Bratislava Free Walking Tour
Bratislava has an interesting history being pulled into many different empires, countries, new rulers, and eventually pulled under the Iron Curtain. With freedom from the USSR in the 1980s and the peaceful split with Czech Republic in the 1990s- also known as the Velvet Revolution and Divorce, Slovakia stands as an independent country since 1993. These days tourism infrastructure is being built up in an effort to draw from the hordes visiting nearby Vienna.
One of my new favorite things to do when arriving in a new city is taking a free walking tour. I didn’t really know this was a thing until a few years ago. But even more cities have free walking tours now. And yes, while it is not technically free since you need to tip the guide, it ends up being far cheaper than any organized tour with a fee to sign up (I usually tip around $10 and I’m always one that is tipping on the higher side).
Many of the tour guides I’ve had are history, theology, and art students and new graduates. They bring solid background information to the foundations and aspects of life in the city, in this case Bratislava.
The most interesting part of my Be Free Bratislava Free Walking Tour was learning about the former Jewish Quarter. It no longer exists as the Jews in Bratislava (15,000) were sent to concentration camps during WWII. Those who survived mostly emigrated.
When Czechoslovakia (of which Bratislava was a part of at the time) was part of the the USSR, the Jewish Quarter was decimated, houses demolished and an extremely ugly bridge and highway was constructed in its place.
A memorial stands in the at what used to be the start of the Jewish Quarter. Today, approximately 800 Jewish people live in Bratislava today, 2600 in Slovakia in total (per World Jewish Congress), down from 58,000 before WWII.
My tour took us around to more spots in Bratislava. We heard local stories, saw statues, and got an idea about life in the city today and at points during history.
The other main sight in Bratislava is the Castle, most notable during the Hapsburg Empire with Maria Teresa of Austria. The Castle in some form appeared in the 13th century, was added to, rebuilt, burned down in 1811, with the latest renovation/rebuilding beginning in 2008.
Honestly, Bratislava Castle is a little generic. It sits high on a hill surrounded by a big park with great views overlooking the city. But those are the best features. When the castle itself burned down in 1811 by Napoleons’ troops and later rebuilt, I think the architects forgot retaining character.
The gardens surrounding the castle are perfect for picnicking and strolling. Also this statue which is your daily reminder not to burn people at the stake for witchcraft. Bratislava possibly killed dozens of women for witchcraft from the 15th-18th centuries. Ugh.
And now for the food! After my Bratislava free walking tour, it was time for some grub. Carbs were essential. I found a pizza place through Google with the extremely good reviews. And the pizza was amazing but this isn’t what I ordered. Sometimes different languages and pointing doesn’t end up working well. My lunch was still a win in my book!
Overall, Bratislava was a great start to my fall European vacation. I spent 2 nights here which was perfect. You really need a day and a half to see the sights and get a feel for the city.
Now it is time for Prague!
Reader Question: Have you ever done a free walking tour? What did you think?