As much as I love Prague, it is often nice to have a little break from the city and spend time in other areas of the Czech Republic. I’d been to various places such as Kutna Hora, Karlovy Vary and Brno, but despite it being less than an hour away from my home, I’d never actually visited Plzen before this weekend.
When I think of Plzen, I immediately associate it with the famous beer, the football and the ice hockey. But, as this weekend proved to me, Plzen is much more than beer and sports. Plzeň is the fourth most populous city in the Czech Republic, and yet with a population of about 170,000 people, it still feels small enough to see the majority of it over the course of a weekend.
The city is well known for Pilsner beer, created by Bavarian brewer Josef Groll there in 1842 and the football team who’ve dominated the league over the past few seasons, but there is also great architecture in the center, Gothic cathedrals and strangely cold churches, an underground tunnel complex and a rich and vibrant history that involves the 30 Years’ War, Skoda and of course, beer.
How To Get There:
Plzen is a short and scenic drive from Prague, taking less than an hour without traffic, although travelling by train or bus is just as easy. Flixbus offer daily deals to get there for a very low price, or you can get a Czech Railways train from Hlavni Nadrazi for about 5 euro and leave hourly. You can check on the respective websites for the best deals and a detailed timetable.
Where To Stay:
I stayed at Vienna House Easy Pilsen for the weekend. The location was absolutely superb, with a bridge leading from the hotel directly to the Pilsner Brewery, one of the most popular attractions in the city.
The hotel was stylish, the staff were friendly and the rooms comfortable and clean. The breakfast was pretty awesome, with cooked and cold food available, and even some Thai Pho in the mix. I did think that some baked beans might have been a nice addition, but you can’t have it all and I did enjoy the experience at the hotel overall.
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Where To Eat:
There are plenty of decent looking restaurants in Plzen and I didn’t see many establishments offering basic meals at extortionate prices, which sometimes happens in the center of Prague.
The hotel staff recommended a restaurant called Comix, which offered Czech and international dishes with an emphasis on steaks and ribs. The burger was actually pretty impressive, although they weren’t overly generous with the French Fries.
Where To Drink:
There was certainly no shortage of nice looking pubs in Plzen, and I tested a few bars to get an overall perspective. As with the food, I didn’t find too many places looking to rip off tourists which is a sad but common occurrence in the center of Prague.
The Pub is a chain found across the Czech Republic, and their Plzen branch was pretty good. The beer was reasonably priced, although the onion rings I ordered were a bit of a disaster. I did try a few other pubs such as Zach’s, although I couldn’t find anywhere to watch the football or rugby. I found one bar called Football factory, where I expected to see a Premier League match, but instead it appeared to be some kind of skinhead gathering so I made a swift exit.
What To See:
One of the main attractions in Plzen is undoubtedly the brewery. You can get a fully guided tour in English, Czech, German or Russian, explaining the history of the brewery and the entire process of the beer brewing; just don’t ask a non-native English speaker to say ‘there’s a squirrel in the brewery’ or they’ll be in trouble.
Did you know that Pilsner Urquell has inspired more than two-thirds of all of the world’s beers, which still today are labelled as “Pils”, “Pilsner” or “Pilsener”? Go on a tour of the Pilsner Urquell brewery, and get to know the story of the legend born in 1842.
Plzen has the second largest synagogue in Europe, The Great Synagogue, which really does look spectacular. The synagogue combines Romantic and neo-Renaissance styles covered with Oriental decorations and a giant Star of David in the middle. With around 70 Jewish people currently living in Plzen, the building plays host to exhibitions and demonstrations more often than being used as a place of worship.
The Cathedral of St. Bartholomew is undoubtedly the most dominant feature of the skyline of Plzen and sits in the middle of the main square. You can take a climb to the top of the tower, but I’d just had lunch and didn’t fancy the steps. I had a little look inside, which was very cold, but it was impressive and somewhat dominant, dark and aggressive as churches often appear.
There is a zoo in Plzen, and whilst it isn’t on the same scale as Prague, it did house several endangered species and a successful breeding program. I didn’t, however, have the time, energy or sobriety to walk around it but it does get some good reviews.
The underground tunnels were pretty superb. If you want to see the most amazing cellars, alcoves and such, go to the Underground. It’s well worth the small fee. The audio guides are must and I learned more in an hour than most of the museums could show. I left wanting to learn more about Czech and Bohemian history, and I am absolutely not a history buff. You’ll hear a lot of amazing stories of Plzen’s past, including over 500 years of beer making and storing, book printing, beer drinking, years long sieges by the Hussites in the 16th and Ernst von Mansfeld in the 17th century, and about life in the middle ages in general.