Czechia (Czech Republic)

Our Guide to Czechia

Czechia has a decent claim to be the only Slavic nation with a true pub culture, a consequence of its centuries of interactions within the Holy Roman and Austrian empires. The hospoda is as much a treasured cultural institution as the pub is in the UK & Ireland, serving a similar purpose, an informal, versatile and inter-generational community/family venue for chatting and socialising, as opposed to bar/café culture around the Mediterranean.

The humble Hospoda is everywhere, but you will see a few different names on the signage: Hostinec, Pivnice, Restaurace, Krcma, Klub, even occasionally Café. This is dealt with in our Glossary. There is no true guide to what to expect these days, but as a general rule, Hostinec & Pivnices historically tended towards drinks focused lower grade places. The names of the pubs follow a not dissimilar line to English pubs. While they lack the definitive article, you will notice “U” effectively replacing “The” before the likes of Hippo (Hrocha) or Black Ox (Cerneho Vola). Often the more historic venues will have had no numerical address and their property would have been distinguished by name. Some pubs have carried that on into the present, such as ‘U Dvou Sluncu’, or ‘The Two Suns’ on Nerudova in Mala Strana, Prague. It’s a very nice, characterful touch.

Czech pubs are usually simply furnished with white walls and chunky wooden tables designed for communal seating, a circumstance where someone may enter a busy pub and be able to find a seat on the end somewhere.

The traditional pub keeps steadfast hours of 11am-11pm but there are some quirks out there, for example in Prague there is a pub that opens at 9am and shuts at 9pm due to mainly being used for binmen coming off their shift, in the 80s at least. The real drinks-focused places occasionally have only an evening license, opening only from mid-late afternoon.

Modernity has reached all corners, and even the traditional pubs have started to improve their offer of drinks, formerly having 1 or 2 house beers tied to a single brewery that would provide glassware and tablecloths etc in return, but now several pubs in most towns and cities are independent/non-franchised, offering a range, sometimes on rotation, of guest beers, often from smaller and more interesting breweries. Licensing rules and the fervour post-independence has led to a flourishing in the Czech brewing scene, and it is healthy enough these days that you will find there will generally be 1 traditional upright-looking town brewery and 1 craft beer/independent brewery with its own taproom or independent pub in nearly every large village upwards. That helps diversify the offering and give the locals a chance to taste something that isn’t a Czech staple, ie. something other than Pilsner Urquell, Kozel, Radegast, Gambrinus, Staropramen, Budvar.

Czech beer still centres around lager, indeed Bohemia is at the heart of ‘Lagerland’. A Pilsner is a Lager, and Czechs speciality is Czech Pilsner (possibly an oxymoron given Plzen is a Czech city). This can be as straightforward as any lager you have tasted before, or it can be a flavour journey that is almost symphonic in its majesty and panache. Unfiltered, unpasteurised, sometimes krausened or pitched with extra yeast, there are lagers in the country that will make you completely reset your idea of this style of beer and even fall in love with.

Be careful to look at the signage too. Instead of ABV% you will get a ° which indicates the Plato scale. This is a rougher guide to the percentage of alcohol in a beer. The most common are 10, 11 & 12°, all of which are between 3.8-5.3% ABV as a general rule. Czech beer culture both from brewing and the class dynamic has centred around this small range. People on lower incomes will gravitate towards the 10°, usually being the cheaper option, with an occasional 12° (Pilsner Urquell being one) serving as a treat, often enjoyed with a lunch. Decades of experimentation in the breweries, along with family traditions (maintained or lost/recovered) have led to both subtle and striking differences in flavours, texture, aftertaste and drinkability, in a similar way to Franconia or the Upper Palatinate in Germany (with the 1920s Financial Crash / World Wars / Communism causing major disruption inbetween). The beer can be whatever you need it to be – a casual drink to not think too much about, or a truly worthwhile exploration. This is inverted too, sometimes people with no major interest in comparing brands will wax lyrical about a particular tapster who they prefer pouring the beer, and this comes from a time when there really was much less choice about what to drink.

Moving back to the pubs, you have striking examples of highly personalised venues that have gone from being simple and every day to become cult venues, which definitely results from singular efforts to create something a bit different. Prague of course, has the greatest selection of strikingly distinctive venues but don’t discount Brno and Ostrava – they have a dynamic and present alternative scene too. You may have to dig around to find anything similar in smaller towns, and, as with everything, what is there one year can have disappeared by the next.

