The second largest city in Czechia, Brno is in the South Moravian region and sits near the borders with both Slovakia and Austria. Regularly overshadowed by Czechia’s main event, Prague, Brno has its own unique charm. A town square with a dildo shaped astronomical clock which drops silver balls each morning at 11:00 is only the beginning.
I spent three nights and did one almost full day trip out of the city. This was enough time to see the highlights, but not enough time to try out all the cities famous cafes. While Brno doesn’t get the limelight it deserves, sitting in Prague’s shadow does have its benefits; prices are lower, stag parties stay away and the terraced restaurants skirting the main square almost always have a table available. Tourism is quieter and an a warm summer night locals fill the cobblestoned streets with a glass of wine in hand (civilized public drinking is something an American will always be in awe of)
Give Brno a try, it’s probably on the way to your next stop anyways, and I’m sure you could use a breather from all that selfie stick dodging.
How to get to Brno
Czechia is incredibly centrally located and as such has great connections through Europe. Brno is closest to Vienna, but with Ostrava, Prague, and Bratislava all nearby there are plenty of options for reaching the small city.
There is an airport in Brno: Brno–Tuřany Airport. There are only a handful of flights, most notable from Berlin and London. But if you’re coming form outside of Europe you’re going to want to fly into Prague, Bratislava, or Vienna.
I took a Flixbus from Prague’s Florenc station to the Grand Hotel in Brno (right next to the main station). It’s 2.5 hours and about €5 (131 kc; $5.50). The ride is comfortable and quick. Flixbus also provides connections from a number of other cities including Vienna, Bratislava, and Zagreb.
Student Agency does the same trip from Prague to Brno as well as other similar connections. They usually have TV screens in front of each seat and give out free water, tea, coffee and newspapers. Flixbus does not provide those luxuries but is still plenty comfortable. So, check the prices and times and decide which makes the most sense for you.
It is also possible to take the train from Prague, but that adds an additional hour to your journey and at more than double the price-almost €13 (338 kc; $14.40)-doesn’t seem a better alternative. However, this will depend on your preferences, and where you are coming from, as well as the time of year and how early you book.
What to do in Brno
Go On a Walking Tour
Brno Free Walking Tour – nám. Svobody
Every day from mid-May to mid-September at 11:00 the Brno Free Walking Tour meets at the clock in the main square. The tour lasts approximately 90 minutes and is tip based-pay what you think it’s worth, which for me wasn’t very much. Unfortunately, this was one of the lowest quality free walking tours I’ve been on. The two tour guides had a few anecdotal stories of history but they lost their point amongst broken English. I heard that one of the other guides did a better job, but there’s no way to know who your guide will be until you arrive.
Marvel at God
Kostel svatych Janu – Minoritská 449/2
As is the case in Europe, Brno is filled with spires. Explore the churches, they’re (almost always) free. There’s one in particular though, which nobody talked about; Kostel svatych Janu – it’s tucked in unsuspectingly along a street in the center of town which is filled with shops and cafes. The outside is nothing to behold and is easily passed by. I noticed it only because a school group was going in and I followed them. I’ve been jaded by churches, they take a lot these days to impress me, but this one did the job. It was stunning, filled with statues and painted ceilings the multi room church is spectacular. Go, get cozy with your God. Or at least appreciate the work that so many others have done to get cozy with theirs.
Run with Locals
Lužánky Park – Pionýrská
A 12-minute walk from the center of Brno is Lužánky Park. It’s a spacious, quiet bit of green space. The park is a great place to head with a book and a blanket, or some friends and a bottle of wine. It also has a dirt track running around the edge, I headed there for some exercise and on a summer evening, once the sun and heat of the day had worn off, I was far from the only one.
Starobrno Ignis Brunensis – vodní nádrž Brno
Every June brings the Starobrno Ignis Brunensis Fireworks to Brno. An international fireworks competition the displays are spectacular. Head to the Brno Dam, about 30 minutes on the number 1 tram from downtown, for a 10:30 start. The place gets very crowded so the earlier you arrive the closer to the water you can get which will mean a better view. The area around the dam is turned into a full-on carnival with rides, cotton candy, and fun houses. It’s a great way to spend a summer evening!
Punka Caves – Punkevní jeskyně
The Punkva Caves, part of the Moravian Karst system, are about a 40-minute journey from Brno. I took the journey on the first day of the main train stations 2017 summer closure which meant the train left from Zidenice station. To get to Zidenice station take the number 2 tram from the main station to Kuldova. Go under the underpass and turn left towards the Kaufland, walk past it, and in the back-left corner of the parking lot you’ll see the Zidenice station tucked away.
If the main train station is open than your journey should be much simpler. Just buy a ticket to Blansko: 76 kc ($3.25; €2.87) return. At Blansko go through the train station, cross the small bridge to your left and you’ll see the small bus station, also on your left. Catch the 226 sesonal bus to Skalni Myln for 10 kc ($0.43; €0.38) each way. When you get off check the return times as they are usually only once every hour and you don’t want to be stuck having missed the bus by just three minutes like me!
From Skalni Mlyn the caves are a 15-minute walk straight up the road. There is also a little train which you can take but the walk is flat and beautiful and I recommend it.
The main cave, Punkva, needs to be booked in advance, the earlier the better (up to one year before), the cost is 180 ck ($7.70; €6.83) for adults and 100 ck ($4.28; €3.80) for children. There is an additional 40 ck ($1.71; €1.52) charge for photos, but no one asked for any proof of payment once you were in the cave and everyone still took photos, so save your korunas for an afternoon beer and get shooting! The tour through the cave is about an hour long and is in Czech unless you specifically request, and have a large enough group for, another language. They do give you an English pamphlet to explain more or less what the tour guide is talking about. You will walk through the different ‘rooms’ of the cave system for about 40 minutes and then take a boat ride through the underground river, it’s about 7◦C down there, even in summer, so bring an extra layer.
