Brno is the Czech Republic’s second largest city and is often overshadowed by Prague and smaller touristy towns like Cesky Krumlov. However, don’t underestimate Brno. I spent 3 nights in Brno and found plenty to do in this buzzing city. If you still need convincing, here’s why you should go to Brno and some suggestions for things to do in Brno for a weekend visit.
Visiting Brno Czech Republic
Where is Brno?
Brno is in the South East of the Czech Republic, in the heart of the Moravia region, not far from the border with Austria and Poland. Brno is about 2-3 hours’ drive from Prague, and about the same time by train, making it a convenient place to visit while you are in the Czech Republic. I travelled to Brno by train from Berlin and planned to spend some time in Brno before visiting Prague and the South Bohemia region.
How to Get to Brno
I took the train from Prague to Brno (actually I came all the way by train from Berlin to Brno). You can check the timetables on the Czech Railways website, and book tickets online too. If you do book online, there is no need to print the ticket if you’re travelling within the Czech Republic, as long as you have a smartphone which will display the QR code for the ticket inspector.
Travelling by bus is also a fast and convenient way to get around the Czech Republic. FlixBus has regular between Prague and Brno for as little as £4.50/€5, as does the student bus & train service Regiojet.
There is also an airport at Brno, with flights to and from the UK with Ryanair, and a few other destinations.
Why Go to Brno?
Brno is the smaller brother of Prague, not quite as pretty, but not as touristy either. Brno is a vibrant student city and has seen a boom in recent years thanks to companies like IBM who have large offices there. New residents have brought with them new restaurants and bistros, funky bars and a killer nightlife to go with the existing student culture and proud history, creating a buzzing economy and a city that is well worth exploring for a couple of days.
When to Visit Brno
I visited Brno in March, and it was quite cold but mostly dry. It was the week after Storm Emma and the Beast from the East brought temperatures of minus 10 and below, so I was glad to have missed that! Visiting in March was pleasant, however, a lot of the attractions in Brno have winter opening hours which only change in April or May, and activities like the free walking tours in Brno, and going up the Old Town Hall Tower are only possible in the ‘peak’ season from May till September. If you do visit Brno in winter and want to arrange a walking tour, they are still available but on request and for a minimum number of people. I decided to explore Brno myself without a tour, but I would suggest visiting Brno in the spring or autumn when the weather is usually good, but not too hot, and there are fewer tourists in the city. On the other hand, Prague in winter is gorgeous – if cold, so try to decide what you want to do before planning when to visit the Czech Republic.
You can also time your visit to Brno with any of the seasonal events in the city. Popular events include JazzFest Brno from March to May, Theatre World Brno in May, the Shakespeare Festival in July-August, the Moto GP in August, and the Christmas events in December.
Bear in mind that most of the attractions and museums are closed on Mondays, so it is best to visit over the weekend or time your trip to avoid Mondays if you can!
Things to do in Brno for a Weekend
This UNESCO certified villa is the only piece of modern architecture in the Czech Republic to be honoured on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. It was built between 1929 and 1930, and is a wonderful example of functionalist architecture, blended with impressive technology such as hot-air heating and electrically operated windows. Tours inside the Tugendhat villa are usually booked up for months in advance, but if you are travelling alone then you could always ask on the off chance that there was a cancellation or space on a tour. The tours run every hour, so with some luck and some flexibility you could get to see inside. When I was in Brno, the villa was completely closed for filming of a movie, so I went to the Villa Low Beer gardens instead to sneak a peek from the outside.
The striking design of Villa Löw-Beer is even more marked when you compare the style of architecture with neighbouring Villa Tugendhat. From the gardens, you can see both villas, as the original plot of Villa Löw-Beer was split and gifted to the owner’s daughter to build her family home on – which would become Villa Tugendhat. The gardens are free to enter, and are open all year round, or and you can also take a tour inside the villa Löw-Beer.
