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Guest article by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan.
While Prague and Cesky Krumlov have become extremely popular in recent years, Olomouc Czech Republic is a well-kept secret that lies just a couple of hours away in Moravia, the eastern region of the country. Moravia is a historic region that used to be its own separate country.
The largest city in Moravia is Brno, which is also the second-largest city in the Czech Republic after Prague. There are many things to do in Brno, but it’s definitely not the only place worth visiting in Moravia. Olomouc may be smaller, but historically it was also very important. In fact, until 1641, both Brno and Olomouc jointly served as twin capitals of Moravia.
The city is one of the most beautiful places in the Czech Republic. It’s a small city with a large student population, giving it a vibrant arts, culture and nightlife scene. Wondering what to do in Olomouc? There’s plenty to see, and the old town is very compact and easy to get around on foot. Here are my top travel tips and recommendations for exploring Olomouc.
20 Things to Do in Olomouc
Holy Trinity Column
This elaborately decorated column is definitely the most famous landmark in Olomouc and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the centerpiece of the Horní Náměstí, which is Czech for “Upper Square”. The column was built to thank God for ending two plagues that devastated Moravia in the 18th century. It’s considered to be the most remarkable example of Baroque sculpture in Central Europe.
Holy Trinity Column is more than 32 meters tall and contains no fewer than 52 different sculptures. In fact, the column is so large that there’s even a walk-in chapel inside its base! Keep an eye out for the golden cannonball embedded in the column. The cannonball is a replica that was put there as a reminder of when the column was hit several times by Prussian cannons during the siege of 1758. Olomouc’s citizens asked the Prussian general not to destroy the column, and surprisingly, he agreed.
While you’re in the Upper Square, also check out the four Baroque fountains featuring gods from Roman mythology.
Olomouc Town Hall
With its tall Gothic arches, this is the most imposing building in the whole city. It stands on the Upper Square and makes a beautiful backdrop for photos of the famous Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc.
For more than 600 years, this building has served as the headquarters of the city government, and it still serves that original function today. There’s also a tourist information center inside, and it’s worth checking in there to see if there are any special events or exhibitions happening when you’re there.
In the past, it was possible to climb up the tower as part of a guided tour. At the time of writing, however, the tower was closed for renovation. Check once you’re there to see if it has reopened, but if not, read on to find out about another tower you can climb for great views over the city.
Olomouc Astronomical Clock
You’re probably familiar with the astronomical clock in Prague – a medieval clock that attracts thousands of tourists. They come to watch the animated figures whir around when the clock chimes on the hour. Well, Olomouc also has an astronomical clock, but this one is a bit different. While it was built in the 15th century, it was completely redesigned in the 1950s, during the Soviet era.
The Communist leaders of those days weren’t too fond of saints, apostles and other religious figures. So, they replaced them with a worker holding a wrench, a chemist holding a flask, and other figures to represent the common people in the social realism style. At the bottom of the clock is a calendar marking the birthdays of important Communist figures. Supposedly Stalin is among them, but I looked and couldn’t find him. See if you can!
Local opinions of the clock are mixed, and there’s an ongoing debate about whether it should be changed back to its original look. It may no longer be politically correct, but there’s no doubt that the current look is a unique attraction and one of the few monuments from the Soviet era that are still standing in the Czech Republic. If you come to watch the show, keep in mind that it only happens once a day, at noon.
In addition to the four Baroque fountains in the Upper Square that feature Jupiter, Neptune and other ancient Roman gods, there’s also a much more modern fountain. This one, known as Arion’s Fountain, was built in 2002 and can be found just around the corner from the Olomouc Town Hall.
The sculptor was born in Olomouc and now lives in France. Despite its recent date of construction, the subject of the fountain is just as ancient as that of the others in the square.
It depicts the ancient Greek legend of Arion, a poet, singer and kithara player who was rescued from the sea by a dolphin who was drawn to Arion’s singing voice. Look closely at the statues, and you’ll see they are covered in detailed relief that celebrates Moravia, Olomouc and its people.
Since there’s an upper square in Olomouc, you might be wondering if there’s also a lower square. Yes, there is! It’s just a short walk away from the Upper Square, and it also boasts a column taking pride of place in the center of the square.
This one is a Marian column, which means that it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. You’ll find Marian columns in a number of cities in Central and Eastern Europe, and they are one of the most visible features of Baroque architecture.
