224km (139 miles) SE of Prague, 128km (79 miles) N of Vienna

An industrial city with an industrial-strength image as "boring," Brno suffers the fate of many second cities around the world -- no respect. Sure, as you approach from the highway, the sight of dozens of concrete apartment buildings may give you second thoughts. But bear with the Communist-inspired urban sprawl -- the bad rap is undeserved. In fact, Brno is a vibrant and interesting city with a panache all its own.

Since Brno came of age in the 19th century on the back of its textile industry, the city's architecture, for the most part, lacks the traditional Gothic, Renaissance, and baroque elements that are part of the fabric of cities like Prague. But spend a day or two here, and the beauty of the old city center will become apparent. Empire and neoclassical buildings abound. For fans of early modern architecture, Brno is an unexpected delight. In the 1920s and '30s, the city was a leading center of Functionalist design. The high point of any tour is the Villa Tugendhat, a masterpiece by Mies van der Rohe, one of the giants of modern architecture.

Quirky sights like the Brno Dragon and the Wagon Wheel add character. Spilberk Castle and the Gothic cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul give historical perspective. And lush streets and parks make aimless wandering a pleasure.