The Old Town holds most of the attractions you'll want to see, so it's probably best to start at the former seat of government, the Old Town Hall on Radnická 8. To get there, walk from the train station along Masarykovo and make a left at Orlí Street; if you're coming from námestí Svobody, head toward the train station and turn right on either Panská or Orlí.
Brno's oldest secular building, from the 13th century, the Old Town Hall is a hodgepodge of styles -- Gothic, Renaissance, and baroque elements melding together, demonstrating Brno's development through the ages. Almost everything in the building has a story or legend attached to it, beginning with the front door and its crooked Gothic portal. Designed by Anton Pilgram, who lists Vienna's vaunted St. Stephen's Church on his résumé, the door was completed in 1510. Town officials supposedly reneged on their original payment offer, and a furious Pilgram took revenge by bending the turret above the Statue of Justice.
On the second floor, a modest collection of armor, coins, and photos is displayed in the same room where town councilors met from the 13th century right up until 1935. Climb the stairs of the tower for an interesting, if not beautiful, city view; smokestacks and modern buildings battle for attention.
Before you leave Old Town Hall, examine two of Brno's most beloved attractions -- the Brno Dragon and the Wagon Wheel. The "dragon" hanging from the ceiling is actually not a dragon, but an alligator given to the city by Archprince Matayás in 1608. Here also stands the Wagon Wheel, a testament to Brno's industrious image. Local lore has it that a carpenter named Jirí Birek from nearby Lednice wagered with locals that he could chop down a tree, fashion a wheel from it, and roll it the 40km (25 miles) to Brno all in a single day. Well, he managed to do it, but the townspeople, certain that one man couldn't do so much in 1 day, decided that Birek must have had assistance from the devil. With this mindset, they refused to ever buy his works again.
Just south of the Old Town Hall is Zelný trh (Cabbage Market), a farmers' market since the 13th century. You can still buy a head or two of the leafy vegetable at the market today as entrepreneurs sell their wares under the gaze of Hercules, depicted in the Parnas Fountain in the square's center. The fountain used to be a vital part of the market; quick-thinking fishermen let their carp swim and relax in the fountain until the fish were chosen for someone's dinner.
At the southern corner of Zelný trh lies the 17th-century Reduta Divadlo, a former home of Mozart. Another block closer to the train station, on Kapucínské námestí, is the Kostel Nalezení svatého Kríze (Church of the Sacred Cross) and the Kapucínský Kláster (Capuchin Monastery; tel. 542-213-232).
The Capuchin Monastery is best known for its fascinating (if gruesome) crypts, which along with Kutná Hora's Bone Church count among the most ghoulish sights in the Czech Republic. Kids will either love or be terrified by (parental discretion advised) the mummified remains of dozens of former monks and Austrian noblemen lying on the floor in their final repose. The basement's special ventilation helps maintain the corpses in their original state. The noblemen paid large sums of money to be interred here in the hope that proximity to the monks might improve their prospects in the afterlife. The monastery is open May to September Monday to Saturday from 9am to noon and 2 to 4:30pm and Sunday from 11 to 11:45am and 2 to 4:30pm (Feb-Apr and Oct-Dec closed on Mon; closed Jan).
Dominating Zelný trh at its southwest corner is the Moravian Regional Museum, Zelný trh 8, Brno (tel. 542-321-205; www.mzm.cz), housed in the Dietrichstein Palace. Completed in 1620, the palace was used by Russian Marshal Kutuzov to prepare for the battle of Austerlitz. These days, the museum displays a wide array of stuffed birds and wild game, as well as art, coins, and temporary exhibits. Admission is 30Kc adults, and 15Kc students and children. It's open Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm.
From the museum, head up Petrská Street to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. Perched atop a hill overlooking the city, the cathedral was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. In 1743, it was rebuilt in a baroque style, only to be re-Gothicized just before World War I. The resulting melding of styles gives the cathedral a unique character. The cathedral is open Monday to Wednesday and Friday and Saturday from 6:30am to 6pm, Thursday from 6:30am to 7:30pm, and Sunday from 8:30am to 6pm.
Take a break at Denisovy sady, the park behind the cathedral, and prepare to climb the hill to get to Spilberk Castle. If you're not up for it, tram nos. 6, 9, 14, and 17 go near the castle, but you'll still have a short but strenuous walk from there. If you want to walk all the way, head along Biskupská, where interesting houses provide a nice foreground to the bustling city. Make a left on Starobrnenská to Husova and then left on to Pellicova. At Pellicova 11 is a fine example of Frantisek Uherka's cubist architectural vision.
But the real reason for this climb is Spilberk Castle ★★. If there's one building in the Czech Republic that's ready to be overrun by visitors, it's Spilberk -- and it's had practice. It was built in the 13th century, and the Hussites controlled the castle in the 15th century. The Prussians saw the castle's position as an excellent lookout when they occupied it in the early 17th century. It was a fearsome prison during the Habsburg occupation in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Nazis converted it into a barracks and prison for holding and torturing Czech political prisoners during World War II.
At Spilberk's Brno City Museum (tel. 542-123-611; www.spilberk.cz), you can see several permanent exhibitions such as "Prison of Nations" or "History of Brno" and others. Admission to all exhibitions, casemates, and the lookout tower is 160Kc adults, 90Kc students. It's open Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 6pm May to September, and October and April from 9am to 5pm; and Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm November to March.
What Time Is It? -- If you tour the cathedral in the late morning, you may think that you've switched time zones. Don't worry: The cathedral bells strike noon an hour early in remembrance of a quick-thinking bell ringer who, seeing that the city was on the verge of attack by the Swedes during the Thirty Years' War, found out that the army was planning to take the city by noon. If not successful by then, Swedish commander General Torstenson is said to have decided the attack would be called off and the army would beat a hasty retreat. The bell ringer, sensing that the town couldn't repel the Swedes, rang the cathedral bells an hour early at 11am, before the army could attack. True to his word, Torstenson packed up and went home.
Museums -- At first glance, this sleek villa looks like just another stylish modern home, but many count the Villa Tugendhat, Cernopolní 45 (tel. 545-212-118; www.tugendhat-villa.cz; admission Kc120 adult and 60Kc child; open 10am-6pm Wed-Sun) among noted modern architect Mies van der Rohe's best works. Mies broke new ground here in the late 1920s with -- among other things -- a fully open floor plan and huge wall-sized windows at the back. He used expensive woods and marbles, rather than ostentatious decoration, to give the house its character. Visits are only allowed with a guided tour that must be arranged in advance. The tourist office can help with this, or call the number above or visit the web site. The villa may or may not be open to the public during your trip, since the city has been threatening for several years to close it down to carry out long delayed renovations. To visit, take tram no. 3, 5, or 11 from the center to the Detská nemocnice (Children's Hospital) stop.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.