It isn’t all about beer, either. The old school wine pub or Vinárna, is still in evidence, albeit vanishing rapidly due to the advancing age of owners and customers that frequent them. These places have a similar appearance to pubs, heavy on the wood panelling and simple rickety charms, though can be smaller and more intimate. Across the lands of former Austro-Hungarian empire there is a simple no-nonsense format that entirely belies Western prejudice about wine drinking being pretentious.

There are quirks to Czech pub going that warrant acknowledging too. Formalities like customer and server greeting one another on entry, normally with ‘Dobry den‘ or ‘Dobry vecer‘ if later evening. Some venues still have curtains at the entrance, a throwback to when the gentleman, taking their partner out for the evening, would check around the curtain to see if the venue was suitable. (There were also certain advantages to venues not allowing outsiders direct visible access to what was happening). There are subtler pieces of etiquette to observe too: place the beer mats on the table in advance for the server to use, don’t allow the tally slip they will write for your beers to go astray, don’t pour the remains of one beer into another. When paying, round up to the nearest whole figure if you’ve had a few beers, tip at least 10% if you’ve been eating as well and had good service. When paying, state the number you want to pay, and don’t hand the server a big note and say “thanks” (or dekuji), as sometimes they will take the note and not come back with any money! Watch out for a ‘cover charge’ when eating – this can be justified merely by plonking a bowl of bread on your table. If you don’t desire this ask them to remove whatever they’ve placed straight away. Don’t sit at the stamgast (regulars) table (normally the one by the taps) and look out for reserved signs on other tables, which may actually be free if you check the time written on them.

Still, this makes it all sound like a minefield, whereas in fact the joy of Czech pubgoing is its simplicity. Often there is a streamlined offer of drinks which itself has an effect of binding people together in ritual. While Czechs have an uneasy relationship with tourists (and a dollop of nationalist Chauvinism, though hardly unusual for the region) their culture brings people inwards, slowly and gradually.

What else to remark on? The fact that many Czech pubs serve beer for the same price as a mineral water? The Herna Bar, 24 hour Non-Stop pubs? The venerated ‘Tapster’ or ‘Vycepni‘ whose job is to pour the beer and leave human interactions to a bare minimum? Yes, there is so much more we could get into here, but for now, we hope this provides a flavour of what’s to come.

Ratings Key (0-10)

A: Choice and/or quality of drinks

B: Style and décor

C: Atmosphere and feel

D: Amenities, Events & Community

E: Value for money

F: The Pub Going Factor

Bars marked (*) will take you to our full profile write-up!

Name Location A B C D E F
U Blahovky Brno 8 9 10 7 7 9.2
Mydlo Brno 9 8 10 8 8 9.2
Blues Bar Traubka Brno 9 9 10 7 8 9.2
Posledni Lec Brno 7 9 9 6 9 8.9
U Poutnika * Brno 9 8 9 6 9 8.9
U Alberta Brno 9 7 9 7 7 8.7

Ochutna-

vkova Pivnice

Brno 9 6 9 7 7 8.1
Zastavka Brno 9 8 8 8 7 7.9
Na Srebaku Brno 9 7 8 7 7 7.8
U Vodicku Brno 7 8 9 7 7 7.8
U Karla Brno 8 9 8 7 9 7.8
Pegas Pivnice Brno 8 8 7 6 7 7.8
U Svatych Brno 9 7 8 8 8 7.7
Budvarka Ceske Budejovice 9 6 7 6 9 7.5
Traveller’s Pub Cesky Krumlov 7 8 8 8 9 7.6
U Krale Jiriho Cheb 8 8 8 7 9 7.7
California
Club
Karlovy Vary 8 6 8 7 10 7.6
Dacicky Kutna Hora 9 8 7 7 7 7.6
Pivovar
Svaty Florian
Loket 8 7 7 7 8 7.5
U Kudeje * Olomouc 10 9 9 7 9 9.5
Citadela Olomouc 8 9 9 7 8 8.4
U Floriana Olomouc 7 8 8 7 10 7.9
Retro Pivnice Olomouc 10 7 8 8 7 7.8
U Zrzave Mary Ostrava 9 9 9 7 8 9.1
Kurnik Šopa Hospoda² Ostrava 10 8 9 8 7 9.0
Vinarna U Bielase Ostrava 8 9 8 7 8 7.9
Mirror Pub Ostrava 7 8 8 7 8 7.9
Hobbit Club Ostrava 9 7 8 8 8 7.8
U toulave pipy Pardubice 9 7 9 6 7 8.0
Café Bajer Pardubice 6 9 8 8 7 7.7
Senk Na
Parkanu
*
Pilsen 10 7 7 7 6 7.6
U Hrocha Prague 9 9 10 7 9 9.7
U Cerneho
Vola
*
Prague 9 9 10 6 8 9.5
U Sadu Prague 9 9 9 9 9 9.1
U Vystrele-
nyho Oka
Prague 8 8 9 6 9 8.9
Jelinkova Plzenska
Pivnice
*
Prague 9 9 9 6 8 8.8
U Prasivka Prague 9 8 9 7 10 8.8
U Zlateho
Tygra
*
Prague 8 8 9 7 8 8.7
Prvni Pivni Tramway Prague 9 9 9 7 9 8.7
Zly Casy Prague 10 8 9 7 8 8.7
U Vodoucha Prague 9 7 9 8 9 8.6
Cross Club Prague 7 10 9 9 8 8.6
Pivnice
Jamajka
Prague 9 8 9 7 8 8.5
U Prezidentu Prague 8 10 8 7 8 8.4
Hostomicka Nalevarna * Prague 8 8 9 6 9 8.3
U Pivoje Prague 8 9 8 7 8 8.2
Vzorkovna Prague 9 10 9 8 8 8.1
U Rotundy * Prague 7 8 9 7 10 8.1
Vycep
U Bansethu
Prague 9 7 8 8 9 7.9
Pivnice
Ferdinand

