More than Budweiser to enjoy in charming town
České Budějovice has attractions aplenty close to stunning main square
Posted: October 2, 2013
When it comes to main town squares, the Czech Republic is overflowing with magnificent examples.
Hradec Králové, Tábor, Český Krumlov and Plzeň, to name but a few, all have marvelous central spaces that have both noteworthy architecture and a relaxed, genial atmospheres.
Yet perhaps none has a square that quite matches that of České Budějovice, the South Bohemian town known to many through its association with the Czech Budweiser, which is brewed there.
There can be few more satisfying experiences than simply relaxing with a coffee - or more appropriately, a glass of Budweiser - at one of the cafés skirting the vast náměstí Přemysla Otakara II, named after the 13th King of Bohemia who founded the town.
Many, but by no means all, of the town's chief attractions can be seen in or around the square, which is said to be the largest of its kind in the country.
To one side sits the magnificent baroque Town Hall, decorated with coats of arms and topped by classical statues and three towers.
Although the building can trace its origins much further back, the present-day look of the radnice largely dates from the 1700s, when much of České Budějovice was rebuilt after conflict and fire ravaged the town during the previous century.
In the center of the square sits Samon's Fountain, an elegant octagonal construction, while just off to the side is one of the many modern-day decorations that dot the town: a vast shark's fin that appears to break through the brick surface of the square. Also offering a modern art touch is a small metal tower, looking something like a cigar, which visitors can climb up for free.
Quite stunning vistas can be enjoyed from another tower just off the square. The Black Tower, which at 72 meters is one of the town's tallest structures - it appears to be slightly lower than the Clarion Congress Hotel - affords a magnificent view of the town square and the surrounding countryside, much of it heavily forested.
Also visible to those energetic enough to have climbed the stairs of the Black Tower are the cooling towers of the Temelín nuclear power plant and, slightly closer, the stunning castle of Hluboká nad Vltavou.
Providing a contrast to the historical delights of the town center, the obvious former wealth of which is testament to the city's importance in silver-mining, is the Budějovický Budvar brewery.
While buses run close to the brewery from the historical center, it also makes for a pleasant and interesting 20-minute walk northwards.
Budějovický Budvar's modern-looking facility may lack the historical charm of the Pilsner Urquell brewery in Plzeň, but a glimpse inside the works where the celebrated South Bohemian tipple is produced is no less fascinating. Guided tours cost just 100 Kč.
Visitors first pass the well that supplies the brewery and then, after a brief explanation of how brewing takes place, they see the vast copper kettles that play a key role in the process, while trying to avoid breaking out into a sweat in the hot and humid atmosphere of the hall.
Providing a contrast are the chilly cellars that house vast tanks where the beer develops further. Visitors are treated with a plastic glass of beer poured from one of these tanks, its delightful yeasty flavor different from the more refined taste of the processed drink served in pubs.
Then, after passing the brewery's very own railway station, there is a walk through the bottling plant, interesting even on a weekend when it is out of action.
The scale of the operation is impressive, even if it must be dwarfed by that of the American Budweiser, with which Budějovický Budvar has been involved in one of the world's longest-running and most notable trademark cases.
After walking back to the town center, past a wealth of attractive apartment buildings and through some of the old arcades, of which České Budějovice has many, there are several other historical attractions that should not be missed.
Just to the northwest of the town square is a charming historical square, Piaristické náměstí, which includes the Presentation Church of the Virgin Mary, which dates from the 13th century. The multiple periods of rebuilding which the church has undergone are obvious from even a casual glance.
Nearby, there is also a prison tower dating from the 1400s and a medieval salt store that has been converted into a motorcycle museum, with a couple of vintage machines sitting outside to lure in visitors.
The view from across the stretch of water behind this quarter is one of the town's most pleasing aspects, and from the water the heads of three blue maidens emerge elegantly, another example of the slightly avant-garde modern art that is mixed in with the town's history.
Strolling back to the railway station (the city can also be reached by Student Agency bus), visitors should keep a lookout for some of the town's Art Nouveau buildings, with one of the most striking examples now housing a branch of Komerční Banka.
Leading up to the station is a pedestrianized street with yet another modern-art construction, this one appearing to be a vast metal donut. It is bizarre, but further evidence that, despite its long and rich history, České Budějovice does not take itself too seriously.
Daniel Bardsley can be reached at