Once just a county centre, Bratislava found itself thrust into capital city status with the break up of Czechoslovakia. Happily this was the most peaceful of the break up of countries of the former East European block, and Bratislava has risen wonderfully to the challenge of being a capital. Luckily, it already had many of the trappings of a fine capital city – a massive four towered castle guarding the ancient city centre, an opera house, a Mozart connection, and during December, a Christmas crafts market in the main square.
Relaxed, English Speaking Stall Holders
The atmosphere of the town is relaxed and laid back, and the Christmas markets reflect this, as the stands are topped by coloured red and white tenting. Many of the stall holders are young, relaxed, and speak English, and they are pleased to speak to anyone who is interested in their craft work.
Wooden Tree Ornaments
The markets are much smaller than many of the other Christmas markets in Central Europe, but there’s still plenty of choice. Look out especially for the lovely wooden tree ornaments, the corn dolls, candles, and also some naïve art style pottery. To one side of the square there are the food stands, where Slovakian “fast food” can be brought, and of course there are stands selling mulled wine, whose spicy smell scents the whole square.
The best time to visit the markets is just after they open at 10 in the morning. The evenings tend to become very crowded as every resident of Bratislava descends on the square to eat, drink, meet friends and enjoy themselves.
Art Nouveau Buildings
The square – Hlavné námestie – was once the main market place of the old city, and its surrounded by lovely old townhouses, including a delightful Art Nouveau house built in 1912. There is also a fountain, a church and a palace. One of the churches dates from 1297, but was completely altered. From the second floor of one of these buildings you can get a nice view of the activity of the markets below in the square!
Just behind the market square is Primaciálne Námestie, a beautiful old square with the Primate’s Palace. It’s crowned with a bishop’s hat weighing 150 kgs. The palace is now a museum with a Hall of Mirrors where Napoleon once signed papers, and there is also a display of priceless English tapestries.
Gothic Town Hall Building
But the most beautiful building in Bratislava is the old Town Hall. It’s a 14th century Gothic building, complete with a delightful courtyard, and beautiful woodwork detailing. It’s now a museum, complete with a torture chamber in the basements, and more pleasantly, beautifully decorated rooms. The energetic can also climb to the top of the tower.
Walking Tour of Bratislava
One of the best ways to see Bratislava is to take a walking tour, organised by the friendly Tourist information office. And on the tour, you’ll get to see The Photographer, the Frenchman, and the Road Worker – three quirky statues scattered through the town. The firm favourite is the Road Worker, with his head peering up from a manhole in the street! It’s definitely a favourite for photographers.