Brno, Czechia’s second largest city, was a wonderful surprise. Little did we know when we booked a few nights in this fabulous little city, just how much fun we were going to have.
The main purpose of our visit was to break up our journey between Vienna and Prague. The train journey between the two actually wasn’t that arduous, but we thought that since we were passing through, we’d see what what on offer.
Our flying visit very quickly turned into one of the travel highlights of our entire year. What we found, to our complete surprise, was a lively, progressive, youth-oriented city that was trying hard and succeeding to be a brilliant city break destination. With so many attractions, excellent cafes, bars and restaurants and a full programme of events held throughout the year, Brno could very well be travel’s next big thing.
In this post, we’re going to present to you just some of reasons why we think you should visit Czechia’s quirky second city.
Things We Love About Brno
For a small city, Brno is packed full of great things to see and do. From ornate, roman catholic churches to modern, welcoming bars and restaurants, Brno is a perfect city break destination.
1. The Views From the Old Town Hall Observation Tower
We always like to start a visit to somewhere new by climbing an observation tower to get a lay of the land. We didn’t exclude Brno from this rule.
The 63-metre high Old Town Hall (Stará radnice) offers some great panoramic views of the city below, including many of Brno’s top attractions. You could almost plan out your entire itinerary from this one spot! Entry is a nominal 70Kč (multiple concessions, 50% discount with a Brnopas) and allows access to a gallery, exhibition and historic halls.
As you enter, look out for a preserved crocodile hanging from the ceiling. Legend has it this “dragon” once terrorised the city. By the looks of it now, its reign of terror is well and truly over.
2. Brno’s Quirky Astronomical Clock
If anything captures the quirky nature of Brno best, it’s this astronomical clock (Brněnský orloj). The controversial monument, made of black marble, took three years to build at the cost of 12 million Czech crowns.
Firstly, let’s get it out of the way. Yes, the shape is a bit phallic, isn’t it. It’s actually supposed to resemble a bullet, but you can draw your own conclusions as to whether or not the brief was met.
Curiously, despite its name, it’s not an astronomical clock at all. It’s just a clock. It was built to commemorate a famous and unlikely victory the citizens of Brno had over invading Swedes in 1645 as part of the Thirty Years’ War. After three months of failed sieges, a Swedish general decided to give in if the city hadn’t fallen by noon that day. Faced with this ultimatum, the citizens of Brno put the town clock forward an hour at 11am, so that it read noon. Sure enough, the Swedes retreated.
Now, at 11am each morning, a glass marble is released from the clock from one of four openings. Whoever catches it gets to keep it as a souvenir.
Also, rather wonderfully, the cathedral bells still chime 12 times at 11’o’clock, in a nod to the city’s resilience and creative thinking.
3. The Brilliant Museum of Romani Culture
The Romani community have been much maligned throughout their entire existence, and particularly since their initial migration from India. Their story is told in compelling detail at the Museum of Romani Culture, a short walk from the city centre.
The permanent displays are absorbing and engaging and tells of a misunderstood community that has faced persistent persecution. There are over 25 thousand objects, displayed creatively across several rooms. While most of the exhibition tells the full story of the Romani struggle, there are also displays celebrating Romani art and craftsmanship. The experience is supported by the use of an immersive audio guide.
As well as the museum, the building plays host to lectures, concerts, a range of events and temporary exhibits and academic research. It’s fabulous that such a building exists, where it can serve the needs of locals, but also reach out to those unfamiliar with the community’s history and social contributions.
Entry to the museum is 80Kč or free with a Brnopas. We totally recommend it!
4. A Dedication to the Installation of Public Art
Spend an hour or two in Brno and you’ll start to notice you’re not alone.
The city centre is graced by the presence of several statues & sculptures, each offering an intimate, and sometimes controversial or even confusing insight into the city’s personality.
