the ski lift next to the adventure park. It runs from morning to sunset Tuesdays to Sundays. Single and return tickets can be bought from the kiosk next to the chairlift stations. The return journey costs around €6 (2017).
Bratislava and the Austrian-Slovakian-Hungarian tripoint. The exact geographical point that looks more like the middle of nowhere
Tallinn, the Hotel Viru and the KGB museum