The visit to Plzen was made on a press trip together with Visit Pilsen, but all thoughts and opinions are, as usual, my own.
It is not difficult to understand the heart of Plzen when you read its English city name Pilsen. The beer type pilsner was born here in Plzen and the noble art of beer brewing has been an important part of life in the city ever since the perfect beer storm erupted in the city in 1838. But the Czech Republic's fourth largest city has much more to offer than beer. I visited the city on a snowy weekend in December and got a good dose of culture, history, beauty and underground secrets. Everything within walking distance and a perfect mix for a nice weekend trip!
1. Pilsner Urquelle Brewery
That Plzen would revolutionize beer production in the 1838s, was not intentional. But after centuries of beer brewing without quality control and after being served one bad beer too many, angry townspeople and restaurant owners poured 36 barrels of undrinkable beer into the city streets. The era of industrialization was here and the brewmasters of the city got together and started a revolutionary brewery.
In 1842, the first pilsner was released from the factory in Plzen and it was a success. Unlike the dark beer previously brewed in the city, this cold-fermented beer was golden yellow and foamed beautifully. Since then, the Czech pilsner has spread all over the world, but only beer from the Pilsner Urquelle brewery in Plzen can call itself the original pilsner.
Today, the Pilsner Urquelle brewery is Plzen's biggest attraction with over 500.000 visitors a year from all over the world. Book a guided tour through the brewery's fantastic interactive exhibitions and let the guides take you on an exciting story about the city, the beer and how to create a really good beer. As the icing on the cake, the guided tour ends with a walk in the historic tunnels under the brewery and a tasting of an unfiltered and unpasteurized Pilsner Urquelle straight from a barrel.
Read more about the guided tours at Plzensky Prazdroj
2. Náměstí Republiky and St. Bartholomew's Cathedral
In the middle of Plzen is the main square Namesti Republiky - "Republikens torg". Here on the square, a magnificent Christmas market is organized every Christmas, and every Saturday morning from March to December, the Farmer's Market offers delicacies from the area. Cheese, mushrooms, vegetables, flowers and meat - you'll find it all here. Small-scale and direct from the farmer.
In the middle of the square is the large cathedral of St. Bartholomew's with the highest church tower in the Czech Republic (102 meters high!). Construction of the cathedral began at the same time as the city was founded (1295) and took almost 200 years to complete.
It is possible to climb the 300 steps up the church tower to get a good look of the city from above, but it is also possible to visit the cathedral and see its beautiful interior without climbing stairs. I visited the ottoman and listened to atmospheric singing and music during a (very) early Advent mass - a beautiful experience I will not soon forget.
Read more about the Christmas market in my post Christmas market in Plzen – A family celebration with tradition.
3. Adolf Loos apartments
Adolf Loos was one of Europe's most influential architects during the early 20th century. Loos was very modern and minimalist for its time and used colors and beautiful wood materials in a way that inspired many.
In Plzen there are no less than eight apartments that retain Adolf Loos original design and you can visit three of them on guided tours. I visited "The Brummel House” on a guided tour and was greeted by an apartment with exciting design details that would fit in a modern home even today. During the guided tour, you will also hear the tragic story of the Jewish Brummel family who owned the apartment and were taken to concentration camps during World War II.
Read more about Adolf Loos and the guided tours at Adolf Loos Plzen.
4. The Great Synagogue
The Great Synagogue (Great Synagogue) in Plzen lives up to its name. The world's third largest synagogue was built at the end of the 19th century with an impressive architecture and magnificent interior. But the synagogue's heyday did not last long. During the Second World War, the synagogue was used as a storehouse and during the communist rule the building was left to decay. Thanks to major renovations during 1995-1998, the synagogue is now restored to its full glory.
You can visit the synagogue Sunday to Thursday between 10am and 17pm. Saturdays and Sundays it is closed to visitors.
Read more about it The Great Synagogue at Visit Plzen.
5. The Marionette Museum
If you grew up in the 70s, you've probably sat in velor pants and watched Czech puppet shows on TV. The Czech tradition of marionettes and theater started in the middle of the 18th century and was then mainly aimed at adults. The stories were often based on old folk legends and folk traditions and princesses, devils and kings often appeared in the stories.
Today, the audience is mainly children and the terrible stories have been replaced by fairy tales, but the tradition of puppet theater remains.
Read more about the museum at Museum Loutek V Plzni
6. Go to a beer spa
Take a bath in beer? Does that sound appealing? Beer contains B vitamins and minerals and it is said that soaking your body in beer does wonders for the skin. At the Purkmistr brewery, a truly luxurious experience is offered for stressed souls. A spa experience in beautiful surroundings where you sink into a fragrant bath for a moment of total relaxation. In addition, each bath tub comes its own beer tap.
Read more in my post Beer spa in the Czech Republic – A visit to the brewery Purkmistr in Plzen
7. Underground Plzen
Put on your helmet and go on an underground adventure under Plzen's old quarters. From the end of the 13th century, the underground passages under Plzen began to be excavated and today they stretch like a spider's web of tunnels under the city's streets.
For centuries, the underground passageways have been an important part of daily life and were used for beer storage, fresh water wells, food storage and as shelter for the inhabitants during war. During the guided tour, you will see many of the historical objects found in the tunnels during the excavations and also hear stories about how people lived in Plzen in the Middle Ages.
There are over 20km of passages under Plzen and with a guided tour you get to visit 1,5km of them.
Read more and book your guided tour at Plzensky Prazdroj.
8. Plzeň's little Venice
One of the many beautiful places in central Plzen is Mill grater - Plzeň's little Venice. Here the small lake is surrounded by greenery and around the beautiful houses there are pleasant walking paths and statues. During the summer months, the outdoor seating by the water is filled with people and the flower beds overflow with flowers. A place not to be missed when you are visiting!
Read more about the place at Visit Pilsen
9. The Franciscan monastery
The museum of religious art is located in an old Franciscan monastery. While you may not be completely sold on ecclesiastical art, this is more of a historical art museum. Here you will learn about the life of the monks and wander through the old monastery's grand corridors under beautiful ceiling paintings.
Learn more about The Museum of Religious Art at Visit Plzen
10. Techmania Science Centre
Techmania Science Center is an interactive science museum with a strong focus on physics and mathematics. Here, everything can be pressed and everything can be tested. Really fun for all ages and I guarantee you'll learn something new. There is also a 3D planetarium here, tickets for these shows need to be booked in advance.
Read more about the museum at Techmania Science Center.
How do I get to Plzen?
Plzen is situated 9 miles southwest of Prague. You can easily travel here by train from Prague (1h 20 min) and the trains run at least once an hour.
Read more about train travel in the Czech Republic in my post Train travel in the Czech Republic.
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