I recently spent one day in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic. I knew that Brno would be an extremely beautiful city, from the stories a good friend of mine who lives in Austria, had told me, so I arrived with high expectations. And let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Brno is a fantastic city, a cultural hub that offers something for everyone. I stayed in Brno for two nights and explored the city with the help of the Brno tourism board, who prepared a great Brno itinerary for me. They helped me find the best places to see in Brno, as well as some of the hidden gems of the city.
Brno is not only a beautiful city, it also has some many interesting legends and fun stories. From the dragon that terrorized the city, to the indecent little man on the Church of St James, I will tell you all about them below.
Another great thing about Brno is that it doesn’t feel at all touristic. It has a fantastic coffee culture, with locals enjoying time with their families or friends at the many restaurants, coffee shops, terraces and bars in town. Brno is also a great foodie destination, where you will find both local Czech food together with fusion and modern gourmet cuisines.
My one day in Brno itinerary was packed with things to do and see, but it was definitely doable – it’s the exact way I spent my time in this beautiful Czech city.
How to Get to Brno
Getting to Brno is very easy. The city has its own airport, where Ryanair runs several flights a week from London Stansted. From other destinations, Prague Airport is just two hours away from Brno.
Brno is also very well connected to other European destinations by buses and trains.
Whilst public transport is great in Brno, as a tourist, you probably won’t need it. The city centre is quite compact, easily walkable. Even to reach Villa Tugendhat, which is outside of the historic centre, it will only take you 20 minutes to walk.
Where to Stay in Brno
I spent two nights in Brno and stayed at the very centrally located Best Western Premier Hotel International. The hotel has its own large parking area, which for me was essential, as I travelled to Brno by car.
The room was modern and spacious, with a view towards the city centre. Every room at the hotel has views, either towards the centre or towards the castle. The Freedom Square in Brno is a 2 minute walk from the hotel.
Breakfast was a fantastic buffet, with both international and local dishes. Their chefs also cooked eggs and omelettes to order.
Things to Do in One Day in Brno:
Visit Špilberk Castle
I started my day in Brno by visiting the Špilberk Castle. The castle, which is located on a hill overlooking the city, is easily accessible by a number of paths leading towards the top. I won’t lie, it’s quite steep, but it only takes around 10 minutes to reach the top.
The castle grounds are quite big, and take time to explore, especially if you want to experience the exhibitions. So be prepared to walk a lot. Inside the castle’s interior garden, there is a medieval 112 meters deep well. In fact, it is one of the deepest wells in the country.
Some of the permanent exhibitions include the casemates, the lookout tower and the new Temple of the Stone. This exhibition is open in the underground, in the former water tanks of the castle.
I loved that no matter which side of the castle I was on, I could always enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the city.
Visit the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul
Walking down from the Castle, through the gardens, I soon reached the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, which dominates the city’s skyline. The Cathedral was completed in 1296 and features three different types of architecture: baroque, gothic, and gothic revival. It was built on the Petrov Hill in Brno, and it is such an important architectural example that it appears on the 10 Koruna coin.
One interesting fact about the Brno Cathedral is that it rings the bells at 11am instead of noon. This is where the first legend comes in. In 1645 Brno was under a month long siege by the Swedish army. After such a long time, one of the Swedish generals decided that if by noon the following day they can’t breach the city, they will retreat. Somehow this information reached the Brno residents and the following day, they rang the bells of the church earlier. The Swedish army then retreated, following the general’s decision. Since then, the bells ring one hour earlier to announce noon. It is the only church in the world that announces midday at 11am.
The Cathedral is free to visit.
Check Out the Cabbage Market
The Cabbage Market is not a place where you can only buy cabbage, it is actually a historical local farmer’s market where you can find fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, flowers, and other local produce such as honey or spice mixes. Don’t miss the Božský Kopeček ice cream “van”, at the top of the square. There are quite a few of these small ice cream trucks around Brno.
The entire square bears the name of Cabbage Market, and you will find a little treasure in each of its corners. Firstly, underneath the Cabbage Market is an underground labyrinth of pathways and cellars dating from the Middle Ages.
