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
|U Poutnika *||Brno||9||8||9||6||9||9|
|Traveller’s Pub||Cesky Krumlov||7||8||8||8||9||8|
|U Krale Jiriho||Cheb||8||8||8||7||9||8|
|California Club||Karlovy Vary||8||6||8||7||10||8|
|Pivovar Svaty Florian||Loket||8||7||7||7||8||8|
|U Kudeje *||Olomouc||10||9||10||7||9||10|
|Senk Na Parkanu *||Pilsen||10||7||7||7||6||8|
|U Cerneho Vola *||Prague||9||9||10||6||9||10|
|Prvni Pivni Tramway||Prague||9||9||9||7||9||9|
|Jelinkova Plzenska Pivnice *||Prague||9||9||9||6||8||9|
|Vycep U Bansethu||Prague||9||7||8||8||9||8|
|Los V Oslu||Prague||9||8||7||8||8||8|
|Pivni Lokal Ostry||Prague||9||7||9||6||7||8|
|U Slovansky Lipy||Prague||9||8||7||6||7||8|
|U Vystrelenyho Oka||Prague||8||8||9||6||9||9|
|Hostomice Nalevarna *||Prague||8||8||9||6||9||8|
|U Zlateho Tygra *||Prague||8||8||9||7||7||8|
|Hospoda Nad Viktorkou||Prague||8||9||8||5||6||8|
|U Rotundy *||Prague||7||7||9||7||10||8|
|Pivnice U Lva||Tábor||7||9||10||8||10||9|
One of the few countries that barely requires an introduction when it comes to beer. Suffice to say, almost everywhere you are in Czechia (as it is now known) you will be able to access extremely high quality bottom fermented lager for pennies, as one of the last bastions of working class drinking culture in Europe becomes ever more isolated in its approach, and thus ever more fascinating from an outsider’s perspective. The Czechs attitude to beer is not unlike the parsimony and petty outrage of the British or Americans towards petrol. The matter of the price of beer is taken very seriously indeed.
You can hop across the western border from Cheb to Germany and find yourself suddenly paying 3-4 times as much for a beer that’s not as good – or at least not any better. Mainstream travel guides and less intrepid bloggers have argued that the days of getting a beer for under a pound in Europe are dead, yet Czechia provides proof every day that isn’t the case. Similarly, in bouts of spectacular point-missing guides warn you off going to rip-off joints in the centre of Prague who have the nerve to charge you 60-80 korunas for a drink, neglecting to mention even this is still below average for a drink nearly anywhere West of Ukraine.
Drinking is divided between ‘Pivnices’ which despite the name tend towards being restaurants rather than bars and ‘Hospodas’ which are more informal neighbourhood pubs sometimes serving salty bar snacks to wash the beer down with, but frequently offering lunches too.
One of the joys of Czech pub-going is the concept of the ‘tapster’, someone who stands and dispenses beer, sometimes not even with the duty of taking orders. These tapsters are usually middle-aged to elderly men and give already historic venues an even more intransigent feel.
The beers are deliberately cheap, low strength and easy to wash down, meaning many places keep tabs by marking your beer mat, collecting the dosh at the end with the final tally. Service can err towards surly but please give them a degree of latitude: unless they’re being outright rude, it just isn’t common practice in Czechia to give you New York smiles and fake pleasantries. There’s even a slight thrill to extracting the most minimal upward curling of the mouth or even a ‘Na Shledanou’ – ‘Good bye’ from staff at the end of your visit.
Out in the countryside you will gasp at some of the prices they ask for a beer (18 and 20 korunas are my records for a large beer at a pub, which worked out 55 pence and 70 pence respectively, when I visited). However, even in cities, if you’re brave enough to venture into the 24-hour drinking and gambling dens known as ‘Herna bars’ there are bargains to be had, and even the pubs themselves are occasionally not-too-seedy.
In the larger cities you will find a nascent alternative scene, particularly in Prague’s bohemian district Zizkov, but also in Brno where Pilsner Urquell does not hold sway nor indeed the other macro brewers. It is almost as commonplace these days for a mainstream bar or restaurant to sell local beer ahead of anything else, with a cop-out option for the conservative drinker, such as PU, Kozel or Gambrinus.
