Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic and has lots of things to see and do. And best of all, it sees far fewer visitors than overtouristed Prague. This means you won't have to jostle with the crowds when visiting the places listed below.
Plus, you'll have the chance to see what a real Czech city is like and experience it as the locals do. While popular destinations like Prague and Český Krumlov are certainly beautiful, when you travel to the Czech Republic you should really take the time to visit some of the more authentic Czech cities, like Olomouc and Brno.
Here are my top picks of the 20 best things to do in Brno Czech Republic, including free things, unusual things, things to do in Brno at night, as well as some more conventional Brno attractions.
Those Brno sights that are marked with a star are totally free.
Brno City Sights
1. Cabbage Market (Zelný Trh)
You’ll find a lot more than just cabbage at this fruit and vegetable market, which has been operating since the 13th century. Go in the morning to see the market at its liveliest. Be sure to stop by the Tutti Frutti vegan ice cream truck while you’re here. Open daily except Sundays.
2. Špilberk Castle
This whitewashed castle sits on a hill overlooking the city. Its official name is Spilberk Castle, but the locals call it Špilas. It was built in the 13th century as a residence for the Moravian margraves, but it later became a military fortress and then a prison.
You do have to pay to visit the museum inside, but even if you don't go in, it’s worth the climb up here just for the views from the parapets. And you can wander around the grounds and take a peek into the courtyard with its 15-bell carillon without paying the museum entrance fee. Come near the top of the hour to hear the bells do their thing.
3. Eat Delicious Vegan Food
If you know anything about traditional Czech food, you'll know that it's quite meat-centric. You might be surprised to learn, then, that Brno has an incredible vegan foodie scene!
There are currently 13 fully vegan restaurants in the Brno city center, and plenty more that offer vegan options. From tofu scramble bagels to decadent doughnuts, you'll find it all here. Read this post to find out which ones are my favorite vegan food spots in Brno.
4. Old Town Hall
The building was the center of the city government from the mid-13th century until 1935 and is now the tourism office. Before you go in, take a look at the spires decorating the entrance. You'll see that the one in the middle is obviously bent.
You might assume it was damaged in some kind of accident, but actually it was carved that way on purpose! Apparently, the architect wanted to show that he was not happy with the low amount he was paid for designing the building.
As you enter the Old Town Hall, be warned that you will see the dead body of a crocodile hanging from the ceiling. He's called the “dragon of Brno”, and the story goes that he appeared one day in the Svratka river.
Some say he was brought here by the Turkish armies, others say he was one of Mendel’s genetic experiments. In any case, the locals saw him as a threat, so the butcher’s apprentice thought of a way to get rid of him. I won't go into the gory details, but let's just say it ended badly for the crocodile.
5. Town Clock
On Freedom Square you’ll find a sculpture known as the “time machine” that is meant to evoke the shape of a bullet. This is to commemorate the defense of Brno against the Swedish army during the Thirty Years War.
It reminded the locals of something else, though, so they gave it a more irreverent name … the Cock Clock. In keeping with the theme, it's apparently wrapped in a huge condom-like cover on New Year’s Eve to protect it from the fireworks.
Come at 11am to hear the clock chime and see if you can catch the glass ball with the city flag inside that drops out of the statue. To find out why the clock chimes at 11am instead of 12pm, keep reading to learn about our next place to visit in Brno -- the Cathedral.
6. Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral
The Cathedral stands on the top of Petrov Hill and dominates Brno’s skyline. At the foot of Petrov hill is a park called Denis Gardens, where you can take in a panoramic view of the city. You’ll also find an obelisk in the park, which was erected in 1818 to commemorate the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
And now, here's the story you've been waiting for. The Swedish army expected to conquer Brno in a matter of days, but the siege had been raging for months already, with no end in sight. In a last-ditch effort, the Swedish general Torstenson said that if his army had not conquered Brno by noon that day they would leave.
The townspeople rang the bells of the Cathedral an hour early, at 11am, and saved the city from the Swedes. That's why the Town Clock still chimes at 11am to this day.
7. Mintmaster’s Cellar
This is the tamest of the underground sights in Brno. To find out about the other, more macabre sights, see the section below on unusual things to do in Brno.
The tour of the mint master's cellar starts off with an exhibition presenting the history of coin minting in Brno. This part I did not find all that enthralling, but I did enjoy the series of short films about Brno shown in the audiovisual room. You can ask to watch other films about Brno as well; they have four or five to choose from.
