Winter is coming to a close, and it might be difficult to pull yourself away from the overwhelming beauty of Prague in the spring. But for a weekend escape, Olomouc, a university town and the old capital of Moravia, provides a weekend of history and stunning architecture that could rival that of Prague.
Only a three hour train ride from Prague, Olomouc offers a different view of the Czech Republic, and its lesser-traveled charm makes this a nice destination for a weekend away.
Olomouc has similar parallels to Prague for those who are hesitant to leave. In the main square, Olomouc’s astronomical clock signals the hour with statues of workers clanging hammers against steel. Detailed mosaics portray the different working classes and other communist imagery. After the old clock was destroyed in 1945, the town decided to reconstruct the clock with communist symbolism instead of its original design. The clock provides an interesting look at art and design during communism and its remaining historical imprint on the town.
Much of Olomouc seems to carry the weight of its history. Olomouc has always been an important location in Moravia—during the ninth and 10th centuries, Olomouc was the center of the Great Moravian Empire. During the Thirty Years War, it was taken over by Sweden, and both world wars saw Olomouc occupied and largely destroyed by the Germans. Despite its often torrential past, or perhaps because of it, Olomouc has remained one of the lesser known locations in the Czech Republic.
Architecture and history buffs will be ecstatic to stumble upon Olomouc’s plethora of stunning cathedrals, monuments and town squares. One of its most beautiful and famous cathedrals, St Wenceslas Cathedral was originally built in 113,1 and its main tower is the highest church spire in Moravia. It is also the fourth tallest building in the Czech Republic. The cathedral’s striking exterior displays gothic architecture and the interior stained glass windows are intricately designed. At night, the cathedral creates a breathtaking backdrop as it towers above the town.
In the center of Olomouc is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest baroque sculpture in the Czech Republic: the Holy Trinity Column. The column was built by artists from Olomouc in the early 18th century to honour the Catholic Church. This impressive structure is so big that the middle of the column is home to a small chapel which is not open to the public.
The UNESCO World Heritage list describes the column as “one of the most exceptional examples of the apogee of central European Baroque artistic expression.” A visit to the square will bring you to most of the main tourist attractions in Olomouc and the column is an easy meeting place after some hapless wandering through the winding streets and cobble-stoned alleys.
Alongside being an architectural haven, Olomouc is also a university town, which makes the nightlife scene fun and vibrant. Bars and cafes are often packed with expats and college students and cheap food is easy to come by.
For a traditional Moravian meal, try the restaurant Hanacká Hospoda. Their huge menu offers tastes of the Czech Republic with dishes like goulash and fried cheese, but their specialty is chicken a la duck, which is a roast chicken basted with dark beer and served on a bed of cabbage with dumplings. Absolutely delicious, this large meal costs CZK 109, which leaves enough money to try one of the restaurant’s many local wines.
Olomouc is in close proximity to many other places in Moravia. After spending the day in Olomouc, get an early start and head to one of the small bordering towns. Less than an hour from Olomouc, Litomyšl is one of the most beautiful towns in Moravia. Its brightly colored buildings are perfect for postcard-picture shots and a visit to the renaissance chateau and sculpture gardens provide a stunning glimpse into the life of Czech royals.
Exploring the Czech Republic’s lesser traveled towns is an opportunity to view stunning architecture and experience small-town charm out of the confines of an often tourist-ravaged Prague. For tourist information on Olomouc, visit http://www.olomouc.eu/eng/ and http://www.olomouc-tourism.cz/.