Take for example Courage (Odvaha) by Jaroslav Róna on Moravian Square (Moravské náměstí) which depicts a knight mounting a horse with unusually long legs. From afar, the length of the legs is noticeable, but the sizable limbs actually isn’t why this piece prompts conversations. Stand underneath the statue and glance skywards and you’ll discover a saucy surprise.
5. Good Deeds are Rewarded with Free Coffee
Like many cities across Europe, there are plenty of places to pick up a coffee in Brno. Trendy and traditional cafes and bistros can be found throughout the city centre. However, if you’re looking for something both hand-warming and heart-warming, head to Cabbage Market Square (Zelném trhu).
Here you’ll find a coffee stand which looks like a regular coffee stand, but in fact conceals a wonderful secret; all of the coffee is free.
Well, free in monetary terms anyway. Your hot beverage will still cost you a good deed payable to anyone of your choosing. The owners trust you to follow through with your pledge, therefore you receive karma not only for completing your good deed, but also for being a trustworthy individual.
6. This Stylish Airbnb in the City Centre
Wherever we go, we’re always keen to stay in a real home and live like locals. To satisfy this need, Airbnb almost always provides us with plenty of funky and inexpensive options. A quick search on the Airbnb website shows a great range of places to stay in Brno, right in the city centre.
We chose a petite, but fully-functional apartment about five minutes walk from the city’s attractions. We really liked the modern decor and colour scheme and the contemporary layout and design choices. Despite the size, there was a complete kitchen, full-sized bed, bright & clean bathroom and comfortable living area.
There are plenty of great places to stay in Brno, so get searching. If you’ve not signed up to Airbnb before, do so with our link and get £25 off your first booking.
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7. The Awesome Night Life
Brno is a university town with a large student population (nearly 90,000), so there are plenty of great places to go for a night out. While it’s perhaps not up there with the likes of Ibiza and Ayia Napa, Brno does have more than its fair share of pubs and trendy cocktail bars.
Neither Jade nor I are particularly used to going out at night, but even we were lured by Brno’s nighttime offerings.
We visited two bars, both contemporary, filled with cool, young people and both doing things their own way. 4rooms (4pokoje) was welcoming and unpretentious, serving bespoke cocktails and an ever changing menu of food, whilst the Bar That Does Not Exist served very reasonably priced classic cocktails in a modern speakeasy setting.
Find out more: Read about 4rooms and the Bar That Does Not Exist in our post on the best Veggie-Friendly Cafes, Bars & Restaurants in Brno.
8. A Plethora of Cool Cafes and Restaurants
Brno is home to several hipster coffee shops and veggie & vegan friendly bistros serving food that defy the Czech/Eastern European cuisine stereotypes. While you can of course find more traditional places that stick to serving meat and veg staples, they are also easily avoided in favour of more modern eateries.
Our favourite cafe was Skøg Urban Hub, a space filled with young hipsters drinking artisan coffees whilst working on their Macbooks. Our favourite restaurant was Soul Bistro, serving thoughtful, tasty goodness amidst minimalist decor.
Find out more: You can read more about these and other cafes and restaurants we visited in our guide to the best Veggie-Friendly Cafes, Bars & Restaurants in Brno.
9. Lots of Fabulous Churches to Visit
Brno has several fabulously decorative Roman Catholic churches to visit and entry to most is free of charge.
While the churches themselves are wonderful in their own right, there are a couple of hidden surprises in store for those keen to explore a little further.
Underneath the baroque Church of St James is Europe’s second largest ossurary, where it is thought 50,000 people were once buried. Today, the remaining bones have been arranged in a curiously artistic way. Combined with careful lighting and music specially arranged to accompany the display, the Ossuary at the Church of St James is not to be missed.
10. There’s always something interesting Going On
During our short visit, we were surprised by the high number of events taking place. Across the city, all available space was seemingly being used for visiting or temporary exhibitions whilst local authority/community groups were holding events celebrating and highlighting different aspects of Brno’s populace.
