If you’ve ever had pilsner beer, then you can thank a city in the Czech Republic called Pilsen (Plzeň in Czech).
Pilsen doesn’t make headlines like Prague or Cesky Krumlov. However, it’s a cool city to visit – and it has some of the best-tasting beer in the world.
A lot of people visit Pilsen for the Pilsner Urquell brewery, which has been using the exact same beer recipe since the 1800s.
However, there’s more to see in Pilsen than just beer. There’s some World War II history in Pilsen (the Americans liberated the city towards the end of the war). There’s a hockey team. There’s a beautiful river and downtown area.
Keep reading to discover the best things to see and do in Plzen, Czech Republic.
1) Take The Pilsner Urquell Brewery Tour
This is the number one attraction for tourists in town. Tours cost $10 and are available in multiple languages.
The brewery is completely modernized, and the tour is very well run. It’s a popular attraction. You might see bachelor parties or big crowds of tourists. My tour had people from all over the world.
There’s also a traditional Czech restaurant on-site. I had goulash and a couple pints before my tour.
Price: 250 CZK ($14 CAD or $10 USD)
Duration: 70 minutes
Available Languages: Czech, German, English, Russian, and French
Opening Times: 8am to 5pm
The brewery is labeled as Plzeňský Prazdroj on Google Maps. It’s walking distance from the town center, just behind the main train station. I didn’t book in advance, although you may want to book in advance during peak season.
The brewery tour is fairly standard. You see how the beer is made. The brewery is so large that you hop on a bus at one point to take you to the next destination.
The best part of the tour is the final room. You get taken to the cellars and sample beer straight from the cask. It’s amazing, unfiltered, fresh beer. I’d do the brewery tour again just to taste that beer.
In terms of beer history, Pilsner Urquell is a big deal. It was the world’s first pale lager. In the 1800s, most beer in Bohemia was dark and top fermented. Bottom fermented lagers were gaining popularity, although Plzen’s beer was so bad that locals preferred drinking beer from other towns. This was such a serious problem that the city’s elite stepped up, invested in a new brewery, hired a Bavarian brewery, and started making world-class beer.
People liked it so much that pilsner-style beer soon spread around the world.
Another nifty thing about Pilsner Urquell beer is that the recipe hasn’t been changed since the 1860s. When you drink Pilsner Urquell beer, you’re drinking the exact same beer people drank in the 1860s. The brewing process is different, but the beer is identical down to the chemical level.
Many people also do the Pilsner Urquell brewery tour as a day trip from Prague. It’s about a 1h15m train or bus ride. Since the brewery is right beside the train station, you can easily fit this into a day trip.
2) Visit Patton Memorial Pilsen, a World War II Museum
The Americans liberated Pilsen on May 6, 1945, just a few weeks before the end of the war. Patton’s 3rd Army, the 16th Armored Division, and some Polish troops liberated Pilsen. Today, Patton’s legacy is honored with the Patton Memorial Pilsen, a small but fantastic World War II museum.
I had no idea about Pilsen’s World War II history before I visited. You really don’t hear much about Czechoslovakia in World War II at all. Basically, here’s how I understand Czech World War II history: the country was occupied by the Germans for almost the entire war. A lot of the country was bombed by the Allies, although there weren’t many intense battles across the country. I could be wrong, but hey – you don’t come to a site called Wandering Boozebag for history lessons.
The Patton Memorial Museum explains what happened in Pilsen during World War II. It also features plenty of authentic artifacts from the war, including items leftover by the Americans.
It’s a 70 CZK entrance fee ($3 USD). Exhibits are available in English and Czech. It takes less than an hour to see everything.
3) Climb the Big Gothic Cathedral
The main square in Pilsen (Republic Square) has a huge cathedral called St. Bartholomew’s Gothic Cathedral. It’s cool to see from the bottom, and you can climb to the top for the best view in Pilsen.
This cathedral is old: it’s estimated to have been built around the year 1295, which is around the same year Pilsen was established.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this cathedral is big: it has the tallest church spire in the Czech Republic (103m tall), although the viewing platform is at 60m.
It costs 50 CZK ($2 USD) to visit the cathedral spire. You need to buy a separate ticket (35 CZK) to visit the interior of the cathedral. If you’ve visited other cathedrals in Europe, then you know what to expect from the inside, but the spire is definitely worth a visit.
