While it may not be as well-known as Prague, Brno is full of impressive historical sights, a thriving food and drink scene, and a number of quirky attractions. From architectural masterpieces to subterranean discoveries, the Czech Republic’s second city has something for everyone without the hustle and hassle of bigger cities.
Located in the south-eastern part of the country, Brno is closer to Vienna and Bratislava than it is to Prague but is just as easily accessible from many of Central Europe’s capitals. Whether you’re just passing through or are making it the main event, don’t miss these top things to do in Brno.
Take in the Views from the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul
Perched atop Petrov hill, the impressive Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul is impossible to miss. Explore the area around it, marvel at the Baroque architecture inside, and climb to the top of the Gothic Revival towers to take in sprawling views of the city below. This beautiful piece of architecture is such a significant landmark in the Czech Republic it landed the coveted spot on the back of the 10 koruna coin. A curious quirk of the cathedral, it rings its bells at 11 a.m. instead of 12 p.m., thanks to a popular legend originating from the Thirty Years’ War.
Explore Špilberk Castle
Dating back to the 13th century, Špilberk Castle was once the seat of Moravian margraves and, for a time, was considered to be the harshest prison in the Austro-Hungarian empire. The casemates below the fortress can be visited today and offer a glimpse into this grim past. Above ground, the castle is now home to the Brno City Museum. Visitors are treated to some of the city's best views from the complex, and the gardens surrounding are a great place to enjoy a relaxed stroll.
Enjoy the Unique Nightlife
While Brno’s nightlife tends to be more understated than the wild nights bachelor parties travel to Prague for, it has plenty of its own quirks. If you want to try some of the Czech Republic’s world-famous brews, head to Lokál U Caipla or Pivovarská Starobrno for some of the freshest beer in the city. Výčep Na Stojáka offers a more unusual beer-drinking experience. Its name roughly translates to ‘standing up pub,’ so it’s common to see patrons sipping their craft news on the curb outside during the warmer months as there are no seats inside.
If cocktails or fine spirits are more to your taste, Bar, Který Neexistuje (Bar that Doesn’t Exist) won’t disappoint. Enjoy a dram from their impressive whisky list or sip a handcrafted cocktail while enjoying the 1920’s New York atmosphere. If you want to leave your drink choice up to fate, head to the entertaining Super Panda Circus.
Learn Something New at the Museum of Romani Culture
The Museum of Romani Culture is the only museum of its kind dedicated to the culture and history of the Romani people. The permanent exhibit takes visitors on a journey through the history of the Roma, covering an expansive time period from ancient India to the present day. From World War II onward, the exhibit takes a closer look at the situation of Roma in the Czech Republic specifically. Temporary exhibits showcasing art and photography are also regularly featured.
Catch the Astronomical Clock’s Glass Ball in Náměstí Svobody
Náměstí Svobody, or Freedom Square, is Brno’s main square and the location of the city’s peculiarly shaped astronomical clock. Crowds gather around the imposing black stone monument daily as it chimes 11 a.m. and drops a glass ball for one lucky person to catch. It’s common to find people standing around the clock as early as 9 a.m. claiming their spot for this event. The square hosts several festivals throughout the year and is lined with restaurants and bars, making it a great spot to enjoy a meal or drink outside in the city center.
Tour the Ossuary Beneath Church of St. James
Walking past the Church of St. James, you’d never know what lies beneath, and people didn’t for many years. Rediscovered in 2001, the ossuary is the second biggest in Europe, after the Parisian catacombs. It dates back to the 17th century and houses the remains of over 50,000 people. Visitors explore this underground resting place accompanied by music from Miloš Štědroň that was composed specifically for this location.
Hike Around the Brno Reservoir to Veveří Castle
The Brno Reservoir is a beautiful setting for water sports, swimming, cycling, and hiking. Hikers will enjoy the forested trail along the water’s edge leading to Veveří Castle. The castle has a long history dating back to the 11th-century housing royals, withstanding sieges, and even hosting Winston Churchill and his wife on their honeymoon. Boats run between the castle and Bystrc harbor during the summer, providing a relaxing, scenic journey back to the city after an exciting day of hiking and exploring.
Visit the Capuchin Crypt
The mummified remains of dozens of Capuchin monks lie beneath the Capuchin Monastery in Brno. Due to a vow of poverty, the deceased monks' bodies were placed in the crypt without a coffin. The composition of the environment of this resting place has naturally mummified their remains over time. This practice ceased in the 18th century due to hygiene laws, but visitors can still enter the crypt to pay their respects and marvel at this natural phenomenon. The words “As you are now, we once were; as we are now, you shall be” in Czech are inscribed at the site, leaving visitors with a solemn reminder.
Spend the Night in the Nuclear Bunker 10-Z
This formerly top-secret air raid shelter was originally built in the hill below Špilberk Castle during the Nazi occupation of Brno. It was later equipped to house 500 people in case of a nuclear attack during the Communist era. Today, visitors can explore bunker 10-Z on their own or with a guide, and the brave can even spend the night in one of the hostel rooms in this underground labyrinth.
Tour the Famous Villa Tugendhat
Villa Tugendhat is an architectural icon. Located in Brno’s Černá Pole neighborhood, this building was a pioneer of modernism when construction began in 1928. The Gestapo confiscated it during World War II, but it was restored to its former glory in the 1960s. In 1992, it was the setting of Velvet Divorce that split Czechoslovakia into two independent countries, and it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Villa Tugendhat is one of the top sights to see in the Czech Republic, so be sure to book a tour at least three months in advance to avoid disappointment.
See the “Dragon” at Old Town Hall
Not only does Brno’s Old Town Hall house the tourist information center, but it’s also home to the city’s “dragon.” Visitors should not be alarmed when they find a full-sized taxidermied crocodile hanging from the ceiling in the archway below the Late Gothic turret. Legend has it that this “dragon” terrorized the city until an ingenious idea finally put an end to its reign. Enjoy the events hosted in the courtyard or climb to the top of the tower for a great view of the city.
Explore Zelný trh Above and Below
Zelný trh is one of the main squares in Brno. Its name translates to ‘vegetable market’ and has been the site of a marketplace for centuries. Vendors sell produce and flowers around the stunning Baroque fountain centerpiece called ‘Parnas.’ The Reduta Theatre, the oldest theatre in Central Europe, can also be found here with a statue outside commemorating Mozart’s performance here when he was just eleven years old. In addition to shopping, visitors can visit the medieval cellars and passageways that lie below the market.
Learn About the Father of Genetics at the Mendel Museum
The Mendel Museum is dedicated to Gregor Johann Mendel's work, who is generally credited as being the father of genetics. The museum is situated within the grounds of Brno’s Augustinian Abbey, where Mendel once lived and worked, and is run by Masaryk University. It’s a place where researchers and the general public can come together to learn about Mendel’s life, work, and legacy, as well as other topics of interest from various scientific and artistic disciplines.