Not only is Bratislava the largest city in Slovakia, it also serves as the state capital. Furthermore, Bratislava is the seat of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, the Government of the Slovak Republic, national ministries and the other central bodies of the state administration of the Slovak Republic. It is situated in the centre of Europe in the southwestern part of Slovakia.
A major industrial center, Bratislava is known for building VW cars and historically the manufacture of furniture, chemicals, tobacco products, musical instruments, woolen goods, and leather products. Historical points of interest include an 11th-century Gothic cathedral that was restored in the second half of the 19th century; a former royal palace of Hungary, on a hill overlooking the city; a 13th-century Franciscan church; the town hall, a 13th-century edifice; the Comenius University in Bratislava (1919); the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava (1938); and the Slovak Academy of Sciences (1953).
Founded before the 10th century, the city was known originally as Pressburg. Strong fortifications erected during the 12th century gave it strategic importance; from 1541 to 1784 it was the capital of Hungary. In 1805, during the Napoleonic War, the Peace of Bratislava was signed in the Primate's Palace (pictured below) following the defeat of the armies of Francis I, the Austrian emperor and Alexander I, the Russian tsar by Napoleon's army at Austerlitz (Slavkov). When Czechoslovakia was created in 1919 after World War I, the city was renamed Bratislava and made capital of the province of Slovakia.
As you arrive at the Main Train Station, you'll see vineyards on the slopes of the Little Carpathian Mountains, where they meet the Danube River. The Austrian border is almost within sight of the city and Hungary is just 16 km away. Many beautiful monuments survive in the old town to tell of its past under Austro-Hungarian rule, and Bratislava's numerous museums are surprisingly rich. Franz Liszt visited Bratislava 15 times, and the opera productions of the Slovak National Theatre rival anything in Europe. Bratislava is not as swamped by tourism as Budapest and Prague.
The old city and the castle are the best parts of Bratislava. The old city is packed with museums (such as the Municipal Museum which comes complete with torture chambers and the Museum of Wine Production) and palaces (Primate's Palace and the Mirbach Palace). The castle, built above the Danube, was a frontier post of the Roman Empire from the 1st to the 5th century. Since the 9th century it has been rebuilt several times, most recently from 2008. Climb up for the great views and to check out the very interesting Slovak National Museum expositions within. The Natural Sciences Museum of the Slovak National Museum and the Slovak National Gallery on the river are also worth a visit.
Hviezdoslavovo namestie (square) is a convenient orientation point, with the old town to the north, the Danube to the south, and Bratislava Castle to the west. Bratislava's main train station, Hlavn stanica, is several km north of centre of town. Most of the cheaper hostels and mid-priced hotels are north-east of the centre. The Old Town offers numerous good places to eat and a rich nightlife.