Our trip to Plzen (or Pilsen) in the Czech Republic was sort of an accident. We went over the Easter holidays, and accidentally booked our flight for Thursday morning instead of Friday morning, giving us an extra day in CZ. Oops. Thinking that 4 days was sufficient time to spend in Prague, we looked for options for a one night stop elsewhere. We found inspiration in a number of travel guides, and ended up heading to the home of the original Pilsner beer.
The Pilsner Urquell brewery is the main attraction in town. There’s also a beer museum (don’t bother, the audioguide is long and rather comical). The brewery itself was really interesting, you get into the tunnels below the city where beer used to be left to lager and see the old and new breweries. The restaurant on site is huge but delicious and very reasonably priced. Definitely the highlight of our trip to Plzen.
Plzen was actually voted the EU’s city of culture in 2015, and has a lot going on. It’s not nearly as touristy and crowded as Prague, but there’s definitely enough to keep you busy, and the night life is good. It’s also significantly less expensive than Prague. We stayed in a great hotel, which kind of looked like a modernised castle and a half litre of beer cost about £1.
One of the interesting things about Plzen is that it was actually liberated by Americans at the end of WWII, whereas Prague was liberated by the Soviets. We visited the General Patton memorial which is a museum about the Americans who liberated the city. It also discusses how the communist government later tried to cover this up and remove the memorials to them, and actually rewrote history books to make America look bad. The monuments have since been restored, and the museum contains letters from American veterans who have returned to the city over the years. It’s a really interesting (and tiny) museum worth a look.
The Puppet Museum was another interesting one. Plzen is famous for puppets and puppet shows, and the museum traces the history of puppets as entertainment and in political satire. Many of them are real works of art, it’s incredible. You even get to play with some interesting marionettes
Easter Markets are another thing worth visiting! I had no idea what to expect, but it’s basically like a spring themed Christmas market. You can buy all sorts of delicious food and mulled wine as well as painted easter eggs, plants and the infamous Easter whip. We stocked up here as we (correctly) predicted the prices would be inflated at the huge touristy markets in Prague.
Getting there: busses run very frequently from both major bus stations in Prague to Pilsen, so check the schedules online. The Student Agency busses seem to be the best/most popular option, but we took a train on the way back and that worked as well.