For the last two Novembers, I’ve found myself in the Czech city of Brno. Last year I was visiting as part of my first time exploring Czechia, the Czech Republic. This year it was simply a day trip from Vienna to show some people around. While November may not have the most pleasant weather, it aligns well with the coming of Christmas and the markets it brings. Aside from that, you still have a chance to take in the city’s sights as many were when I was recently there. Turns out, November is a pretty good time of year to visit the city of Brno.
First up, a little about Brno. The city of Brno is the second largest city of the Czech Republic and the capital of the South Moravia region. It was established as a city in 1243 and became the capital of the Margraviate of Moravia. A Margrave is effectively the local equivalent of a Marquess, basically someone in charge of a borderland region. While this may seem a rather ignoble, Brno remained quite important to the Kingdom of Bohemia and managed to repel countless attackers during the troublesome 15th and 17th centuries.
Today Brno is more a university city than one driven by tourism, but it is also the home to the Czech Supreme Court and other key administrative functions.
November is a complicated month in this part of Europe. It’s generally cold, grey and the days are short. On the plus side, the Christmas markets have started up, offering warm punch, mulled wine and plenty of delicious snacks. Now some of the best Christmas markets are generally regarded to be found in Germany and Austria, but the Czech Republic is no slouch. Brno certainly represents its homeland well in that regard.
In all of the main squares situated throughout the city centre, you’ll find festive markets and decorations. Whereas Christmas markets in Vienna are quite evenly split between crafts and food and drink, most of the stalls in Brno seemed to offer food or drink. In particular, the big market in Freedom Square had a huge range of foods. Notably there is Halusky (soft gnocchi-like dumplings) with cabbage, Bramborak which are a fried potato pancake and Langoš which are deep-fried flatbread served with toppings. Not particularly health conscious, but certainly tasty. Of course, all this can be washed down with Svarak, aka mulled wine.
Cathedral of St Peter and Paul
If Brno has one landmark that is hard to miss, it’s the city Cathedral of St Peter and Paul. As we drove into the city, the cathedral’s high, gothic spires rose over the rooftops. This is because the cathedral is situated on the highest point of Petrov Hill in the town’s centre, giving it a pretty unfair advantage.
While I have to admit the interior of the cathedral is not overly extravagant or striking compared to say St Vitus Cathedral in Prague, it makes up for it in other ways. In particular, the view from the steeples on either side of the cathedral are quite impressive, showing off the city centre and lesser seen parts of town. Entry to the steeples also includes a look at the cathedral treasury which has some choice artefacts to admire. Another quite remarkable element of the Cathedral is the enormous, golden written passage adorned outside above the entrance that you can only really appreciate from afar.
One of the main attractions of the city has to be Špilberk Castle that sits on a hill overlooking the city centre. The castle is a splendid spot to get a view out over the city while also adding to Brno’s skyline. Špilberk was built by the Kings of Bohemia during the 13th century and would become the seat of the Margraves of Moravia, vassals to Bohemia. Over time the castle was converted into a fortress and later used as a prison. Throughout the years protestants, soldiers, revolutionaries and state prisoners from across the Austro-Hungarian Empire were imprisoned here. It was also used by the Nazis during their occupation of Czechoslovakia.
Špilberk is surrounded by sizeable fortifications that you gradually weave your way through as you climb the gradual hill it lies on. Inside the main fortress are several multi-layered courtyards and some great views atop its inner walls, although make sure to rug up because the wind can get quite biting. The keep houses the Brno City Museum and access to a view tower. Visitor information can be found here.
Explore the Old Town
Basically, Brno makes for a pretty enlightening place to visit for those looking to see more of the Czech Republic. As the city centre is quite condensed, it’s rather easy to navigate and pleasant to wander through. It may only have several major landmarks, but has its fair share of smaller sights that can be just as impactful. Check out the elaborate decorations on the Tourist Information building or the crooked spire on the Gate of the Old City Hall to see what I mean. As a city full of students, you’ll also find some really cool cafes and a wide variety of restaurants to explore. I can happily recommend a visit to Caffe Fratelli for coffee and cake.
Brno is a really convenient spot for those travelling through Central Europe as it is situated roughly between two of the region’s finest in Vienna and Prague. This means that it is definitely viable as a day trip from either city, but also as a stop in between. For those coming from Vienna it is a 2 hour drive, or 1.5 hours by train. In the other direction, driving from Prague will take you 2.25 hours and the bus or train ride will last 2.5 hours.
Have you visited Brno before? What was your time there like? If not, which of these makes you want to visit the most? Please share your thoughts below.
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