In the middle of the square is a baroque fountain representing a cave and decorated with mythical characters such as Hercules, Cerberus, Persia with the Horn of Plenty or Babylonia. Close to it is the statue of young Mozart, who performed a concert in Brno in 1767 when he was only 11 years old.
There are a few palaces in the upper part of the square, one of which was recently renovated and transformed into an urban hub (Palác Opata ždárského Kláštera), with organic restaurants, a bookstore, a coffee shop, and a unique role play hotel.
Climb the Tower of the Old Town Hall
The Tower of the Old Town Hall is another great place to climb if you want to enjoy panoramic views of the city centre. The 63 meter tall tower has 173 stairs, but it doesn’t take long to climb them.
The Old Town Hall is surrounded by quite a few legends. The first one relates to the bent steeple on the façade of the building. It is said that the architect who built it wasn’t paid enough so, as a protest, he built the spire crooked. However, the truth is that it was quite normal for steeples to be built crooked, back in the medieval ages.
Inside the passage that leads to the entrance to the tower there is a crocodile hanging from the ceiling. This is referred to as the “Brno dragon”. The legend says that the dragon made Brno its home and started to attack small animal stock and households. People were terrified by it and didn’t dare to confront it. One day, a butcher passed through the city and, learning about the dragon, came up with an idea. He filled a sheepskin with calcium oxide and, when the dragon ate it, he became very thirsty. He went to the river and drank water, but as it reached the contents of its stomach, it created a reaction and he burst. The citizens were so happy to get rid of the “dragon” that they hung it underneath the Old Town Hall, where it can still be seen today.
The last legend is related to a wheel, on the wall underneath the crocodile. A craftsman from Lednice made a bet of 14 silver coins that he could cut a tree, make a wheel and roll it to Brno, 50 km away, in just 12 hours. He hated to lose so he managed to accomplish the task and win the bet. People didn’t believe that it was humanly possible to do it, and that the craftsman had made a deal with the devil. The wheel remained in Brno, but the craftsman died in poverty. In his honour though, every year, teams race with a wooden wheel from Lednice to Brno.
See the Ossuary at the Church of St. James
Even if it seems quite small, the underground ossuary under the Church of St. James is the second largest of its kind in Europe, after the Catacombs of Paris. The ossuary, which was founded sometime around the 17th century, holds the remains of over 50,000 people. The crypt was extended several times during the years, due to the epidemies of cholera and the plague.
The ossuary was closed with a stone slab in 1784 and forgotten over the years. It was rediscovered in 2001 and opened to the public in 2011. Inside the ossuary there are also two early baroque coffins with painted lids, which have been carefully restored as much as possible. It is not known who was buried inside these coffins, but it is assumed that it was important citizens, as only they were usually buried inside the Church of St. James’s crypt.
When I came out of the ossuary, I noticed the little indecent man sculpture on the side of the church, who shows his bum. The legend says that there used to be a competition between building the Church of St. James and the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul. They were finished around the same time, but the Church of St. James’ spire is 10 meters taller than the one on the Cathedral. It is said that, as a sign of victory, the little indecent man was added to the side of the church, facing the cathedral.
Lunch at U Caipla
After a packed morning, I chose to have a local lunch at U Caipla, a brewery a couple of streets away from the Church of St. James. The restaurant serves traditional Czech food and has special lunch offers which include soup and a main course. This is what I went for.
I chose the tripe soup as a starter, and the minced pork schnitzel with mashed potatoes as the main. To drink, I opted for a Kofola, the Czech alternative to Coca Cola.
The soup was really nice, very garlicky and a bit spicy. I also liked the schnitzel a lot; it was the first time I had eaten one made from minced meat. I ordered it again later, during my road trip around the Czech Republic.
Villa Tugendhat is Brno’s must-see attractions, one of the first examples of modern architecture in Europe. It was commissioned by Grete and Fritz Tugendhat to German architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. The villa is part of the Unesco world heritage list and to visit it, you must book tickets well ahead of time.
