České Budějovice: Why This Original Beer City Should Be Your Next Visit in the Czech Republic
České Budějovice, the provincial capital of South Bohemia in the Czech Republic, has many distinguishing features. Most notably for food and beer lovers, it is the home of Budvar beer, the original Budweiser beer! It has one of the largest main squares in Europe, and has grown to be the largest city in South Bohemia as well as its commercial and political center. And as you may have noticed, the name is super long and difficult to pronounce for non-Slavic speakers — CHESS-ke BOOD-yay-aw-VIT-sah — but saying it over and over helps you get the hang of it (this should help). In some ways, that’s a metaphor for this interesting city — it may not have the compact feel of its quaint medieval neighbor Cesky Krumlov, but it has an equally compelling history, amazing historic sights, excellent cafes and restaurants, and an appeal all its own. Once you visit, you just might be hooked to explore it more and more.
When we first learned of České Budějovice and its origins in beer, we were so intrigued to visit, but secretly wondered why we hadn’t heard about it before. When you think of the Czech Republic, naturally you think of Prague, the City of a Hundred Spires, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Czech Republic. But one visit to the rural countryside of South Bohemia a short two hours south of Prague, and you can’t help but fall in love with the scenery, fairytale cities, castles, and charming medieval sites. After spending a few days in Cesky Krumlov, we headed to České Budejovice but didn’t allow nearly enough time to fully experience it. So now we know for next time, and so do you! This original beer city makes a popular day trip from Prague and Cesky Krumlov, but an even better idea is to base yourself in České Budejovice to explore all that South Bohemia has to offer. Here’s why it should be your next visit in the Czech Republic.
How To Get To České Budějovice
Getting to České Budejovice is fairly easy. The town is served by both bus and train and the respective stations are across the street from each other making it very easy to coordinate your connections. From the bus station it’s an easy 10-12 minute walk to the main square, a bit longer from the train station.
Bus - From Cesky Krumlov to Ceske Budejovice, the best option is by bus. The bus schedule gives you more options with at least one trip per hour, and takes a little over half an hour, quicker than the train. Coming from Prague is easy as well but it does take more time, about 2 hours and 20 minutes one way. While we generally stick to day trips under 2 hours, this one is definitely worth it.
Train - The train from Prague to Ceske Budejovice takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes each way, so taking the bus is faster.
Private Transport - Of course you can always hire a driver. We almost always rent a car. It gives us the freedom to stop when and where we want. If you rent a car, you should have no problem driving here. The roads are great and well marked, and a GPS makes getting around pretty simple.
Things To Do in České Budejovice
Square of Přemysl Otakar II
After parking or coming from the bus or train stations, a great place to start exploring České Budejovice is the main square named for Premysl Otakar II, the founder of the city, and one of the largest main squares in Europe. You can walk to most major sites and restaurants from here. Its dimensions make it almost a perfect square and it is the center of activity in the city. Though the past history of the square saw executions, today the square hosts farmers markets, celebrations, fairs, and festivals. It is surrounded by parking spaces, shops, cafes and restaurants, the Zvon Hotel, the Včela Palace, the beautiful Baroque town hall, banks and pastel-colored houses that at one time belonged to wealthy nobles. Near the center of the square east of the fountain is the ‘Erratic Boulder’ (Bludny kamen) where in 1470 or 1478 (the record isn’t clear) the execution of 10 conspirators was held. Don’t look for a big rock. It’s a small piece of nearly flat stone with a small cross carved in it and is all that’s left of the original cobblestones. Legend has it that if you step over the ‘boulder’ after nine o’clock at night (some versions say ten o’clock), you won’t be able to find your way home until sunrise. So watch where you walk!
Samson Fountain (Samsonova Kana)
A cultural monument of the Czech Republic, this large fountain with a diameter of 17 meters is the focal point of the main square. It was built in the Baroque style between 1721-1727 and features Samson holding open the mouth of a lion from which water spurts. With an increasing population, supplying water became a problem so the fountain was built to supply water from the Vltava River to part of the city. This was accomplished in 1724 by building a water tower on the bank of the river then pumping the water to the fountain. All the original sculptures of the fountain were moved to the town hall when reconstruction work was done in 1990. What you see are replicas of the sculptures.
Budvar Brewery Tour
Beer lovers, listen up! If you’re looking for a great beer experience, you’ve come to the right town. Ceske Budejovice is one of the most famous beer brewing towns in the Czech Republic and for good reason — it is the home of the excellent Czech beer, Budvar beer, the original Budweiser beer! In old German the name for Budejovice is Budweis from which the name Budweiser is derived. So Budvar is also known as the Czech Budweiser. But trust us, the beer made in the USA under the Budweiser label couldn’t be any different than Budvar. Located just 2 km north of town, the Budvar brewery tour is an excellent one to take. If you come by bus, it’s an inexpensive taxi ride to the brewery. Group tours can be prearranged for just about any time, but tours for individuals are only conducted at 2pm. To take the tour in English, German, or French the cost is 100 Czech Korunas or not quite 4 Euros.
This water tower in Ceske Budejovice is one of the oldest in South Bohemia and was built between 1721-1724 to supply water to the Samson fountain. It was closed for a period in recent years while undergoing extensive renovations but you can now visit, take a guided tour and walk through the small surrounding gardens. The renovation also included a new facade and restoration of the 19th century color scheme. It’s a short visit but worth the time.
