Bratislava is at the centre of Europe, has a long and proud history that dates back to pre-Roman times, but its present name got only 90 years ago.
Europe's most relaxed, because what this city does have is old-town charm, sophisticated restaurants, traditional pubs, good music ranging from jazz to opera, stylish people, and a human scale which means that as a visitor you will not spend half your day trekking in and out of underground stations or getting from the airport into town. All this, and Europe's greatest river as a backdrop.
The edge of the city actually forms Slovakia's borders with Hungary, to the south, and Austria, to the west, making it the only capital city to border two neighbouring countries. In addition, the Czech Republic is only 62 kilometres away. The Austrian capital Vienna is only 60 kilometres distant, making them among the world's closest capital cities. The hillsides on the edge of the city have been home to vineyards for centuries, and close to Bratislava are wine towns where you can taste the best - and it is startlingly good! - that Slovakia has to offer.
In the city itself there is plenty to see and do. Bratislava's long history - as home to Celts, Romans, Germans, Hungarians, Jews, and of course Slovaks - means there is an impressive range of architecture, languages and cuisine.
The handsome homes of the Austro-Hungarian noble families who built palaces here dot the city, and many of them are now open to the public as museums and galleries. The castle, with its long and chequered history (it has been destroyed more than once), is now undergoing a major restoration. There are great views over the mediaeval old town and the Danube valley from its fortifications. Bratislava was once one of the most important centres of Jewish learning in Europe. A unique memorial to its most renowned rabbi, the Chatam Sofer, and the city's Museum of Jewish Culture celebrate this heritage. Communism too left its mark: across the river, the unmistakable ranks of concrete housing blocks - paneláky in Slovak - line the horizon, with the unique UFO-style New Bridge in the foreground.
The Danube River itself is, of course, one of the city's main assets. There are several cafes along its banks, within walking distance of the centre. The 'UFO' itself contains an eponymous bar high above the river. The pedestrian decks of the New and Old Bridges are good places to watch the river traffic, including huge Danube barges, glide past. Alternatively, you can take to the water yourself: daily hydrofoil services link the city with nearby Vienna.
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