Brno

The city with the best cafescape.

Brno is the second largest Czech city and like all Czech cities, it’s affordable, has a castle, plenty of history and good food, as well as some of the coolest cafes and pubs. I know I’ve said that about Prague already, but Brno is one of my favourite European cities, because there’s just something about its laid back vibe that I can’t get enough of. I’d been to Brno twice so far and loved it both times. Also, unlike Prague, most tourists still haven’t figured out that Brno exists, which is a major plus point.

When it comes to places to see in Brno, I do not even know where to start. There is the Špilberk castle, where we went for a special orc exhibition by Jeden Kmen, the old town of Brno with its medieval streets, the 10-z nuclear shelter, all the churches and so many various museums. My boyfriend is an archaeologist and dragged me to the Moravian museum, which is the second largest and the second oldest museum in the Czech republic. That shows and I would not recommend it to anyone who is not extremely into history, although it does have a nice gift shop (I bought yet another pair of earrings).

There is a labyrinth city under the Zelný trh square, a network of underground medieval storages and chambers, which is part of the massive Brno underground project. In 2013 they had just opened some of the newly discovered historical underground sites, such as the Sv. Jakub ossuary, which they discovered after a cave in while renovating a bus stop, and the project is still ongoing. Continuing with the morbid, there is also a Capuchin crypt, famous for the amazingly well-preserved bodies of the monks due to the favourable conditions in the crypt.

Impressions of Brno

The city had changed surprisingly a lot between my visits in 2013 and 2018, as the first time I visited it still had a bit of a rugged feel. I stayed within 5 minutes walk of the city centre with one of my exes and the area was a bit shady at the time. Prostitution was and is legal in the Czech republic, but nowadays you have to go specifically looking to find any of the night ladies. Not so in 2013 Brno.

Although the apartment we were staying in was incredibly nice, even on a student budget, there were several ladies offering their wares just a block away and I can clearly recall one in gold hot pants, who seemed to be the star of the area. In order to get to and from the city centre, we had to pass by a large, unlit and a rather unkempt park, which did not feel entirely comfortable at night. While we enjoyed our time and never felt unsafe, Brno outside the city centre was just not the most pleasant place at the time. The city centre was very beautiful even back then though, with quaint old streets, churches and plenty of interesting hang outs.

However, when I visited in the winter of 2018, the area where I stayed in 2013 was unrecognisable and all for the better. The shady park now looked quite nice, the streets were a bit cleaner and there were no ladies of the night to be found anywhere. The city centre looked extra polished and there were so many new cafes and restaurants I did not know where to look. The vibe stayed the same, very laid back and not yet touristy, but all places we visited were distinctly less grey and industrial.

The city of Brno with Špilberk castle.

The Brno Old town hall also has an alligator hanging off the ceiling, which is thought to be the dragon that once plagued the city. There was an ice rink in front of a church when I visited in winter and Brno always seems to have something seasonal going on. One thing which had not changed between 2013 and 2018 is the massive toy store (you can’t miss it) on one of the main streets leading away from the Freedom square (Náměstí Svobody), where I bought a rhino plushy and a flying pig in 2013, and another is the impressive network of cheap stores under the main railway station, which is like a giant, bizarre flea market.

Both times I visited we found so many great hang outs, from themed bars to pleasant cafes, so Brno truly is a city for anyone who loves the social lubricant culture (yes, that is in fact the expression for any kind of food or drink that makes people more comfortable while spending time with each other). Most of the ones from 2013 were not open anymore in 2018, which could have been due to the different seasons.

In 2013, we found a wonderful shisha place with crazy oriental cocktails and they made a beach bar at the main square. They brought in actual sand to cover a part of the square, complete with a beach hut serving summer cocktails, a small inflatable pool and chaise longues to recline on. In 2018 we found a board game cafe with a very nice selection of teas that we loved so much we went there twice, a stock exchange bar, where the beer prices went up or down depending on how many people recently ordered the same type of beer, a restaurant with incredible daily menus and a small, amazing shop-cafe with the famous Czech open faced sandwiches known as chlebíčky.

Hanging out in Brno

By the way, the Freedom square also has a bizarre black dildo-shaped astronomical clock, which they are quite proud of, so Brno is definitely never boring.

Some photos by M. Zupan.

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