Have you ever visited the place on numerous occasions yet never actually saw it? And when you finally went there strictly for tourism purposes you fell for the place big time? That was my story with Liberec, Czech Republic.
My story with Liberec
Before I start telling you how amazing Liberec is let me give you a little background of how come I’ve never really seen the city. Since I was a little kid I was really interested in winter sports, especially in ski jumping (for my Polish readers: it was well before the whole Adam Małysz craziness has started). There was something fascinating about the men who can fly, even if for just few brief moments.
The passion was so strong that I started attending with friends ski jumping competitions in Poland and further in Europe, first as a regular fan, later as some sort of journalist (nothing too serious, we were just writing for websites about the sport). When the above mentioned craziness in Poland has started and every single person was an expert about ski jumping we moved to Nordic combined – even better discipline where besides ski jumping you also have cross country skiing (which looks boring in TV but is so exciting when watched live!).
Until I was 24 winter sports have been a huge part of my life and that’s also what has brought me to Liberec, many times! But always it was winter time and I spent majority of the time at sport venues. When the competitions were over it was already dark to actually see the city so despite visiting Liberec so many times all I could tell about it was that it has a beautiful town hall.
Finally it has changed! I went to Liberec for 3 days, to focus on actually seeing the city. And very quickly I fell in love with it! Even if we’re only half way through 2017 I already dare to say Liberec was my best travel discovery of the year! And while before going I was slightly skeptical about spending 3 days there it turned out it was not enough to see everything the city has to offer! If you decide to visit Liberec you’re in for a big treat!
Short history of Liberec, Czech Republic
The settlement in this place was first mentioned in 1348 and, since it was conveniently located on the trade routes between Bohemia and Poland or Germany it gained city rights 200 years later. Liberec developed together with clothes making industry present here from 16th century but the peak of prosperity came at the end of 19th and beginning of 20th century when the city was part of Austria-Hungary empire. The majority of stunning architecture that makes Liberec so beautiful dates to that period.
Between wars the city was shortly part of Germany (as the German majority didn’t want to lose the privileges they had in Habsburg Empire and instead of being part of the newly born Czech Republic they preferred Liberec – then Reichenberg – to be under German rule) only to become Czech Republic after WW2.
Beautiful Main Square and stunning Liberec Town Hall
If you arrive to Liberec by yellow bus from Prague (I highly recommend it!) you’ll find yourself at the edge of the old town. Just a short walk up on (mostly) pedestrian streets Moskevska or Prazska and you will get to the main square – Namesti Edvarda Benese.
The square looks really beautiful, with the colorful houses around, one prettier than another. The building that definitely catches the attention here is Hotel Praha – a great example of art nouveau architecture. It was built in 1906 at the time when Liberec bloomed thanks to the Czech-German fair / exhibition.
It’s worth to step inside to see even more of beautiful art deco details in the lobby! You can even stay here overnight! Click here to check details and prices!
But the most outstanding building at the market square or maybe in the whole city is the new town hall.
Liberec had a smaller town hall in the same square previously but at the end of 19th century it was not enough for a developing city. It was decided that the new, bigger town hall is much needed for the wealthy Liberec. If you look closely on the main square you can see on the ground how the outline of the old town hall is marked there. Compare it to the new building and you will see the difference right away!
The new town hall was built between 1882 and 1893 (although the writing on the facade says 1892 as that’s when emperor Franz Josef was visiting Liberec and the city wanted to look as good as possible). When you see it first it looks familiar – that’s why its Neo-Renaissance-style, designed by the Viennese architect Franz Neumann, was based on the town hall in Vienna, Austria. It’s stunning from the outside but once you go inside your jaw will drop – mine did!
The interior is a real masterpiece with incredible stained glass windows, decorated ceilings and beautiful furniture. But the real gem is hidden in the back – the ceremonial hall. I literally said ‘wow” out loud when I entered and I took only three pictures inside (so not like me!) as I was so impressed with the place! It was most likely the most beautiful hall I’ve ever seen!