Prague 8 7 8 7 9 7.9
Hospoda Nad Viktorkou Prague 8 9 8 5 6 7.9
Café Jehuda Prague 8 9 7 8 8 7.9
Na Slamniku Prague 9 7 8 8 8 7.8
U Jary Prague 8 8 7 9 8 7.8
U Tunelu Prague 8 8 7 7 9 7.8
Centrala Prague 8 8 8 8 8 7.8
Hany Bany Prague 8 8 7 8 7 7.7
U Buldoka Prague 8 8 8 6 9 7.7
U Rudolfina Prague 8 8 7 7 8 7.6
U Vejvodu Prague 8 9 7 8 8 7.6
U Medvidku Prague 9 7 8 7 8 7.6
Base Camp Prague 10 8 8 6 9 7.6
Poctivej Vycep Prague 9 7 9 7 7 7.6
Pivni Lokal
Ostry
Prague 9 7 9 6 7 7.6
U Deminky Prague 8 8 8 6 9 7.6
U Slovansky
Lipy
Prague 9 8 7 6 7 7.6
Na Palme Prague 10 7 8 8 7 7.6
Zazemi Prague 7 8 8 8 8 7.6
U Sv Antonicka Prague 7 8 8 7 8 7.6
Absintherie Prague 8 8 7 6 6 7.5
Los V Oslu Prague 9 8 7 8 8 7.5
T-Anker Prague 10 8 7 7 5 7.5
Pivovarsky
Klub
Prague 10 6 7 7 5 7.5
Da-da-lie Raby 8 9 9 7 8 8.1
Pivnice U Lva Tábor 7 9 10 8 10 8.9
U Certa Trebon 4 9 7 6 9 7.9

19,464

A working class town on the outskirts of Prague with an excellent and weird brewery near the station. Well worth a diversion from Prague and Karlstejn Castle for that alone.

Brno follows a trend of 2nd cities featuring riotous nightlife. A small centre and modern transport infrastructure provides a pull for locals who can expect a tidy selection of all the best sorts of pubs Czechia does well. Cosy traditional pivnices, neighbourhood pajzls and alternative hangouts thrive, as we pointed out HERE in our Days Out feature.

93,984

A large town that dominates rural South Bohemia, Budweis was a town with a German majority before the war. Famous for Budvar beer still owned today by the Czech government. The city is compact but retains a historic layout including an impressive central square, which perhaps is now too big for its own good. Nightlife is decent but unspectacular.

13,056

A centre overrun with Russian mobsters and Asian tourists, there is no real bar life to speak of other than casinos and drab hotel bars. To find nightlife climb into the hills or walk the other side of town where the locals life, where you can find a typically Czech range of down to earth boozers and lunch hospudky.

