**Warning/Disclaimer/Vital Information for Sensitive Eyes**
This post includes several pictures taken inside a crypt. If perfectly preserved 300-year-old mummified bodies are not your thing, stop reading after the bit about the Moravian Village Museum.
Brno – Your Next Day Trip or Weekend Getaway
Summer is my family’s busiest season. We generally have a constant cycle of guests coming in and traveling out which naturally leads to discussions on the best cities to visit without leaving their home base in Vienna too far behind. Usually, we suggest Bratislava, Hallstatt, Bad Ischl – all of which you should absolutely experience if given the opportunity. But now we’ve got a new one on our list, and one we’ve not heard too much about before – Brno, Czech Republic.
Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic and contains a long, interesting history regarding its Moravian roots. When people think about the Czech Republic, Prague, the country’s largest city, is what comes to mind. Since most tourists flock further north, Brno is more or less left untouched by the massive tour groups making it an appealing place to experience Czech culture. As an added bonus, Brno is only an hour and a half away from Vienna, easily reachable by train or car. Given its reputation as a university town, students are strewn about the city studying in parks and coffee shops, and as a result, provide Brno with a fresh, upbeat atmosphere impossible not to enjoy.
A quick trip to the Czech Republic without having to be run over by tourists on Segways? Yes please.
What to See in a Day
Our first morning in Brno, we strolled the kids over to Czech Republic’s oldest park, Lužánk Park. I’m a sucker for parks and this did the trick. It reminded me of Vienna’s Türkenschanzpark with its waterfalls and winding sidewalks. We specifically sought out the pond, a replica of the original pond there from the 13th century as well as a statue of Austria’s own Emperor Franz Josef. The park was, of course, a great stop for our kids who love exploring the outdoors, escaping into giant bushes and walking the pace of a slug because flowers/ants/a stick. There is a playground located inside the park, but we wanted to keep on moving through the city so we didn’t check it out.
Church of St James
This might be one of the most beautiful and unique churches I’ve ever seen. Generally, European cathedrals tend to be dark and stuffy with little light seeping through their stain glass windows. Not so with St James. Here, the light pours in through the large open windows that surround the front altar. The abundance of greenery adds to the overall freshness of the church’s atmosphere, creating an unexpectedly welcoming vibe. Many important, historical members of Brno’s past are buried within the church along with 50,000 or so people buried beneath in the St. James Ossuary, open to visitors. There’s also a strange story you can read up on about a statue’s rear end related to this church, so, there’s that.
Note: Gothic cathedral not recommended for 1-year-olds who have just discovered the power of an echo.
Moravian Square is one of the more “happening” areas of the city. You’ll have to walk through here to get to a number of your desired sites, but it’s a walk you’ll want to take. The most eye-catching scene is certainly the 8 meter/26 feet high horse sculpture planted near the Governor’s Palace. Upon this 3-year-old horse sits a bronze knight as a symbol of courage and tribute to a prominent figure of Moravia. The statue draws a long line of sightseers due to its unusual height and anatomical correctness.
If you happen to visit Brno on May Day weekend, prepare yourself to be approached by at least fifty high school students who are attempting to raise money for their end of the year trips. You’ll know who they are by the way they’re dressed because they dress to impress, shock, and draw crowds. We gave money to a group dressed as unicorns because they were unicorns, and more importantly because they gave us rainbow cookies. But we saw other teens creatively and occasionally controversially dressed as dinosaurs, nuns and priests, public transportation drivers (?), flappers, and ninjas.
Note: Trams continuously run through the middle of the square. Look up from your phones!
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul
Keeping watch over the city from the top of Petrov Hill sits an 11th-century cathedral, the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul. Its interior doesn’t allow for quite as much natural light as the Church of St. James but is impressive nonetheless. Visitors can climb many steps for a breathtaking view of Brno from above, and as a unique bonus, see inside the attic areas of the cathedral.
Due to my excitement for the views, I forgot that I’m not a fan of heights. The steps to the top are wooden. Secure, but wooden. With gaps underneath. I’m proud to say that I did not get stuck going up or coming down, but I did sweat my hands off from holding on to the railing too tightly. So if you don’t do heights, maybe don’t go up there…
Note: Read the story behind the famous cathedral bells.
The Cabbage Market
Gotta have that European fruit, vegetable, and flower market! Get yourself a container of strawberries, check out the statue of Mozart, then head to the labyrinth hidden underground.
We only saw the castle from a distance, unfortunately, but it’s on our to-do list for the next time we visit. Despite the beauty of Špilberk Castle, it was once known as the “harshest jail in Europe” during the time of Emporer Josef II. It also served as a military fortress and prison during World War I and World War II. The surrounding greenery is perfect for an afternoon hike to the castle.
Moravská Vesnička Betlém
Translated to Moravian Village and Nativity Scene, this two-room museum demonstrates Moravian life through extraordinary craftsmanship brought to life. Originally a toy for the creator’s son, the village includes moving Moravian people, animals, and tools from the 19th century as well as an enormous nativity scene.
The kind gentleman who takes your money (at least when we were there) is incredibly sweet and loves kids. He only speaks Czech, so English and German won’t really work here. But hand motions do! The village is interactive and he’ll show you and your kids how to properly play with the giant toy on display without breaking it.
And now for the best and creepy part…
Just around the corner from the Moravian Village Museum is the entrance to the Capuchin Crypt. The crypt is kept cold and silent out of protection and respect for the prominent, mummified members of the Capuchin Order dating back to the 17th century. Upon entering the crypt, you’ll see two glass coffins and a couple of “what did the friars wear” posts which may lead you to think your self-led tour won’t be as creepy or spooky as you thought. But one look inside the first glass coffin will take your breath away, and it only gets creepier as you move further through the crypt.
I would not recommend going through the crypt alone unless you want to live out your own scary movie. Will went through the crypt with Elliott first because, as I mentioned earlier, Lucy discovered her echo and found that the crypt would provide the same entertainment as the church, so I walked around with her until the guys were done. By the time it was my turn to go in, the group of people who’d gone in before me had also finished the tour, which left me completely alone with many, many, many 300-year old mummified bodies. Some of them are in coffins, some of them are very much not. My brain so wanted to imagine these warped skeletons coming to life because guys, you can see everything. Every detail, every crack, every body shape, every face structure. It’s all there. And if that’s not creepy enough for you, here’s a sobering thought the Order left for us: On the entryway of the crypt are the words ‘As you are now, we once were; as we are now, you shall be.’
Note: If you want to take pictures, you have to pay a small photography fee. I thought it was definitely worth it to pay the fee, but the lighting is understandably terrible inside, so know it’s going to be a challenge. On the plus side, your subjects won’t move a muscle.
Note: Elliott is three years old and handled the crypt without any problems, but he also had no understanding of what he was looking at and he’s never seen a TV show or movie depicting something so morbid. So, it’s a personal judgment call on whether or not your kid/s should go in or not.
Resources for Other Places of Interest
There are many other churches, museums, libraries, and parks that I haven’t listed here along with several kid-friendly places as well. The following sites and blogs are ones I found interesting and helpful to navigate Brno:
Food and Coffee
*For the coffee lovers out there, Brno is FILLED with third wave shops. We only scratched the surface.
Breakfast and Coffee (specialty coffee): Cafe Koffein
Lunch: Sad fast food from a mall somewhere in the city and we sat on the side of the road because we couldn’t find benches. Don’t copy us.
Post-Mummy Frozen Yogurt: MADA Ice Cream
Afternoon Coffee Break (specialty): Skøg
Dinner: Gỗ Brno – Vietnamese Street Food