48 hours in Brno: how to spend a weekend in the Czech Republic’s second largest city

Dungeons, dragons, underground lairs and labyrinths, stunning architecture and a punchy nightlife scene – Brno may not be as well known as its big sister, Prague, but this South Moravian city is the perfect escape for budget travellers looking for an authentic experience of the Czech Republic.

Situated in between Prague and Vienna (around two hours either way) Brno is the Czech Republic’s second largest city but unlike Prague, which is often dominated by stag dos and party-goers, Brno offers a quieter, more relaxed experience with just as much culture and character as the country’s capital.

With a population of just under 400,000, it’s compact in size and easy enough to explore on foot. Its two most famous squares (Vegetable Market and Freedom Square) are minutes apart and offer the ideal location for soaking up the city’s historical and cultural heritage.

Saturday

The city centre isn’t without its legends and a visit to the Old Town Hall allows an informal meeting with one of the city’s more notorious locals, the Brno dragon. Legend has it a ‘dragon’ once terrorised the people and livestock of Brno but as visitors can see, the dragon isn’t really a dragon but instead a very large crocodile. Fortunately one famous resident evaded the dragon’s clutches and a few minutes walk away you can see the statue of Wolfgang Mozart outside the Reduta theatre which famously hosted the musical prodigy and his sister when they briefly moved to the city as children in 1767.

Labyrinth, Brno

Labyrinth, Brno

Brno’s darker side can normally be found under your feet and hidden around six to eight metres beneath the Vegetable Market you’ll find a labyrinth of cellars from the Middle Ages. They once stored food, wine and beer but nowadays you can take a guided tour of the subterranean storage facilities and see archaeological finds as well as torture devices and a cage of fools for the city’s more rebellious residents.

The city’s hidden secrets go beyond the labyrinth and a short walk away to the magnificent St James church lies the Brno ossuary. It’s the second largest in Europe, second only to the Catacombs of Paris. But it’s not the size of the ossuary that makes it the second biggest, it’s based on the thousands of people buried here – estimated to be more than 50,000.

Ossuary, Brno

Ossuary, Brno

Elsewhere in the city more hidden secrets can be found below ground. The city’s landmark  Špilberk Castle provides unrivalled panoramic views and also offers an insight into the life of prisoners once held in the dungeons. Then there’s the recently opened underground reservoirs in Žlutý kopec which once provided water for the city but now act as one of Brno’s top tourist destinations as well as a filming location.

Water tanks, Brno

Water tanks, Brno

Unexpectedly Brno’s night scene is also fast developing, largely thanks to its young student population (there are around a dozen universities in the city) driving demand for new bars and eateries. Championed by Jan Vlachynský and Andrej Valis of Lidi z Baru (The Bar Crew creative group), each of their venues comes with a different concept: Bar Ktery (A Bar that Doesn’t Exist) a New York style cocktail bar locally famed for its burgers and hundreds of drink options; 4 pokoje, another cocktail bar that serves everything from lunch to late night tapas; and the multi-award winning Super Panda Circus, a wonderfully hip cocktail bar combining storytelling and drinks – a must visit for those who like their drinks big on experience.

Super Panda Circus, Brno

Super Panda Circus, Brno

They don’t take reservations though, or tables bigger than four, but definitely give their doorbell a ring (if you can find it).

Sunday

Although most of Brno’s cultural landmarks can be found a short distance from each other in the city centre, the tram and bus networks are easy enough to navigate and a short journey away will introduce you to some of the most iconic architecture and design the city has to offer.

Villa Tugendhat may look inconspicuous from the outside but inside this stunning piece of architecture is like a film set with every detail meticulously planned. It was designed by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and built between 1928 and 1930 for Fritz Tugendhat and his wife Greta, of the wealthy Jewish Tugendhat family. Despite being badly damaged by the Gestapo then the Red Army, years of reconstruction and restoration have transported the villa back to its original design and concept allowing it to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2001.

Villa Tugendhat, Brno

Villa Tugendhat, Brno

Elsewhere in the city, Villa Stiassni offers a similar glimpse into Brno’s past but with a more traditional approach to design. Built between 1927 and 1929 for the family textile factory owner Alfred Stiassni and his family, Villa Stiassni was later taken over as a government building and has accommodated the likes of President Edvard Benes and Cuban president Fidel Castro.

Brno’s gastronomy also caters for all tastes. Element bar and restaurant is a slick and sophisticated haunt which boasts a modern Czech dining experience and unsurprisingly is the hottest ticket in town. For something more traditional, hit up Stopkova Plzeňská Pivnice located just off Freedom Square, where you can expect more traditional Czech meals and of course, beer. Castellana Trattoria is another bustling little eatery, popular with locals. Or if you’re after something more plant based, Forky’s is a funky, vegan alternative to the usual meaty dishes expected in the Czech Republic.

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