26 Oct,2017 By Jagabond
I first traveled to Czech Republic years ago on a solo trip. The taxi driver from the airport remarked that Czechs ‘drink every day’. My subsequent experience in the sin city of Prague confirmed the driver’s statement.
Most of the drinking revolves around beer. A 2015 survey found that per capita, Czechs consume more beer than anyone else in the world. If you’re looking for a boozy couple of days, look no further than Pilsen and Ceske Budejovice. These beer cities will keep you buzzed, bloated and blissful.
Pilsen has the look of a blue-collar town. After learning of their successful hockey and football clubs, it was hard not to draw comparisons with my hometown of Pittsburgh. The populace appears to be an interesting mix of hard-working laborers and wide-eyed youths, many of them students at the famous West Bohemia University. The main city square is easily recognizable by St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, a 13th century Gothic beauty.
Pilsen can truly claim status as one of the world’s top beer cities, as it’s home to the original pilsner from which all others have since been based. A Bavarian brewer crafted the recipe in 1842 after the city decreed to consolidate all the local breweries into one to ensure consistent quality. Pilsner Urquell quickly became the most famous beer in Czech Republic. I remember trying this many years ago in college during my ‘imported beer’ phase.
Our tour guide was wonderful, cheerfully walking and talking us through the brewery’s history and beer making process. They say you should have passion for your work, and in this business I guess that means averaging a few pints a day. Bottom line, the tour was professional and well organized, and a great way to spend two hours of your holiday. A conveyor belt moved a sea of green bottles to the filling area and I wondered…is there anything more beautiful?
I especially enjoyed myself here because Pilsner Urquell is one of my favorite beers from the draft. It’s everything I like in a brew – smooth, not hoppy, and a hearty, thick head when poured properly. One of the highlights of the tour was trying the unfiltered Pilsner Urquell straight from the oak barrel. Beers with my Belgian bros…life is good!
Where to eat
Burger lovers will appreciate Comix, a cool urban pub located just off the main city square. So many restaurants ignore you when you order a rare burger, cooking it well instead. Not here…it was bloody delicious!
For non-beer drinkers
Nykty’s is an eclectic looking café situated near the cathedral. They have an extensive breakfast menu and an impressive selection of coffee drinks. Forget your diet for a moment and order the chocolate coconut latte…heaven on the lips!
Ceske Budejovice is a city with a small town feel, and lacks the grit of Pilsen. This is also the site where two rivers meet, the Vltava and Malse. The riverside views are one of the city’s must see attractions. Check out those reflections!
Also not to be missed is Ottokar square, named after a 13th century Bohemian king. This square is freaking huge, and thus impossible to capture its entirety in a single photo. I found myself standing in the middle, surrounded by colorful buildings, admiring the Samson’s fountain. The scene is exceptionally beautiful at night.
Isn’t Budweiser beer an American thing? Not really, as the Budweiser name originated in Ceske Budejovice years before Anheuser-Busch started using it. There is still mystery as to what happened, but Czechs tell tales of American spies working to steal the name. The trademark dispute between the U.S. and Czech has been ongoing since 1907, with no end in sight. Recently the Czech Budweiser was allowed to export to North America, but only if they changed the name to Czechvar.
After hearing all this, I felt uncomfortable being the only American on the tour. To the guide’s credit, she treated me fairly with only a few off-color jokes thrown in. In contrast to the Pilsner Urquell experience, this was more of a factory tour. We were all given ugly orange safety jackets to wear, and subjected to the sometimes deafening noise of beer-making equipment.
I remember doing the Anheuser Busch tour in St. Louis, and I recognized some similarities. The Budweiser name is so powerful in part due to massive marketing campaigns. The tour almost seemed like a set-up, as there was only one brief tasting during the tour but loads of beer for sale in the gift shop. The menacing knight-like figure holding a sword and Budweiser shield almost convinced me to purchase a six-pack.
Where to eat
After mostly average meals in Czech Republic, Hospudka U Divadla was a lovely surprise. The food was high quality without the high prices. The restaurant appeared to blend Asian and Czech cooking, as I had both an amazing salmon fillet and a great spicy bowl of Tom Yum soup.
For non-beer drinkers
Fer Café is a hipster-friendly establishment that looks more appropriate for California not Czech Republic. The walls are adorned with modern art, and the menu is filled with healthy, organic meal options. For coffee drinkers, I highly recommend the Aladdin’s Moccacino.
How to get there: Pilsen and Ceske Budejovice form an easily manageable triangle with Prague. Though renting a car would be most convenient, there are also numerous public transportation options as well.