I celebrated my 34th birthday in Brno, and I can’t imagine a better place for it. Prague + Vienna were both gorgeous and I would visit either again in a heartbeat, but Brno? I would live in Brno.
Since we piggybacked our sight-seeing onto an existing work trip, we were limited in where we could go, when, and how long we could stay. David’s actual destination was a small town vaguely between Prague + Vienna and he knew he might need to take a day trip into Poland (again for work), so it was important not to stray too far from the main rail lines. Brno was perfectly situated: right between our major city destinations, large enough to have frequent trains, only a few hours from the Polish town David’s colleague was in, and small enough that I felt comfortable exploring alone if he had to leave.
(Spoiler: he got to stay! Hooray for spending my birthday in the cutest city with my favorite guy!)
I haven’t yet met an American who has even heard of Brno, which is funny because it’s the second largest city in Czechia and houses a lot of the state’s judicial + administrative government. It is a big college town, with nearly 1/4 of the population of the city being students, which may be why it feels more laid-back than Prague. Or maybe it’s because of the surprising mix of ancient + modern throughout the city. Whatever it is, I loved how Brno was jam-packed with history while still feeling quirky and fresh.
Due to some railway construction, our day in Brno started with a looooooong hike from Dolní Nádraží, a train station just outside the city center, aaaaalllll the way up the Petrov Hill in the center of town, to the medieval cathedral of St. Peter + Paul, then around the corner to our hotel. It was not a great start and I was not amused.
Once we had some time to catch our breath, though, it was hard to stay grumpy. Brno is just so dang charming!
Hotel info: We stayed at the Barceló Brno Palace, which is GORGEOUS and, at under $100 a night, is a screaming deal. Even if you’re not ever going there, you should check the website just to see how pretty the building is. The beds were comfy, the bathroom was enormous, and we were SO happy to have a nice place to rest.
Travel tip: If possible, take the train straight into the heart of Brno and get out at Hlavní Nádraží. You’ll thank me later when you still have hill-hiking energy for the Spilberk Castle.
Travel tip: Outside of Prague, Czechia is ridiculously affordable. Admission fees to museums, restaurants, and train tickets are really cheap, so don’t let cost deter you from visiting somewhere that interests you!
After checking in, we went straight to the main square for lunch. I honestly don’t remember where we ate—somewhere outdoors, and I got a weird Czech risotto—because we just wanted to get food and get to exploring. We did notice the weird astronomical clock and enjoyed watching the fountains while we ate, but didn’t linger long in the square.
First stop: the Brno Ossuary!
(We’re weird. It’s fine. You can read this post to see why I love of visiting dead people while traveling.)
This is the second-largest ossuary in Europe, after the Paris catacombs. It holds the remains of more than 50,000 people, but had been forgotten until it was rediscovered in 2001. The restoration efforts have resulted in a somber but surprisingly artistic tribute to those buried inside. It’s small, so not too much walking, and well worth a brief visit.
Location: the Brno Ossuary is right next door to St. James’ Church, directly north of the main square, HERE. It’s open year round, Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:30 AM to 6 PM. Tours occur every half hour and the number of people allowed at any given time is limited. Adult admission is 140 CZK or about $6.50.
While there, we obviously had to take a minute to peek into St. James’ Church. (I love me a good church.) It was smaller than some of the ones we’d visited in Prague but just as beautiful in its own way. It was bright + airy + it easy to see it as a place where heaven + earth could intersect.
In fact, I liked it much better than St. Peter + Paul, which is the main cathedral in Brno and which we visited later in the day. If you have to choose, I recommend St. James. Fortunately, the middle of Brno is small enough and so easily walkable that you can easily visit both.
That was one of my favorite things about Brno: we could just wander the meandering streets and never get bored. Colorful buildings, endless sculptural details, and so many random surprises…like the stuffed crocodile in the entrance to city hall!
Travel tip: Check Atlas Obscura for interesting things to see wherever you go; that’s how we found the “Brno Dragon” pictured below. But also, keep in mind that central European streets are small + winding + sometimes hard to find. Don’t be afraid to walk through what looks like a random entrance to a back alley. It may open up into a big public plaza where you might find something amazing!
Guys, Brno is super quirky and I dig it so hard.
After St. James, we headed south toward the Capuchin monastery and St. Peter & Paul’s cathedral. The monastic order is an offshoot of the Franciscans within the Catholic Church, and while I don’t know much about them I was so moved by visiting the crypt. It’s clear these humble men are trying their best to love God, love people, and do good during their lives.
Location: the Capuchin monastery and crypt are located HERE. The crypt is open daily from 9 AM to 6 PM. Admission is 70 CZK or about $3.25 per person. The monastery and crypt are both still in use (as in monks still live, work, and are buried there) so be very respectful while visiting.
St. Peter & Paul sits at the south end of Petrov Hill and looms prominently over the rest of the city. The exterior and grounds are lovely but I thought the interior was a little underwhelming. Maybe I was just churched out by that point. There were several tours available—if I remember right, of the Diocesan Museum, a treasury, and the cathedral itself—but we were content to just peek in and wander around for a minute.
After all those churches, we decided it was time to find some dinner. And while it took some serious wandering to find, the tiny bistro we ate at was the perfect birthday dinner: giant slices of pizza and even bigger crepes!
Restaurant Info: Papali is located HERE. It’s easy to miss but I HIGHLY recommend it! The nutella + banana crepe was exactly what I needed after a long day of walking.
Then, because we could, we wandered the city a bit before finding ourselves some trdloyogurt as a (touristy but delicious) Czech substitute for birthday cake and heading back to our hotel to crash.
We decided to fit in one last adventure before checking out and catching a train to Vienna. Spilberk Castle was only steps from our hotel, so up the hill we went!
The gardens surrounding the castle complex were beautiful, and since it had rained overnight everything felt fresh + clean. We ran into more animals than people on our way up, including some ambitious goats and a couple miniature horses. So random! So cute!
While you can go inside the castle and take tours and all that, we mostly wanted to check out the view of Brno and wander a bit. One day I hope to go back and explore some of the exhibits, but we were happy to walk along the castle wall and enjoy the spectacular scenery from above.
Like the rest of Brno, the Spilberk is full of charming details and kind of random sights. Like the gigantic primitive (but functional!) crane and the little house (maybe a caretaker’s hut?) with a scalloped red tile roof. The history of this place is fascinating; you can read more at their website.
Location: Hrad Spilberk sits on the highest point of the city, HERE. You can wander the grounds for free, like we did, or visit any or all of the exhibits for 280 CZK or about $13.
When we’d gotten our fill at Spilberk, we headed back down to our hotel so we could catch a train to Vienna. And just like that, our brief 24 hours in Brno were over. Not nearly long enough but plenty of time to fall madly in love with the city.
Brno is a completely overlooked gem. If you have an extra day in central Europe, I can’t recommend it highly enough. And if you do go, climb the Spilberk hill to say hi to Czech Lil Sebastian for me!