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Touring the Beer Shrines

A trip to the Plzenské Pivovary (Pilsner Breweries; tel. 377-062-888; www.prazdroj.cz/en), at U Prazdroje 7 will interest anyone who wants to learn more about the brewing process. The "brewery" actually comprises several breweries, pumping out brands like Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus, the most widely consumed beer in the Czech Republic. The brewery has responded to the high demand for tours with a menu of sightseeing options that includes no less than two different brewery tours, a brewing museum, and a presentation called "Brewing -- A Successful Czech Industry" (a full list is included on the brewery website at www.prazdroj.cz/en). Most visitors will be content with simply the 1-hour main tour and possibly a quick look in at the Beer Museum down the street. Brewery tours in English are held daily at 12:45pm, 2:15pm, and 4:15pm. Tickets, which include an English-speaking guide and entry to the Beer Museum, cost 250Kc for adults and 130Kc for students and seniors. And, yes, the tour does include a beer tasting.

If you didn't get your fill of beer facts at the brewery, the Pivovarské muzeum (Beer Museum; tel. 377-235-574; www.prazdroj.cz/en) is 1 block away on Veleslavínova 6. Inside this former 15th-century house, you'll learn everything you wanted to know about beer but were afraid to ask. In the first room, once a 19th-century pub, the guard winds up an old German polyphone music box from 1887 that plays the sweet, scratchy strains of Strauss's Blue Danube. Subsequent rooms display a collection of pub artifacts, brewing equipment, and mugs. Most displays have English captions, but ask for a more detailed museum description in English when you enter. Entry to the museum is included with the brewery tour ticket, but it's also possible to skip the beer tour and buy a ticket just for the museum (but who would want to do that?). Separate entry into the museum costs 90Kc for adults and 60Kc for children. The museum is open daily from April to December from 10am to 6pm (to 5pm Jan-Mar).

The Beer Museum is also the starting point for an unrelated (to brewing, that is) tour, though they still give you a glass of beer to drink. Here you'll find the entrance to the Pilsen Historical Underground (tel. 377-235-574; www.plzenskepodzemi.cz), a series of subterranean passages that was built starting in the 14th century to protect residents of the medieval city from attack as well as other purposes. Tours of the underground cost 90Kc for adults and 60Kc for children and seniors. Daily English-language tours are conducted at 1pm.

Exploring Plzen

Filled with more knowledge than you may want about the brewing process, proceed to the main square to see what's hopping elsewhere in town. Dominating the center of the square is the Gothic Cathedral of St. Bartholomew, with the tallest steeple in the Czech Republic at 100m (328 ft.). A beautiful marble Madonna graces the main altar. The church is open daily from about 7am to 8pm.

You'll see Italian flair in the first four floors of the 16th-century Town Hall and in the sgrafitti (etchings) adorning its facade. Later on, more floors were added, as well as a tower, gables, and brass flags, making the building appear as though another had fallen on top of it. The Town Hall (tel. 378-032-550) is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, Saturday from 9am to 1pm. In front of the Town Hall, a memorial built in 1681 commemorates victims of the plague.

Just west of the square on Sady petatricátníku lie the shattered dreams of the several thousand Jews who once called Plzen home. The Great Synagogue, the third largest in the world, was built in the late 19th century. A painstaking restoration project has brought back this shrine's beauty and is a must-see to take in some of the history that makes the Czech Republic so fascinating. The synagogue is now used to host photo and art exhibits.

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.