Brno’s the second largest city in the Czech Republic and it’s nothing like Prague. But don’t let the locals hear you say that. Because if there’s one thing they like less than overpriced beer in Brno, it’s being compared to bigger, bossier and better known Prague. Not that Brno compares unfavourably. It’s a beautiful and historic city. The people are charming and friendly. And everything here, from cocktails to clubs, is cheaper than almost anywhere else in Europe – not at all like Prague. Over a quarter of Brno’s residents are students so, for all the ancient monuments and quaint customs, the city plays young, feels fun and thinks any excuse for a party is a good one. Prague calls Brno, ‘the communist city with the colourful buildings’, but we think the capital’s just jealous.
At a glance:
• Second largest city in the Czech Republic
• Centre of the Czech Republic’s judiciary system
• The city has the world’s second largest underground catacombs after Paris
• Over a quarter of the city’s 400,000 people are students, making it a young, vibrant city with a unique history
• Brno hosts the World Motorbike Grand Prix
Things not to miss:
Visit Brno in May for some of the most spectacular fireworks. There are competitions at the Dam Lake and in the city centre for the best displays, it’s free but the crowds are almost as immense as the fireworks. In the month following Ignis Brunensis, there’s a city-wide music festival.
Nothing touches Brno with city-wide passion like ice hockey. It’s a religion here and match nights are sacred. Try the world’s most aggressive and violent sport with your own team, or just get your hands on a ticket when the pros are playing.
Until relatively recently the second largest catacombs and ossuary in the world lay quietly under Jakubské námestí, undisturbed and little known. Today they’re one of the city’s most visited sights and truly incredible. Not for the squeamish admittedly but if you’re up for it, the Brno Ossuary is mesmerising and strangely very beautiful.
Brno’s a large, sprawling city with 29 different districts. But visitors don’t need to worry about having to explore too far to discover the highlights. Almost all the historic monuments, ancient architecture, shopping, eating, drinking and partying happen right in Brno city centre. Old and new aren’t separated here. Everything works together, still manages to look amazing and mixes culture, cocktails and clubbing as if it really wanted you to have the best time.
CITY CENTRE – everything you want, all in one place
Tick off sights by day and bar crawl by night. From the gothic gorgeousness of Petrov Church to Habsburg architectural elegance, broad and beautiful market squares, enchanting town halls and tiny, quaint houses, Brno city centre might be compact but it’s packed with ancient and historic gems. Fortunately it’s also strewn with bars and brilliant cafés for essential tourist breaks too. There are more than 650 bars and pubs registered in Brno and most of them seem to be right here in the centre. At night, Námesti Svobody or Freedom Square is the heart of bar and club land and everyone passes through here at some point during the evening. Close by Veverí Street is top to bottom bars and restaurants. And St Jacob is the one to watch for new clubs, cool cafés and super-cheap, super-slick cocktail bars.
Brno's best beer:
The Pub, Behounská 9
Brno’s best beer experience isn’t just about the fine brewed stuff itself. The Pub’s in a secret cellar and you have ‘pour your own’ taps, just perfect for parties.
Salon Daguerre, Slovákova 1
A library that encourages beer and conversation has got to be worth a second look. Interesting and offbeat Salon Daguerre attracts creative types, excellent choice for a quiet pint with friends
Pub Richard, Rišova 12
One of Brno’s most original bars, Pub Richard serves amazing wheat beer from its own brewery – try and beat that for local flavour. The cherry flavoured lager is weirdly wonderful.
Pivnice Pegas, Jabuská 120/4
The Pegas microbrewery is the only place you can try Pegas Beer and it’s right here. The taste is totally unique and the atmosphere is just as lively, local and enthusiastic, as you’d expect.
Pivovarska Starobrno, Mendlovo Námesti 158/20
Brno’s oldest brewery and best loved beer garden, Pivovarska is an institution and the only real challenge on a delightful, warm, sunny afternoon is deciding what beer to try next from the huge selection. pivovarskabrno.cz
BRNO’S BEST BARS:
Café Falk, Gorkého 2/12
Excellent source of strong, hangover-curing coffee in the morning. Come afternoon, the huge list of alcoholic drinks and ridiculously low prices are the true temptation.
Bar Který, Dvorákova 1
Old-school elegance in glamorous 1920s style surroundings, this seductive bar is perfect for small parties. The staff are friendly, the cocktail list is filled with classics and drinks are served in eye-catching glasses. barkteryneexistuje.cz
Benedictus, Petrov 1
Sleek and elegant wine bar with an excellent drinks list and right next to Petrov Cathedral. klasterniprodukty.cz
Malibu Bar, Jezuitská 8/5
Easy going atmosphere, fantastic cocktail menu and fun, friendly staff. Pop in early for a few drinks and stay ‘til late for live music.
Saint Tropez, Jezuitská 5
Early evening pizzas start the night at Saint Tropez before thirsty crowds turn up for fruity, neon cocktails and lethal iced tea.