The Cathedral of St Peter & St Paul
One of the most visible landmarks in the city, this impressive Gothic style church is beautiful both inside and out, but the real draw for me was the spectacular views of Brno from the cathedral towers. The entrance to the towers is along the back side of the cathedral, and costs 40 per person, with discounts for children and families. You start by climbing a narrow stone spiral staircase to reach the ticket office, then continue up some old wooden stairs. There is just a small space where you can see outside, one at the Southside with views of ‘new’ Brno, and the other at the Northside with gorgeous views of the old town, and the Castle on the hill. This was by far my favourite view of Brno, and only realised you could go up in the towers after asking at the tourist information office, so don’t miss this!
Old Town Hall Tower
Brno’s Old Town Hall is the oldest secular building in Brno. The tourist information is in here, and in the summer you can visit its historical halls and climb the 63 metre high tower for views of Brno. Sadly, when I went to Brno in March the tower was closed. Inside the entrance passage though you can find the symbol of Brno, a rather large crocodile hanging from the ceiling, which represents the Dragon of Brno.
The castle watches over Brno from the hill and has been transformed over the years from a castle to a military fortress, prison and now the Brno City Museum. I didn’t have chance to go inside as the castle closes at 5pm, with the last entry at 4.30pm, but you can still get some nice views from the castle walls even if you don’t go inside. In the summer the park area around the castle is popular for picnics, and festivals and concerts are often held here.
The Ossuary at the Church of St James
This is thought to be the second largest ossuary in Europe, after the catacombs of Paris, with an estimated 50,000 people buried here. Previously a churchyard, the capacity of the churchyard quickly became insufficient, and more unusual ways of storing the remains were required. Inside, bones are arranged in patterns and piled up making for a macabre but interesting visit. It was smaller than I expected, and I only spent a short time there as I admit it freaked me out a little, and it smelled musty and damp which turned my stomach.
Vegetable Market Square
This beautiful market square didn’t have many stalls on the cold days I visited, but on warmer days this is where locals come to buy fruit and vegetables, as they have done for hundreds of years. In the centre of the square is a large Baroque fountain, and around the square are two theatres, an indoor market, and beautiful buildings that were once Baroque palaces for the abbots of the Žd’ár monastery and the House of the Lords of Fanal. Beneath the square, you can also visit the labyrinth under the vegetable market, which was used to store food, and is now open to the public to showcase the archaeological finds from when the tunnels were excavated.
Freedom Square & The Phallic Clock
Freedom Square is central square of Brno, and you are bound to pass through it several times on any visit to Brno. The most controversial object on Freedom Square is the phallic clock. That isn’t the official name of course, but this clock really does look like a phallus, and apparently is extremely difficult to tell the time from. The clock chimes noon at 11am every day, as do the cathedral bells, in honour of Jean-Louis Raduit de Souches who foiled a Swedish invasion when their army laid siege to Brno. According to the story, the Swedish general claimed he would abandon the siege if his army had failed to conquer the city before the bells rang at noon. The quick-thinking Jean-Louis of Brno rang the bells an hour early at 11am, and the army retreated without a shot fired. When the clock chimes noon (at 11am), it also spits out a souvenir marble which people wait by the clock to collect.
Moravian Square & the Statue of Courage
The square next to the Church of St Thomas was covered in an outdoor ice-rink during my visit to Brno, which meant I couldn’t get up close and personal with the famous Statue of Courage. The large statue in the middle of the square depicts a knight in armour astride a large horse with abnormally long legs. It caused controversy for its unusual design, and even more so when people realised that the view from below also presented another phallic image in Brno!
Veveří Castle & Brno Dam
The large reservoir here covers an area of 250 hectares and is great for swimming and watersports. I didn’t go here due to inclement weather, but in the summer, it is supposed to be a lovely place to visit where you can take a riverboat trip from the dam to the castle.
Where to Stay in Brno
I stayed at the fabulous Internesto Apartments in Brno city centre, which are great if you are looking for some privacy while sharing an apartment. There is also a great selection of hostels in Brno, try Hostel Mitte which gets excellent reviews on Hostelworld.
Have you been to Brno? I’d love to hear your recommendations for other things to do in Brno!
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