Both the Czech Republic and the surrounding countries have much to offer and there is no need to fly, which is good for the environment and helps your budget stretch that bit further.
“One of the best things about Brno is its location. The middle of Europe is a great place to be if you like to travel,” says Kaleah Mcilwan, a student from Philadelphia who spent a semester at Masaryk University, in her blog.
She was able to fit in a lot of trips during her stay in Brno and some of the advice from the list below comes from her. As someone who comes from a country where any trip entails a really long journey, she really enjoyed the ease of travelling from Brno. The neighbouring countries all have something to offer everyone.
If you are into historical cities and sightseeing:
While any inhabitant of Brno will tell you that Prague is not a place where you can live, missing the sights would be considered a sin for any visitor to the Czech Republic. Wandering through the historical part of the city with its narrow and crooked streets dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries is a truly unique experience. Walk across Charles Bridge built by King Charles IV, one of the most important Czech historical figures, and continue up through the picturesque streets of Malá Strana to Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral. The view of the “city of a hundred spires” and the Vltava River is definitely worth the climb.
The erstwhile capital of the Habsburg Monarchy still retains an air of the old times. The wide boulevards, the palatial residences of the Habsburg rulers – Hofburg and Schönbrunn – and the large palaces in the centre of Vienna just ooze history. Wiener schnitzel with potato salad and Tafelspitz are dishes that are a must-try for any foodie, as are the traditional Viennese cafes. While the coffee does not follow the current European trends, the apple strudel will never let you down.
Kaleah was one of those who soon discovered that one visit to Vienna was not enough. “The first time I went it was to explore the city. As the Christmas markets were not open then I was told I had to come back and see them, so my friends and I went back especially to see them. Let me just start by saying I was pretty amazed by the Christmas markets in Brno because they’re awesome and I had never seen Christmas markets before. So, when I saw the Christmas markets in Vienna...I was like wow.”
Dresden and Berlin
While this is not a trip you can do in a weekend, you can plan to do it in stages. There is a direct train from Brno to Dresden, a city famous for being almost completely destroyed by bombing during the Second World War and then rebuilt. From Dresden, it is only two more hours to get to Berlin, the capital city of Germany.
In Dresden, you can start by walking through the old city to see the renovated sights and then cross the River Elbe and visit the new part of the city. The local streets and buildings are reminiscent of the socialist era, which saw most of the construction, and include a pleasant and lively area full of pubs, restaurants, bars and dance clubs.
Berlin is in a league of its own, a city where European history was created and where the Berlin Wall once stood. You can spend days wandering through the hipster neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg and Neukölln.
Auschwitz and Krakow
One of the things that surprised Kaleah in Brno was how close she suddenly found herself to the locations of the historical events that dominate history classes all over the world. One of these was the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. While visiting the place where at least 1.1 million people died during WWII might not seem exactly pleasant, it is something that everyone should do at least once. One such trip is worth many history lessons. Moreover, the picturesque city of Krakow with the Wawel Royal Castle, the historical residence of Polish kings, is close by and well worth a visit.
Nature lovers and ski enthusiasts shouldn`t miss:
The Austrian Alps
Czechs are partial to skiing, but if there is a country where people are born with skis on their feet, it must be Austria. As it is a popular skiing destination for Czechs, many travel agencies offer organised trips and it is easy enough to get there.
The Slovak Tatras
While it is obviously possible to ski in the Czech Republic, the highest Czech mountain of Sněžka only reaches 1,603 metres, so it makes sense to look further afield although you do not have to go far. The highest mountain in the High Tatras in neighbouring Slovakia towers 2,655 metres above sea level and the level of services available is now comparable to the Alps. However, the High Tatras are even more popular among Czechs as a hiking destination, whether for day trips or longer hikes.
The Slovak Malá Fatra
If the High Tatras are too high for you, the Slovak mountain range of Malá Fatra is closer to the Czech borders and has many interesting hiking trails and cabins offering excellent food. The Slovak cuisine is quite different from Czech and the mountains abound with excellent cheeses and the famous Slovak dish, bryndzové halušky, that you should definitely try.
If you prefer a relaxing day at a spa:
Laa an der Thaya
The thermal spa in Laa an der Thaya just over the Czech border in Austria is a popular destination for both Austrians and Czechs. If you enjoy being in the water, this is a place where you can spend the whole day regardless of the season as the water temperature in the outdoor pool is 36°C (97°F), even in the winter.
The Hungarian capital could have also been included in the first category, but the local spas are a major draw to many tourists as well as the sights. The city of Budapest is situated on a geological fault and boasts over 120 thermal springs and several spas. While the springs are also used for medicinal purposes, the majority of visitors go there simply to relax. Another advantage is that the local spas have a long history and the largest, such as Széchenyi, Gellért and Rudas, boast incredible late 19th and early 20th-century architecture.