Brno is not a place you hear a lot about. It’s the second largest city in Czech Republic, little brother to the capital, Prague. In fact, it’s actually the judicial capital of the country, and with a population of 400,000, about 20% of which is made up by students, it’s small enough to walk around but has a lot going on and lively vibe. It’s also pretty quirky!
Many of the things that make Brno unusual are not immediately visible. Indeed, it’s a city with a lot hidden from view, underground or in secret places. Here is a short guide to some of the most interesting sights in quirky Brno, some above ground and some below.
Certainly Brno does not disappoint visually. The historic centre of the city has been well preserved, the streets and air are clean and the surrounding hills allow for pleasant views out from the city. Here are a few quirky things to see hidden in plain view among all the pretty architecture and manicured gardens.
Old Town Hall
Smack in the middle of the old town, the Old Town Hall (so-called because the town hall had to move to a larger location in then 1930s) is home to two legends of the city.
Above the entrance, the portal is crowned by a sculpture with five pinnacles, one of which is bent. Some say that Anton Pilgram, the sculptor responsible for this was too drunk when working on it to make it straight and so it ended up like this by accident, while others claim that he did it intentionally because he wasn’t paid sufficiently.
On the ceiling in the entrance of the Old Town Hall is a crocodile, known locally as the Brno Dragon, around which there are many stories, none of which have been verified. Either way, the preserved body of a poor reptilian beast is not something you’d expect to see hanging from inside a town hall!
Just at the north end of the old town, this square (Moravian Square, in English) has four pieces of public art, that together represent the four Platonic cardinal virtues necessary for a good and functioning city.
The horizontal fountain stands for temperance or moderation, the giant statue of a horse and rider represents bravery or courage, the model of the medieval city represents foresight, wisdom or prudence and the statue of a figure holding a cube stands for justice.
However, among locals, it’s more often referred to as a bailiff carrying away a washing machine. Either way, it kinda works!
Though technically not an astronomical clock, this modern timepiece on Svobody náměsti right in the heart of Brno goes by many unofficial names, most of which allude to its shape. Made of polished black granite, how exactly you can tell the time with it might be a mystery. Just look over at the church clock tower to the north instead!
Not all of Brno is as the initial impression that the pretty squares, tree-lined streets and cool cafés would suggest it to be. There is a lot more to explore that is not visible from street level in this city with a dark past and bright future.
Labyrinth beneath Zelný trh
Under the oldest square in Brno, Zelný trh (the cabbage market) are a series of underground corridors and cellars. Originally built to store food, brew beer and mature wine, they were also used by alchemists, doctors and pharmacists to carry out their experiments. Some cellars were even reserved for the imprisonment and torture of citizens convicted of various crimes. You can visit the labyrinth with a short guided tour.
This former nuclear fallout shelter sitting at the bottom of the hill right beneath Špilberk Castle was just opened up as a museum to the public this year. Abandoned since 1993, it has been restored to show how it would’ve been during the Cold War, when it could house 500 people for up to three days.
The self-guided tour through the labyrinthine corridors of the bunker takes you through the diesel generator room, the air filtration room, the telephone switchboard centre and various living and sleeping areas. There are audio-visual exhibits at several points along the route explaining the history of the bunker from various perspectives.
This super cool bar hidden behind a curtained door on Šilingovo náměsti is perhaps not the kind of place you’d expect to find in Brno. While it is technically not below ground, it is definitely underground in the sense that it is not the kind of place you could find if you weren’t looking for it. You ring the doorbell for entry and wait to be admitted. At the reception, you’ll have your coats taken and be sat down by the ebullient host who will explain how everything works.
Upstairs, beautiful, tall, bearded bartenders serve creative cocktails from an enormous array of spirits from around the world. Thankfully it is non-smoking inside and there is no cover charge. Prices are reasonable, though at the higher end by Czech standards.
Brno is a very cool city, and definitely worth a visit if you like smaller cities and are looking for something a bit more unusual than the common tourist traps of Prague. Being only three hours from Prague and two hours from Vienna, it makes for a perfect stop on a longer central European trip.
You can also download this guide on the GPSMyCity app!