32,071

This border town has a mixture of historical sights and a typical market town square that can easily evoke times passed. There is a small cluster in the centre of busy bars of various descriptions and you can guarantee real local life and no tourists to speak of.

pop. 48,501

A city with a split personality, the city centre itself is a typical example of what happens when town planners allow middle aged, middle class tourists to dominate: no real pubs and expensive drinks. However, the locals have simply worked around the problem, and you can still find down to earth pubs only 5 minutes walk outside the central part of town which serve beers as cheap as you can find anywhere west of Berlin. Our recommendation is to ignore the centre in the evening, and pick the nearest couple of passable bars in the suburbs.

28,880

This medium sized town near Olomouc, pronounced ‘Krum-yeah-zzheesh’ is too easily bypassed, however as a former bishopric it has a disproportionate bounty of religious buildings and an impressive central square that make it a diverting visit for an afternoon. A central brewery and one or two sidestreet pubs offer a reasonable choice, but don’t expect anything too dramatic.

20,622

Given Kutna Hora is well on the tourist trail you may expect it to feature more in the way of nightlife. However, the strange long drag and touristic centre seems to have distended the town somewhat. While the town is worth exploring on its own right, it would be nice to find more than just the reasonably pleasant pub restaurant Dacicky and a long drag of drab sports bars towards the train station.

104,693

A city of this size should have a far better selection of pubs and bars. I’m afraid I have little to report except the blandest chain bars. Liberec operates as a skiing hub during the winter but out of season it is slightly sodden and drab, as is its nightlife.

pop. 3,200

Loket’s dramatic hilltop castle plonked dead centre in an almost sandbox world ringed by hills renders it well worth a visit. The typically Bohemian painted townhouses of the centre and cobbled streets on the periphery provide a beautiful and charming character, and – considering the small size – a competent cellar brewpub and neighbourhood hospoda with local life supplement what is a thoroughly enjoyable day out from Karlovy Vary.

pop. 19,486

Upon approach to Melnik it appears to be a normal town, with a gradual hill up to the centre. Then while wandering to its central church a cobbled lane appears to end, leaving only the horizon. You’ll never manage to pre-empt just how huge the drop and expansive the panorama is when you reach the edge. In addition to this outlook, you’ll find a characterful square of two storey town houses, low-rise, yes, but each arched in a defensive style similar to a Bastide town in France. You won’t find anything as dramatic in terms of drinking options, but the central brewpub remains a pub rather than simply a restaurant, and one or two nearby places have character due to local life in the evening.

pop. 7,359

A small south Moravian town more famous for its wine than its pubs, you won’t find anything other than perfunctory, tolerable venues for evening drinking. However, the surroundings are truly beautiful with vinyards, steep valleys and fanciful – yes- I’m going to say it – fairytale castle. If you fancy punctuating your trip to Brno or Bratislava, you could do far worse than changing trains at Breclav to spend a few hours here.

pop. 100,378

Among the most unheralded cities in Europe, no efforts, whether that be from broadsheet journalists or obscurantist bloggers, has persuaded the great unwashed with their Instagram accounts and selfie-sticks to visit Olomouc.  Its obscurity is infuriating and unfair on some levels, but that there are such places remaining in Europe, both beautiful, interesting and very cheap is of direct benefit to those intrepid enough to explore them. Two large squares with architecture every bit as charming as Prague old town, an astronomical clock and dramatic ‘Plague Column’ represent its core centre, while a ring of gardens around the old town and series of lanes spurring off like spokes on a wheel provide the background wandering.

The nightlife? Berserk. A very high % of the town’s inhabitants fill up seemingly hundreds of city centre venues, making it difficult to find a seat on evenings and weekends. A lack of tourism means the local economy yields fair prices and local wares that have to be good enough for local people to buy – this sets it apart from Prague which is – taken as a whole – a mixed picture.

We highly recommend Olomouc, a city is also very well-connected on the main transport arteries. There really is no good excuse not to go.

population 289,629

Sprawling and industrial/post-industrial, Ostrava is not a place to go sightseeing unless you are into monolithic pig iron works and panelaky/towerblocks. The historic centre architecturally pales in comparison even to many small towns, however it would be unfair to write off visiting Ostrava, which has plenty to offer outside of the usual Czech attractions while still offering excellent nightlife. Some of the venues may require a tram ride, but there is a reliable core of central pubs that are down to earth and almost entirely visited by locals, a huge benefit versus somewhere like Prague.

population 92,000

A provincial city albeit one with an international airport, Pardubice is a fair way down the list of destinations, however its central square, network of canals and nearby castle easily justify an overnight stay. The nightlife lacks a true core and as the city is so spread from West to East, get to know the local public transport to help you along. A few standout pubs and an art nouveau cafe should provide a modest spread for the evening, while the usual city brewery and Pilsner Urquell venues provide fallback options.

pop. 1,281,000

What can you say about Prague that hasn’t already been written? Dozens of diverse venues to suit pretty much everyone’s needs – even teetotallers. The core offering is of course the historic pivnicea Czech pub restaurant frequently situated in a cellar or venue shielding you from the outside world, but the common and humble hospoda, a neighbourhood pub frequented by locals rather than tourists is the bread and butter of the city’s offerings.

