Brno, the second city in the Czech Republic, is known for its unique architecture.
It prides itself on its rich heritage of modernist architecture, with its minimalist elegance.
I spent the better part of my 3-week visit to Brno looking up. There seems to be an interesting building just about everywhere you look.
This post isn’t just for architecture buffs though. There are stories behind the buildings and you can learn so much about the city and its people, history and culture from how its houses are designed.
“Architecture? Same as literature, if you ask me. What you need is a good plot, interesting characters, unique language.”Jaroslav Rudiš, writer
Architecture and interior design are among the things that draw tourists to Brno.
Its main highlight is the beautiful Villa Tugendhat, one of four famous historic villas that are currently open to the public in Brno.
All of them are ever so stylish and when they were built they were ahead of their time, almost futuristic.
Before I booked my trip to Brno, I had read about the four villas and was intrigued.
Later I discovered that the city had many other architectural gems and unique buildings to explore.
It also has some great design and architecture festivals to attend and some interesting galleries for design and contemporary art lovers.
Read on to find out details about all of these. I’ve also included some tips at the end of the post on how to plan a trip to Brno.
The Four Villas in Brno
Brno’s major architectural highlights are its four famous villas.
Each has it own unique style and they’re all open to the public.
Villa Tugendhat – The Most Famous Modernist Building in Brno
This beautiful minimalist house is the most famous attraction in Brno.
You can visit the villa by joining a guided tour (which you want to book a couple of months in advance, they sell out quickly).
I joined an English language tour with a small group of visitors and a knowledgeable guide.
She took us from the upstairs terrace into the entrance hall, the bedrooms and the massive living room.
The living space is the most stunning part of the villa, with huge windows overlooking the garden and the city of Brno, a library, a piano and the modernist furniture designed especially for the villa.
We also saw other impressive rooms, especially the huge kitchen and the heating system in the basement (that still works today, almost 100 years later).
Villa Tugendhat dates back to 1930. The Tugendhats, a wealthy couple, commissioned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to design their family home.
He had plenty of artistic freedom and no financial limits… so he used the opportunity to create a masterpiece, that influenced many architects and designers of that era.
People come to see Villa Tugendhat from all over the world. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The history of the house is fascinating in itself.
The Tugendhats lived there with their children for less than a decade, and then had to escape and leave the house behind.
They were a Jewish family who had heard about the rise of the Nazis in Germany and anticipated their invasion. They fled just in time and were saved.
The villa was quickly confiscated by the Nazis and suffered a lot of destruction during the war.
In 2012, after a thorough restoration, Villa Tugendhat was opened to the public and it is now a world-famous attraction.
Villa Stiassni – Modernist or Classicist?
This villa is another stunning house in Brno that you want to visit with a guide.
Both the house and the garden are strikingly beautiful.
It was a residential house where the Stiassni family lived with their only child. It was designed by architect Ernst Wiesner.
From the outside, you’ll see an L-shaped building with the muted tones and clean lines typical of many minimalist buildings in Brno.
There are some hints of decorations on the outside, but nothing to prepare you for what you’ll see when you walk inside…
When we entered, all signs of modernism, simplicity or minimalism disappeared.
The interior simply looks like a classic chateaux.
Each room was meticulously designed and decorated to show off the family’s wealth.
Some original furniture and artworks survived, while others are replicas.
The downstairs area was used for entertaining guests. You can visit the dining room, the large drawing room, the study and business meeting room.
Alfred Stiassni was a textile manufacturer, and in his business room you can see his preserved catalogue with material samples, a bookcase and vintage typing machine.
Hermine Stiassni was a painter and you can see some of her original paintings of the house.
It will give you an idea of what the house looked like at the time when the family lived in it.
She had her own room for entertaining guests with purple walls and wooden furniture.
After seeing the downstairs area, we went upstairs, to see the private family rooms.
The house is simply massive and it’s incredible to think that only three people lived in it.