In addition to the films, I also really liked the exhibit about the Royal Chapel of the Virgin Mary and St. Wenceslas – a beautiful early-Gothic structure that was destroyed in the early 20th century. Most of the architectural pieces of the chapel have been preserved and are being kept in storage, in the hopes that it might be reconstructed one day. Some of the finest examples are on display in the Mint Master’s Cellar.
8. St. Michael’s church in Dominikánské Square
This is where the Royal Chapel used to be before it was destroyed. After you learn about the Chapel through the exhibition at the Mintmaster’s Cellar nearby, come here to imagine what it must have looked like in situ.
9. Marian Column in Freedom Square
Marian columns are religious monuments with a statue of the Virgin Mary on the top. They are often erected as a way of giving thanks to Mary for ending the outbreak of a plague The one in Freedom Square (Náměstí Svobody) dates from 1680.
You will find similar plague columns in other cities and towns around the Czech Republic. The famous Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc, for example, was also erected as a show of appreciation for bringing an end to the plague. The main different is that the Olomouc column is dedicated to the Trinity rather than to Mary.
10. Tivoli Square
Despite the name, this is not really a square, but rather an area of four residential blocks designed by architect Franz Pawel during the Belle Epoque period, between 1894 and 1915.
The façades of the buildings here are some of the most beautiful in the whole city.
11. Villa Tugendhat
This Bauhaus-style villa, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for Greta and Fritz Tugendhat, is considered to be one of the most important examples of 20th century architecture. It's also Brno’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Modern architecture doesn't float my boat, so I skipped it, although I do find the history of the building interesting. During World War II, the villa was confiscated from its Jewish owners and plundered by the Gestapo, then turned into a stable by Russian soldiers. Much later, it's where the 1993 separation agreement between the Czech Republic and Slovakia was signed.
It has now been thoroughly restored to the way it looked when it was first completed back in 1930, and the interior is furnished with exact replicas of the original furniture.
Tickets to tour the interior cost 300 to 350 CZK and need to be booked online a couple of months in advance. Alternatively, you can enter the gardens for 50 CZK without a reservation, or just take a free peek from the garden of the Villa Löw-Beer next door (see below).
12. Villa Löw-Beer
If functionalist architecture is not your style, check out the art nouveau Villa Löw-Beer just next door to Villa Tugendhat. It was owned by Greta Tugendhat’s parents and was built in a much more decorative style.
During World War II, it was also confiscated by the Gestapo, and during the Communist era it was turned into a boarding house. The two villas are now separated by a fence, but you can enter the garden of the Villa Löw-Beer for free, from where you’ll have a view of Villa Tugendhat. There’s also a café on the grounds.
13. Park Lužánky
This is the largest city park in Brno and one of the oldest public parks in Europe. It's popular among joggers and dog walkers and is also a great place for a picnic. You'll find the park just outside the city center, near Villa Tugendhat. The grounds are filled with many fountains, sculptures and statues. Lots of cultural events also take place here under a big top circus tent.
Unusual Things to Do in Brno
14. Labyrinth of Cellars
Underneath the streets of Brno lies a huge network of cellars built in the Middle Ages to store wine and perishable foodstuffs. The ones under the Cabbage Market have been restored and are open to visitors.
At No. 21 on Zelný Trh you can book a spot on a guided tour of the cellars, which lasts about 45 minutes. Tours do sometimes sell out, so book yours as soon as you arrive in town. It’s chilly down there, so you might want to bring a light jacket or sweater.
The tour is in Czech, but an audioguide in English and other languages is available. A section of the cellars has been turned into a display about medieval torture practices, and in the next room is the "madman’s cage", where people with mental disabilities were locked up and placed on public display.
The labyrinth is just one of four underground sights in Brno. If you want to visit more than one of them, it’s cheaper to buy a combination ticket.
15. Ossuary at the Church of St. James
One of the city’s main cemeteries was founded at St. James Church. When the cemetery could no longer accommodate the growing population, a rotation system was introduced. Once a person had been buried for 10 to 12 years, their remains were removed to make way for another body to be buried in the same place. The bones from the original grave were then placed in the ossuary.
The bones of more than 50,000 people were interred here, making the Brno ossuary the second largest ossuary in Europe after the Paris catacombs. Those buried here include victims of the Thirty Years’ War and the Swedish Siege, as well as victims of cholera and plague epidemics.
