Central Europe’s second cities are a canon of cool, with untapped potential and more-than-tapped beers. In the belly of Czech geography, Brno is the firecracker city that whizzes and bangs. It’s been an imperial Slavic fortress, once world-war-torn, and the host of communist architecture ‘porn’. Like a European boomerang, Brno betters itself each time.
Now an epicentre of engineering prowess; annual financial injections stimulate the cultural economy – intoxicating the young demographic on dizzying creativity. Highlights include a phallic astronomical clock, whose design fires-up local debate.
So brush off your Hantec dictionary (that’s the local dialect), and banish any idea of Brno that you probably didn’t have in mind. There’s an oasis of secret gardens, breweries, and art galleries to explore in 24 hours. Be thankful that you haven’t got to fear for the mythical river dragon these days.
Train arrivals are a slap in the face, where an Art Nouveau building with plenty of grandeur drowns amongst the functionalist 80s’ redesign. Grey garments and greyer surfaces are a bollard to endless enjoyment. Nonetheless, your misfortune will never match that of the daily Czech commuter.
On the street, follow the trail of Brno’s energetic electronic tram fleet. They’re a bunch of ultra-modern people movers that offer 24-hour access for 80Kč.
Check-in at Hostel Mitte: a caffeine-spewing saviour to Europe’s finest backpackers. The customers aren’t celebrating just because of the soya milk. High ceilings, aged beams, and historic furnishings add to the home-ware spectacle. There are bedside plug sockets and reading lamps for extra handiness.
Out of the spindly Panská, you’ll follow the gentle Moravian street scene to the realm of Špilberk castle. From Husova Street, a neat path winds up the hill towards the linen-white turret towers. Keep an eye of out for the graffiti-covered remnants of Habsburg prison walls. For the budget traveller, a free wonder around the castle perimeter is sufficient.
A field of rouge coloured roofs and concrete towers crowd the compact skyline – pierced by the heaven-seeking, neo-gothic, towers of St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral. In the early morning, the Cabbage Market plays out in front. It’s a sight that you must ‘Czech’ off your list.
Follow scents of rosemary when navigating north, where a herb-flowering public garden breathes serenity. Tyršův Sad is a cemetery-cum urban paradise, where tulips and roses flaunt spring fragrances. It’s ideal for picnics and novella reading, whilst the resident goats are another highlight. An open-air piano, rotund tree house, and ‘anti-capitalist’ protest are another reflection of the free-living neighbourhood.
If you’ve planned in advance, then head for an afternoon tour around the alluring Tugendhat Villa. It’s a modernist icon and functional pioneer. In the century since, the villa has earned UNESCO Heritage status, and set the scene for a Man Booker Prize contender (The Glass Room). If you want more glass and plain white walls, then pass the opera on the cusp of Brno’s café scene. A young crowd attends the ales at Výčep Na Stojáka, whilst appetite fades on the buns at Burger Inn.
As the sky darkens, it’s worth going below the surface of the medieval city. Underneath the grounds of Brno’s market, baroque-era cellars had lay dormant for hundreds of years. Where wartime refugees found themselves amongst aged wine barrels, visitors can now explore skull-encrusted chambers and learn about Brno’s past prisoners.
End the night in the ambience of Brno’s best bars and cafes. With an industrial look and coffee prestige, SKØG Urban Hub is the place to hang out until late.
For affordability, friendliness, and life quality, Brno beats many other city contenders. Alas, there’s more art and culture to consume if time allowed. Burgeoning Brno is one small city that will go on making a far bigger impact on those who encounter it.