Many people know little about the Czech Republic apart from its beautiful capital, but the country is full of lesser-known urban and natural wonders. One of these gems is the historical town of Liberec, fifth largest in the country, and a haven for outdoor sports and beer.
Welcome to the charming 18th-century spa town that is Liberec. Nestled between Ještēd (the highest peak of the Ještēd-Kozákov ridge) and the Jizera Mountains, with a beautiful historical centre, this town is the perfect location to enjoy a healthy outdoors lifestyle, a healthy pub lifestyle, proximity to Germany and Poland, and proximity to Prague (without the Prague prices). Enjoy the many sites and attractions in and around this little gem of North Bohemia!
Things to Do
Historical Centre and Villas
Liberec’s historical centre and streets of 18th-century villas are a “must see.” Walk up the picturesque Pražská and Moskevská streets, which lead to the charming town square, and admire the town hall, elegant historical buildings, and joyful colours. The town hall is modelled after the one in Vienna, and gracefully lives up to its predecessor. From there, the Kvētna 5 and Masarykova streets lead you past the Art Gallery and Museum (which used to be a spa), past rows of elegant villas, some atmospherically dilapidated and others in pristine condition, past the excellent Botanical Gardens (I highly recommend checking out the tropical plant collections there!), eventually ending up outside the zoological park. This zoo is the oldest in the Czech Republic, and is heavily involved in the conservation of endangered white tigers.
In the mountains behind the zoo, there are a variety of picturesque trails you can follow, most of which meander around Vyšina – a viewing tower and pub. The ‘mapy.cz’ app will help guide you along the colour-coded trails.
Germany, Poland, Austria, Slovakia
All of these countries are within easy reach of Liberec, either by car or coach, or on foot.
The main companies that come through Liberec are Student Agency (RegioJet), Flixbus, and Leo Express. I recommend downloading the apps for whichever company you choose, as it will make managing tickets much more comfortable. For some destinations, including Wroclaw, Zittau, and Gurlitz, you can travel directly from Liberec, but for others, you may need to change in Prague. You can easily take day- or weekend-trips into Poland and Germany, or take a few days to explore cities further afield.
There are a variety of trails to choose from, most of which lead you through mountains across the German or Polish borders. They are classified by length and difficulty, and you can use the “mapy.cz” app to help you find and follow the trails.
During the winter months, which are long-lasting, the locals consider a good day to be a day with plenty of snow.
Locals enjoy cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing in the nearby Jizera mountains, and slightly further afield in Bedrichov or the Krkonoše mountains. You can reach these locations by bus, using the “MHD Tabule” app to help you identify lines and destinations. Evening and night-time cross-country skiing are especially atmospheric.
Another favourite winter pastime is ice-skating on the frozen reservoir. Families and friends come down to play ice hockey, teach their children how to ice-skate, and generally have a good time. There is something quite exceptional about skating on a natural rink, surrounded by trees.
Liberec is transformed in summer, as everyone strives to spend as much time outside as possible. The pubs open their beer gardens, the reservoir becomes the social hub of the town, and food and music festivals take place in the town square.
Beyond the town, hikes to Germany and Poland, walks in the beautiful Cesky Raj national park, and visits to the myriad castles and monasteries around Bohemia are at your fingertips!
Cesky Raj is a stunning national park. You’ll find mountains, rivers, stone towers, and castles, all surrounded by beautiful forests. There are a variety of hikes you can choose from, which differ in length and difficulty. An excellent place to start looking at circuits and routes is the Cesky Raj info site (http://www.cesky-raj.info/en/about-region/), but Malá Skála is a particularly beautiful area that I can personally recommend. You can also organise rafting, kayaking, or canoeing trips down the Jizera river.
Castles and monasteries
Bohemia is riddled with castles and monasteries. The best standing castles include the Sychrov, Frydlant, Grabštejn, and Valdštejn castles, while the atmospheric ruins of the Vranov Pantheon and Trotsky Castle offer a different, but equally rewarding, castle experience. Nearby monasteries include the Ursuline Monastery in Kristiánov, the Capuchin Monastery in Mnichovo Hradištē, and the Basilica of the Visitation and Monastery in Hejnice. For a historical day out, I recommend taking the old steam train from Zittau to Oybin, and exploring the ruins of the castle and monstery in this old German spa-town.
Where to Eat and Drink
The food and cafe scene in Liberec is growing fast, so there are plenty of choices when it comes to dinner or coffee-breaks.