In summary, Czechia is one of the heartlands of beer drinking and pub going and so the aspects of both are taken very very seriously and to the highest standards. The quality and sheer down to earth nature of the experience is enough to send folk into raptures. I strongly recommend reading Pivni Filosof if you are at all interested.
There will be many Czech pubs featured here.
A working class town – even by Czech standards – but a useful stop off point if you fancy hiking in and around Karlstejn castle. Beroun has a nice brewery in a highly unlikely battered old location near the train station – but expect down and dirty boozers and bland chain pubs otherwise.
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.
The last major settlement before crossing into either Austria or Germany, this South Bohemia city, once simply called Budweis is famous for being the home of Budvar. You can expect this in pristine form in many pubs, but the fact is the city is not yet stocked with the sorts of outstanding venues that make it worth a full night stop.
One of the most remarkable and beautiful places in all Europe, this historic town is set across a meandering river and crucible-like ring of hills. The entrance is spanned by a huge bridge linking elements of the castle complex together. Its nightlife has been placed under threat by the closure of its most fun and down-to-earth pub, Gorila, which acted as the base camp for locals. After that you’ll be scratching around between the Eggenberg brewery tap, the Traveller’s Hostel pub and various whisky bars. It may be that the level of tourism is making it harder for locals to afford the rent in the centre; likewise the effort it takes to head into the lower town and back out again may put people off. This would put its fate on a trajectory similar to Dubrovnik’s, which would be a great shame.
Czechia’s most Western city, it may lay claim to being the cheapest place in North Western Europe. This market town has some quirky features which make it a pleasant stop off for a night, with the privilege of knowing you will rub shoulders with locals, not tourists at the bars. U Krale Jiriho has the same atmosphere as a high street pub in an English market town. There is a bustle and sense of importance, while you will find the more clandestine drinking holes in the lanes north west of the central church. Don’t expect miracles though.
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.
A market town with an unexpected endowment of religious architecture, Kromeriz (pronounced Krum-myer-zheesh) falls in between justifying an afternoon visit or an overnight visit. The difficulty here is that the pubs worth visiting open later on, but the overall level of attractions don’t quite hold your attention long enough. Their brewery tap, while pleasant and centrally, is more of a restaurant, while the pub atmosphere you’re craving doesn’t show its face until later.
Kutna Hora is well worth visiting and attracts a steady conveyor belt of tourists on excursions from Prague. However, the town itself is an odd-shape – when taken in its entirety, one long stretch from the hill at the top to the train station at the bottom. Kutna Hora is a peculiarly poor place when it comes to bars, with only Herna bars available; 24-hour purgatory-like sports/betting terminal pubs where zombified alcoholics stoop over their pint trying to enthuse about under-18 Japanese table tennis on TV, not wanting to talk to each other about anything. The overall lack of offering after a while becomes a tad depressing, and you’ll be better served heading home to Prague rather than sticking it out for a full evening.
A ski resort with a fairly undramatic and unexpectedly limited city centre. There are numerous leafy avenues with faded fanciful mansions, while the surrounding hills are genuinely spectacular. One thing that can’t be said – even slightly – is that this is a city with good nightlife. A wonderful lunch can be obtained in the town hall cellar, but this is banqueting rather than pub-going. Outside of that you can expect to be stuck with chain pubs or outright dull, depressing hospudky.
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.
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.
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.
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 which is also very well-connected on the main transport arteries.
What can you say about Prague that hasn’t already been written? Dozens of diverse and truly brilliant venues to suit pretty much everyone’s needs – even teetotallers. The core offering is the historic pivnice, a Czech pub restaurant frequently situated in a cellar or venue shielding you from the outside world. 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 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 svetly lezak simply because it’s the ‘thing to do’. Secondly, if you love beer then going to somewhere 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.
While Plzen has recently been the European City of Culture, it’s worth bearing in mind this is award is usually dished out to unheralded cities to give them a much needed 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.
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.
With some moderate cultural attractions, lunch or an evening stop at Trebic can certainly be justified, though outstanding venues are not in plentiful supply. It’s a day-to-day market town with pubs which reflect that.
Another true beauty spot, Trebon 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 Trebon, 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.