The capital of Moravia – one of the historic Czech regions alongside Bohemia and Czech Silesia – Brno is now firmly on the map of European city breaks. With its neo-Renaissance architecture, story book-worthy castles and the beautiful Brno Lake, Brno has earned romantic nicknames such as ‘Little Vienna’ and the ‘Hidden Heart of Europe’. Here’s our guide to the top things to see and do Brno, Czech Republic.
To the northwest of the city is Brno Lake, a reservoir on the Svratka River that’s a hub of activity during the summer. Join the locals by relaxing on the beaches, canoeing across the 3sqkm body of water or biking and hiking around the perimeter. A fleet of steam boats chug between key points, the major stop-off being Veveří Castle, which stands on the rocky shore at the opposite end of the city.
Its forest-shrouded turrets just visible from the lake, Veveří Castle is one of the biggest and oldest castles in the Czech Republic. It was built 800 years ago, probably as a hunting lodge or farmstead for Moravian margraves – one of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown. Roam around its courtyards, take a tour to see the restored rooms with their frescoes and weapons, or descend into the 15th-century wine cellar to sample produce from the best Czech vineyards.
This sprawling castle was built in the mid-13th century by King Přemysl Otakar II, subsequently becoming a jail for criminals and political prisoners from countries throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Notorious figures locked up here include the poet Silvio Pellico, Czech outlaw Václav Babinský and members of the Italian Carbonari – a 19th-century secret revolutionary society. Today, you can explore the atmospheric vaulted passages and learn about Brno’s history in the City Museum.
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The biggest and oldest park in Brno, Lužánky was created in the 18th century by Emperor Joseph II, ruler of the Habsburg lands. You’ll find plenty of enchanting touches, including a wooden bridge across a manmade river, a stone-cherub fountain and a neo-Renaissance building – which was, less romantically, formerly a casino. For children, there are playgrounds aplenty and a pig enclosure, where you might be lucky enough to meet a piglet litter.
Pastel-coloured neo-Renaissance buildings face each other across the wide Náměstí Svobody square, forming the heart of Brno. Join the locals at an outdoor cafe for morning coffee, a Czech beer in the afternoon or Moravian wine come evening. The smooth, black-stone monument at its centre is often the butt of jokes, but it is actually a functioning clock – every day at 11am, it releases a glass marble that can be caught from one of four openings and kept as a souvenir.
The name ‘Bar, který neexistuje’ translates to ‘the bar which does not exist’ – but despite its enigmatic branding, this is one of the best-loved drinking holes in town. Low lighting and chesterfield sofas create a private members’ club vibe – but there’s not an ounce of snobbishness. Friendly bar staff will shake up any cocktail you like, with deco-style cut-crystal glasses adding to their finesse. The rum menu is vast, if you’re looking for something that really packs a punch.
Dominating the city from the top of Petrov Hill are the gothic spires of St Peter and Paul Cathedral – an image so iconic it’s imprinted onto Czech coins. The cavernous interior was designed in the 18th century, at the time of the ancient cathedral’s reconstruction following a Swedish siege of the city. The bells ring at 11am instead of at noon, in homage to a trick played upon the Swedish army, who were listening out for the midday bells.
Get a dose of modern architecture at Villa Tugendhat
As one of the pioneering prototypes of European modern architecture, Villa Tugendhat is an icon of functionalist style and a Unesco World Cultural Heritage site. Built using reinforced concrete between 1928 and 1930, it’s such a huge attraction that you often have to book tickets two months in advance. Entry is by guided tour only – as well as exploring the free-standing, three-story villa, you’ll learn its remarkable history, including its confiscation by the Gestapo in 1939.
Kraví hora (Cow Hill) is one of the most popular family days out in Brno, thanks to its range of indoor and outdoor activities. You could be flexing your sporting abilities with beach volleyball and ice hockey in the morning, then relaxing at the indoor pool, sauna and hot-tub in the afternoon. At nightfall, drop into the Brno Observatory and Planetarium for a journey through space and time, and to look across Brno using the Observation Deck’s portable telescopes.
Burgers don’t come better than at Úvozna, which stacks them so high you might wonder how to get your mouth around them. Try the Burgger Off, laden with bacon, American cheese, pickles, red onion and a secret hot dip. Extras include blue cheese sauce, a slab of camembert and a host of extreme spices that will earn you a place on the Wall of Fame. Despite its larger-than-life menu, a wood and brick interior gives the place a laid-back feel.
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