The drink? High quality expertly poured pilsner lager served by the half-litre. While Prague’s central Staropramen brewery is well known and its beers can be commonly found, the ubiquitous and more highly rated Pilsner Urquell is the staple option. You may well see plenty of Gambrinus – the working man’s lager – being drunk as well.

As the years go by, gradually more attention needs paying to avoid disappointment in Prague. Without wanting to dwell on the negative, we would like to highlight the following:

  • Good value is not going to be found by visiting a city centre ‘craft’ venue or aimlessly attempting to visit a tourist trap at random on ul. Karlova. If you go home complaining Prague wasn’t as cheap as people were telling you, it’s probably because you didn’t do your homework. You can still find hundreds of Prague pubs which serve a half litre of beer or glass of wine for 35 crowns or below, dozens of venues at sub 30 crowns. But in a sprawling city with one of the most touristic centres in Europe, you can’t simply bank on everywhere being great value.
  • Find venues that suit your tastes. If you don’t like beer it’s unlikely a brewery tap specialising in dark and light lager is going to yield the experience you seek. Every year I see hordes of tourists gingerly supping their Světlý Ležák simply because it’s the ‘thing to do’. Secondly, if you love beer then going to somewhere like the Absintherie probably isn’t going to be a good idea. Thirdly, if you are into late night clubbing then the atmosphere down a local pivnice isn’t going to be as good as ‘my mate told me it would be’.
  • If you are dead set on visiting a particular venue, make reservations. Prague locals are very savvy while even boozers which barely serve food will take table reservations on evenings. If you don’t do this then there is a real risk you will turn up to find no space and be hastily dismissed by a server – who don’t have the most stellar reputation for courtesy or patience towards tourists.
  • Be aware of scam tricks. Venues like U Fleku aren’t offering you shots of suspicious-looking herbal liquers out of the goodness of their hearts. They cost the same as they do in the West, but without you being informed in advance. Likewise that bowl of bread isn’t a peace offering, just another way of getting money out of you. But every single day, at any one time, thousands of people are falling for it.

pop. 170,548

While Plzen has recently been the European City of Culture, it’s worth bearing in mind this award is usually dished out to unheralded cities to give them a rare chance for the spotlight and economic leg-up. Plzen has arguably 4 key attractions at the time of writing which warrant visiting it – a dramatic central square, a successful football team (by Czech standards), a bus link to Nuremberg (which breaks up a journey from Prague) and, of course, Pilsner Urquell. Overall, the city is a ‘working city’, a phrase sometimes used euphemistically to scrub up more industrial/drab human settlements, of which Plzen is certainly one. Nevertheless, those key attractions above justify a visit, and you will find they occupy a full day without boredom creeping in. The nightlife is steady, but unspectacular in comparison to the busy and vibran Brno and Olomouc, although the central Pilsner Urquell pubs more or less define Bohemian drinking and dining.

pop. 5,276

A small exquisitely beautiful town, set on a peninsula surrounded by a lake. The central square is a true classic with rows of painted facades and porticos that give the town a distinctive character. Drinks-wise, expect to get your hands dirty, as the only venues with any character or atmosphere are some truly working class boozers located on the periphery of the more middle class, disinfected centre.

35,853

A typical market town with activity centred around its town square. However with a small Jewish quarter and a brewery not far from the centre, there is enough here to merit a stop off in between Brno and Telc.

pop. 8,253

Another true beauty spot, Třeboň is a delightful lakeside town with pretty town square, characterful lanes, castle, and impressive Victorian brewery. It’s also a fairly difficult-to-reach venue, which, along with its more general obscurity, renders it less prone to tourist influx. Sometimes pretty middle class towns do not translate into havens of lively nightlife, and nowhere is this more the case than Třeboň, where virtually zero interest is shown in evening drinking outside an atmospheric, gothic venue called U Certa. Wandering around the handful of comatose drab bars where time appears to have stood still is an experience, but not necessarily the one you want.