Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, is not exactly the ultimate goal for tourists visiting the country. It might offer fewer famous sights than Prague, yet its combination of laid-back atmosphere and thousand-plus years of history make it extremely likable. Featuring a lively student-led nightlife scene and a city center dotted with cafés and parks, Brno is the place to experience what life in the Czech Republic is really about.
Brno is situated at the confluence of the Svitava and Svratka rivers and has about 400,000 inhabitants. I got to spend a big part of my college years there – coming from a village 20 kilometers west from the city, I commuted to Brno every day for about three years.
Finally, after writing about so many other destinations, I’m now going to introduce my hometown. Here are the best things to do in Brno:
The Old Town Hall is a good place to start your Brno exploration. It was built in 1240 and holds the title for the oldest secular building in the city. There are many legends connected to this place – one of them is about the Brno dragon and another about the Brno wheel: images of both these symbols can be found in the passageway.
Make sure to take a look at the stunning gothic portal and visit the observation tower. There are 63 steps to the top but it’s worth the effort: you will get the best view of the city. I really love this place; it is quiet and you can take in all of Brno from up there.
Another great place to enjoy a full Brno panorama is Petrov hill, with its two-towered cathedral. Although most of the population of the Czech Republic is not overly religious, we still consider the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul to be one of the city’s great treasures. When the Swedish army was trying to take over the city, it was this cathedral’s bells that announced the end of the battle (since then, it always rings at 11 am instead of 12; you can read more about the history behind this on Wikipedia).
Another reason to visit Petrov Hill is the charming Denis Gardens situated below the cathedral. The park is located within a medieval fortification and features a colonnade and marble obelisk commemorating the end of the Napoleonic wars. When I am in Brno and have some free time, I like to go for a stroll there and spend time relaxing on one of the many lawns.
Freedom square, formerly called Lower Market, has a central location and is considered the oldest square in Brno. Somehow I feel that it could be the pride of the city, but even after several restorations I feel it could use some more greenery.
The biggest “screw up” of this location was indeed the installation of a black marble monument back in 2010. I personally hate it for several reasons. First, despite being called an “astronomical clock”, it is just normal clock that releases a marble ball at 11 am every day for tourists to take – at other times of the day, you cannot even see what the time is. This useless toy cost 12 million CZK for construction, with a high annual maintenance cost. And yes, there’s no denying it – It looks like a penis!
Still, despite my criticisms, this is the city’s main square, and you’ll probably still want to check it out!
Although this villa is the only UNESCO monument in Brno, it is surprising that most locals have never been inside – including myself. Perhaps this is due to the location – it’s not one of the sights that you pass by every day when going to work/school. It is located in a wealthy neighborhood in Cerna Pole district.
Villa Tugendhat was constructed by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe from 1929–1930. If you want to visit the interior, you should definitely book ahead (part of the reason why I never made it inside). The good news is that the surrounding garden can be visited anytime and without a booking.
If you are used to visiting castles around the Czech Republic or Germany, this is not one of those romantic places. In fact, for some parts of its history, it was a place of torture and the most feared prison during the Habsburg monarchy. The nickname “Jail of Nations“ says it all.
Although I would not really recommend the guided tour (the interior is not as interesting as the exterior), it nevertheless dominates the city and is a great place to go for a walk – just be ready to walk uphill! Thanks to its greenery it is a popular place among the local people and worth visiting for an hour or two.
If I had to pick the most beautiful square in Brno, it would be the Vegetable Market (also called Cabbage Market or Upper Market). The best time to come here is in the morning, when the square fills up with stalls selling fresh vegetables and fruit from local farmers.
Interestingly enough, there are underground tunnels here that are open to the public. You can take a 40-minute guided tour offered by the local tourism office. The cellars are located 6 to 8 meters below the square and were used as storage rooms in the past. Here you can learn why Brno has no metro system.
St Jacob’s church is located just a stone’s throw away from Freedom Square. It was constructed by a minority group of Germans living in the town in the 13th century. Entrance is free and there is a crypt you can visit. You can find another entrance to the underground area right next to the church.
The surrounding streets are filled with cafes and bars. I really love that area. One of my friends even got married in that church.
Česká is the busiest street in Brno and serves as the main meeting point for local people. Everyone, I mean literally everyone has met up with their friends “at the clock”. No matter which corner of Brno you go to explore next, Česká simply makes for a great starting point.
Apart from all the shopping opportunities, there is also a nice park nearby at Moravske Namesti. When you are around Česká, you can check out also newest monument, an eight-meter statue of a knight sitting on a horse and holding a spear. It was built in honor of Margrave Jošt of the Luxembourg Dynasty (1351-1411), who is buried in the nearby St. Thomas Church. Much more inspiring than the statue at Freedom square, I promise!
The second Brno castle is a bit of a hidden gem and definitely worth making the trip – combined with Brno reservoir, you can spend an enjoyable half day there.
This is a royal gothic castle that was once used as a hunting lodge. It is surrounded by deep forests (the so called Podkomorske lesy). You can explore the grounds of the castle and take a guided tour inside if you are interested in history.
Brno Lake or Brno reservoir serves as a popular vacation spot during the summer. Even for me as a local it really feels like I’m on holiday when I go there; there is a beach, boat rentals and a couple of kiosks to provide drinks and food pretty much all day long.
The area around Brno reservoir also hosts an annual fireworks show, so this is definitely a must-do when you are in town around June.
There are definitely a lot of hostels and hotels in Brno. It’s best to stay near the city center. Brno itself can be visited in a short time (you can easily take in all of the places above in 2 or 3 days) so it is good not to waste time staying away from the center.
There are several hostels located in the city centre that are suitable for travelers on budget. However, if you want to enjoy comfort, I recommend newly opened four-star hotel Courtyard Mariott Brno. It features rooms with views of Brno, an amazingly designed lobby and hearty breakfasts. This is the spot for the best comfort.
Heading to the Czech Republic? Check out my other post Best spots to see Prague from above.
HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE CZECH REPUBLIC? WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PLACE IN BRNO?
Most of my friends who have visited the Czech Republic have only been to Prague and Cesky Krumlov. OK, so Brno can’t beat their amazing monuments, yet I still find Brno worth the stop. And it can be well connected with trips to Vienna and Budapest. What about you – have you been to Brno? What place did you like the most?
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Thanks for reading!
Edited by Nick Kembel.