The Lower Square is a bit quieter than the Upper Square, and in my opinion it’s even more beautiful. There are plenty of park benches and cafés here where you can relax and soak up the Old-World beauty of Olomouc.
St. Wenceslas Cathedral
The Cathedral was built in the 12th century as part of the Olomouc Castle complex. Most of the castle has since been destroyed, and the Cathedral is certainly the most impressive building of those that remain.
Sitting atop Wenceslas Hill, the twin towers of the Cathedral are one of the most distinguishing features of the city skyline. Over the years, the Cathedral has undergone many renovations in different styles. It now has a neo-Gothic appearance, both on the inside and the outside.
From the presbytery, follow the staircase down to the crypt, where you can see the bishops’ tombs.
You’ve probably seen a jukebox before, but have you ever seen a poetry jukebox?!
Well, that’s exactly what the Poesiomat is, although at first glance it looks more like a submarine periscope. This on-street sound installation is a way to showcase the art of local poets.
You don’t even have to pay anything to make it work. You just push the button, and you’ll hear a Czech poet reciting one of his or her own poems. Pretty cool! You’ll find the Poesiomat in Wenceslas Square, in front of St. Wenceslas Cathedral.
St. Maurice Church
This church is a great example of late-Gothic style architecture, but the most interesting part is not the triple-nave church itself, but the attached tower and its unique double spiral staircase. If you give a small donation, you can climb the tower for great views out over the rooftops of the Olomouc old town.
Be sure to check the sign at the bottom for the tower’s opening and closing hours, which vary with the seasons. If you’re still up there at closing time, the custodian just might lock you in overnight!
Civil Defense Shelter
In the 1950s, this concrete and steel bomb shelter was built right inside the historic fortification walls of Olomouc. In the event of a nuclear bomb attack against Olomouc, the city officials would hole themselves up underground to conduct their “civil defense actions” from here.
Guided tours of the shelter are offered on Saturdays. During the tour, you can see the original air conditioning system, the electricity generator, and the drinking water tanks.
The meeting point for the tours is the tourist information center at the Town Hall. Check there for the latest tour times and entrance fees.
Eat Vegan Czech Food
While it may not have as many vegan eateries as Prague or Brno, Olomouc does have a vibrant vegetarian and vegan food scene. Of the veggie restaurants in Olomouc that I visited, my favorite was Koza Zustala Cela.
The large lunch buffet here includes local vegan Czech dishes such as kuba – a traditional dish made of mushrooms and barley. Do keep in mind that most of the vegetarian restaurants are open only for lunch. However, there are mainstream restaurants with vegan options that stay open for both lunch and dinner.
St. Michael’s Church
The triple domes of St. Michael’s Church are one of the most distinctive landmarks of Olomouc. The original church was built in the Gothic style in the 13th century, although what you see today is mostly a Baroque renovation.
Gothic remains of the original church include some outer walls, a vault at the end of the presbytery and the attached cloister. In keeping with the Baroque style, there is a wealth of decoration covering the nave and side chapels, in the form of ornate paintings and sculptures. Don’t miss the chance to climb the bell tower and to visit the cloister, which is accessed from an entrance at the back of the church on the right hand side.
St. Michael’s Church sits at the highest point in the city center and is surrounded by a very picturesque square. It’s worth wandering the neighboring streets while you’re in the area.
Palacky University Olomouc
There are 100,000 people living in Olomouc, and about 25,000 of them are students at this university. This higher education establishment was founded in 1573 and is a great example of an old university dominating the life of a small city, much like Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.
Many distinguished people have studied or taught here over the years, such as Gregor Johann Mendel, the “Father of Genetics”. Visitors are free to wander through the hidden green courtyards scattered around the campus.
If you head towards the back of the campus, you’ll find the terraced gardens that are maintained by the University. They are accessible via Krizkovskeho Street, near where it changes its name to Wurmova Street. From April to October, the gardens are open from 7am to 7pm.
This English-style park runs along what’s left of the old fortification wall. There are four staircases inside the walls that connect the park with the terraced gardens at the back of the university and the city center above.
There are a few landmarks of note inside the park, such as old watch towers and a monument to a local poet in the form of a wooden bell tower. But mostly it’s just a peaceful place right next to the heart of the city where you can relax and commune with nature. The park offers a unique perspective on the city from just outside the old fortification walls.
Adjacent to the Bezručovy Sady, just beyond the river, is the Botanical Garden. It may look like there’s a ticket booth at the entrance, but don’t be fooled. Payment is only for the public bathrooms, should you wish to use them. The entrance itself is free.