I’m not the only one who thinks the ceremonial hall is incredibly stunning. Very often Liberec plays in both Czech and international movies. Recently the National Geography series “Genius” about Albert Einstein was filmed here and the ceremonial hall played an important role of the place where Einstein was teaching his students about time. There is a small sneak peak of the scene that you should watch to see how beautiful the place is!
There is one more reason why it’s really worth to visit the town hall – you can see the city and surrounding mountains from above! You might visit the balcony on the first floor – the very same place from where well known people such as Hitler or Vaclav Havel gave speeches. But you might also go to the tower and have the best view over Liberec center, the rooftops and Jizerkse Mountains surrounding the city. This is probably the best view you will see in Liberec!
The town hall isn’t the only building in Liberec with a strong connection to Vienna. The F. X. Šalda Theatre, located just behind, was also built in Neo-Reneissance style, so similar to the buildings of that kind from this period. It really reminds me of theaters in Cieszyn, Chernivtsi and especially opera in Budapest or Vienna (after all all these places were the part of the same country when those buildings were built).
I haven’t been inside as at the time of my visit the theater played on the scene at the main square. Too bad as the pictures of the interior look amazing! What’s more the curtain on the scene was made in the Gustav Klimt’s atelier in Vienna!
More of Liberec attractions
But there is so much more to Liberec than just the main square and the town hall. You can take any street from there and you will stumble across beautiful architecture from the turn of the centuries.
On Felberova there’s a bank building – when you look closely through the windows you might spot the stunning ceiling inside. A little bit further you will find the chateau (sadly closed now) and Grandhotel Zlaty Lev built in the art nouveau style for the 1906 fair.
In the other direction, further in Zelazna street you will see beautiful Wallenstein’s houses – the oldest buildings in Liberec, dating back to the end of 17th century. There are only three of them, incorporated into school building but they still look adorable.
Church of the Holy Cross – another gem of Liberec
A little bit further there’s Church of the Holy Cross.
When you look closely it doesn’t have the cross on the main tower – I’ve seen similar practices in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine. As you might know Czech Republic isn’t much of the religious country and churches have a rather marginal part here. This very building (that used to be the first public library in Liberec in 1759) operates as the temple for few religions that are present in the city.
The Church of the Holy Cross is among the most precious buildings in the city and even if it doesn’t look so spectacular from the outside you should step inside if you have a chance. It was another “wow moment” for me in Liberec.
On Sunday morning (around 10am) I followed the people inside and instantly was transformed to a fairy tale. I think gathered people were waiting for the Orthodox mass (as I could hear a lot of Ukrainian language around). The women choir was singing religious songs a capella, their voices were so strong and so clear, the original 18th century interior (even if it was a little crumbling here and there) made a perfect scenery for the little concert and together with the smell of the incense it all created this perfect moment when everything just felt right.
It was forbidden to take pictures inside and I’m actually glad about it as I could fully focus on the moment, cherishing the little concert I could attend.
Liberec villas – my favorite part of the city!
If you want to see a calmer face of the city yet still in the center of Liberec then go for a walk in the residential area behind the town hall, along Masarykova street and surroundings. This must be my favorite and the most surprising part of Liberec.
At the times of the prosperity at the turnout of centuries each wealthy family wanted to own a fancy villa in the center. The buildings were also supposed to be kind of a show-off for Franz Josef’s visits and 1906 exhibition hence they are all located in one area.
I was surprised how many of these villas are there! The most beautiful ones are located along Masarykova street but every street in the area hides some gems. The majority of villas are renovated, in a really good shape and are a real treat for an eye!
I enjoyed this area so much I was even picturing myself living in one of such villas, even only for a month, having a room in the tower with a view of surrounding mountains! That would be a perfect place to catch up on all the writing!
Among the villas, on the crossroads of Masarykova and Vitezna streets you can find so-called museum quarter of Liberec. On one side there is Museum of North Bohemia, designed by yet another architect from Vienna – Friedrich Ohmann and finished in 1898. At first it seems to be a rather homogeneous building but when you look closer you will see it’s actually an overview of different architecture styles. It was designed that way on purpose so students could learn from this building.