Each member of the family had their own bedroom, bathroom and dressing room. The child had an extra room as well.
My guide mentioned some interesting details about the symmetry in the design of the ladies wardrobe and the kid’s nursery.
From there, we went out onto the balcony from for a gorgeous view of the city and the gardens around the villa.
We went downstairs again to see the staff quarters. Not much has survived in that part of the villa, but you’ll see that the interior design is much more basic.
What used to be the kitchen is now a gallery with temporary exhibitions changing every season.
We finished the tour in the massive gardens surrounding the villa.
The Story of Villa Stiassni
As with two of the other famous villas in Brno, the family had to leave the house behind as they escaped from the Nazis.
They only got to enjoy their beautiful house for less than a decade.
The Stiassni family escaped to England and later moved to Hollywood, California.
The villa was used by the Nazis as a casino and later the Russian army stripped the house of its valuables.
It was late rused by the government to host important guests, such as Fidel Castro and Egyptian president Nasser.
Opened to the public in 2014, after its renovation, it’s now one of the best things to see when you visit Brno.
Address: Hroznová 14, 603 00 Brno-střed, Czechia
Villa Löw-Beer – Art Nouveau Luxury
This early 20th century villa isn’t a typical historical house. Don’t expect to see how people used to live in the villa.
Rather, it’s a perfect place to learn about the city of Brno and its people, through the story of this special house.
As you enter, go up the decorated staircase and you’ll already know this was the house of wealthy people.
It was originally built by architect Alexander Neumann for textile entrepreneur Moritz Fuhrmann.
After his death, the house was sold to the Löw-Beers, a wealthy Jewish family who made their fortune in the textile industry.
We first entered the main hall, a huge space with lovely decorations.
The skylight is very impressive and let in plenty of natural light.
Follow the arrows from there to go to the exhibition rooms.
During the Nazi occupation, this beautiful house was used as the Gestapo headquarters, while the family fled to Britain.
This is why there are no restored versions of the rooms the family used to live in or replicas of the original furnishings; not much has survived.
However, there is one room upstairs with typical turn of the century furniture.
It lets you imagine what a room in the villa might have looked like.
The daughter of the Löw-Beer family, Grete, built another house next door, in a very different style to this villa.
That is Villa Tugendhat, and when you visit it, you’ll easily see the contrast in styles.
Large parts of the exhibition in Löw-Beer Villa are dedicated to Villa Tugendhat.
Other parts of the exhibition cover many other aspects of the family history and the city’s history.
As you walk around the villa, you’ll learn about the city’s architecture, including a huge panoramic photo of 19th century Brno that highlights some of its most interesting buildings.
Themes like social classes , the history of Jews in the area and the thriving textile industry in Brno (nicknamed “The Austrian Manchester”) are all presented in a way that’s very easy to follow.
You also want to use the printed interactive guide (get one when you enter).
It has exhibition highlights and a quiz about each room and will help you take in the details.
After you see the villa, take a stroll the charming renovated garden.
The view of the villa from the garden is even more impressive than from the street.
The Celnice Gallery in the villa’s garden house runs temporary exhibitions and has a nice cafe downstairs.
Address: Drobného 297/22, 602 00 Brno-sever (Walking distance from the city centre).
Jurkovič House – “A manifesto of modern architecture”
Jurkovičova vila or Jurkovič House is one of the four famous villas in Brno.
This exceptional house was the home and workplace of its creator, architect Dušan Jurkovič.
This is both a historical house and a gallery space.
I went on a guided tour of the house with architect Simona Dračková, an expert on the history, style and construction of the villa.
Jurkovič was active at the turn of the 19th century.
A simple way to describe it would be modernist architecture inspired by folk art with technical innovation.
So you might say his style merged past, present and future.
He built the villa for him and his family to live in. It was also a workspace for him and his employees.
