Tips for Trips: Pilsen (Plzeň)
Pilsner Urquell… It would be rude not to
Just a 90 minute coach ride away from Prague you will find the city of Pilsen. This makes it an ideal place to spend a whole day experiencing another part of the Czech Republic. Along with Mons in Belgium, Pilsen was voted European Capital of Culture 2015, the breath-taking architecture combined with modern artwork and sculptures around the city show how Pilsen has come to earn this title. The city almost feels like a very rural town due to how quiet it was when I visited but this led to a very peaceful atmosphere across the entire city.
The best thing to do for a day trip is do some research in advance as to any points of interest which you would like to see, it means you can be on the move as soon as you arrive, wasting as little time as possible. After doing some research we decided that two of the things we should visit were the Pilsen Historical Underground and the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. We also realised that these are both time consuming visits to make and so we knew they may well be the only places we visit aside from walking around the city in our brief spare time there.
Pilsen city centre is only a 10 minute walk from the bus station and is very easy to find on foot. On the way to the city centre you come across and array of impressive buildings (we stopped off to take photos of them all). One of the most impressive buildings on the way to the city centre is that of the Great Synagogue. It is the third largest Synagogue in the world and is impressive from every angle you look at it. Unfortunately you will struggle to get a good photo of the front of the Synagogue as there are tram wires and lamppost which will litter the shot, however it is still a must see if you are in the area. You can then move into the historical city centre, home to St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral. This impressive structure has a tower just over 102 metres tall making it the largest in the Czech Republic dominating the skyline of Pilsen. The Cathedral stands in the middle of the huge city centre, surrounded by all manner of old buildings including the City Hall, in any direction you look it is impressive so be sure to have your cameras at the ready.
The Pilsen Historical Underground was first on the list of places to visit however, just around the corner from the main square the underground is easy enough to find. It is attached to the Pilsen Brewery museum – not to be confused with the Brewery – and you can buy your ticket for a tour of the underground at the Beer Museum desk. There are hourly guided tours of the underground so if you miss one, don’t worry, there will be another one along soon. You have to take the tour with a guide and admission of 120kc, there are several foreign language tours through the day but if you miss one you can always pay an extra 30kc (like we did) and just use an audio guide. When you enter the tunnels you are asked to wear a hairnet and also a hard hat as you are walking through cramped spaces and there’s a good chance you will bang your head off the low ceilings and walls. Obviously we all looked like catwalk models in our hard hats, New York fashion show look out. The tunnels themselves are impressive and you cover over 500 metres of the tunnel system on the tour stopping every so often to be given information. It was a relief to get back above ground and see daylight again even after only an hour underground. This is a great tour to go on though and you should consider it when you are exploring Pilsen.
Of course the day trip to Pilsen would not be complete without a tour of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. Step through the Brewery Gate and you are immediately taken back by how seriously they take their brewing capabilities, we are in the Czech Republic after all, home of beer. A tour of the facility will cost you 190kc in a foreign language like English or German but you have to remember that this will include some fine beer tasting at the end, who could say no to that? The tour takes you through several buildings including the bottling plant and the copper kettle rooms, the beating heart of the production of beer in Pilsen. While English may not be the first language of the tour guide there were no problems with understanding the information given out and there was even a joke or two thrown in there. And then the moment everyone had been waiting for, a tour through the infamous beer cellars of the Brewery where the temperature drops to a chilly 6 degrees Celsius. The cellars are huge and it would be easy to get lost by yourself in there. Finally we got to the area where they let you sample the unfiltered and non-pasteurised Pilsner Urquell beer, stored in the chilly cellars it is ice cold out of the tap and one of the most refreshing beers I have ever tasted. I might have even gone back for seconds. You cannot go to Pilsen without visiting the Brewery, the 90 minute tour felt like it went over in a flash and before we knew it we were heading back to the centre of town and then on further still to the bus station to leave Pilsen.
These were just two of the attractions we visited, there are many more and you could spend a whole week in Pilsen seeing everything that is has to offer. Other notable points of interest included the Patton Memorial and Museum, dedicated to the liberation of Pilsen by General Patton’s 3rd American Army. We also walked briefly through the Municipal Garden Circle which is an impressive open space right in the middle of the city. There is also a Techmania Science Centre, this is an interactive centre for learning which includes science shows, lab experiments and 3D Planetarium and is great for the whole family.
With cheap transport links via coach services from Prague, Pilsen is a great city to go and visit if you want to explore a little bit more of the Czech Republic. The travel there provides a great opportunity to view the Czech countryside and there are some great attractions to visit once you arrive. I feel as if I only scratched the surface of Pilsen during my visit and would definitely visit again to take in more of this great city.
Pilsen Tourist information: www.pilsen.eu (ENG)
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