Across the street there is a Regional Art Gallery located in the former public baths building. It’s another stunning piece of architecture to admire in Liberec even if at first it was used for a very ordinary purpose. Even now inside you can see the part where the actual bath was located.
On the other side of the road, a little outshined by splendid neighbors, a building of the chamber of commerce catches the attention. It might be not as beautiful as museums but it’s definitely worth to take a look at too!
Liberec – a perfect nature getaway
If you continue walking in the direction opposite to the center soon, after passing the botanical garden and the zoo, you will find yourself in the Jizera Mountains, ready to hit the trail. That’s another thing I loved about Liberec, the nature is so close and so easily reachable from the center.
If you’re too lazy to go for a hike yet want to enjoy the beautiful scenery you should go to Jested.
A short tram ride will take you to the outskirts of Liberec from where it’s a short walk to the lower station of the cable car that would take you all the way up to Jested. From there you have a wonderful view to the city and mountains around (all the way to Poland). You can grab a beer of Kofola from the tap and just enjoy the scenery surrounding you, if you are lucky like I was you might even see a glider flying close to the mountain.
But the landscape isn’t the only reason why it’s worth to visit Jested. On top of the mountain you will see probably the most distinctive structure of Liberec – the TV transmitter / the hotel. Its current shape and look was built between 1966 – 73 and afterwards got some prestigious awards for the unique design.
You can stay overnight in the hotel here (that’s what I’m gonna do one day!) but you can also just visit it for a coffee or lunch. The interior will be a real treat for all the modern architecture fans – even if it recently underwent the renovation the place remained with style and is still using original furniture (such as the concrete counter or heave steel chairs). I was almost hyperventilating when I saw it as I have a soft spot for this kind of architecture!
I’m raving here about the architecture and the beauty of Liberec but let’s face it – how many beautiful cities have you seen in Central Europe? There are just tons of them! Every place that was even slightly important in the time of Habsburg Empire now seems to be the prettiest.
But Liberec is more than just that. Besides the stunning buildings I found so many little quirks and interesting spots around that made me fall for the city so much!
Just behind the town hall and the theater you will find a bus stop designed by David Cerny – the controversial Czech artists famous especially for his works strewn around Prague (I’m sure you know them!).
There are so many details on it but every single one is there for a reason, with a meaning: the German beer mug (that represent German past), the fallen Jewish menorah (the synagogue was located nearby but burnt down in November 1938 during Kristallnacht), the flies (that annoy everyone in the summer time), the flycatcher plant (that grows in the local botanical garden), the Liberec sausage or the head impaled on the fork (rumors says it’s the leader of Nazi Germans in the region).
But my biggest highlight of Liberec quirks (if not of the whole city) was the giant face located in the Babylon Hotel. The complex is well known in Czech Republic as a huge aqua park but not many people know that it also hides this amazing piece. It’s totally random, located in one of the corridors of the hotel – when you want to see it the best is to ask at the reception to show you the right direction – they will know what you want to see.
The giant head, incorporated into the door, is the most hilarious and absurd thing you will see. Someone was clearly inspired with South-East Asia when coming up with this idea. To make the place even more ridiculous you will find some animals around, including giant python or small monkey…
Amazing vibe and cafe culture in Liberec
As much as I adore Czech Republic I was always surprised how come every city and town, besides Prague and Brno, is deserted in the afternoons and evenings. People just disappear, there is hardly anyone to be seen around.
I was slightly afraid this will be the case in Liberec too but to my huge relief the city surprised me!
During my visit the main square turned into the stage – one day the local theater showed a ballet play, on the other there was a jazz concert. That’s also when a small community park was opened – a tiny green space was turned by local students into the place where you can hang out, listen to live music, drink a beer or exchange books.
I follow Visit Liberec on Facebook and Instagram and I can see almost every weekend there is something going on in the center, right now the main square is turned into a beach and you can relax on the sun bed and soon the square will be used as a dance floor.
Liberec is full of modern, trendy cafes where you can grab a coffee with cake or a beer (we’re in Czech Republic after all). They are inviting, cozy, a little bit hipsterish and serve delicious goodies.
