“Take a good look around, this is your hometown…“ Bruce Springsteen’s song aside, how well do you know your hometown? I must admit I’m one of the people that have not always been one to appreciate the beauty of things that are at my doorstep.
With a new perspective that comes with distance, I now love returning to the town where I grew up, and while it’s not on your typical tourist itinerary, here are things to see and do if you find yourself in Ceske Budejovice for a day (or a couple days).
If you hop on the local bus service number 4 at the train station, within 30 minutes you’ll get to the nearby Hluboka nad Vltavou, the home of the Hluboka Chateau. While originally built in the 13th century, its former owners, the Schwartzenberg family, were inspired by UK’s Windsor Castle and gave the chateu a major makeover in the 19th century. The bright exterior of the castle as well as its style being unusual for the area truly make this architectural gem stand out.
Tour the chateu’s main Representation Rooms (the English tour costs 250 CZK, which is around £6.50 or $10) and have a stroll around the impressive gardens and castle grounds, and head back to České Budejovice for lunch.
Alternatively, if you have a few days in to spend in the area and you want to explore at a more relaxed pace, try a few more of the castle tours (I would recommend the Private Apartments or the Kitchen), and spend the afternoon at Hluboka’s zoo.
This is a good time to see the town centre, which shouldn’t take you more than an hour. The Premysl Otakar II square is the heart of the town. Named after the founder of Ceske Budejovice, it is a perfect square shape that measures exactly one hectar. If you want to get a better view of it, climb to the top of the Black Tower in one of the square’s corners.
The entire old town is riddled with places relating to myths and superstitions. For instance, when you wander around the square, you may come across a boulder that does not reseble the rest of the cobbled stones. This is the Lost Stone, and as the name suggests, whoever steps on it will supposedly not be able to find their way home.
If you want to improve your luck after encountering the stone, head to Piaristicke Square, which is a short walk away. Upon entering the square, you’ll pass a statue with a skull – inserting your fingers into the skulls eyes is meant to make your wish come true. And if you still haven’t had enough of local legends, have a better look at the dominican monastery at the square. If you search closely, you should be able to locate a stone frog climbing its way up on one of the church’s walls. Rumour has it that each year it gets a bit closer to the roof, and the day it touches it, the world will end.
All of the folk tales have probably made you quite hungry – after all it is lunch time. A convenient option where traditional meets fast is the Potrefena husa tavern (66 Ceska street). While this is a part of a restaurant chain (and you will find one of these in most major Czech cities), the quality of the food does not suffer at all. It’s a particularly pleasant place in the summer, when you can sit on the roof terrace and enjoy the view of the river bank.
The main thing Ceske Budejovice is known for is its beer, Budweiser Budvar. What makes this ale unique is that it cannot be brewed in any other location, so no matter where in the world you are having your pint, it was made in this very town with the very same ingredients. Spend the afternoon at the Budvar brewery; aside from learning about the process of making this beer, you will get to taste it at its purest form, unfiltered, straight from the barrel.
Tours in English and German take place at 2 pm every day and cost 120 CZK (approximately £3 or $5). If you’re in a group of at least 5, you can book a tour for any time you desire, though this may cost you a bit more.
Time to head back to the town centre; if you haven’t quite had the time to see all the sights mentioned earlier since you were rushing to get to the brewery, this is your second chance.
As for nightlife, Ceske Budejovice is not known for a vibrant club scene. You’ll be much better off visiting one of the local pubs – there is a decent selection either in Ceska street near the main town square or in the picturesque Panska street. Alternatively, if you’re after a more glamorous experience and don’t mind venturing a bit further out of the centre, the cocktail bar Zluta Ponorka (4 Chelcickeho street) might be more to your liking – their happy hour is from 7 till 8 pm every day.