Situated 160km south of Prague, České Budějovice is a well-preserved medieval fortress town with an impressive history. It was founded in 1265 by Otakar II who wanted a stronghold at the confluence of the Vltava and Malše rivers to protect southern Bohemia from any advancing armies. Unfortunately, Otakar was killed in 1278 at the battle of the Moravian Field, and the town was subsequently ravaged by the rival Vítkovic family. Surprisingly, however, České Budějovice continued to be built as originally planned by Otakar.
In the 15th century, the Hussite Revolution swept across southern Bohemia. With one exception, that is. České Budějovice’s largely Catholic population remained true to the king and in return for its loyalty, developed into one of Bohemia’s wealthiest and most important towns. České Budějovice poured its wealth, which lasted well into the 1700s, into constructing architecturally stunning buildings. Older Gothic buildings began to take on a distinctly Renaissance look, a new town hall was built, and the flourishing Masné Krámy (Old Market) was rebuilt. Towering above it all was a new 72m (236 feet) tall turret dubbed the Černá věž (Black Tower). Sadly, the Thirty Years War lasting from 1618 to 1648 and a major fire in 1641 ravaged much of the town, leaving few buildings unscathed. Luckily for České Budějovice, the Habsburg Empire came to the town’s rescue in the 18th century and constructed Baroque-style buildings that stand to this day.
Today, České Budějovice is known less for being the protector of Bohemia and more for being the hometown of the original Budweiser beer brewery and a mandatory stop on any European beer tour. Even if you don’t drink beer, however, the town’s slow pace, relaxed atmosphere, and fascinating architecture make České Budějovice a worthy stop. This is especially true if you are interested in exploring southern Bohemia or heading on to Austria.
Exploring the Town
You can easily see České Budějovice in a day or half-day before continuing on to Český Krumlov. The center of the town is dominated by Náměstí Přemysla Otakara II, a cobblestone square that is one of Central Europe’s largest squares. The ornate Fountain of Sampson, an 18th century well that was once the town’s principal water supply, is one of the square’s most important attractions. It is also a nice place to rest awhile and do some great people watching.
From the Fountain of Sampson, look to the southwest corner of Náměstí Přemysla Otakara II to České Budějovice’s Town Hall. It is an elegant baroque structure that was built by Martinelli between 1727 and 1730. On top of the building, the larger-than-life statues by Dietrich represent the civic virtues: justice, bravery, wisdom, and diligence.
The Černá Věž (Black Tower), the 70 m (236 feet) tall symbol of České Budějovice, is located one block north of the square. The tower was built in the 16th century and can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. It is definitely worth the climb to the top to get a breathtaking view of the city and surrounding area. The tower is open from 10 am to 6pm from Tuesday to Sunday between November and March, daily between April and October. Admission is 30 CZK for adults and 20 CZK for children and seniors.
The St Nicholas Church lies adjacent to the Black Tower. This 13th century church was a bastion of Roman Catholicism during the 15th century Hussite Rebellion and is one of České Budějovice’s most important sights. You should not miss the church’s flamboyant, white-and-cream Baroque interior that was added during the 17th century. The St Nicholas Church is open daily from 9am to 6pm.
Around the Old Town
Tiny narrow alleyways leading from the main square are great for further town sightseeing. Not far away you can see a few bits of the Gothic fortifications which remain, the most significant of which is the Rabenštejn Tower (Admission: 40 CZK. Open: 10am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-noon Sat.). Other sights include Iron Maiden Tower and Church of the Sacrifice of the Virgin with a former Dominican Monastery.
Touring the Budějovický Budvar (Budweiser Brewery)
On České Budějovice’s northern edge sits a shrine to those who pray to the gods of the amber nectar. This is where Budějovický Budvar, the original Budweiser beer brewery, has its one and only factory. Established in 1895, Budvar draws on more than 700 years of the area’s brewing tradition to produce one of the world’s best beers. This is a traditional Pilsner-style beer, and not much has changed at the brewery over the past 100 years. You will find it fascinating to watch dirty old bottles transformed into boxed cartons as they move along the conveyer belts in the main production room.
The Budějovický Budvar offers one hour guided tours Monday through Friday at 2pm between April and October. During the rest of the year, tours are available at 2pm Tuesday through Friday. Tours are offered in Czech, English, and German. It is usually okay just to show up, but it is a good idea to call ahead to the Budvar Visitor’s Center at the brewery to reserve a place on one of the tours. Tours cost 100 CZK per person. Visit www.budweiserbudvar.cz for more details.
The brewery is 3km north of the main square. To reach the brewery, take the no. 2 trolley or catch a cab from the town square for about 150 CZK.
Each August, České Budějovice hosts the country’s largest International Agricultural Show, as well as many other smaller exhibitions and festivals year-round. These festivals offer up some great opportunities, especially for visiting urbanites, to get to know the Czech Republic’s farming culture. Check www.vcb.cz for details.
Tourist Information Center
České Budějovice’s Tourist Information Center is located at Náměstí Přemysla Otakara II, next to the historic town hall. It has maps and guidebooks and can assist with finding lodgings. The office is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm, on Saturdays from 8:30am to 5pm, and on Sundays from 10am to 4pm. In the winter, the office is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 9am to 5pm; Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 9am to 6pm; and Saturdays from 9am to 1pm. Information Centre also has free internet. Visit www.c-budejovice.cz for more information.
Most hotels, restaurants, and attractions can be found around České Budějovice’s circular Staré Město (Old Town) and Náměstí Přemysla Otakara II, the Czech Republic’s largest cobblestone square.
Daily express trains from Prague make the trip to České Budějovice in about two-and-a-half hours. The fare is 320 CZK for a first class ticket and 222 CZK for a second class ticket.
Several express buses run from Prague’s Roztyly station on the metro’s C line each day and take three hours to reach České Budějovice. Tickets cost about 160 CZK. Another option is to take the Student Bus, which stops in České Budějovice on the way to Cesky Krumlov. Buy tickets from the bus driver.
If you are driving, leave Prague going south on the main D1 expressway and take the exit for Highway E55, which runs straight to České Budějovice. The trip takes about one-and-a-half hours.
Tip: Hluboká Castle is a popular day trip from České Budějovice. Buses leave for the main square in Hluboká nad Vltavou at 30 to 60 minute intervals. The journey takes around 20 minutes.
Hluboká Castle was rebuilt in the spirit of the romantic English Gothic style, based on the royal Windsor Castle. It was the wish of the countess Elizabeth Schwarzenberg, who was invited in 1837 to Queen Victoria’s coronation in England, where she had the opportunity to see the royal castle. After her arrival at Hluboká, she persuaded her husband to reconstruct their palace into the castle seen in Windsor. It is a rare example of English architecture in Bohemia. Inside, there are magnificent collections of furniture, tapestries, porcelain, paintings and weapons. In particular, it is worth taking note of all the wood details. It is one of the wealthiest and most beautiful Czech castles, visited by thousands of tourists each year. Castle entrance fee is from 40 to 230 CZK per person.