4) Walk Around the Old Town
I’m going to be honest with you: Pilsen is a beautiful city and the beer is delicious, but there aren’t many “must see” things beyond the first three items on this list.
I would recommend, however, taking an afternoon to walk around the old town. There are plenty of fantastic restaurants and unique pubs and bars. The buildings are colorful and nicely maintained.
You’re going to want to start at Republic Square (Namesti Republiky). It’s a huge square with St. Bartholomew’s Gothic Cathedral at the center. There are art exhibits, fountains, cafés, bars, and all of the other stuff you would expect to see in any town square in Europe.
You should also visit the Great Synagogue, which remained standing throughout the Nazi occupation of the city (how? I have no idea). You can visit the inside of the synagogue to learn more about the history of Jewish people in the city.
5) See an HC Plzen Hockey Game
HC Plzen plays in the top tier of Czech professional hockey, the Czech Extraliga. Their home arena is in the center of town. I visited outside of hockey season, but the Czechs love hockey and you should check out a game if your schedule lines up.
As of 2020, the team is pretty good, sitting at fifth in the Extraliga.
You may have heard of some of HC Plzen’s former players: Tuukka Rask, Petr Sykora, Jaroslav Spacek, and Martin Straka all played for the team.
Where to Stay in Pilsen
I used Airbnb in Pilsen and found plenty of places available for a reasonable price. I stayed with a very nice Czech couple in a family home. I had my own separate bedroom and bathroom, but I still got to see a more authentic side of Czech life.
There are plenty of hotels in Pilsen available on the usual sites.
There are three hostels in Pilsen, including Hostel River, Hostel Plzen, and Euro Hostel Plzen. All three, however, have strangely low ratings.
Where to Eat and Drink in Plzen
Some of the places I enjoyed include:
The Pub Plzen: Pour your own drinks at your table and eat traditional Czech food while competing against tables from across the country; make a reservation for weekend nights
Lekarna: Food, beer, and an outdoor patio in the summer right on the main square with a view of the cathedral
Kolombina: Award winning ice cream/gelato place in the city center
Blondies Burger: Craft burger place with three sizes of burgers
Lokal: The renowned Prague chain Lokal has a location in Pilsen as well with good Czech food and beer
Pivstro: Trendy Bohemian bistro with beer and food
How to Get There
Plzen is well-connected to the rest of the Czech Republic by train and bus.
It takes 1h30 minutes or less to get to Pilsen from Prague by bus or train.
You can also find direct buses from Munich.
If you’re trying to get to Plzen from outside of the Czech Republic, you may have to go to Prague and then take a train to Plzen. I was able to get to Plzen from Bamberg, although it was slow and required jumping between a few smaller, regional trains.
How Long to Spend in Pilsen
You can see my top five sights in Plzen in a single day. Get there early, do the brewery tour, and walk around town. Congrats – you’ve seen Plzen.
Personally, I stayed two nights in Plzen and it was more than enough. One full day of sightseeing is all you really need.
Other Tips for Plzen, Czech Republic
See the Plzen Historical Underground: There’s a labyrinth of passageways underneath Pilsen that date back to the 14th century. You can tour the tunnels and get a beer. It takes about an hour.
Check out the Zoo: Plzen has one of the largest zoos in the Czech Republic. It’s one of the top-rated things to do in the city.
Do a Day Trip to or From Prague: I spent a couple days in Pilsen, but you could also easily do a day trip to or from Prague without missing much. It’s about 1h15m by bus or train.
Ask for Nefiltrováno or Unfiltered Beer at Bars: Plzen is one of the few cities in Czech Republic where you can buy unfiltered Pilsner Urquell beer. It’s amazing. Order it wherever possible.
Take the Tram: Plzen has a great tram system. You can pay by credit card (tap to pay). Just hop on, grab a ticket, and go anywhere in town.
Watch the Honest Guide Episode on Plzen: Honest Guide is an amazing Czech YouTuber. You need to watch his video before visiting any city in the Czech Republic.
Final Word: Is Pilsen Worth Visiting?
Pilsen is a cool city to visit, and the Pilsner Urquell brewery tour is a must-see for beer lovers. I mean, now I can see the birthplace of pilsner beer – including the Vitamin P stuff I drink back home.
If you’re looking for impressive sights, must-see attractions, and a bustling downtown core, then Plzen isn’t what you’re looking for. If you want to experience an authentic Czech city, however, then Plzen may be what you’re looking for.