It’s a haunting, thought-provoking place of reverence and reflection. The skulls and bones are decoratively arranged, except in the last of the three chambers, where you can see the bones jumbled up in a huge pile, as they were first found when the ossuary was rediscovered in 2001.
16. 10-Z Fallout Shelter
10-Z was the code name for a highly classified nuclear bunker that was fitted out during the Communist era to protect the local politicians in the event of a nuclear attack. The bunker, buried deep in the rock below Špilberk Castle, could house 600 people for up to three days.
It had originally been built during the Nazi occupation as a civil defense shelter, but the Communists embellished it with lots of fancy technical equipment to purify the air and keep those inside connected to the outside world.
The equipment still functions to this day. You’ll see the engine room with a diesel generator, the air filtration room and the emergency telephone exchange. The attached milk bar is a great place to have a drink afterwards. Just don’t try to order a Coke – they only serve food and drink that was available in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War.
17. Capuchin Monastery
The crypt underneath this still-functioning monastery holds the mummified remains of monks as well as some Brno nobles. The monks didn’t intend to turn the bodies into mummies; it happened naturally due to the atmospheric conditions in the dry, well-ventilated crypt.
The most evocative part of the crypt is the room at the end, where the monks were buried.
Buried is not the right word, actually. Their bodies were simply laid on the bare ground, with a brick under their head to serve as a pillow. When a monk died, his body was carried in a coffin during the funeral but was then removed and placed here. The same coffin was then reused for the next monk who died.
18. Courage Statue
On Moravian Square, there stands a statue called “Courage”. It depicts a knight on a very long-legged horse. Truth be told, it looks more like a giraffe than a horse.
The knight is Jošt of Moravia, and rumor has it that he was actually afraid of horses! So much for courage. You might be wondering why this entry belongs in the "unusual things to do in Brno" section of this article.
Well, it's become a popular photo opportunity for Instagrammers and tourists with a risqué sense of humor. To frame the shot, and to see the statue from a whole different perspective, stand under the horse between his two front legs and look up, towards his head.
Day Trips from Brno
19. Brno Reservoir
If you only have 1 day in Brno, then it's probably smart to limit your sightseeing to the city center. But if you have another day to spare, then a boat trip across the Brno Reservoir and down the Svratka river is one of the best day trips from Brno. You'll pass through beautiful forest scenery and even see a castle. The second half of the journey is the prettiest, when the reservoir becomes a narrow river.
To get to the reservoir from the city center, take tram No. 1, 3 or 11 in the direction of Bystrc and get off at the Přístaviště stop. You can buy the tram ticket at a newsagent shop, or some tram stops have orange ticket machines. There’s one at the Malinovské Náměstí stop, for example.
The tram ride takes about 30 minutes, and from there it’s a short walk to the ferry terminal at Kníničky. I recommend taking the boat all the way to the final stop, which is Veverská Bítýška. A round-trip ticket costs 240 CZK, and the ride takes 1 hour 10 minutes each way.
Plan for a round trip of about two and a half hours if you don’t make any stops. If you want to get off to explore the Veveří Castle (hrad Veveří), that will add another 45 minutes or so onto the trip. The boat timetable is available here. Boats run from April to October. There's a clothing optional beach at the Osada stop, so if you make the trip in warm weather be prepared to see some nude sunbathers.
Things to Do in Brno at Night
20. Have a Drink on the Curb
The large student population in the city ensures a thriving Brno nightlife scene. Whether you're in town on the weekend or during the week, you're sure to find plenty of lively bars and pubs where you can have a drink with the locals.
Na Stojáka, located at No. 16 on Běhounská, is a pub whose name means “standing up”. True to its name, you’re unlikely to find a seat at this place, which has been ranked as the best pub in the Czech Republic.
Most people just take a seat on the curb outside, but even that can fill up quickly. You’ll find lots of Czech beers from regional breweries here.
And of course, in addition to the city's many attractions, you will also find plenty of hotels and other amenities.
= free things to do in Brno
Villa Tugendhat by r chelseth
FED-5V - Statue of Tolerance in Lužánky Park by Jaroslav A. Polák
Morový sloup na Náměstí Svobody v Brně by Ladislav Boháč
_DSC5059.jpg (capuchin monastery) by Morgan Davis
Old Town Hall, Brno by Roman Boed
Runway bar by Michal Sänger
"cock clock" by Moonez
All other photos taken by me or my husband Nick. All rights reserved.