Discover the youthful spirit of the Czech Republic’s second city, with its quirky attractions and a surprising gastronomic scene

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For a city of only around 400,000 — a significant chunk of which are university students — there’s a discernible buzz to Brno. Long overshadowed by Prague, the Moravian capital is developing a reputation for its burgeoning restaurant scene and cooler-than-cool bars. Here, evenings are for dining out at the latest farm-to-table restaurant, and weekends are for shopping in the old market, checking out the newest speakeasy, or cycling out to South Moravia’s patchwork of thriving vineyards. The city has serious historical and cultural credentials, too — its streets whisper of empires, occupations and a revolution (albeit the Velvet kind) — but it’s the quality and lazy pace of local life and the infectious joie de vivre of the locals that’s the real highlight of any visit.

Off-beat Brno
Brno, you’ll find, has a penchant for odd monuments. A popular meeting spot is the ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK in Náměstí Svobody square — a futuristic, phallic sculpture out of which a glass marble pops each day at 11am. Another eye-catching flourish is the bronze STATUE OF THE KNIGHT, featuring Jobst of Moravia astride a 25ft tall giraffe-like steed in Moravian Square. Sights like these can be admired on a walking tour booked through the tourism office.

Below its charming array of ornate churches and towers, the historic centre has a secret, subterranean kingdom with a sinister history. Beneath the Zelný trh — or Cabbage Market — is a labyrinth of former torture chambers and dusty cellars, and even a pub, all of which can be toured with a costumed guide. Brno also boasts Europe’s second-largest OSSUARY after Paris — visit the installation under Church of St James for a spooky display of bones. And at 10-7 BUNKER, grab a map and start exploring the fascinating tunnels and anterooms of a former Cold War-era nuclear fallout shelter, which was classified as ‘Top Secret’ by the military until as recently as 1993. It also offers overnight rooms, tucked away in the depths of the bunker.

For an equally outlandish but far more luxurious stay, check into the 10-room ANYBODY HOTEL, which also offers immersive game play in rooms inspired by cult 1960 films like La Dolce Vita and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The concept has gone down a storm with locals, many of whom opt for multiple weekend staycations to sample each different room. Rooms start at €120 (£101) for two people, B&B. Pair a stay with a visit to cocktail bar extraordinaire SUPER PANDA CIRCUS. This intimate, Tokyo-inspired speakeasy has no drinks menu; instead, bartenders challenge guests to a game to determine their order.

Gourmet gallivant
No visit to the city would be complete without a leisurely rummage through the edible produce and flower stalls of the CABBAGE MARKET, which has been in trading since the 13th century and is open from spring to autumn, Monday to Saturday. Don’t miss BOŽSKÝ KOPEČEK, which sells vegan ice cream, and DOBROKÁVA, a coffee maker that will exchange a flat white for a good deed.

When it comes to restaurants, Brno is having a boom. Over the past decade, talent and investment has returned to the city, and the very best eateries can be scouted out with the help of stylish annual pocket guide GOURMET BRNO. Not sure where to start? Last year, CASTELLANA TRATTORIA was lauded for its hedonistic Italian fare and extensive wine list, while intimate courtyard bistro ATELIER COCKTAIL BAR & BISTRO won for its creative farm-to-table approach.

Look beyond the city, too. Brno sits at the heart of South Moravia’s legendary winelands, which include the picturesque slopes and valleys around the Pálava Hills and the fairytale Lednice Castle. Drive or cycle into the countryside for tastings at the historic cellars of NEPRAŠ, the award-winning SONBERK, and the new kid on the block OBELISK, stopping for lunch at the characterful, rustic restaurant PENZION PASTUŠKA. Vineyard tours and tastings can be organised through local travel agency Holiday Moments.

Adam Vodička’s guide to Brno’s nightlife

U Alberta: Brewing its own craft beer, this place is magic in winter when its tiny interior is packed out; in summer, its beer garden extends over the whole park surrounding Špilberk Castle. I love its beer, Šalina — it’s the same name we give our city trams.

Atelier Cocktail Bar & Bistro: Atelier is definitely the place to eat if you want to know the definition of ‘contemporary yet traditional’. Here, perfection lies in simplicity — you win no matter what you choose, wine or cocktails.

4pokoje: At this (almost) 24-hour bar, enjoy a crafted cocktail based on homemade ingredients, grab a bite to eat, or swing by in the morning for the eggs benedict with a glass of champagne. Ask the staff for suggestions, too — if there’s anything happening in the city, they’ll know about it.

Cabaret des Péchés: With a lavish red interior full of velvet, this new cabaret is a novel addition to the city’s entertainment scene, hosting regular standup comedy nights. Unusually for Brno, you can even turn up here even with a party of 10 or more.

Lemon Music Club: Brno is still waiting for its own big nightclub venue, but if you want to go dancing and you’re not shy, you’ll definitely enjoy our Frisco/Castro district — check out the refreshing atmosphere at the LGBTQ-friendly Lemon Music Club. When you’re done, greet the dawn in Denisovy sady, the public gardens overlooking the twinkling city lights.

Adam is a trained psychologist and local entrepreneur, designing experiences in the hospitality industry, including high-end cocktail venue The Bar That Doesn’t Exist.

Published in the April 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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