I entered through a decorated gate and was immediately drawn to the charming garden right outside the villa. It is beautiful and serene.
Inside the villa, which is a restored version of the house, we began the tour in a large hall which was the main living space.
It’s a stylish room where you can see some original furniture and artworks, alongside replicas.
Jurkovič sold many of the original items, but the replicas are so well done that it’s not easy to tell which is which.
The house was influenced by a British cottage, but don’t expect a typical cottage.
His style was artistic and unique in many ways.
Jurkovič liked to borrow and incorporate traditional Slovak folk art motifs in the design.
These were mixed with the trends of the early 20th century.
It’s a fascinating blend and the attention to detail is evident in every part of the decor.
Jurkovič used a lot of natural materials, like wood and cork, and was quite innovative in his use of them.
He found new ways to insulate the house and had running water and flushing toilets at a time when no one in the area had them.
When Jurkovič first bought the land to build the villa, in what used to be a village outside Brno, his intention was to create an artist colony.
He planned to build more houses nearby and live among his fellow artists.
This never came to be, as he later sold the house and moved back to Slovakia.
However, he did entertain his artist friends, who would hold meetings at the villa. Guests would stay the night in the guest room that you can see upstairs, after socialising in the central hall.
Some rooms of the house now host temporary exhibitions. Other rooms have a permanent exhibition about Jurkovič’s life and work.
In what used to be the children’s room and bedroom, you can see more of his prolific work (with exhibition texts in both English and Czech).
He designed impressive, elegant villas, but also memorials and cemeteries, public administrative buildings and more.
He also designed beautiful furniture, some of which you can see on display.
Jurkovič House is not quite in the centre of Brno, but you can get there with a very quick tram ride and a short walk.
Address: Jana Necase 2, Brno
Functionalist Architecture in Brno – Modernism is Everywhere
Apart from the four villas, Brno is well known for its take on early 20th century functionalism.
Brno has one of the most impressive collections of buildings in that style.
Its main characteristics are simple, clean lines, little or no decorations . The main focus is on the functionality of the building, hence the name.
Once you learn how to spot Functionalist buildings, you will see them everywhere in Brno: Large and small houses, apartment blocks, schools, factories, office blocks, shops and even churches and a synagogue.
The reason functionalism was adopted in Brno has to do with the locals looking for a way to differentiate themselves from the Viennese style in 1918, when Moravia became part of Czechoslovakia.
But it’s not just an early 20th century style in Brno. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, architects adapted the style to more contemporary buildings as well, that you’ll see all over the city.
I took a couple of tours to explore Functionalist architecture in Brno.
One was a Brno functionalism Bus Tour. It’s in Czech, but will have audio guides in English next year.
The other tour was part of the Czech Day of Architecture festival (more about that later).
A selection of functionalist buildings in Brno
This hotel is right in the centre of Brno. You’re more than likely to pass by it while walking around.
It’s a very narrow building – Only 8 metres wide. Its facade with its massive windows is strikingly minimalist.
It was undergoing renovation when I visited Brno, so unfortunately I couldn’t go inside.
Address: Česká 150/20, Brno
The unique shape of this building with its rounded corner is pretty hard to miss as you exit from central railway station in Brno.
Originally the city’s Accommodation and Information Office for visitors, it is now used by a travel agency.
Address: Nádražní 10/654, 602 00 Brno
Agudas Achim Synagogue
There is no way to even guess that his super minimalist building, with its flat facade with a massive window, is actually a synagogue.
Still, you’ll find it on any list of great examples of functionalist buildings in Brno.
It dates back to the 1930s, and is still used by the Jewish community of Brno today.
Address: Skořepka 247/13, 602 00 Brno
Functionalist Churches in Brno
Orthodox Church of St. Wenceslas – Unlike the synagogue, it’s easier to recognise this building as a church, despite its functionalist design. The golden cupola on top of the simple geometric design gives it away 😉
Hussite Church Building (Husův sbor) has clean lines and long vertical windows. It isn’t what you’d expect a church to look like, but definitely demonstrates the principles of functionalism well.
