Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic and I’ll admit, it was not on my list of places I wanted to visit in Europe, but my darling friend Ingrid calls this city home, so when I told her I was coming to visit the Czech Republic she insisted I come to Brno to see her.
Ingrid and I met in a fitness class and she knows my favorite things include cool European cities and beer gardens. I could claim she lured me to her city but the truth is I went willingly like a moth to a flame.
To me, Ingrid is a modern day Zsa Zsa Gabor with her love of dressing up, her upswept blonde hair, and eastern European accent. I adore her. On our first day of exploring, she insisted on an authentic lunch at Stopkova in the main part of town dining on goulash and beer, but of course!
Brno was a stark contrast to what I experienced in Prague, there were no rows of tourist shops or massive crowds of people. In fact, I don’t recall seeing many tourists at all, just the Czech people living their lives and going about their day. Brno has a slower pace than Prague and a relaxed pulse that I welcomed.
We didn’t use public transportation, we walked everywhere, it’s my favorite way to explore. Brno is a small city and easy to get around on foot, but there are trams and bicycles for getting around in town and trains and buses that will take you anywhere on the outskirts of the city.
Moravian Square is the central part of downtown and one of the largest squares with a curiously oversized equestrian statue.
Keep walking and you’ll hit Freedom Square, the main place where the people congregate, listening to music and sunbathing next to the fountain.
Cities have palettes that are revealed as you stroll the avenues. I spied sunlit hues in Provence and rich reds and yellows in Bergen. I noticed in Avignon, the architecture is mostly a clay hue, but in Brno, they’re coated with pastels: mellow yellows, apricot shades, light greens and blues, and brick reds with patina.
Brno is similar to other European cities in the way its pubs and restaurants are neighbors with incredible buildings with distinctive facades. Here too, outdoor cafes are a way of life and locals linger with friends over long lunches and dinners.
When in Czech, you must eat the local authentic food. I ate goulash several times and also my share of schnitzel and fried cheese, and the local sweet treats. There is no such thing as a diet when I’m traveling, which is why I walk everywhere. ;) The Czech Republic is renowned for its beer so I did my part and sampled plenty of the local brews. I was never disappointed.
As you walk toward the castle, you’ll find a square Zelný with a Baroque fountain, it is quiet on the weekends but becomes a lively farmer’s market during the week.
On weekdays at Zelný (Vegetable Market) you’ll find vendors selling fruits, vegetables and flowers. There is a labyrinth under the Vegetable Market that leads to unique and mysterious places, including medieval cellars (we didn’t visit, but I had to mention).
I like to study the labels in a feeble attempt to learn a few new words, using the flowers and vegetables as clues.
We came across a coffee cart managed by volunteers and motivated by good will. It was a pay it forward concept, vow to do a good deed in exchange for a free coffee, an easy trade.
Hrad Spilberk is the castle on the hill the surrounding grounds are scenic and serene and you get panoramic views of the city below.
The castle was once a fortress and then became a jail, you can tour the cells of the former jail and there are mannequins inside dressed as prisoners for effect. I avoided posting a picture to not freak out anyone scrolling through this article but I uploaded this image if you want to see what I mean! The vaulted passageways are said to house terrifying stories, it felt haunted! (We were so scared but the mannequins were funny and we couldn’t stop laughing.)
We also visited the second largest ossuary in Europe at the Church of St. James near the main square downtown. It’s open for public viewing, there you’ll see skulls and bones arranged in a damp underground crypt. Walk through it while listening to classical music composed especially for visitors. I’d never been in an ossuary before, that was a new experience. I’ll spare you the skull and bones pictures, you’ll just have to go and visit for yourself. ;)
During my three day stay we did so much more. We visited beautiful cathedrals and we drove out to a lake to visit the beer gardens, then watched the boats sail by at sunset while we ate a dinner of fried cheese and beer.
People in Brno stay up late. Street musicians entertain the people buying beer until well after midnight from breweries across the street from centuries old churches. On our last night we met up with more friends and shared drinks at a rooftop bar.
Ingrid’s friends spoke Czech 98% of the time. I watched them tell stories and while I didn’t understand a word I still knew what they were saying. Time spent out on the town with your tribe of friends is no different in Brno than here in the States, we all want the same things, laughter and connection.
As the sun set on Brno I knew it would be some time before I returned, but went to bed with a smile on my face. Three days before, I was a stranger to this city, but I dosed off with new found fondness in my head and heart for another spot on that European continent I so love exploring.
Kate, I taught English in Brno (actually in Stary Liskovec, a suburb) in 1991-1992, and haven’t really been back since — and this post practically made me cry! It’s lovely to see the city renovated and glowing. I was there not too long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Brno (and Prague too) was pretty rough around the edges. Jsu Moravánka, at least in an adopted sense! So glad you made it there.
thank you Andrea for your comment! my dear friend Ingrid told me similar stories about how it has been renovated in decades past, she grew up there as a girl and she is so proud of her beautiful city. I was so happy to explore it through her eyes.
I’m starting to wonder if I have gotten my blog links messed up, so I’m just going to ask so I know. ARe you the same lady who has always had this blog? You’re a always traveling without husband and kids and I’m confused. Has there been a major life change or am I thinking of someone else who built bookcases and decorated a daughter’s room?
It’s always been me Nancy, same person for the last ten years.
Another beautiful travel post, Kate! I enjoy many of the same things you do when visiting Europe, but you choose more adventurous destinations. I love visiting new places through your eyes!
I plan to be in Sonoma in October and can’t wait!
Such a charming town!
It’s nice that you can travel so much, i do miss some posts of the family though like Nancy.