Bratislava’s Old Town, on the north bank of the Danube, is a compact network of narrow streets lined with pastel-hued 18th-century houses and cafés. Outside the centre, the legacy of communism is more evident; ugly modern housing sits just across the river and the old castle shares the skyline with the UFO-like New Bridge.
Lording over the west side of the Old Town is Bratislava Castle, a 15th-century structure that looks like a four-poster bed. Some of it can be accessed as part of the Historical Museum, otherwise you can freely walk around the ramparts (00 421 2 5441 1441; snm.sk; 9am-5pm Tue-Sun; £2.50).
The Museum of Jewish Culture documents the history of Slovakia's Jewish community, wiped out during WWII. Staff can also arrange a visit to the tomb of rabbi Chatam Sofer, founder of Europe's most famous rabbinical school (00 421 2 5441 8507; snm. sk; 11am-5pm Sun-Fri; £6).
In Bratislava's Old Town, streets are lined with galleries and cafés, and baroque palaces crowd the main square, Hlavné nám, where you'll find craft stalls. The city's art gallery is housed in the beautifully restored rococo Mirbach Palace (00 421 2 5443 1556; Františkánske nám 11; £2.50).
Hire a bike and cycle along the flat path that follows the Danube to Devín Castle, which makes for hours of exploration (00 421 2 907 683 112; bratislavasightseeing.com; 10am-6pm May-Sep; bikes £3 per hour/£15 per day; castle £3.70).
South of Bratislava, in the village of Cˇ unovo, stands the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum. The avant-garde structure sits amid a sculpture garden on a spear-like peninsula that juts out into the Danube. Exhibitions are equally daring (00 421 2 6252 8501; danubiana.sk; Vodné dielo; 10am- 8pm May-Sep, to 6pm Oct-Apr; £3).
Eat and drink
You have to eat bryndzové halušky (gnocchi-like dumplings traditionally topped with sheep's cheese and bacon) before you can say you've really been to Slovakia. Peklo 6 serves the best in town (Hviezdoslavovo nám 11; lunch and dinner; mains £3-£5).
Prašná Bašta 7 is tucked away in a quiet nook in the Old Town with views of St Michael's Gate from the patio. In winter, the main room has the feel of a cosy wine cellar and is a great place to enjoy schnitzel (00 421 2 5443 4957; Zámoˇcnícka 11; lunch and dinner; mains £7-£12).
Beneath white barrel-vaulted ceilings, Restaurant Prešburg 8 serves classic Slovakian dishes with a nod to Austrian, Hungarian and Czech cuisine. Try the game goulash or baked trout with boiled potatoes. In summer, sit outside on French-bistro-style chairs (00 421 2 5443 8455; presburg restaurant.sk; Michalsk�� 4; lunch and dinner Mon-Thu & Sun, lunch Fri-Sat; mains £7-£15). Housed in an elegant neoclassical building is Bratislava's finest restaurant, Le Monde 9 . Dine on lobster and asparagus pasta, and grilled salmon with potato purée (00 421 2 5441 5411; lemonde.sk; Rybárska brána 8; lunch and dinner; mains £10-£18).
Flowers Restaurant & Wine Bar 10 specialises in contemporary food. Eat in the glass-roofed atrium on fine dishes such as wild boar with rosehip sauce. The wine menu is fantastic too (00 421 2 2092 2733; flowersrestaurant.sk; Erdödyho Palác, Ventúrska 1; lunch and dinner; mains £8-£21).
With a prime location near the castle, you can overlook the boxy communist functionalism of Chez David 11. In fact, it's now a retro treasure, much like the UFO bridge. Rooms are basic and there's a restaurant on site (00 421 2 5441 3824; chezdavid. sk; Zámocká 13; from £55).
Design-driven details at Hotel Avance 12 include glass walls, back-lit nightstands and mosaic-clad bathrooms. The spacious rooms are wellequipped and furniture is modern (00 421 2 5920 8400; hotelavance. sk; Medená 9; from £65).
Comfortable and functional, Apartment Residence 13 has four double rooms and seven one-bedroom apartments. Aimed at business travellers, apartments are kitted out to a good standard with LCD TVs, internet access and kitchenettes (00 421 2 5273 1206; apartmentresidence.sk; Obchodná 48; from £75).
Gorgeous art nouveau details, such as the sweeping wroughtiron balustrade on the central staircase, are the hallmark of the Tulip House Boutique Hotel Sleep 14. Built in 1903, it was renovated in 2008 to provide 24 spacious apartments and four penthouses. Breakfast is served in the downstairs coffee house, the well-known Café Tulip (00 421 2 3217 1819; tuliphouse.sk; Štúrova 10; from £170).
Arcadia Hotel 15 is housed in a beautiful 13th-century listed building, located in the heart of the Old Town. The stained-glass ceiling in the reception atrium sets a grand tone for generously sized rooms bedecked in red-and-gold or blue-and-gold colour schemes and turn-of-thecentury furnishings (00421-2- 59490500; arcadia-hotel.sk; Františkánska 3; from £230).
How to go
Ryanair flies to Bratislava from Stansted, Luton and Liverpool (from £35; ryanair.com). Bus 61 goes to the centre, and a taxi costs £8. Alternatively, fly into Vienna and take a taxi to Bratislava with Personal Express (£42; 1 hour; personalexpress.sk).
The historic centre is compact and easily navigated on foot. Otherwise, there's a tram and bus system run by Dopravný Prodnik Bratislava. Buy tickets from newsstands and validate them onboard (60p; dpd.sk). Should you need one, taxis are cheap.