Baroque also played a big part in the city’s style, and the tourist information bureau offers a cool map that plots out a walking tour of the town to take in some of the best preserved buildings.
Pilsen is a city of industry and beer, a city on the way to the West, a city on the Golden Path of trade, a city of four rivers. These days it is a city which has also been granted the prestigious title of the European Capital of Culture 2015(www.plzen2015.cz). In the year 2015, Pilsen will fully open up to cultural Europe as a host of outstanding artists and exceptional cultural events.
The city dates back to 1295, and at one time was the third largest in the country, after Prague and Kutna Hora. Due to its location at the confluence of four rivers; it was a busy trading city. A couple of fires in the 16th century destroyed much of the town centre which was curiously rebuilt by many Italian architects and builders.
The University of West Bohemia is located here which gives the town a younger, more alive vibe. With 167,000 inhabitants, Plzeň is small enough to be relaxed, but big enough to keep you amused. Any visit should start at the city’s main square. It is huge, and home to a variety of markets and other fun activities throughout the year, including a Christmas market. The Cathedral of St. Bartholomew is open to the public, and be sure to climb the tower for great views across the region. The houses on the square include glimpses of medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Gothic and more. The streets surrounding the square are also good for a wander. In doing so, keep your eyes peeled for sgrafitti decoration featuring themes from Czech history. Most of these were done between 1894 and 1898 by famed Czech artist Mikoláš Aleš. He was a great friend of well-known architect Rudolf Štech who was from Plzeň, and Aleš decorated many of his buildings.
The city also has a deep Jewish history, and many sites can still be experienced. The Great Synagogue is the second largest in Europe (and third largest in the world) and regularly hosts concerts and exhibitions. (sady Pětatřicátníků 11, www.zoplzen.cz). The Old Synagogue and School can also be visited on a tour (Smetanovy sady 5, www.zoplzen.cz) or visit the Jewish Cemetery, across from the Central Cemetery on Rokycanská třída.
Plzeň hosts a year-round calendar of festivals, so be sure to check the tourist information’s website (www.visitplzen.eu) to see if something is happening while you are in the Czech Republic. A couple of highlights include the Smetana Days festival in March; the Liberation Festival in May; the Historical Weekend in June; the Pilsner Fest in August and a Jazz Festival in October. There are also Christmas, Easter and Wine Festival markets held on the main square.
Of course, no visit to Plzeň would be complete without touring the brewery (www.visitprazdroj.cz.) It is actually interesting, educational and highly recommended. If you can keep yourself out of the Pilsner filled pubs, other city highlights include Plzeň Philharmonic Orchestra (www.plzenskafilharmonie.cz), the Patton Memorial Museum (Pobřežní 10, www.patton-memorial.cz), the Museum of West Bohemia (Kopeckého sady 2, ww.zcm.cz) and the Plzeň Municipal Gallery (Dominikánská 2, www.galerie-plzen.cz.)
As we mentioned earlier, Plzeň is a great place to bring kids. The Techmania Science Centre (Access via 5th gate of the ŠKODA premises from Borská Street), www.techmania.cz) is way cool for kids of all ages. There is also a great zoo and DinoPark (www.zooplzen.cz, take a tram no. 1 or 4 or a bus no. 41 to the "Zoologická zahrada" stop. The dinosaurs aren’t real unfortunately, but kids can point at the bears, monkeys, komodo dragons and other such fun animals. There are also lots of parks scattered around as well as a Puppet Museum located on the main square (www.muzeumloutek.cz.)
The quickest way from Prague is via a Student Agency bus from the Zličín metro station which only takes one hour. Tickets must be purchased in advance which can be done at the main Florenc bus station. Trains also go to Plzeň, but can take up to 2 hours if you catch a slow one. Even the fast ones take more than an hour and a half. Either way, some sort of transport will be going there regularly throughout the day.
Municipal public transportation
Tickets: From the driver for CZK 30 (non-transfer ticket)
At tobacco shops and the information centre: CZK 18 (non-transfer ticket)
Pilsen Fare (“Plzeňská jízdenka”) card for CZK 200 (for sale at the train station, information centre, bus station and municipal transportation sales counters). Card holders pay fare right inside the vehicle (at the yellow device). The ticket price is CZK 16 and is deducted from the card.