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Bratislava is Slovakia's compact capital and a must for art lovers. Straddling the Danube River and within easy reach of Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, the city is ideally located. Its multitude of museums, art galleries, palaces and ornamental churches (all found in and around its historic Old Town) make it the centre for arts and culture in the country, and a worthy destination for culture vultures.
Bratislava rightly takes pride in this cultural heritage, with a musical history that stretches back to Mozart, Beethoven and Hummel. Music concerts and ballet performances take place almost daily in the city, and rival those in neighbouring Vienna, Prague and Budapest.
The Old Town district is crammed with historical structures representing the different cultures and nations of its past, centring on the famous town square called Hlavné Námestie. The historic Old Town can easily be explored on foot.
The 11th-century Gothic Cathedral of St Martin is found within the Old Town, together with numerous Baroque palaces. The Old Town also contains the town hall, which houses the oldest museum in the country, as well as a gate preserved from the medieval city fortifications. One of the most conspicuous structures in the city is Bratislava Castle, a former frontier post for the Roman Empire situated on a plateau overlooking the Danube.
While still lagging behind Budapest and Prague in terms of popularity, word of Bratislava's picturesque charm and affordable elegance is spreading and the city is rapidly being thrust into the limelight as a popular European destination. An increase in low-cost flights from around Europe is also partly responsible for its rising recognition.
Standing sentinel on a rocky hill above the Danube River, the white castle is the towering gem in the crown of Bratislava's spectacular skyline, and provides excellent views of the ancient city, as well as over Austria and even as far as Hungary when the weather allows. It has been inhabited for thousands of years owing to its important location on the Danube River in central Europe, and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in its history, undergoing a series of reconstructions and extensions. Four towers make up the enormous building, enclosing a courtyard, a Treasure Chamber, and collections of the Slovak National Museum.
Located just an hour's drive north of Bratislava, Piestany is Slovakia's premier spa resort town and a great place to go for tourists looking to relax and rejuvenate in style. The range and quality of treatment available in Piestany is world class, though its relative obscurity means it's far more affordable and unfrequented than similar spa towns in more popular areas around the continent.
Piestany is situated in the beautiful, forested region of the Vah River Valley and is fringed by mountains to the north. The spas are the town's main attractions, catering to mostly foreign patients with chronic rheumatic and arthritic diseases. In the summer, tourists arrive looking for mud therapy, massages and even dietary advice.
The town offers a range of accommodation and resort amenities, such as a nine-hole golf course, Jacuzzis and steam baths. Other sights and attractions include a 13th-century monastery and a number of great walking and hiking trails.
During summer, Piestany hosts a popular arts festival as well as celebrations of country- and folk music. Budget-conscious travellers looking to spend some time in a top-class European spa resort should seriously consider Piestany, which, like the rest of Slovakia, is an unassuming gem of a European holiday destination.
Set in the heart of Bratislava's historic city centre, the Old Town Hall is the perfect jumping-off point for sightseeing in Slovakia's capital city. Its Gothic tower is the oldest stone building in the downtown area, and was erected in 1370, before the rest of the building was completed in the 15th century by joining three adjacent townhouses together.
A distinctive building with its colourful roof, it now principally functions as the home of the Bratislava City Museum. The museum is small but certainly worth a look, housing a collection of strange and unsettling artefacts: torture instruments, the old town dungeons, antique weapons and armour, and even a cannon ball that was shot into the wall by Napoleon's forces in 1809.
In the summer, the Old Town Hall hosts open-air music concerts in its courtyard. Many of Bratislava's other great tourist sights (such as the Main Square and Primate's Palace) are within easy walking distance of the Old Town Hall and there are numerous cafes and eateries serving excellent Slovakian cuisine.
Bratislava enjoys a continental climate with four distinct seasons, though it can often be very windy, causing a drop in temperature. In summer, between June and August, weather is hot and dry, while winters, between December and February, are cold and wet.
Autumn and spring tend to be mild and pleasant, but are much shorter seasons. Average temperatures in Bratislava range from 30°F (2°C) to 25°F (-6°C) in the winter months, and from 66°F (19°C) to 70°F (21°C) in the summer months.
Bratislava is an old and historical city, remaining delightfully undiscovered by European standards. The pedestrianised Old Town is home to many of the city's top attractions, with centuries-old streets, squares and buildings allowing visitors to step back in time.
Landmarks include the Old Town Hall, St Martin's Cathedral and Main Square, and there are a glut of galleries and museums, including some unexpected ones such as the Pharmacy Museum and the Museum of Clocks. The historic centre is also packed with restaurants and cafes for sightseeing pit stops.
The Bratislava Castle is a must see, while a boat ride on the Danube is also highly popular and takes travellers to some of the attractions along the banks, including the castle ruins at Devin and the interesting Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum. The spa resort town of Piestany is nearby and is the perfect pampering excursion from Bratislava.
The city has a busy cultural calendar and travellers interested in attending performances, exhibitions and festivals should visit the Tourism Information Office, which provides relevant info on all events in Bratislava.
Perched above the confluence of the Morava and Danube Rivers, Devín Castle is one of the most important archaeological sites in Slovakia. The oldest traces of settlement date back to 5,000 BC, and the mighty fortress citadel was impenetrable for centuries until the arrival of Napoleon's troops, who sacked it in 1809. The village of Devín is also quaint and worth visiting, with a number of shops and restaurants. The river, while certainly photogenic, is a hotbed for mosquitoes, so visitors are advised to arm themselves with effective insect repellent.
The majestic peaks of the High Tatras are a must-see in Slovakia, stretching through Tatra National Park and across the northern part of the country in the Carpathian Mountains near Poland. The mountains, valleys and lakes of the Tatras offer countless opportunities for hiking, cycling, skiing, swimming, river rafting or just relaxing in a pristine natural environment. Small but increasingly popular resorts in the area include Strbské Pleso, Starý Smokovec and Tatranská Lomnica. There are scenic cable cars and funiculars scattered about, including those at Lomnický Stít and Hrebienok.
The small town of Vlkolínec is the best place to experience the famous and unique folk architecture of Slovakia, consisting of medieval houses and churches often built from logs joined without nails. Located about three hours from Bratislava, near the Czech Republic border, Vlkolínec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see for tourists who are interested in European history and the folklore of the Carpathian Mountains.
With a name derived from the Slovak word for 'wolf', the town is set in a picturesque alpine landscape and features around 45 of the distinctive wooden houses, numerous carved wooden statues, and a museum exhibiting the instruments that were used during the construction of the town. There is also a Baroque chapel with a wooden belfry. A truly interesting little town, Vlkolíne certainly shouldn't be missed by history buffs.
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