If you enjoy beer, Pilsen is one of the must-see cities in the Czech Republic. That’s because it’s the city where pilsner beer originated in the 1800s. You can still visit the brewery that produced the world’s first pilsner beer in Pilsen. But more on that later.
Getting to Pilsen
As one of Prague’s closest neighbors, it’s outrageously easy to get to Pilsen at all hours of the day. You can either take one of many bus lines, like Flixbus or Regiojet, or take a regional train which departs to and from the city approximately twice every hour. You can pretty much show up at the train station anytime and get a ticket for less than $5. The trains will get you to and from Pilsen in an hour and a half if you take the express train, or almost two hours if you take the other trains.
If you’re traveling around Europe and coming from certain cities in Germany, like Nuremberg or Munich, it makes more sense to stop in Pilsen on the way to Prague instead of taking a day trip from Prague. Pilsen is almost a halfway point.
Things to do in Pilsen
Plzeňský Prazdroj Brewery Tour
The Pilsner Urquell brewery is the number one reason to visit Pilsen, and this alone is worth the trip. The brewery tour is almost two hours, taking you around the huge complex of the brewery, which is so big that it requires a bus. The tour includes a visit to the bottling facility, where Pilsner Urquell is bottled along with Kozel, Gambrinus, and a few other Czech brands. You’ll also get a chance to taste the individual ingredients like hops, malt, and barley.
On the tour, you’re taken to the old brewery building and then then the adjacent modern brewery building. Finally, you go down into the freezing labyrinth of underground cellars, where beer is stored in wooden barrels. At the end of the tour, you get your own glass of bubbly Pilsner in an unfiltered state straight from one of the barrels. I’ve been to quite a few brewery tours, but nothing tops this one. It’s like Disneyland for beer.
On the first weekend of October, the brewery celebrates Pilsnerfest, a commemoration of the first beer brewing. The event that’s celebrated in the brewery courtyard includes music, live performances, and of course, lots of beer.
Have a Czech feast
Right on the grounds of the brewery, you’ll also find the largest beer hall in the Czech Republic, Na Spilce. I recommend stopping in after your tour so you can enjoy more beer and the most delicious Czech food I’ve had in the entire country in the past two years of living here. There’s pork knee, goulash, and beer cheese. All portions are very shareable. Even sharing, you might need at least two beers before you can finish your meal.
Visit the synagogues
Pilsen is known for two special synagogues. One is the Great Synagogue, which is the second largest in Europe and one of the largest in the world. It sits across from the J.K. Tal Theatre, making it a beautiful area to pull up a chair in an outdoor cafe and have a drink. You can visit the Great Synagogue interior for 70 czk from Sunday to Friday.
The second notable synagogue in Pilsen is the Old Synagogue. This one is fairly hidden because it’s in a courtyard surrounded by other buildings. It’s accessible from Smetanovy sady by a doorway next to the Dobra Čajovna Tea House. You can enter this Synagogue for 55 czk. The synagogues are only open for visitors from April to October.
Climb the tower of the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew
Though the interior will be closed for renovations for another two years, the tower of the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew is still open for visitors. For 50 czk, you can climb the stone steps up to the tallest spire in the Czech Republic, giving you a bird’s eye view of the city.
Walk around Republic Square
If you’re not up for a Cross Fit-esque workout, the imposing St. Bartholomew is also lovely to see from the exterior in Republic Square, surrounded by the colorful and ornate architecture of Pilsen. There are many restaurants and cafes on the perimeter of Republic Square, and during certain parts of the year, it houses markets and outdoor concerts. Aside from the church, notable things to see in the square include City Hall, Prague Column and the three modern gold fountains. The Renaissance style City Hall building is particularly spectacular.
If you want to learn more about life in Pilsen (and you have time), you can visit the Ethnographic Museum, which includes folk history, costumes, interior design from different periods up to the mid-20th century, and even a visit down into preserved Gothic cellars.
Should you spend the night in Pilsen?
If you’re in the Czech Republic for a long time and you want to see a lot of the museums in the city, you may want to make it an overnight trip. For instance, there’s the Brewery Museum, the Museum of Marionettes, and the Museum of the Church Art of the Pilsen Diocese, to name a few. There’s also the Historic Underground of Pilsen, a Medieval network of underground wells, storehouses and cellars that you can access on a 50-minute guided tour, which is 120 czk. This one ha a better reputation than Prague’s similar historic underground.
It sounds like a lot to do. But there’s a pretty good chance you’re not interested in all of those things. If you pick and choose certain sites to visit, you can easily see the things you’re most interested in all in one day including the round trip from Prague.
The benefit is that it’s cheaper than Prague to stay, eat and drink. So it might be financially wise to spend a night there instead of an extra one in Prague. The downside is that it’s definitely a lot quieter (read: more boring) in the evening than Prague. It’s a good place to have an early drink at Zapa Bar with a few barflies and enjoy a relaxing early night at the hotel.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Plzen guides on GPSmyCity here.