There is an array of other caves in the same area which I am told you don’t have to book in advance and are quite nice, but I didn’t make it to any of them. I did do a short hike up to the top of the Mocacha Abyss, a steep climb but only about 2km long, so assuming your able-bodied it’s very doable. Alternatively, there is a cable car which gets you to the same spot at the top. From the Punkva Cave you simply follow the road along until you see a small dirt track to the right. You’ll see blue trail markers, follow these and they’ll lead you up. You’ll pass the lower cable car station along this road as well. Once at the top you’ll have a nice view down into the abyss as well as a restaurant, a snack stand and a random array of knickknacks for sale. I grabbed a sausage and a pivo (beer) to refuel for the descent and the train ride back to Brno.
I’ve been to lots of caves and often times am underwhelmed, but this was a really enjoyable day out and I highly recommend it!
Where to Eat in Brno
Kapucínské náměstí 301/7
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This little spot offers a weekday all you can eat buffet for 155 kc ($6.63; €5.92), and it’s not questionable Indian. Sitting just under the main cathedral on the cafe’s shaded terrace you can eat a variety of salads, soups, meats, and breads until your belt is ready to bust. Drinks are extra and include both alcoholic and otherwise. Make sure you get there early, around 2PM the buffet has mostly faded out.
This is your standard budget Asian food restaurant. Not really focused on any specific cuisine, it has a rotating sushi bar as well as a menu of meat, noodle, and rice dishes crisscrossing between Thailand and China with stops in between. It’ll do the job for a cheap lunch with dishes hovering around 100 kc ($4.28; €3.82).
nám. Svobody 9
With a big outside terrace right on the main square, Ristorante Piazza has a huge summer time advantage. Located on the second floor of a small mall, the restaurants indoor premises aren’t much to talk about. The menu has a nice variety of pizzas, pastas, salads, and starters. A meal for two with drinks will cost you somewhere in the 450 kc ($19.25; €17.19) range. A perfectly respectable choice in an excellent location!
Skøg Urban Hub
Dominikánské nám. 187/5
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As a university town, Brno is meant to have a strong coffee culture. I don’t drink coffee, but I do frequent coffee shops. For me, the wider the variety of non-caffeine menu items, the less intrusive the staff, and the stronger the Wi-Fi, the better. With a new-found hostel friend intent on getting some work done, we browsed through google map results for cafes. We walked into two before settling on the third- advertised as Nordic in style the interior of Skøg Urban Hub is spacious, bright, and minimalist. We made ourselves comfortable on the only sofa before getting table service from a friendly waitress with solid English skills. I tried to order a hibiscus, ginger lemonade but they hadn’t had the delivery of those ingredients so instead I got blueberry, lavender. The menu was simple with plenty of coffee options and some lemonades but no chai lattes (my favorites) however, there are plentiful alcohol choices. There was also a small variety of daily food specials and a sampling of cakes. The one drawback: spotty Wi-Fi.
Where to Stay in Brno
Brno is quite small and as such it’s easy to be central. Plus, with fewer tourists the prices are lovely and low which means you may be able to stay somewhere a bit nicer while still staying within your price range. Here are some ideas.
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Hostel Mitte is a sweet and centrally located hostel with a cafe downstairs. It is a small place, but it is clean and has a nice common space. Do be aware though that there is a new building with additional rooms. While that is just next door and is clean and comfortable, it lacks the access to the commons space and so has minimal social vibes.
Bed in a shared room for about $15/night
**This is where I stayed – I would stay again but would request to be in the main building
Jakubské nám. 129/7
Jacob Brno is a great option for a lower budget hotel. The location is perfectly central but this can translate into noisy weekend nights form the outside bars and pubs. The rooms are clean and bright and the staff is very friendly. There is breakfast available, but you’ll need to pay separately for that. Note that the cheaper rooms share a restroom.
Double room with a shared restroom for about $40/night
Bird’s Nest is not in the center of town. It’d take you about 30 minutes to walk to the main square or about 15 minutes on a tram. For some people though, this is preferable. Benefits of being out of town include free parking – you definitely don’t want to be driving into Brno city, so this is a great perk if you’re road tripping Czechia. The host at Bird’s Nest is extremely accommodating and helpful, the rooms are clean and comfortable, and the breakfast is excellent!
Double room for about $80/night
nám. Svobody 22
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Dead center in town. U Tomana is just around the corner from the main square and the clock. The rooms are stylishly designed and the staff are friendly and helpful. Breakfast is included and there is a restaurant on the premise for other meals. Aim for a room with a view!
King apartment for about $140/night
Grandezza Hotel Luxury Palace
Zelný trh 314/2
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If you’re looking for a bit of luxurious opulence while you’re in Brno, Grandezza Hotel Luxury Palace is the place to choose. The five star hotel boasts stunning, spacious rooms and an excellent location in the center of the city. There is a fitness center on the property as well as massage services and a hot tub, though those are at an extra cost. Airport and other shuttles can also be arranged at an extra cost. Breakfast is served each morning and the same restaurant does dinners if you’re interested to eat in.
Junior suite for about $160/night
I am an ardent supporter of going to the second or third cities, they are often a bit more raw and unpolished. I find that it’s much easier to get a local experience in a place like Brno. So, consider it. And, if you decide to go, let me know how your trip was in the comments down below!
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