A look at the Czech city perfect for day or weekend trips

Dominic Swire

Written by Dominic Swire Published on 20.11.2006 10:30:26 (updated on 20.11.2006) Reading time: 6 minutes

Despite being one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, an essential part of living Prague is getting out of it once in a while. If you stay within the borders of the Czech Republic, you´ll find a wealth of great places to visit at very reasonable prices. Liberec is no exception. At 70kc for a one hour direct connection on a comfortable bus, it´s difficult to argue against.

Where am I?
Liberec may be a big city by Czech standards, but stepping off the bus at the main station you can immediately tell you´re out of the capital as the air is remarkably fresher than Prague. To get orientated it´s probably best to head towards the town centre. If you´re feeling lazy, walk uphill from the bus station and catch a tram from Nádraží stop in the direction of Lidové Sady. Tickets are 16Kč each and can be bought from street kiosks or most potravinys (grocery stores). Trams are pretty regular and the number 3 that goes from one end of the city to the other runs every ten minutes on Sundays.

Having said that, the walk from the bus station to the centre only takes about ten minutes. From the station, head downhill and follow the tram tracks until you see Tesco on the right. From here head uphill through the shops on Pražská. On the way, look out for the Story Café on the left – a good place for coffee and a bite to eat; and Knihkupectví U Fryče which is an English bookshop and an internet café.

At the top of Pražská you will be greeted by the magnificent town hall which was built in 1893 in the neo-Renaissance style. Walking around this building you´ll see the equally impressive theatre Saldovo Divaldo; but continuing in this direction will lead you to one of the most surreal sites in the city: a bus stop. But this is a bus stop designed by David Černý, the enfant terrible of the Czech art world whose other work consists of the babies on Žižkov television tower; the upside down horse in Lucerna; and ‘Shark´, a formaldehyde-filled glass fish tank containing a life-size model of Saddam Hussein.

Titled ‘Stop´, the bus shelter takes the form of a huge table holding a couple of pints of beer, a cactus, and a plate on which lies a bespectacled head severed at the neck with a knife and fork sticking out of it. Those with a keen eye will notice that the adjacent dustbin – which is used as a real dustbin at the same time – is actually a half-opened tin with some sausages on the ground next to it. Underneath the table Černý has thoughtfully provided a row of chairs for passengers to sit on as the stop is fully functional and served by several busses.

What to see

Perhaps the first site to visit is the place that´s visible from most of the city: Ještěd Tower. Positioned on the top of the mountain of the same name, the distinctive funnel-shaped building is famous throughout the country having won the Czech building of the 20th century prize. The upper levels of the building are a hotel but the two floors below house a café bar, restaurant and reception. Outside there are viewing points all the way round the construction which can range from very impressive to near-invisible depending on the weather. A number of mountain trails cross the point which makes it the perfect stopping place for hikers, mountain bikers and even intrepid joggers. To get there, take the number 3 tram to the end station Horní Hanychov then follow the road (the one without a footpath) uphill about 500m until you get to the bottom of the cable car that takes you directly to the top. The view is impressive as you close in on the structure through the clouds and mist. The same area turns into a ski resort during the winter but beware as crowds can create long queues.

Taking the number 2 or 3 to the Botanická – ZOO stop at the opposite end of the city puts you in the vicinity of, surprisingly enough, the zoo and botanical garden. Both are good value for money at 70Kc and 50kc respectively, with concessions available for students, children and the elderly. In fact, if you have children in tow, the zoo is a must. The site is big enough to fill an afternoon and contains a wonderful selection of tigers, monkeys, elephants and giraffes. The animals look very well looked after, although some of the big cats would probably appreciate a larger area to prowl about in. Having said that, smaller enclosures ensure some real up-close opportunities for the kids to get a detailed inspection. The lions in particular seem to like lazing about close to the glass.

Follow the path as it winds downhill towards the penguins, seals, and a tropical house containing lizards, snakes, exotic plants and noisy birds flying overhead. Unfortunately there is a distinct lack of spiders and scorpions. Another downside is that, due to the city´s location, most of the information is only in Czech, German and Polish. But many of the animals speak for themselves – especially the parrots who seem to enjoy the echo of their own squawk in the tropical house. There is also a café and fun-train to distract the kids if they start asking too many complicated questions. You can get the tram back to the town centre – but if you have a spare 30 minutes, take advantage of the leafy walk down Masarykova, a long straight avenue flanked by dozens of superb 19th century mansions. One of these, about half way down on the corner of Vítězná, is the North Bohemian Museum, housing many arts and crafts exhibits. Unfortunately, however, as with the zoo, proficiency in Czech, German or Polish is required in order to absorb most of the information. And beware: while the building is itself is enough to warrant the entrance fee, there is little here for children.

If you do have children in tow, no stop in Liberec can be complete without a visit to Babylon, the largest covered entertainment centre in the country. The relatively new complex boasts an aqua park, amusement park, interactive science exhibits, shops, restaurants, a 4-star hotel, and more. Easily enough to keep the kids occupied for 8 hours or so.

Getting to Liberec

If you have a car, simply head northeast out of Prague on the E65, then turn left onto the E442 just before you reach Turnov and follow directions. If you don´t have a car, the bus is much better than the train. Liberec does has a train station but the connection to Prague is complicated and takes over three hours. Travel by bus, in contrast, only takes one hour on a direct connection from Černý Most bus station (at the northern end of the yellow metro). Tickets are 70kc with Student Agency (you don´t have to be a student) and include a free drink, newspaper (in Czech), and headphones to borrow should you want to watch the selected video.


Student agency – bus tickets info


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