Some of them have an interesting background like Kino Varsava (Cinema Warsaw) located in the foyer of the building of the cinema designed in art deco style and opened in 1922.
However, the most beautiful cafe in Liberec – Kavarna Posta – is closed. It was built at the end of 19th century in the grand style of Viennese cafes with elements of art nouveau decor. These days the building where it was located belongs to the police and every now and then some events take place inside so it is possible to see the interior if you are lucky. If you’re not you can just peek inside through the window to see how stunning it must have been at its best times!
In the evening the hub of the nightlife is concentrated around Siroka street. When the weather allows you can grab a drink and head outside to enjoy a warm night and the lively atmosphere. This area is also full of street art, especially little animals made of the little squares.
Is it worth to visit Liberec, Czech Republic?
Before the recent trip to Liberec I was slightly afraid what I’m going to do there for 3 days. When I was leaving I felt like it was not enough, I didn’t have enough time to see and do everything I was hoping for!
Liberec and especially its great vibe, cafes and villas sucked me in a little bit too much but I didn’t mind. It’s not the place where you have to run from one place to another, ticking them off from your list. It’s the city where you can slow down, enjoy the great walks around beautiful architecture or in the nature, stop by in cozy cafes and just have a good time.
Liberec is a real gem and I’m sure I will be returning there as I feel I still have unfinished business with the city.
Of course it’s best to spend few day in the city but if you’re looking for a perfect yet less popular day trip from Prague then Liberec is your answer too. You might have to focus only on the center then but that’s already enough to feel the atmosphere and enjoy the place. And I bet you would love it as much as I did!
Visit Liberec – practical information
How to get to Liberec?
The best way to get to Liberec from Prague is with Student Agency bus. They depart frequently from Cerny Most metro station, the journey takes around 1 hour and the ticket costs 100CZK / 4€ one way. You have to buy the ticket online in advance. There are also regular train connections from Poland (Szklarska Poręba) and Germany (Zittau). When travelling and crossing borders in this area I suggest you checking out the EuroNysa ticket!
Where to stay in Liberec
I stayed in Grandhotel Zlaty Lev and it was beautiful and with the perfect location, next to the chateau and few steps away from the main square. The interior was pretty amazing with all the art nouveau details! Click here to check more details and prices in Grandhotel Zlaty Lev!
Where to eat in Liberec?
I went to only 2 restaurants – they were so good I just didn’t need to look for anything else and kept returning to them.
The first one – Radniční sklípek – was located in the basement of the town hall (entrance from the side of 5 kvetna street) and the interior was incredibly beautiful – after all it was the part of the town hall!
The second one – Plzeňská restaurace – was located on Moskevska street, just few steps away from the main square. I’ve heard this is the oldest restaurant in Liberec. The food was really good, incredibly cheap (probably the cheapest I’ve seen in Czech Republic!) and they have not only typical lager beer but also specialty beers! During the third visit the waiter asked me and my friend if we want to order our usual.
If you want to have a quick bite there’s a really good bakery with a huge selection of chlebicky (local sandwiches) next to the Fugnerova bus and tram stop.
Where to go for a coffee or drink in Liberec?
I did my best to explore the local cafe scene and I can say there was no place that disappointed me. Actually it was the opposite, I loved each cafe or bar I’ve been to! Here are the places I can definitely recommend:
How to get to Jested mountain?
From the center (Fügnerova stop) you need to take tram no 3 towards Horní Hanychovi all the way to the last stop. The ticket for the tram is 20CZK one way.
Once you arrive to Horní Hanychov follow the signs towards Lanovka Ještěd, it’s around 10 minuts walk through the forest until you reach the lower station of the cable car. The price for the cable car is 99CZK one way or 149CZK return. The cable car runs every half an hour, more often on the weekends or if there’re big groups. You can find the schedule here.
Further information on Liberec
The best source of information is Visit Liberec website, you can also check there the opening hour and tours in the town hall. Once you arrive to Liberec you should go to the tourist information to get the maps and learn all you need about the city. It is located just behind the town hall, on the left side.
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My trip to Liberec was with collaboration with Visit Liberec but all opinions are 100% mine!
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