We tried our best to frequent as many of these events as we could, visiting art galleries and museums and dropping by a World Music event in one of the city’s parks where, as well as being entertained by a variety of music, were fed a platter of vegetarian food completely free.
The main square, Freedom Square (náměstí Svobody), is often home to events that are easy to take part in. During our trip, a food and wine festival was being held. The official Brno Tourism website has a calendar of events on, so check it before your visit.
11. The Christmas Lights Stay Up All Year Round
We’re not sure whether the lights hung over the streets of Brno are actually Christmas lights that are left out all year. Whatever their purpose, they certainly make evening’s in Brno a little more vibrant and festive.
12. The Excellent Art Galleries & Museums
I’m not massively into galleries and museums, but even I was impressed by Brno’s range of thirteen cultural institutions.
Since we were only in town for a couple of days, we could only make it to parts of the Moravian Gallery (Czechia’s second largest art museum), which is split across four sites. Pražák Palace, considered the main building, and is home to temporary and permanent collections of art spanning several different categories and genres. It is also home to a spiral slide which patrons are encouraged to make good use of.
We also popped across the road to the Museum of Applied Arts, which at the time was hosting an interactive exhibition on nineties pop culture. Rows of functioning video game machines sat alongside sets of roller boots on pedestals. It was pretty cool. This grand building is set to close until 2020, whilst it receives so much needed renovation work.
Admission fees vary, with some buildings offering free entry, and others charging nominal fees. Some institutions, like the Moravian Gallery, offer a long series of possible discounts (including half price entry if you show in Ikea Family Card of all things), so do make sure you have a look through the list before you pay full price.
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How to Get To Brno
Brno has its own international airport and has year-round incoming flights to/from London and Munich. There are also seasonal flights to/from several destinations around the Mediterranean Sea. Use our search flight box below to see how easy and inexpensive it can be to fly directly to Brno.
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Travelling from Prague to Brno
Prague, the Czech capital, is a direct 2.5 hour train ride away from Brno, therefore flying into Prague and catching a train to Brno might be a better option and might also end up being better value. Use our flight search box above to find great deals on flights to Prague (simply change ‘Brno’ to ‘Prague’ in the destination field).
Make your trip stress-free by booking your train ticket from Prague to Brno in advance with our trusted partner, Omio (formerly GoEuro). Both Czech Railways (České dráhy or ČD) and the Austrian-Czech high-speed service, Railjet run services between the cities. Standard fares are very cheap and upgrades are surprisingly not much more, so do consider upgrading, particular on the much more lavish Railjet services.
Brno’s main railway station is currently undergoing renovation work. Therefore, some trains may stop at intermediate stations instead. Thankfully, shuttle buses have been set up to ferry passengers onwards to the city centre. Work is expected to continue throughout 2019.
The Brnopas is an inexpensive tourist card offered by Brno Tourist Information Centre that includes free or heavily discounted entry into most of Brno’s attractions. Provided you plan on visiting at least three attractions per day of your visit, it’s well worth investing in one.
You can buy a Brnopas at one of the three tourist information centres (Radnická Street, Panenská Street or at the railway station) or you can buy one online on the Go To Brno website.
So, there we have it! Just some of the reasons why we think Brno is a brilliant European city break destination. Whilst Brno might not have the big name attractions and charming architecture of Prague, it’s worth remembering that Brno also doesn’t have the queues, crowds or tourist traps of Prague either. For the time being at least, Brno is a fabulous way to get a true sense of what Czechia is like, without having to wait in lines and without having to pay inflated prices.
Despite packing as much into our visit as we could, we still only scratched the surface of what this awesome city offers. For example, we didn’t visit the the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul which dominates the city’s skyline, nor did we visit the city’s famous castle atop Špilberk Hill. Tugendhat Villa, the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site where the leaders of Czechoslovakia signed the documents that divided the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia was also missing from our itinerary.
I guess there’s always next time.
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Are you planning to visit Brno? Or do you have any other suggestions for visitors? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a comment into the box below.