Prague and Kraków should be on every Central European tour. But don’t forget the eastern Czech city of Olomouc, a hybrid of the two, handily located midway on the main railway route between them. Long overshadowed by the more famous pair, the former Moravian capital oozes history. And few other provincial cities boast so many elegant spaces, complemented by an array of graceful fountains.
Olomouc isn’t just a city of museums: there are plenty of lively bars, restaurants and entertainment venues. And when it comes to eating and drinking, you can while away the hours in a classic Central European café or choose from a wide range of pubs and restaurants. Here is a selection of 10 of the most important city activities.
Discover the beating heart of the city
Prague’s Old Town Square is the most famous public space in the Czech Republic, but Olomouc has an impressive square too, with a grand town hall (Radnice) in the centre. And, as in Prague, a series of colourful town houses of varying shapes and sizes line the expansive cobbled space of Upper Square (Horní náměstí). Also on the square is the Moravské Divadlo (Moravian Theatre), which has links with composer Gustav Mahler. Nearby, the vast exuberant 18th-century Plague Column nearby, rather resembles a huge lump of molten chocolate! The largest in the Czech Republic, the structure is big enough even for a tiny chapel.
Watch an astronomical clock with a difference
Just like Prague’s famous Old Town Hall, the Olomouc Town Hall sports an astronomical clock, or rather several clocks. They tell you – rather complicatedly – the week, month, moon phase, and even your name day, if you have one. But this timepiece dates from the communist era so, instead of the 12 Apostles spinning round, grey-looking worker and peasant figures make a dutiful appearance on the hour, every hour. And at the base of the clock, a relief of a worker and a scientist leave you in no doubt about the origins of this rather endearing timepiece.
Spot the fountains
Olomouc is deservedly famous for its fountains, most spectacularly the six Baroque cascades, named mostly after mythological figures and adorning the squares and spaces across the Old Town. The latest was added in 2002, on Horní námestí, in the form of the Arion Fountain (Ariónova kašna), and joins the Hercules and Caesar Fountains. On nearby Lower Square (Dolní náměstí) you’ll find the Neptune and Jupiter Fountains. Spotting the other water features and guessing where they will pop up is also a fun activity for kids.
Discover churches with surprises
Some of the churches in Olomouc have some secrets. Plain on the outside, apart from the trio of cupolas, St Michael’s (sv. Michala) has a surprise for the visitor. Inside, the cavernous nave fizzes with details: angels abound, and look out for the silver relief of sheep on the gilded pulpit. Externally, the squat Church of St Maurice (sv. Mořice) appears plain, like a brooding fortress, but the interior, like that of St Michael, is a different matter. The soaring candy-stripe pillars soar heavenward and brighten the medieval interior.
Admire Art Nouveau elegance
Amidst the ancient buildings of the Old Town, the rambling Art Nouveau Vila Primavesi, close to St Michael’s Church, provides some architectural contrast. Constructed in the early 20th century, the villa was designed for the wealthy Primavesi family. It was partly designed by notable Viennese architect Josef Hoffman, and famous artist Gustav Klimt was also involved in the decoration. Today, only part of the original interiors survives, but the villa retains an artistic focus, staging exhibitions of photography and modern art.
Explore an ancient cathedral
Tucked away in a quiet spot at the eastern end of the Old Town, Olomouc Cathedral (katedrála sv. Václava) is a relatively modest structure compared to Prague’s St Vitus Cathedral. The Gothic nave pillars date back to the 13th century, although much of the structure dates from the 19th century, when restoration work was carried out. The central spire, standing 101 metres high, is one of the tallest church towers in the Czech Republic and the tallest in Moravia. Inside, the wall paintings, among other things, catch the eye.
Enjoy art with a view
Hosting both a permanent and a series of temporary exhibitions, the city’s Art Gallery (Muzeum úmění) is home to a collection of Czech painting and sculpture. Admire the local art, then from the attic floor, ascend the spiral staircase leading to a viewing platform. From there, you can enjoy excellent panoramas of the city rooftops and the countryside of Moravia beyond. Look out for the gleaming white two-towered basilica at Svatý Kopeček (often referred to as “Holy Hill”), on a hillock five kilometres northeast of the city.
Discover a tale of torture and martyrdom
The picturesque streets of Olomouc belie a more violent history related to the location of the Chapel of St John Sarkander (kaple sv. Jana Sarkandra). A relatively recent structure, built between 1908 and 1912, the church looks much more ancient, not least because of the chunky Neo-Baroque dome. The building stands on the spot where, in 1620, Polish Catholic priest Jan Sarkander suffered an agonising and slow death during the Bohemian Revolt. Protestants accused him of being a traitor, and tortured and burnt him to death on a rack for refusing to divulge confessions. The chapel contains the rack and Sarkander’s gravestone.
Olomouc Cheese | © Eating Prague Tours
Be daring and try the local delicacy
Parma has ham, Burgundy has champagne… and Olomouc has Olomoucké tvarůžky, the local cheese. This strong-smelling dairy product comes in small disc shapes, sometimes with holes. Yellow, opaque and made from skimmed cow’s milk, you’ll either love it or loathe it. The cheese divides families and prompts many a quick exit from the dinner table when it makes an appearance! By now, you’re probably curious about it so why not give it a try? If the taste leaves you feeling underwhelmed and perhaps perplexed, console yourself with the fact that tvarůžky is very low in fat!