If you’re looking for comfort and pub-type foods, Ztráty a Nálezy, Balada, Radnični Sklípek, and Potrefena Husa, are excellent bets. Ztráty a Nálezy specialises in gratin potato dishes which are delightful and heart-warming, and the others all serve lovely comforting fare: dumplings, steaks, pasta dishes, soups etc.
For more alternative (cue: hipster) experiences, you can’t go wrong with Omam: the food is excellent and feels healthy, even if the service is sometimes slow and they shut quite early. Pho Bistro is a new, delicious Vietnamese Bistro with some great merchandise (‘Girls just want to have Pho’ T-shirts, amongst other things). Otherwise, the pizzeria Maškovka, Bosnian in origin, has massive pizzas with an ethnic twist, while also specialising in fish dishes. A more cosy location is Palačinkárna, a cute pancake restaurant with standard sweet and savoury choices, as well as a ‘build your own pancake’ option.
Some slightly fancier restaurants include the Black Horse, Porta Cafe, Masa Buka, and the Royal Maharaja. The latter is a kitsch but delightful Indian restaurant, with a very reasonable lunch menu. I strongly recommend the chicken dishes with cheese naan. Masa Buka is a Greek restaurant with great wines and delicious traditional fare, including moussaka, calamari, and some typical lamb dishes. The Black Horse (my parents haven’t stopped talking about this one!) and Porta Cafe both have diverse, Mediterranean-leaning menus and excellent food.
The star of the show has to be Chicago Bar and Grill. You can’t miss this American grill: it’s loc ated in the middle of the busy Fügnerova thoroughfare. You’ll find American-style bar food, burgers, wraps, great cocktails, and English-speaking staff. The prices are higher than in other places, but it’s a worth-while experience. Chicago tends to draw customers back again and again, and is busy most nights. It also stays open later than most places in Liberec. To enjoy Chicago on a budget, I recommend sharing some bar food: the nachos could feed a family, the sharing platter is to die for, and the curly fries or garlic-parmesan fries complement everything nicely. If you have room, make sure to try the cheesecake of the day!
Liberec is quickly developing a strong cafe culture, and there are many vibes to choose from in your search for the perfect coffee-break. Pause Cafe, Bez Konceptu, and Saber cafe all offer good coffee in a standard cafe atmosphere. For more unique experiences, I recommend Kytka Cafe, which doubles as a flower-shop/greenhouse – the decor and ambience are great, the coffee good, and the cakes delicious – Siroka, which offers excellent food and coffee in a ‘communist chic’ decor, and Mikyna, which is a vegetarian cafe with good coffee and refreshing, healthy, filling meals. Their avocado toast is to die for!
Another exciting trend reaching Liberec is brunch: Pause, Bez Konceptu, Siroka, Saber, and Mikyna all offer great sweet and savoury brunch options! It’s not fully embedded into the cultural landscape yet, so brunch-time ends quite early (around 11.30am), but Bez Konceptu and Mikyna are especially worth it.
Liberec is a pub town, and you can’t walk far without coming to a cosy, warm, local watering hole. English isn’t spoken in all pubs, especially the smaller ones, but the atmosphere and Czech beer are usually worth it. While all pubs offer good beer and cheer (Radnični Sklípek, Azyl, Plzeñka-Duli amongst others), some have a little something extra. The PUB pub (yes, I know) offers quite a unique experience, as each table comes with its self-service beer tap. Exciting for inexperienced pint-pullers, and satisfying to more weathered beer consumers – and slightly dangerous for your liver. Barovna is another pub with a twist: this bright, cheery locale offers board games and ping pong alongside its food and drink, but if snooker is more your speed, you’ll find your joy in Garage Bar.
The main tram lines are the ‘2 and ‘3, which take you from Jested to the Zoo via most of central Liberec. There are many bus lines as well, but the ‘MHD Tabule’ app will help you find your way around timetables and routes.
Single Ride – 20 CZK – valid for buses and trams – purchase from tobacconists and newsagents
Weekend Family – 200 CZK – 2 adults, 3 children – Friday to Sunday
Tourist Daily – 50 CZK – 1 adult – tram lines ‘2 and ‘3 only
Daily – 80 CZK – 1 adult – all lines
The Weekend Family, Tourists Daily, and Daily tickets must be purchased in advance from the City Information Centre (address: nám. Dr E. Beneše, 23; website: www.visitliberec.eu).
If you want to go to nearby Jablonec, you’ll need to buy the 26 CZK tickets, also from the newsagents, and get the ’11 tram.