Brno’s cultural life is extremely rich and varied. National Theatre companies in the Janacek and Mahen Theatres play host to full-scale operas, ballets and plays, while the city’s two experimental theaters, the Goose on a String and HaDivadlo companies, offer exciting and controversial alternatives to more traditional productions. Those interested in a dose of Western culture can find the latest films in the original English, alongside films in Czech for the more adventurous, at the city’s many cinemas and two multiplexes. Notable among Brno’s numerous galleries are the Moravian Gallery, featuring works by major Czech and international artists, and the Brno City Museum (located in the historical Spilberk Castle), featuring several exhibitions dedicated especially to the city’s rich history. The State Philharmonic Orchestra performs regular concerts in various halls, often featuring the work of great Czech composers such as Dvorak, Smetana and Janacek, whose creative life was so closely linked with Brno. The city was also a major centre of the Functionalist movement in architecture between the wars, and today buildings such as Mies van der Rohe’s landmark Tugendhat Villa (designated a UNESCO World Heritage site) are open to the public.
Excursions, day trips
The battlefield of Austerlitz (“Slavkov” in Czech), the site of one of Napoleon’s most famous military victories, is a stone’s throw from the Brno city center and can be easily reached by public transport, as can the impressive Baroque chateau at Slavkov itself, where Napoleon stayed after the battle.
The deeply wooded, hilly countryside north of Brno is criss-crossed by a maze of hiking trails in summer and cross-country skiing runs in winter. A favorite destination here is the pilgrimage church at Křtiny, one of the country’s most magnificent Baroque monuments. Slightly farther north (but still only 25 km from the city) lies the karst region of the Moravsky kras, with its spectacular limestone caves.
To the south and east of Brno, the country opens up into the shallow, rolling hills that provide the perfect conditions for the country’s best vineyards. The local towns and villages abound in wine cellars, both public and private; these are the ideal places to enjoy the vintage celebrations in the autumn and tasting of the new wine in late winter. This is also one of the richest regions in Europe for folklore; the annual international folk festival held at Straznice in June attracts visitors and participants from across the continent.
Quite remarkably, in addition to the Tugendhat Villa in the city itself, there are four other UNESCO World Heritage Sites within easy reach of Brno: the Lednice-Valtice complex, with its two sprawling chateaux, gardens, artificial ponds, many Romantic and Neo-Classical follies and vast stretches of landscaped countryside; the perfectly preserved town of Telc, with its Renaissance chateau and Baroque town houses; the Baroque chateau and gardens of the Archbishop of Olomouc at Kromeriz; and the uniquely quirky Gothic-Baroque(!) pilgrimage church at Zelena hora near Zdar nad Sazavou.
Other nearby attractions are not difficult to find – the quintessential medieval castle, at Pernstejn; the haunting Jewish ghettos and graveyards in a score of towns and villages; the Romanesque rotunda with its unique frescoes at Znojmo. Add to these two UNESCO biosphere reserves, at Palava and the White Carpathians, and the exceptional historical and natural richness of the region is beyond dispute.
Brno has seen a flurry of new commercial ventures since the end of Communism. The attractive city center features hundreds of shops offering everything from designer clothes to books in various languages to beautiful antiques. For miscellaneous daily needs, students often find the Tesco department store and supermarket, located behind the main train station, a useful resource. Smaller supermarkets and convenience stores are located around the downtown area and most dormitories. For the more ambitious, there is Vankovka Gallery and also the Hyper Tesco and Ikea super stores can be reached via free shuttle buses departing from behind the downtown Tesco.
Sports and physical activities
Brno offers a wide range of sporting and recreational opportunities. Masaryk University operates several gymnasiums, including one adjacent to the Vinarska residence where most international students live. The city of Brno also provides dozens of sporting facilities, including three indoor swimming pools, six open-air swimming pools and two winter stadiums. Many other facilities, including bowling, saunas, fintess centers, etc. can be found. The Brno Lake, easily accessible by public transport, is a popular site for swimming and outdoor recreation. Golf, hiking and skiing are also available in the area. See: Leisure time activities in the A–Z Guide linked above.
Getting around in Brno is easy. Bus and tram service is comprehensive and very cheap, especially for students. In addition, the city is very compact, so walking to one’s destination is often an option. Taxis are easily available throughout the city. Trains and buses to other cities in the region (Prague, Vienna, Budapest) are available from Brno’s main train station or its two bus stations, all of which are conveniently located in the city center. Travel within the Czech Republic is particularly inexpensive, with buses and trains to Prague, for example, costing around 8 EUR.