The Czech city’s appeal – earned for its Pilsener lager and its breweries – will be broadened by its year as joint Capital of Culture, with visitors able to enjoy an array of concerts, street theatre, art and architecture
The first thing you should do in Pilsen is have a Pilsner Urquell. The Pilsner Urquell brewery, where golden pilsner-style beer first frothed in 1842, is a short walk east of the historic centre through parkland. The brewery is touristy – ride the country’s largest lift, wonder at the rotating auditorium – but there are gems to enjoy, such as the mangled signature of Franz Joseph I of Austria from his brewery visit in 1885. The emperor liked to sign in the local language, but began his signature in German before switching halfway to Czech. A highlight of the brewery tour (£5.40 adults, £2.90 kids and seniors) is the 9km of cavernous lime-washed cellars where the pilsner used to be stored, and where the tour concludes. There, between barrels, you’ll enjoy a cool glass of perfect pilsner. If beer is the lifeblood of Pilsen, this is the heart.
Pilsen has a number of independent breweries that coexist alongside the SABMiller-owned Pilsner Urquell, the largest is Purkmistr, which produces an extensive range of IPAs, stouts and flavoured beers (including blueberry, ginger, cherry). The brewery also organises an annual beer festival, Slunce ve skle, every September, and runs the city’s first beer spa at the Pilsen Beer Spa and Wellness Hotel. Here you can take a 20-minute soak in a single or double bathtub and enjoy “a special beer bath that consists of a special batch of Pilsener-type beer and other ingredients, its initial temperature is set to 35C”; beer spa prices start from £20. For an even broader selection of beers from regional and international microbreweries visit Klub Malých Pivovar. This 70-seat craft-brew paradise is a no-frills venue with a frequently-changing drinks list – but there are always eight beers to try out. Its compact size means reservations are advised.