You won’t see a description for a day trip to Plzen in your Frommers guide to the Czech Republic, and that’s a bloody shame. For the beer lover, I would argue it’s almost a necessary visit. This quaint city gave birth to beautiful thing in 1842: a beer that has stood the test of time – pilsner.
For me, the day trip to Plzen this was a true pilgrimage. There was no way I was coming to the Czech Republic without visiting where my favourite style of beer was created. Only a short 90 minute train ride from Prague, the Pilsner Urquell brewery is located just outside of the city centre. When you arrive, you are greeted by the original gates of the brewery:
On our way into the brewery we got to see a morning delivery loading up. Each day, the brewery delivers beer to bars in the city by horse, keeping alive a long-standing tradition. I momentarily thought about taking the reins and making away with a few kegs of the good stuff:
Pilsner Urquell puts on a very comprehensive tour of their brewery for visitors. We were joined by a couple from Portugal for the hour and a half tour through the brewery operations. First stop was their modern bottling facility. One look had my mind spinning with how much beer can get bottled and canned here. I forget the exact number, but it was well more than 10,000 cans/bottles per hour:
The tour included a film of the history of the brewery, the unique brewing processes, how the brewery has changed over the years and a stop to sample the ingredients that go into each batch of pilsner. At the end of the tour was the experience I was anticipating the most. Down deep in the cellars beneath the brewery there is still pilsner brewed and aged in oak barrels like the original beer:
And from one of those barrels, a brew master poured me a glass of unfiltered, unpasteurized, oak barrel aged Pilsner Urquell:
To my incredible advantage, I got to take the tour with my wife who is unable to drink beer. Luckily, she agrees to play along and takes a generous sample as well. Twice the fun for me as we discretely passed our glasses back and forth so I got to sample two glasses of this deliciousness. This picture of us with “our” half finished beers makes me smile every time I see it:
That beer, without exaggeration, is one of this trip’s highlights and one (ok, actually two) of the best beers I’ve ever had. Delicate with perfectly balanced hops, a slight floral flavour and a clean, pure taste – it tastes fresh. It’s elegant perfection in a glass.
After the tour wraps up and my wife wisely encourages me to purchase one of the iconic Pilsner Urquell glasses to take home (it makes me remember the trip every Sunday when I pull it out for my football beer), we head into Plzen to have lunch. What do they have in Plzen bars? More delicious, unfiltered and unpasteurized pilsner of course:
It’s lunch time, and I’m a very happy man. What goes perfectly with pilsner? Ok, everything does, but I take another opportunity to have goulash and dumplings. This interpretation at U Salzmannů just around the corner from the town square was outstanding. The dumplings were the best I had in the Czech Republic:
With the dumplings and goulash thankfully sopping up some of the morning’s beer in my stomach, we headed for the main square of Plzen. I love European city squares, and this one by size is actually one of the largest in Europe:
A unique part of this square is the blend of modern art fountains against the backdrop of the circa 16th century Cathedral of St. Bartholomew. There are three modern fountains, designed by Ondřej Císler, which stand in place of the original fountains on this site. Here’s the one in the north east corner of the square:
This church has the highest spire in the Czech Republic at 103 metres. You are able to climb to the top of the tower of St. Bartholomew’s. It’s a lengthy and steep 301 steps, but is worth the workout as it provides a gorgeous bird’s eye view of the city stretched out in all directions.
Here’s a view south and east and overlooking the square:
After gazing out over the city, we walked back through the beautiful streets of Plzen to catch a train back to Prague. Admittedly, it was the beer that brought me to Plzen. But beyond tasting the finest pilsner in the world, the rest of the charms of this city are alone worth the trip from Prague.