Climb the Black Tower (Cerna vez)
This symbol of the city is situated at the northeast corner of the main square next to the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. Standing 72.3 meters high (237 feet) it has nine levels and was completed in 1577. It originally served as a bell tower for the church and later as a watch tower to signal the direction of a fire in the city or the approach of enemies. A watch guard and his family lived here up until around 1956 along with their livestock. It has existed for centuries under different names, but in the 18th century as it fell into disrepair, the local people started to refer to it as ‘black’ which has stuck to this day. Climb the 225 steps to the top and you’ll have incredible 360° views of the city and surrounding area, even the Alps in the distance. On the way up you’ll pass five huge bells, one dating to 1684. When you reach the top level you pay a modest fee for entrance to the outside. We were met with a friendly warm smile and a welcome from the attendant. A very interesting place, just watch your head in some places.
Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth Art Supplies
Founded in 1790 by Austrian Joseph Hardtmuth, this Czech company is one of the world’s largest producers and distributors of wooden graphite lead pencils, art supplies, writing instruments and stationery. The brick industrial complex occupies several blocks in town and boasts an assortment of products in four main categories - Art, School, Office, and Hobby. The company manufactures over 4,500 products from pencils of different lead hardnesses, charcoals, pastels, chalks, crayons, oil and water colors to an incredible variety of stationery, drawing, and painting materials.
Stromovka is České Budějovice’s largest park and is just a 5-minute walk from the city center. Set on the western bank of the Vltava River, The Park is bordered by urban development and crisscrossed by a network of soft dirt and asphalt pathways — one reason it’s uber popular among cyclists and inline skaters. In fact, the city center is connected to Stromovka by a cycling trail. The nearby Stromovka sports hall provides facilities for sports and cultural events. We loved seeing so many people relaxing in the park throughout the day!
Town Hall (Radnice)
When you first enter the town square, this beautiful Baroque building will be the first thing that catches your eye. It was built between 1727-1730 and high up on the edge of the roof are four statues symbolizing the four virtues of Ceske Budejovice’s people — Justice, Courage, Wisdom and Caution. On the blue-gray facade under the central window is the city’s coat of arms along with the coats of arms for Moravia, Bohemia and Silesia. The tall central spire contains a carillon that was installed in 1995 and plays a short glockenspiel tune on the hour that varies from hour to hour. Cemented into one corner of the building is what is referred to as a ‘Viennese elbow’, an iron measuring stick of 0.77 meters which was used as a control standard. But we thought one of the most impressive features of the building were the huge heads of four copper dragon-shaped gargoyles (we love gargoyles) jutting out of the facade.
Where to Eat in České Budějovice
Located on a side estuary of the Malse River in the historic part of town, Klika Kitchen is just a few minutes walk from the town square. This small restaurant is co-located with a hotel of the same name and offers both indoor and outdoor seating. It was a bit chilly when we visited so we opted for the warm and cozy seating inside. Even though the place was hopping at lunch time, the service was very good. The menu offers a wide range of traditional Czech dishes — some of which we had tried on our Prague food tour — but with a modern twist and all made from fresh ingredients. For our lunch we started with Kulajda, a traditional creamy South Bohemian soup with wild mushrooms, egg (as in Chinese egg drop soup), and a hint of dill. For the main course, we shared three dishes: braised beef in a cream sauce, with homemade dumplings and cranberry jam; gnocchi-like pumpkin dumplings with herbs, edible flowers, and shaved cheese; and grilled pork tenderloin with bacon and roasted grenaille potatoes. Our beverage of choice was of course the locally brewed Budvar beer. We loved this restaurant with its folksy atmosphere, excellent food, great local beer and good service.
We were a bit pressed for time as we needed to catch a bus to Prague but Cafe Datel looked like a great place to stop and have a coffee, and we were glad we did. We frequent local coffee shops wherever we go, and we enjoyed their selection of coffee drinks, and especially liked that they also served spirits. Just a one minute walk from the town square, it’s a warm and friendly place. They have a good assortment of coffees and teas and a casual menu. But who can have an espresso without a pastry? Our carrot cake was delicious. If only we had had more time…
Masné Krámy Restaurant
If it’s the local Budvar beer and traditional Czech cuisine you’re looking for, this is the place for you. Hearty and delicious, the food is as delicious as the atmosphere is historic and very cool inside and out.
Places to Visit Near České Budějovice
The countryside around České Budejovice is rural and idyllic, perfect for outdoor lovers. If you love hiking, nearby Šumava National Park is perfect for a day hike. Take a Cesky Krumlov day trip and explore the medieval fairytale city. If you’re looking to spend time on the links, the nearby golf retreat and resort of Svachovka is not far away. Their on-site brewery and distillery is worth a visit alone!
It’s not every day that you can visit a city like České Budějovice and still feel like you’re off-the-beaten-path. After all, the town — and the beer — have been here since 1265! But even with our limited time, what struck us most about České Budějovice was how much it wasn’t a tourist town. This Czech city feels like an authentic working town and not one that’s recreated for tourists — because it is. It’s walkable with many of the main highlights within a short distance of one another. Our short visit here has piqued our curiosity and we can’t wait to return and explore more of the incredible history and try out more of the traditional cuisine of South Bohemia. If you’re planning a visit to this part of the Czech Republic be sure to include a few days in České Budějovice.