We’re not going to lie, we’re only here for the beer. Plzen is the home of Pilsener (thus the name), and is also the home to the Czech Republic’s most famed drop: Pilsner Urquell. Aside from that, Plzen is a largely unremarkable place that looks like any other Czech town: but we’re convinced the brewery warrants the trip. It’s barely an hour from Prague anywho.
Pilsner Urquell brewery:
You’ve got these guys to thank for the world’s first-ever pilsner type blonde lager – and actually, the inspiration behind most of the world’s beers. So actually, you’ve got this brewery in this town, in this country, to thank for beer. Fullstop. Now do you see why you need to visit Plzen? The sprawling brewery grounds seems to be a town within itself, and it’s clear that it might just be the most important part of the whole region. The tours run regularly throughout the day, and you can sign up online. They last an hour and a half to two hours, and cost 7 euro – which includes a glass of beer in the (dank, wet and slightly creepy) beer cellar.
You’ll also get a glass of their unfiltered variety, which for me – the jury’s still out on. And then afterwards, you’ll inevitably get sidetracked by all the wonderful things in the tacky souvenir shop and against all your better judegement, you’ll get a giant beer flask engraved for your Dad. That beautiful glass mug will then smash into a thousand pieces on a plane ride back to your home country, before your Dad even gets a chance to hold it.
Bottom line: The souvenirs are really great, but require carrying like a baby, wrapped in blankets, covered in bubble-wrap on a long-haul flight.
Now for a girl who absolutely detests the taste of beer, you wouldn’t think this would be the top thing on my list to visit in the Czech Republic. But after visiting, I can safely say it was one of my highlights. New Zealand beer ain’t got nothing on Czech lager (James Speight, you need a tour of Pilsener Urquell) and this is the spot where I finally learnt to enjoy the hop-heavy drink. Yes sure, the beer hall, kitschy souvenirs and pork feast at the end might have also been what sold me.
Do a beercrawl:
Being home to this one monolithic brewery, you’re going to need a place to distribute all this beer. Luckily, Plzen does beer halls and traditional pubs in spades. So while there’s not much else to do in the town, you’ll luckily just be able to amble through a few beer halls and get smashed. Here are two of our favourites, located a stone’s throw from the main square.
– Pivnice U Salzmannu: The town’s oldest beer hall, it’s a traditional pub full of locals and tourists alike. Full of heavy wooden tables and beer memorabilia, it’s the scene that’s come to epitomise the Czech pub. There’s a solid range of beers on offer (but why would you order anything else than Pilsener?) and all the hearty Czech meals you probably can’t fit in because you’ve had so much beer.
– Na Parkanu: Another old Czech pub located right by the town walls. The building has plenty of interesting history, once being a prison, and the no-frills beer hall approach is what we really loved. There’s a Brewery Museum attached, food from fresh pretzels to Czech meals, and unfiltered Pilsener Urquell if you fancy.
Check out the other sights:
You’ve probably failed miserably if you’re in Pilsen for some Czech history and culture (though it has that in spades, just the alcoholic variety), but there are a couple of other interesting spots around town. St Bartholomew Cathedral in the main square seems weirdly plonked in the middle of an open common area, and is a giant structure hard to miss. The Gothic cathedral is interesting enough, but you’ll barely spend 15 minutes checking it out. Plus, there’s a 35 koruna fee (not much, but 35 koruna less to spend on beer). The Great Synagogue is another point of non-beer-related interest if you will, and is weirdly Europe’s second-largest synagogue. We guess the worshippers heard about all the great beer being brewed and wanted to anticipate the swell in visitors. We hear there’s a decent zoo in Pilsen too, but we were too drunk to make it or care.
Pilsner Urquell beerhall/ Na Spilce Restaurant: Because all good things in the Czech Republic revolve around food and beer: and this one incorporates them both. After you’ve finished your brewery tour, loaded up with highly-breakable souvenirs, head underground to this vast beer hall. Na Spilce is located in the brwery’s former fermentation cellars and is one of the biggest restaurant’s in the country, holding 550 beer-happy patrons. You’ll find all the usual Czech suspects here, vepřo-knedlo-zelo (pork with cabbage and sauerkraut and gravy), Svíčková na smetaně (Marinated sirloin served with cream and cherry sauce and more sauce), and plenty of other hearty, mostly meat-based, dishes. The food is good, but not the best we had in the country, but it’s worth it for the atmosphere – and another swill of Pilsner Urquell on the brewery grounds.
Pekařství Malinová – nearby the central town square, you can almost smell the wafts of freshly-baked breads and pastries coming from this bakery. And by all means, follow your nose. This bakery is a tiny little place, with fresh local delicacies and friendly staff. Sure, you won’t be able to read, nor pronounce, what you’re ordering – but for a handful of koruna it’s worth just waving your arm about and then taking a stab. It’s something of a local treasure, with everyone from our couchsurfing host to a random we met on the street insisting we give it a go. Our host even went so far as dropping us to their door, just to make sure we entered without problem. The result? Best pastries we had in the Czech Republic.
Couchsurf: There aren’t many accommodation options here, so this is where we first dipped our toes in the couchsurfing pool. We were slightly taken aback by our host’s utter generosity to begin with: we’d met for five minutes when he handed us a key to his apartment, offered to drop us in town, and told us to return whenever we liked – but this is the point we got hooked. Our host later took us out for a game of indoor football with his friends, and later had us drinking a special flagon of Czech beer as we talked and laughed into the night. The people of this town are some of the friendliest you’ll find.
There are tonnes of cheap bus companies – but the best we found was the Student Agency Bus. Prices are ridiculously cheap, the seats are leather and plush, and sometimes we were even surprised with water and a snack.
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