Prague has become a major stop along any grand European tour thanks to its stunning architecture and beer culture. Though the City of a Hundred Spires is brimming with tourists and students throughout the year, it is still worth visiting and using as an entry point to explore the rest of the Czech Republic’s charming countryside. Just a couple of hours by train or rental car, there are quaint villages and small cities that serve as smaller, authentic escapes from the crowd. Once you have seen the main square, toured the fascinating Jewish quarter and crossed the Charles Bridge, head to at least one of these quick and easy side-trips.
Litomyšl has been considered an artists’ retreat for centuries, and it is quite evident once you begin to explore the public art, musical history and unusual ateliers that this small town is brimming with. Some of the Czech Republic’s most notable artists and musicians once lived and worked here, such as composer Bedrich Smetana, who is somewhat synonymous with the rise to an independent Czechia. His childhood apartment and his father’s former brewery are both located within the Litomyšl Chateau and Castle complex. While open for tours, one of the best parts of the apartment is seeing the wine bank and sculpture exhibit in the basement. Don’t miss the original Baroque theatre inside of the castle too.
Wander through the monastic gardens for a serene display of additional sculptures by Olbram Zoubek. After winding back into the center, shop or take a coffee under the arcades of one of the longest squares in the country. Stroll down Josefa Vachala street, which is covered in sgraffito art—a 16th-century method of applying layers to the wall then carving the images out—to portray his most famous book Bloody Novel.
Litomyšl regularly holds events on the weekends, but a quiet weekend spent sipping beer at the local microbrewery, Veselka, or taking in the wildly painted 1920s home of Josef Portman is equally entertaining.
Olomouc is a Baroque city that’s the best of both historical sights and modern culture. It holds the seat of the archbishop, making it a religious nucleus for many. The Archbishop’s Palace, in fact, is where Franz Josef was crowned king of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Though the city is known for its historical significance as well as its many statues and fountains, the modern art scene is abundant.
While a visit to the Modern Art Museum of Olomouc, housed in a former Art Nouveau hospital, is one way to see the city’s art, try meandering along the quiet streets. There are tons of public art installations courtesy of the museum throughout the city. One, a robotic robber trying to steal the museum’s art, actually hangs from the edifice and whirrs to life like a clock on the hour. Others are suspended high above sidewalks while street art makes feminist statements on the sides of buildings.
If you haven’t already guessed it, Pilsen is where the Pilsner lager was born. Naturally, this city is known as the spiritual home of beer, and there is plenty of it to try here. Stop by the Brewery Museum located in a historic cellar for a complete history with models of old breweries and a tasting at the end of the tour.
Try visiting a microbrewery for a great brew in a homey setting. Places like Alulu Brewery and Pub or Lo Rez Brewery and Taproom are good options for housemade craft brews on tap with good pub bites. Moody Tongue Brewing Company, however, is closer to the center and offers beer made with unusual ingredients and a fireside seat.
Pilsen is also home to a rich cultural heritage which has served as a means for continuing modern arts. For example, the 19th-century Great Synagogue now holds concerts and performances—and it’s a special venue to see something in, so check the calendar for the latest events.
Brno is the second-largest city in the Czech Republic behind Prague, and it is quickly becoming a popular second destination to visit after the capital. Located at the confluence of the Svitava and Svratka rivers, this city is known for its modern architecture, museums and its unique and creative shops. One thing to note: Brno is in Moravia, which is known for its wine, so skip the beer and order a bottle of Czech wine.
Architecture buffs will appreciate the Villa Tugendhat, an UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. The shining example of Modernist Czech architecture by Mies van der Rohe was completed in 1930 and restored between 2010 and 2012.
To experience the best of Brno’s long history in one stop, however, plan a tour of the medieval Špilberk Castle. The complex includes a museum of the city as well as an old city prison with vaulted tunnels. There’s a peaceful garden too, which provides a rest point before shopping in the center or taking an afternoon coffee.
Molly Harris is a freelance journalist. You can often find her on the highway somewhere between Florida and North Carolina or taking life slow in Europe.