Located in the south of the Czech Republic, České Budějovice, home of the original Budweiser, is a perfect place to base yourself if you want to explore Southern Bohemia. The small streets around Otokar II’s square are ideal for aimless wandering, and there are enough restaurants and clubs to keep you entertained at night.
Buses and trains leave quite frequently from Florenc or Na Knížecí (near Anděl) and the main train station or Smíchov train station, respectively. Check Jízdné Řády for times. The journey takes about two and a half hours, a bit less for the bus, a bit more for the trains.
Heading to the Center
It’s only a short walk from the bus and train stations. Head right out of the train station and left out of the bus station on to Nádražní street. At the first set of traffic lights, turn left onto Lannová and follow this to the center.
Or take a trolley bus (numbers 2 and 9) or a regular bus (1, 12 or 104) and get off at the stop “Poliklinika Sever.” Then take Knežská street into the center and take the second or third right to the square. Tickets for both trolley buses and buses are available from ticket machines at or near the stops. The journey costs 20 CZK.
Around the square you will find a number of places to eat and drink. However, if you arrive too early on a weekend you might have problems as many places are not open first thing in the morning. When I was there recently, the cafe at the Malý Pivovar hotel, fortunately, was. They have a range of coffees between 26 and 60 CZK. The place is a mix of modern and old world and a quiet place to plan your visit.
Or if you want a first hand view of the city, head straight to Černá věž (the Black Tower) and take in the view of the city and the surrounds. For the history buffs, or just the curious, the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary is considered among the most important buildings in the city because of its blend of Gothic, Baroque and Rococo features. A medieval fresco is also still visible. The church is located on Piaristický square, which is two blocks west of the main square.
If you want a more in depth view of the region and its history, there is the Museum of South Bohemia. The permanent exhibition is not so enthralling unless you’re interested in rocks and stuffed animals. Currently, the sports organization Sokol has a small exhibition. On display are certificates, medals, equipment, photos and quite incongruously, Sokol ashtrays. For me, the exhibition about Šumava was more interesting. It includes a display with wildlife from the region and a small exhibit dedicated to the region’s famed writer Karel Klostermann. Better is the exhibit upstairs which gives you a real impression of life in the region in the last century. On display is a typical house with kitchen, complete with utensils and tools, clothing and scale models of coal deposits. For glass lovers, there are samples of glass work from the area, including a glass violin, similar to the one played at the Chicago 1893 World Fair.
Of course a trip to České Budějovice would not be complete without a trip to the brewery. Sadly, it is not in the center of the town. To get there you need to take bus number 2 either from stop “Poliklinika Sever” or outside the train station in the direction Nemanice or Borek. Get off at stop “Budvar.” The ticket is 20 CZK. The Visitors’ Center is just around the corner to your left when you face the brewery. There’s a sign, so you can’t miss it.
If you’re expecting a trip back to the roots of beer brewing, you might be a little disappointed. The České Budějovice brewery is a modern concern, but still one that is proud of its traditions. Tours take about an hour and are in groups except at 14:00 when individual tours can be arranged.
An hour seems enough because at the end, you know more about the beer than you´ll probably ever need to. My guide certainly was enthusiastic about his product and was happy to answer any questions about the process and the brewery. One of the most interesting points is that the brewery sits on an artesian basin located 342 meters below the surface. The water is filtered by the layers of rock and is as pure as water naturally gets. They use this water to brew the beer as well as clean the brewery and, according to my guide, it should last 10,000 years.
No trip to a brewery would be complete without a taste test. Before the beer is poured, the guide talked us through the ingredients, allowing us to sniff the bottles of hops and even sample the four varieties of barley used to make the malt. On this day the little group I was with was particularly lucky. There were only a few of us; someone was driving, and the brew master was in generous mood, so a couple of us got three cups each. I doubt the huge group of tourists behind us was so lucky. I would suggest bringing a sweater with you even if it’s warm. The temperature in the vat room is a crisp 2C (35.6 F).
Located around the corner from the Visitors’ Center is the restaurant ‘Pivnice Budvar.’ The restaurant is classic beer hall with long wooden tables and a menu that errs on the heavy side. There are many Czech staples such as svičková and dumplings or roast duck and cabbage. On this visit I went for the malter’s goulash, which consisted of thin strips of lean pork with sausage in a mild, spicy, if somewhat salty, sauce. It came in a deep metal bowl and was served with bread. To drink, what else but Budvar, which thankfully was cold.
The rest of the region
The city also makes a good base camp to explore the southern part of the Czech Republic. The famed Český Krumlov is only a short bus or train ride away. Another picturesque south Bohemian town is Jindřichův Hradec, also about an hour away on public transport. The chateau there is well worth a look and its cobblestoned paths and streets make for a pleasant walk in the spring and summer, again with fewer tourists.
The spa and carp capital of the Czech Republic, Třeboň, is even closer, so close you could ride there. Třeboň and its surrounds have enough to see to justify a whole weekend, but if you are pressed for time, it would be worth adding this to a trip to the south. The town is surrounded by cycle paths, which take you through the extensive system of ponds.
One place you should definitely see while in the region is the chateau Hluboka.nad Vltavou. The impressive chateau was designed in the so-called Windsor style and does deserve that oft-used description of a “fairy tale castle,” with its crenellated walls, towers and picturesque gardens, you probably can’t help imagining donning a suit of armor and charging into battle, or a princess costume – whatever tickles your fancy.
Places to Stay
Malý Pivovar – 25 rooms and 4 luxury apartments, fitted with bathrooms and WC, satellite TV, phone and internet connection.
Address: Karla IV 99/8
Penzion Garni – quite affordable accommodation near the square. It has double and single rooms, each with their own shower and WC.
Address: Na Mlýnské stoce 358/7
Hotel Zatkův Dům – provides a historical setting at a fairly affordable price. There are ten en-suite rooms. A buffet breakfast is available.
Address: Kajinská 214/41
Ubytovna u Nádraží – as cheap as it gets. So you’re not paying for class. The building is handily located near the bus station and they do cater for big groups.
Address: Dvořákova 161/14
Places to Eat and Drink
You might just prefer to wander the small streets and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. There are bars, pubs and restaurants on most blocks, so you’re bound to find somewhere that takes your fancy.
Some of the more notable are:
Gateway of India – Indian cuisine, Piaristická 22/8
Castella – Indian, Mexican and Greek cellar restaurant, námestí. Přemysla Otakara II 114/30
Restaurant Gourmet Symphony – High class dining. Check out their website for monthly special offers, nám. Přemysla Otakara II. 90/28
Restaurace Masné Kramy – traditional Czech cuisine with tank beer (beer aficionados swear that this is the best way to store beer.) The place comes recommended from several generations of Czechs.
Džin Bar – a mid-budget place with a relaxed atmosphere.