BRNO’S BEST CLUBS:
Caribic Club, Behounská 2/22
The Czech Republic definitely has a taste for the gothic and there’s nothing appeals more than a nice cellar for drinking, dancing and generally just hanging out. Caribic fully supports the city’s passion with this underground club. The cellar might have shades of gloom lingering but the sounds are upbeat and pure Europop. Always busy and brilliant for dancing.
Klub Fléda, Štefánikova 95/24
Formerly home to Brno’s famous Fladermaus Cabaret and now one of the city’s best loved indie clubs, Klub Fléda is also great for live music, new bands and alternative attitude. Gets crowded most nights.
Mandarin Essence, Jakubské Námesti 128/6
Lit to perfection and beautifully designed, this club is where Brno’s pretty people come to play. Smart crowd and relatively expensive for Brno but if you want to get dressed up and be glamorous for the night this is the place to do it.
Charlie’s Hat, Kobližná 63/12
Part bar, part club and all party, Charlie’s Hat starts the evening with a clear pub feel but hang around, keep drinking and before you know it everyone’s dancing – including you. Entry is free and the atmosphere’s incredible.
Two Faces, Biskupská 283/1
Schizophrenic and proud of it, that’s the best way to describe Two Faces. The top floor café-bar and cocktail lounge is calm and cool while the downstairs club is wild. Small entry fee but the atmosphere is worth it and if you feel like dressing up they actively encourage you to be as fancy as you like.
FOOD: EAT LIKE A LOCAL:
Traditional Czech food errs on the side of hearty and plain. You’ll find meat, meat and more meat on every menu and potatoes and cabbage bring up the carb and veg end for most meals. There are plenty of variations on the theme but whatever you eat, you’ll never leave the table feeling hungry.
Pivnice u Poutníka, Smetanova 339/1
Just off Live Music Square in the Old Town, this is traditional Czech cooking at its rib-sticking finest. Locals love it here and the drink of choice is eye-wateringly strong plum brandy, Slivovitz. Also, try the local take on tapas – it may sounds unappetising but it really is quite delicious.
Výtopna, Hlinky 972/34
If you like your beer transported to your table by miniature railway, this is where that happens as standard. Big on pork ribs, which taste fantastic, and they also do nice things with salmon.
Hansen, Komenského Námesti 8
On the first floor and gorgeous summer terrace of the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra’s city home, this is the dinner to dress up for. Fresh, local ingredients, traditional cooking and beautiful surroundings, plus an excellent wine list.
Panoptikum, Jakubská 125/9
You know a city’s serious about its beer when it has restaurants dedicated to complementing it. The range of local beers here are wonderful and you can choose from light, snacky, treats like ‘beer balls’ or put some ballast behind your drinking with a more substantial meal.
Spolek, Orli 517/22
Bohemian right down to the intriguing photo-journalism on the walls, Spolek is light and serves delicious lunch staples like rice, salads and soup. The service is very friendly and there’s a bookshop downstairs if you feel like browsing a bit after you’ve eaten.
BEST TIME TO VISIT:
Summer weather in Brno is warm, dry and sunny without ever getting too hot or humid. This is a great time to visit for long evenings outside in beer gardens or just strolling about taking the city as it comes. Brno is lively and fascinating, but it’s not a big tourist draw yet so not too crowded even in high summer. Typically Central European weather means cold winters and Brno is beautiful around Christmas and great for New Year.
THE BEST VIEW OF THE CITY:
From its hilltop vantage point, Spilberk Castle looks suitably foreboding and sinister. But take the climb up and you have an unbroken view of Brno and you can see for miles.
Brno’s public transport network is outstanding and includes buses, trains, trams, trolleys and even river boats in summer. Buying weekly or monthly passes with unlimited transfers works out cheapest if you plan to explore the whole city. Alternatively you can buy short (15 minutes) or long (60 minutes) transfer tickets when you need them. Look out for the orange ticket machines at tram stops.
Brno is generally very safe but, like any big European city, it has a few problems with pickpockets. Watch out on public transport and at visitor attractions. And if you’re arriving or leaving Brno at night, be careful at railway stations, there have been muggings reported.
WHEN IN BRNO:
The people of the Czech Republic don’t have the world’s top reputation for seeming friendly, but Brno’s locals are the exception. Uncharacteristically light and easy going, they’re good fun to be around and many speak good English. Just don’t compare their city to Prague, don’t talk about ‘Eastern Europe’ (Brno is Central European) and remember Czechoslovakia hasn’t existed for more than a couple of decades – it’s always the Czech Republic.
Czech is a difficult language to get your tongue round but a lot of Brno speaks English and if you want to pick up a few phrases and pronounce them properly try www.bbc.co.uk/languages/other/quickfix/czech/. Brno is pronounced ‘Born – Oh’
DID YOU KNOW?
The famously phallic clock in Freedom Square isn’t a fertility symbol or anything like it, it represents a bullet and was designed to commemorate the 1645 Battle of Brno. It still doesn’t stop everyone laughing and taking daft selfies though.