How has this gem of a city somehow managed to stay off the tourist track? A visit to Olomouc not only gives you a flavour of authentic Czech Republic life, it keeps you very well entertained too.
Legend has it that Olomouc was founded by Julius Caesar as a military camp and the city is proud of its Roman heritage which is reflected throughout the streets. The main square is one of the country’s most impressive, with its historic buildings and UNESCO-listed Trinity Column and the centre is dotted with an abundance of beautifully ornate churches.
So where to start on your discovery of Olomouc? Here are a few must-sees and must-dos to help you on your way:
Tour the old city walls
Olomouc was once completely enclosed by this series of defensive fortifications and moats, and the best preserved parts can be seen from below St. Michael’s Church near the Bezruč Gardens – enter via the footbridge, guarded by four impressive statues of Hercules. Many of the outlying forts are military property so off limits for visitors but other areas, such as the water barracks, are home to bars and pubs – handy places to stop off for a rest and a drink along the way.
Wander through the botanical gardens
Across the stream from the Bezruč Gardens, lie Olomouc’s splendid botanical gardens which are divided into two parts: outdoor exhibits including rose gardens near the foot bridge and the greenhouses on the other side. The tropical greenhouse contains large aquariums and terrariums, home to a variety of alligators, piranhas, snakes and big furry spiders.
Buy souvenirs at the art galleries
Czech and Moravian artists are famous for their unusual ceramic work, so you should have no trouble finding good souvenirs to take back home. Olomouc is filled with shops and galleries, some of the best being situated on Ztracena Ulice near the Caesar fountain; in the town hall building’s Gallery Caesar, next to Cafe Caesar; and in Gallery Mona Lisa – also a café – on the corner of the square beside the Arion (turtke) fountain. The beautiful Villa Primavesi, next to St Michael’s Church, also hosts a small gallery worth visiting if only to wander through the magnificent entrance hall of this historic building.
Marvel at Moravian modern art
The Museum of Modern Art (Muzeum moderního uměni) sits opposite the baroque church of Lady Mary of the Snows. This pale grey building houses a permanent collection from the 20th and 21st centuries plus temporary exhibitions, all for a small fee and free twice a week (currently Wednesdays and Sundays). Once you’ve mused at the exhibits, go up the small lookout tower for views across the city.
Explore Olomouc Castle
Perched atop Wenceslas Hill, Olomouc Castle is where the Czech King Wenceslas was assassinated in 1306. As time went on, the castle was built onto to incorporate a cathedral and other religious buildings, so there’s plenty to take in: The Romanesque windows of the Bishop’s Palace; the thousand-year-old St. Wenceslas Cathedral which dominates the skyline and is the seat of the Archbishop of Olomouc; and the Archdiocesan Museum in the chapter deanery, founded by Pope John Paul II.
Head to the zoo
Olomouc Zoo is near the basilica and Holy Hill and is filled with fun for all ages. Here you will find animals and marine life from around the world, while a breeding programme is in place to conserve many of the endangered species. A walk-through pen gets you up close to red macaques while a 32-meter high observation tower provides a bird’s eye view of the zoo from a different angle.
Join in with local events
June’s Olomouc City Festival brings ten days of theatre, concerts, sculpture and ceramics demonstrations as well as a whipped cream battle plus night processions by lamplight. Alternatively, organ music enthusiasts flock here for September’s International Organ Music Festival, organised by the Moravian Philhamonic Orchestra with recitals taking place at various venues around the city, including St Moritz church, home to the largest pipe-organ in central Europe. The Christmas markets of Olomouc are enchanting experiences as the main square is taken over from the beginning of December. Expect a traditional fare of roast chestnuts, mulled wine, traditional crafts and free daily concerts.
Try the cheese
The cheese (Olomoucké syrečky) in the region of Haná is reputedly the smelliest in the Czech Republic. Don’t miss a chance to savour some in Olomouc as it is actually considered to be a local speciality. Eaten raw with a drink or fried in local dishes, this traditional 15th century soft cheese has a very low fat content along with a pungent taste, and an accompanying very strong odour – don’t be surprised if you’re also served some mint sweets on your plate to counteract the stench!