Church of St. Augustine – a functionalist church – It shares its style with the previous church. You can see it when you walk around the beautiful Masaryk Quarter (more about it later in this post).
Omega Shopping Centre
A contemporary example of how functionalism still inspires architecture in Brno, this controversial building is the one right behind the black clock in the city’s main square.
It’s got a playful facade that changes colours at night and looks quite unusual during the day.
Address: nám. Svobody 702/9, 602 00 Brno
Theater is big in Brno, just try to count how many theatres you come across walking around the city centre… I lost count 😉
Janacek Theatre is a massive, impressive building with a design that’s inspired by functionalism as well as other styles, though it was built in the 1960s.
The square in front of the theatre is just wonderful and you certainly want to go there after dark to see the colour fountain!
The above is just a selection; Brno has way too many functionalist buildings to cover in one post.
One of the best places to spot some of the fancier functionalist style creations is in Masaryk Quarter.
Masaryk Quarter – Minimalist Paradise
Masaryk Quarter is a part of Brno that you can walk around for a good few hours, spotting fascinating buildings on every street.
I suggest you combine it with a visit to Villa Stiassni.
There are some real minimalist gems in this part of Brno. Here are 5 of the highlights I found:
Just a few steps away from Villa Stiassni, this villa is round, flat, clean minimalist and blue!
Designed for the Tesař family by Bohuslav Fuchsin the late 1930s, it is definitely one of the more unique designs in the area, that is full of wonderful villas.
I loved the curved lines and terraces
Hermina Weigl Villa
Continue along the same road to find a bright red-orange horizontal villa surrounded by a garden.
Just like in the story Villa Stiassni and Villa Tugendhat , as well as many other great buildings in Brno, the owner of this house was Jewish and her home was confiscated by the Nazis.
I was surprised at how many of these sad stories I discovered while touring this lovely part of the city.
A 1930s preserved building. It’s a white, modernist villa, with curved lines and round windows that reminded me of a large ship.
These elements make it an example of the organic stream in functionalism.
This house looks almost normal when I saw it from across the road, but as you look around it you’ll see the unique structure, with lovely terraces.
It was the home of the Haas family, yet another wealthy Jewish family that had to escape from Brno and never came back.
Vesna Professional Secondary School for Women’s Occupations
It’s one of the buildings I’d really love to see the inside of…
What you notice first about this school building is its flat, minimalist facade and its large windows.
Self-Guided Audio Tours of the Best Architecture in Brno
To explore Masaryk Quarter and other parts of Brno, I used BAM. BAM stands for Brno Architecture Manual, a comprehensive guide to Brno’s architecture.
It lets you take self guided tours at your own pace and discover the story behind Brno’s buildings.
The site has several themed trails to follow in different parts of the city.
Pick a trail and read the introduction or listen to the audio version.
Then scroll down to Objects on the Trail. Each is numbered and you’ll see those numbers by the buildings. They look like this:
Click on a photo, highlight the address, open it in Google Maps (or whatever you use for maps) and there you go.
You can then listen to the audio guide for each point on the trail.
Kamenná – Time Travel
A short tram ride from Brno’s centre, and then a short walk across the river, you’ll find yourself in what looks like a little picturesque village within the city.
The streets are narrow, the houses are old and charming and you’re surrounded by lush trees.
The atmosphere is certainly unique and it is so peaceful and quiet there that you might forget you’re still in the city.
I got there following a tip from the Tourist Information Centre.
The old stone houses in this part of Brno gave it its name, the Stone Colony, or the Stone Quarter.
The neighbourhood went through different phases over the years.
It was originally built as a workers neighbourhood on the site of an abandoned quarry in the 1920s and 1930s.
In the 1960s many of them left as they were offered better housing elsewhere and students moved in.
