A couple of weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage to the beer mecca of the world: Plzen, Czech Republic (also spelled Pilsen, in English). Located a short one hour train ride from Prague, Plzen is a beer lover’s dream, featuring numerous breweries and bars on every street corner. While the entire country is known for having the highest beer consumption per capita in the entire world, Plzen stands out as the home of Pilsner Urquell and the birthplace of pilsner beer. If you’re a beer lover like me, visiting Plzen is a must-do and without a doubt the best day trip from Prague.
Getting From Prague to Plzen
The easiest way to get to Prague to Plzen and back is to take the train, which runs roughly every hour from 5:30am until 8:30pm from city center to city center. Look for Praha hlavní nádraží (Praha hl.n.) and Plzen hlavní nádraží (Plzen hl.n.) when purchasing your ticket to ensure that you’re purchasing your ticket from the main train station and not one of the satellite stations.
Alternatively, you can take the bus, which also runs roughly every hour from 5:30am until 8:00pm. The length of time and cost are about the same for both the train and the bus, but I would recommend the train because I find it to be much more comfortable and convenient.
Pilsner Urquell Brewery
My first stop in Plzen was the Pilsner Urquell Brewery for a brewery tour. The brewery offers tours in English 3-5 times per day, with each tour lasting approximately 1.5 hours. I’ve been on numerous brewery tours all across the U.S. and abroad, and Pilsner Urquell was by far the biggest brewery I’ve visited. While most breweries are located in one large building, Pilsner Urquell has an entire campus, with different buildings serving different purposes in the brewing process. Rather than spending time walking across the large campus to and from each building, the brewery provided a shuttle bus to carry us from one building to the next.
Without giving away too much of the tour, a few highlights I enjoyed were the underground cellar, the large bottling facility, and learning about the 175+ year history of the brewery. It’s pretty incredible that the recipe used to brew Pilsner Urquell beer today is still the same recipe that was originally created back in 1842. That fact alone speaks to the quality of Pilsner Urquell beer and its superior taste. Why fix what ain’t broke, right?
At the end of the tour, all visitors are treated to a glass of the unfiltered Pilsner Urquell beer, which can only be found at the brewery in Plzen. Poured straight from the tap in the underground cellar, the beer tasted crisp, light, and refreshing. It was the perfect end to an interesting and informative tour of the largest, most impressive brewery I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
Where to Drink Beer
One crisp beer from the Pilsner Urquell tour is undoubtedly not going to satisfy your beer craving but merely pique it. Luckily, there is a bar on what seems to be every street corner in Plzen, so you’ll have many more opportunities to drink beer. Before sharing our guide to the best breweries (other than Pilsner Urquell) and restaurants in Plzen, however, it is important to know how to order beer in the Czech Republic. Czechs take their beer foam very seriously, and there are different ways to order your beer depending on how much foam you prefer. Below is a list of the four styles of tapping used in the Czech Republic:
- Hladinka: This is the “classic” style, with a thick layer of creamy foam at the top and plenty of beer beneath.
- Šnyt: A small beer poured into a large glass, where there’s more foam than beer.
- Mlíko: Almost all foam, a mlíko can be easily mistaken for a glass of milk from afar. It’s meant to be downed in one gulp and has a sweeter taste from all the foam.
- Čochtan: The opposite of a mlíko, where there is almost no foam at all.
If you are more of a visual person, refer to the illustrations below to understand the four different methods of tapping beer.
Now that you know how to order exactly the style of beer you want, you can take that knowledge with you to explore more breweries around town. Here is a list of the best microbreweries to check out in Plzen:
- Beer Factory: Centrally located just steps from the main square, this is a great spot to pop in for a beer. This microbrewery has an industrial style interior and a kitchen in case you get hungry.
- U Pašáka Brewery: In addition to a variety of delicious beers, you can also order authentic Czech cuisine here. This is a great option if you want to check out a microbrewery and have a meal at the same time.
