You can comfortably see Ceské Budejovice in a day. At its center is one of central Europe's largest squares, the cobblestone námestí Premysla Otakara II -- it may actually be too large, as many of the buildings tend to get lost in all the open space. The square contains the ornate Fountain of Sampson, an 18th-century water well that was once the town's principal water supply, plus a mishmash of baroque and Renaissance buildings. On the southwest corner is the Town Hall, an elegant baroque structure built by Martinelli between 1727 and 1730. On top of the Town Hall, the larger-than-life statues by Dietrich represent the civic virtues: justice, bravery, wisdom, and diligence.
One block northwest of the square is the Cerná vez (Black Tower), which you can see from almost every point in the city. Consequently, its 360 steps are worth the climb to get a bird's-eye view in all directions. The most famous symbol of Ceské Budejovice, this 70m-tall (236-ft.) 16th-century tower was built as a belfry for the adjacent St. Nicholas Church. This 13th-century church, one of the town's most important sights, was a bastion of Roman Catholicism during the 15th-century Hussite rebellion. You shouldn't miss the church's flamboyant, white-and-cream, 17th-century baroque interior.
The tower is open Tuesday to Sunday (daily July-Aug) from 10am to 6pm; admission is 20Kc. The church is open daily from 9am to 6pm.
Touring a Beer Shrine
On the town's northern edge sits a shrine to those who pray to the gods of the amber nectar. This is where Budejovický Budvar, Karolíny Svetlé 4 (tel. 387-705-111), the original brewer of Budweiser beer, has its one and only factory. Established in 1895, Budvar draws on more than 700 years of the area's brewing tradition to produce one of the world's best beers.
One trolley bus -- no. 2 -- and bus no. 8 stop by the brewery; this is how the brewery ensures that its workers and visitors reach the plant safely each day. You can also hop a cab from the town square for about 150Kc.
The brewery offers 1-hour guided tours in Czech, English, and German at 2pm from Monday to Friday in season (Apr-Oct) and Tuesday to Friday at 2pm during the rest of the year. Normally, it's okay just to show up, but to be sure call ahead to the Budvar Visitors' Centre at the brewery (tel. 387-705-341; http://budweiser-budvar.cz) to reserve a place. Tours cost 100Kc.
Once you're inside the brewery, the smell may cause flashbacks to some of the wilder frat parties you've attended. This is a traditional brew, and not much has changed at the brewery over the past hundred years or so. The room where everything moves along conveyer belts and goes from dirty old bottles to boxed cartons is fascinating.
Keeping Up with the Schwarzenbergs: Visiting a 141-Room English Castle
Only 8km (5 miles) north of Ceské Budejovice lies Hluboká nad Vltavou (tel. 387-843-911; www.zamek-hluboka.eu). Built in the 13th century, this castle has undergone many face-lifts over the years, but none that left as lasting an impression as those ordered by the Schwarzenberg family. As a sign of the region's growing wealth and importance in the mid-19th century, the Schwarzenbergs remodeled the 141-room castle in the neo-Gothic style of England's Windsor Castle. No expense was spared in the quest for opulence. The Schwarzenbergs removed the impressive wooden ceiling from their residence at Ceský Krumlov and reinstalled it in the large dining room. Other rooms are equally garish in their appointments, making a guided tour worth the time, even though only about a third of the rooms are open to the public.
The castle is open daily May to August from 9am to 5pm (last tour at 4pm); April, September, and October on Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 4:30pm (last tour at 3pm). There is a lunch break between noon and 12:30pm. Tours in English cost 220Kc adults, 150Kc students.
To complete the experience, the Alsova Jihoceská Galerie (Art Gallery of South Bohemia; tel. 387-967-041) in the Castle's riding hall at Hluboká, houses the second-largest art collection in Bohemia, including many interesting Gothic sculptures from the area, and Dutch painters from the 16th to 18th centuries. It is open daily May to September from 9am to 6pm.
The castle's distance from Ceské Budejovice is short enough to make it a pleasant bike trip from the city or a quick stop either on the way to or from Prague, Trebon, or Tábor. The town's information center can help with bike rentals.
If you're driving to Hluboká from Ceské Budejovice, take Highway E49 north and then Hwy. 105 just after leaving the outskirts of Ceské Budejovice. For cyclists or drivers who prefer a slower, more scenic route, take the road that runs behind the brewery; it passes through the village of Obora.
The town's Information Center at Zborovská 80 (tel. 387-966-164; www.hluboka.cz) will provide you with maps, souvenirs, and answers to your questions.
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.