Later on, artists replaced the students and gave the place its current bohemian charm.
The Day of Architecture Festival
If you visit the Czech Republic in autumn, join some of the activities of the The Day of Architecture Festival.
There’s a range of activities, including lectures, film screenings, guided walks, workshops, artistic installations and visits to buildings that are not normally open to the public.
Brno Design Days Festival
The design festival in Brno hosts designers from the Czech Republic and elsewhere for a series of exhibitions, competitions, workshops, lectures, fashion shows and more.
The locations for the festival events are in buildings that are usually not open to public use, and it’s a chance to see them.
There’s also a super chic festival shop that you don’t want to miss.
Open House Brno
Brno has its own Open House Festival, Open House Brno, part of the international Open House, which is one of the most popular architectural festivals around the world.
For 2 days you get a chance to peek into some of the most interesting buildings in the city.
It features a large variety of buildings, including many that are not normally open to the public
Go to the Tourist Information Centre for a map showing all the participating houses and ask about guided tours.
Art Galleries in Brno
The Go To Brno website has all the current information about what’s on, with exhibition listings here.
If you scroll down, you can see what exhibitions are running today.
Click on the word Today to open a calendar and search by date.
Some of the main Brno galleries for design lovers:
Pražák Palace is a spacious modern and contemporary art gallery. It’s part of the Moravian Gallery in Brno.
The new art floor has contemporary works and the modern art floor features a well curated collection of 20th century Czech paintings and sculptures.
The House of Arts has several gallery spaces, featuring mainly contemporary art, both local and international.
Museum of Applied Arts is also part of the Moravian Gallery, but focuses on applied arts and design.
Planning Your Visit to Brno
When you plan a trip to Brno, first have a look at the Tourist Information Centre website for an extensive collection of guides.
When you arrive in Brno, visit the Tourist Information Centre in the city centre for maps, souvenirs, postcards, books and brochures.
It has two locations in the centre. One at the Town Hall and the other on Panenská 1.
You’ll find many specialised guides about the city, such as a coffee shop guide to Brno, a guide to things to do with kids in Brno and many more.
How to Get to Brno
You can fly to Brno from several cities in Europe, or get there by train or by bus from Prague, Vienna or Bratislava.
I flew to Brno from London and when I left it I took a train to Vienna.
Brno-Tuřany Airport is close to the city, but has a limited number of international flights at the moment.
However, it’s very easy to reach Brno from nearby cities with larger airports.
You can get to Brno from Prague by bus or by train. It takes around 2.5 hours by bus (or a bit more, depending on the time of day) and just under 3 hours by train.
Getting to Brno from Vienna, Austria is also very easy by bus or train. The train takes about 1.5 hours and the bus about 2 hours.
From Bratislava, Slovakia, buses take about 2 hours and trains about 1.5 hours.
To find flights, buses or trains around Europe, I use Omio, a user-friendly search engine that shows all available transport links with one single search.
Where to Stay in Brno
I recommend you stay at the city centre. It is walkable and almost everything is close by.
If you stay in the centre, you’d only need public transport for few attractions, such as Villa Stiassni and Jurkovic House.
Design lovers will find some beautiful hotels and apartments in the centre of Brno:
U Tomana – Themed Apartments
Close to the Old Town Hall in the centre of Brno, this is a highly rated hotel offering truly stylish apartments with different design themes.
Look for their “functionalist suite” that’s inspired by Brno’s famous buildings.
Barceló Brno Palace
Located in the centre of Brno, close to the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul and Špilberk Castle, this 5-star hotel offers modern, spacious and beautifully designed rooms.
Grandezza Hotel Luxury Palace
This luxurious boutique hotel offers elegant rooms in an ideal location in a central square in Brno (Vegetable Market).
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I am grateful to the Brno Tourist Information Centre and Tourist Authority South Moravia for their collaboration. All opinions are my own.