Sitting on both sides of the Danube in the southwest corner of Slovakia, BRATISLAVA is a festive city, with meandering streets and tiny but grand buildings. With its rural atmosphere, on a hot afternoon a flock of sheep wouldn’t look out of place grazing on Františkánske Square. The Old Town showcases the skill of Slovak town planners, who crammed a city’s worth of palaces, shops, cafés, pubs, restaurants, museums and churches into a few blocks.

The area has been settled since the Neolithic era (about 500 BC), making it centuries older than Prague or Budapest. It has always been an international city – Romans, Hungarians, Germans, Austrians, Turks, Czechs, Jews and Roma have all left their mark. The locals are less weary and cynical than the natives of most capitals, characterized by a friendly reserve.

Old Town (Staré Mesto) lies on the north bank of the Danube, 1km south of the train station, east of the stout castle and southwest of the shops and housing blocks of New Town (Nové Mesto). A pedestrian zone stretches between Hodžovo námestie in the north down to the river in the south. South of the city is Hungary and west is Austria. Bratislava is the only capital city that borders two independent countries.

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