The idea of the villa was to build a spacious and bright functional living space, in a minimalist style. As both spouses had grown up in cluttered houses, they wanted something different to live in and raise their children. It took two years to build the house, but unfortunately the couple and their children didn’t live in it for long. They moved to Switzerland in 1938, and from there on to Venezuela, to escape the threat of the Second World War.
The villa was taken by the Gestapo and had different uses over the years, such as a dancing school or a physiotherapy centre. The family never returned to live in the villa, but Grete did come back two years before her death to explain the original design of the house.
Villa Löw-Beer belonged to the parents of Grete Tugendhat, who gave the plot at the top of their property to her daughter and her new husband, to build Villa Tugendhat.
Not as famous as Villa Tugendhat, Villa Löw-Beer makes a very interesting visit and a trip to the beginning of the 20th century, when Brno was known as the Moravian Manchester due to the many textile factories in the city. The Löw-Beer family was successful and wealthy, co-owning a large industrial empire. However, because they were Jewish, in 1938 they too decided to emigrate to America or England, due to the Nazi threat. The head of the family, Alfred Löw-Beer, was found dead in uncertain circumstances, but the rest of the family managed to reach the UK.
After their exile, the villa was first transformed into the headquarters of the German police and then into dormitories for secondary schools. All the original furniture has been destroyed.
When I visited, in the ground hall there was a heart-breaking exhibition about the faith of the members of a Jewish family, through the Second World War. Each member of the family had a dedicated panel with their story.
Walk Around the Old Town
Before dinner I took an hour to just walk around the old town of Brno. Coming back from Villa Löw-Beer I passed through Lužánky park which, at that time, was filled with locals strolling or enjoying a picnic on the grass. I loved that this big park was so close to the city centre.
Freedom Square, the heart of Brno, is surrounded by gorgeous buildings and palaces. This was one of my favourite places to look for intricate paintings on palaces and spot the small architectural details. In Freedom Square there is also a peculiar bullet shaped installation that is an Astronomical Clock. Each day, at 11am, it releases a glass ball, so don’t be surprised if you see it surrounded by people at this time of the day. I couldn’t figure out how to read the time from it.
In the nearby Moravian Square, I found two intricate statues: a tall horse and rider representing Courage and a stylised man holding a large cube representing Justice. The Courage statue is quite controversial, and you will find out why if you look at it from underneath.
Have Dinner at:
As I spent two evenings in Brno, I had the pleasure to try two completely different restaurants. They were both amazing and no matter which one you go for, you will be in for a treat.
Dinner at Retro Consistorium (address) was a fantastic experience, a proper journey through flavours. Their menu is small, but every dish is cooked to perfection. The restaurant, located in a side street, behind the Brno Market, had a lovely intimate interior, as well as an al fresco terrace out front. As the weather was nice and warm, I chose to dine outside.
For starters I chose the salmon gravadlax, which was cured salmon tartar served with beetroot, creme fraiche and flatbread. It was really good. The star of the meal was the main, the grilled lamb ossobuco served with a sweet potato puree, roasted cauliflower and broccoli, and an oregano demiglace. Just thinking about it makes me taste all those fantastic flavours again. The lamb was cooked to perfection, tender and soft, full of flavour. The combination of tastes was incredible, the sweetness of the puree with the fresh herbs from the demiglace complimented the lamb so well. It was just perfect!
If you are vegetarian or vegan, or if you just want to try something different, have dinner at Forky’s (address). They are a healthy, vegan fast-food restaurant, with a lovely outdoor terrace and plenty of dishes to choose from. I am not vegan, but I have cut down on my meat consumption over the few years.
This was my first time at a vegan restaurant, so I was quite curious about the offer. The menu has plenty of different options, from vegan burgers to healthy bowls of food, from vegetable curries to raw desserts. I went for a chicken-flavoured bowl served with a toasted baguette and a homemade lavender lemonade. For dessert, I chose a raw coconut and banana cake.
The food was delicious. The vegan bites had a similar taste and texture to real chicken, and the dressing was full of flavour.
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Please note that I have explored Brno with the help of the Brno Tourism Board, who supported me throughout the trip with information and all the expenses.