A picture-perfect old town peppered with imposing Gothic cathedrals and grand Neoclassical buildings sits at the heart of Brno, providing a beautiful introduction to the Czech Republic’s second-largest city, but there’s far more to Brno than its fairytale aesthetic. Many of the city’s most intriguing attractions can be found lurking beneath the picturesque streets with a secret nuclear bunker and an old burial site forming part of the sinister subterranean world. A hilltop fortress, meanwhile, provides a further insight into the city’s colourful past while the burgeoning bar and restaurant scene is drawing discerning visitors away from Prague. Read on to discover the best things to do in Brno.
Best things to do in Brno contents:
- Climb the Old Town Hall tower
- Wander the grounds of Spilberk Castle
- Admire the Gothic cathedrals and churches
- Venture underground to the Brno Ossuary
- Discover the top-secret 10-Z nuclear bunker
- Stroll through the streets of old town
- Ride the tram around the suburbs
- Drink pilsner in the city’s best bars
- Eat traditional Czech cuisine
Climb the Old Town Hall tower
Rising 63 metres above the old town, the Brno Old Town Hall tower offers one of the best views of the city. A 360-degree platform provides the chance to take in every corner of the surrounding cityscape, peering over the neighbouring red rooftops and Cabbage Market and onwards to Spilberk Castle and the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul. Visit at golden hour to watch the sun disappear over the horizon, casting a flattering yellow glow over the city as it descends. Read more about the Old Town Hall tower here.
Wander the grounds of Spilberk Castle
Sitting proudly on the old town’s highest peak, Spilberk Castle is Brno’s most important landmark, and a visit provides the opportunity to learn about the city’s colourful history while simultaneously enjoying 360-degree views. Dating back to the 13th century, Spilberk Castle began its life as a royal residence of the Moravian margraves before later acting as a fortress, prison and German military base. Today, members of the public can stroll around the castle and into the central courtyard for free while ticketed attractions include the viewing tower and the underground prison cells and air-raid shelters. Read more about visiting Spilberk Castle here.
Admire the Gothic cathedrals and churches
The landmark Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul and the imposing Church of St. James are two of the most dominating features of Brno’s skyline, and both deserve to be considered from the inside and out. The former sits atop Petrov Hill next to the charming Denisovy Sady (Denis Gardens), from where you can enjoy far-reaching views across the city and 40 kilometres beyond. The stark white walls found inside differ from many ornate cathedrals located throughout Europe, but the towering stained glass windows and 11-metre high altar are two richly decorated features. Visitors can climb the tower to enjoy views over the city from both sides of the cathedral. The Church of St. James, meanwhile, can be found in the heart of the old town and boasts a dramatic interior featuring soaring columns that rise towards marvellous vaulted ceilings.
Venture underground to the Brno Ossuary
Hidden beneath the streets of Brno is the second-largest ossuary in Europe, and a visit is surprisingly one of the best things to do in the city. Located under the Church of St. James, the ossuary was created out of the need to store bodies that could no longer fit in the overcrowded cemetery, and a rapidly increasing death toll caused by frequent wars, plagues and cholera epidemics led to around 50,000 bodies eventually being buried there. Today, the ossuary has been developed into a respectful tourist attraction that explores its history alongside a display of thousands of preserved skeletons. Read more about the Brno Ossuary here.
Discover the top-secret 10-Z nuclear bunker
Another subterranean attraction in Brno is the 10-Z Bunker, which takes its moniker from the code name it was given during World War II. Originally built by the Nazis as an air-raid shelter to protect against American and Soviet bombs, the bunker has also been used for everything from a wholesale winery in the 1940s to a highly classified nuclear shelter designed to protect 500 people for up to three days. Today, the unique site acts as both a hostel and a tourist attraction with the chance to stay overnight or visit for a couple of hours on a self-guided tour. Original artefacts and equipment fill the low-ceilinged rooms and corridors, including gas masks and protective gear that visitors are free to try on, while eerie music, sound effects and videos add to the ominous atmosphere. Additional features include the original diesel unit, filter form and telephone exchange as well as a traditional Milk Bar that’s open to the public.
Stroll through the streets of old town
Dramatic steeples towering over red brick rooftops and moody Gothic architecture juxtaposed against cheery pastel facades provide Brno’s old town with all the fairytale charm expected of a Czech Republican city. However, unlike its better-known sisters Prague and Český Krumlov, Brno remains under the tourist radar, making the small but perfectly formed old town the ideal location for a relaxing and picturesque flâner. The triangular Náměstí Svobody (Freedom Square) is a good starting point with its grand Renaissance buildings and quirky bullet-shaped astronomical clock while the expansive Cabbage Market, Gothic Old Town Hall and hilltop Spilberk Castle are other notable attractions.
Ride the tram around the suburbs
While Brno’s old town is undoubtedly the beauty queen of the city, it’s worth venturing a little further afield to witness a grittier side to the Moravian capital. Make like the locals and hop on tram number two or five outside the main train station – noting the socialist building in which the post office and a quirky paternoster lift are housed – and take a ride through the streets of Křížová and Hybešova. On the journey, you’ll see a unique blend of vibrant Renaissance architecture and crumbling yet characterful buildings. While in the neighbourhood pay a visit to the popular local hotspot, Ramen Brno.
Drink pilsner in the city’s best bars
With a brewing history that dates back to 993, the Czech Republic has long been known for its beer, and even in those early days, the area was internationally recognised for its prized hops. Fast forward to the present day and the country has become almost synonymous with beer drinking; you simply cannot visit without enjoying a perfectly poured creamy tankard of pilsner. The city of Brno may currently be making waves in the cocktail industry thanks to bars like Super Panda Circus and The Bar That Doesn’t Exist, but it’s still beer that remains at the heart of its drinking culture. Pivnice U Čápa pours one of the best beers in town while the likes of Stopkova Plzeňská Pivnice and Zelená Kočka Pivárium are two more authentic pubs. Lokál U Caipla provides a lively beer hall experience and Vycep Na Stojaka has an energetic atmosphere late into the night. Read more about Brno’s best bars here.
Eat traditional Czech cuisine
For the perfect accompaniment to your pilsner, be sure to order a hearty Czech dish such as svíčková or beef goulash. The former is a classic recipe that’s found on the menu at most traditional Czech eateries, and with a winning formula of tender braised beef, creamy vegetable sauce and dense potato dumplings, topped with sweet cranberry and light whipped cream, it’s the ultimate comfort food. Other ubiquitous options include beef goulash with fried onions and potato dumplings, roast duck with braised red cabbage, and spicy sausage with horseradish. Pivnice U Čápa, Hotel Pegas, Lokál U Caipla and Stopkova Plzeňská Pivnice are some of the best restaurants in Brno for traditional Czech cuisine.