The gardens are well kept and contain beautiful flower displays as well as some wooden statues. There is also a rose garden towards the back, and a children’s playground. You’ll probably see squirrels running around the gardens and up and down the tree trunks.
Known as Korunní Pevnůstka or “Crown Fortress” in Czech, this large bastion was part of the original fortification walls and served as the city’s main entrance as well as its first line of defense.
It has now been converted into a museum, with displays that include archaeological finds, military map drawings and old photographs. The building is also sometimes used for concerts and other cultural events.
Park Flora Olomouc
Known in the Czech language as “Smetanovy Sady”, this large park is a popular hangout for the local residents on sunny days. Apparently, there’s a resident family of peacocks here, too! Although I wasn’t lucky enough to see them.
The main promenade is full of flowers in the spring and summer. If you want to have a picnic while you’re in Olomouc, this is the place to come. Just be aware that drinking alcohol in public places is not allowed, so opt for fruit juice rather than a bottle of wine.
This imposing gate once served as the west entrance to the old city walls. While this section of the wall has sadly been demolished, the gate still remains standing.
It was named after empress Maria Theresa, who once visited the city. The two smaller arched passageways on either side were intended for pedestrians, while the main passage through the center of the triumphal arch would have been for horse-drawn carriages.
On the streets in between Park Flora and the Theresian Gate, you’ll find a number of villas built around the turn of the 20th century. They represent several different architectural styles, including art nouveau, cubist and functionalist architecture.
Wander along Vídeňská Street and the streets west of Čechovy Sady to see some of the best examples, such as: Na Vozovce Street No. 21 (cubism), Polívkova Street No. 35 (functionalism), and Resslova Street No. 20 (art nouveau).
Some of the villas have been newly repainted, while others evoke the faded grandeur of a bygone era.
It’s hard to believe that this beautiful building with its onion domes and ornate façade is a military hospital. It starts to make more sense, though, when you find out that it was originally a monastery.
The building is sometimes referred to as the Czech Escorial, because of its similarity to the historic royal residence in Spain.
Unlike all the other sights listed above, this one is not in the historic old town of Olomouc. It can still be reached on foot, though, and from the train station it’s only about a 15-minute walk along the Morava river. Alternatively, you can take Bus No. 21 and get off at Klášterní Hradisko.
While there’s not much left of Olomouc Castle apart from the Cathedral, there’s another castle not far away that is definitely worth seeing. Bouzov Castle and the Javoricko Caves are two of the most popular day trips from Olomouc. And if you time it right, you can do both of them in one long day.
Just make sure that you go when both sights are open! Opening hours and times for both the castle and the cave change according to the season, so check the current situation here and here before you set out.
Olomouc Hotel and Hostel Recommendations
Best Hostel in Olomouc
The Long Story Short Hostel is without a doubt the best Olomouc hostel, and I’d even go so far as to say that it’s the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in, period!
Even if you normally stay in hotels and would never consider a hostel, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by Long Story Short. This is definitely not a grungy backpacker hangout!
There’s even a deluxe private suite with a free-standing bathtub. But if you’re sure that a hotel is what you want, read on for my recommendation of the best Olomouc hotel. Read more reviews here from fellow travelers.
Best Hotel in Olomouc
Miss Sophie Boutique Hotel Olomouc is a four-star boutique hotel housed inside a cozy, beautifully decorated old house that was built in the 13th century. It’s perfectly located in the old town, just 400 meters from the Upper Square.
While I didn’t have the chance to stay at Miss Sophie’s myself, I’ve read so many rave reviews that I don’t hesitate to recommend it.
How to Get to Olomouc
It takes between two and two-and-a-half hours to get to Olomouc by train from Prague. Trains are very frequent and inexpensive, costing about five euros one way. There are two train companies that ply this route: Leo Express and RegioJet. I rode with RegioJet and was very impressed with the quality of the service for such a low price. There are also frequent trains from Olomouc to Brno and other cities in the Moravia region. If you’re heading to the Czech Republic, Olomouc definitely deserves to be included in your itinerary!
About the Author
Wendy Werneth is an intrepid world traveler, vegan foodie and animal lover. She is the author of the book Veggie Planet and the creator of the award-winning vegan travel blog The Nomadic Vegan, where she uncovers vegan treasures across the globe so that you can be vegan anywhere and spread compassion everywhere.