- Purkmistr Brewery: This is the second largest brewery in Plzen, after Pilsner Urquell. It is located farther out from the city centre, so it may be more realistic to check out if you are staying in Plzen for more than just a day trip from Prague.
Where to Eat
If you’re looking for authentic Czech cuisine, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from in Plzen. Below is a list of our favorites:
- Na Spilce Restaurant: This restaurant is on the Pilsner Urquell campus, so if you get hungry after your beer tour, this is a great spot to dine at. It is one of the largest restaurants in the Czech Republic and is located on the grounds of Pilsner Urquell’s former fermentation cellar. You can find both traditional Czech cuisine as well as international cuisine here.
- U Salzmannu: This is the oldest pub in Plzen and has been in operation since 1637. Both the food and beer served here represent traditional Czech styles, and the interior has a surprisingly stylish ambience for being such an old pub.
- Pivovarsky šenk Na Parkánu: This restaurant is attached to the Pilsner Urquell Brewery Museum (not to be confused with the actual brewery, highlighted above) and serves classic Czech cuisine. The scrumptious pork knuckle dish pictured below was from this restaurant.
Non-Beer Related Activities
While Plzen is largely about beer, it’s not all about beer. If you’re not a big beer aficionado or need a short break from drinking, take advantage of one of the non-beer related activities in Plzen.
St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral
If you only do one non-beer related activity in Plzen, you should climb up to the top of St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, the highest tower in the Czech Republic, and check out these gorgeous views for yourself.
The tower is open every day from 10:00am until 6:00pm and costs 50 Kč (approximately $2:25 USD in October 2018). The steps are pretty narrow and winding, so if you have young children or elderly individuals traveling with you, you may wish to reconsider taking them up this tower. If you do reach the top, however, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views over the entire region, and there’s even a picnic table at the top of the tower, where you can have a beer or snack while you rest.
Across the street from St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral and the main square is City Hall (Radnice), which was built between 1554-1559 by an Italian architect. I’ve seen many city halls all over the world, but this was one of the most unique and beautiful I’ve seen. Plzen City Hall is open daily from 8:00am until 6:00pm, and you can tour the inside for free.
The Puppet Museum
This was one of those quirky museums that I wasn’t sure if I would like, but I found it to be very interesting and entertaining. I didn’t realize this before I visited, but puppetry is a prominent part of Czech history. In fact, Czech puppetry has such a rich tradition that, in 2016, it was added to the UNESCO list of cultural heritage. Not only were there multiple floors of exhibits, there was also an interactive room on the top floor where you could use the many props available to make your own puppet show. Even if you’re not particularly into puppetry, I would recommend checking out this museum. It is open daily from 10:00am until 6:00pm and costs 60 Kč (approximately $2.70 USD in October 2018) to enter.
The Great Synagogue and The Old Synagogue
The Great Synagogue is the largest synagogue in the Czech Republic and the fifth largest in the world. The exterior stands out as one of the most unique and beautiful looking buildings, and the inside boasts strong acoustics, making it a great place for concerts and exhibitions. The Old Synagogue is within walking distance to the Great Synagogue and is also worth checking out if you have time. Both synagogues are open daily from 10:00am until 6:00pm between April and October and by reservation only from November to March. Entry into the Great Synagogue costs 70 Kč (approximately $3.10 USD in October 2018) and entry into the Old Synagogue costs 55 Kč (approximately $2.45 USD in October 2018).
Visiting Plzen was one of the highlights of my trip to the Czech Republic. It is an absolute must visit for beer lovers and offers plenty to do and see for those who don’t care for beer as well. Its proximity to Prague and rich beer tradition make it the best day trip from Prague. Click the link below to get more information on what to do in Plzen or schedule a guided tour during your visit.
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A big thank you to Visit Pilsen for making our trip possible. As always, all opinions are 100% our own.