This Music-Filled City Is Stepping Out of Prague’s Shadow
Pronounced Burr-NO, ideally with a luxuriously rolled “r,” Czechia’s second-largest city is roughly a quarter the size of Prague and receives almost none of its international tourists. Yet it is Brno, not the capital, that has been named one of UNESCO’s Cities of Music, honoring its thriving network of bars, clubs, and concert spaces, along with its world-class festival calendar.

The scene here offers everything from the banjo punk of homegrown band Poletíme to JazzFestBrno, whose 2024 performers include Grammy Award–winning singer Samara Joy. Between the golf ball–shaped and acoustically advanced Sono Centrum venue and the imposing medieval walls of Špilberk Castle (where the city’s philharmonic performs), there are few spots in Brno that aren’t pressed into musical service.

In the summer, it’s the streets themselves—lined with a quirky confusion of communist-era slab blocks, confectionery-colored art nouveau mansions, and sleek modernist villas—that reverberate. In July the Pop Messe festival, now in its fourth year, draws alternative music headliners from across Europe. In August, free outdoor gigs spill out across Brno’s compact center during the annual Music Marathon. Some take place in the city’s many hidden courtyards, others in busy squares, including the Vegetable Market, where artists play live alongside fruit stalls and food trucks.

Brno’s club scene, meanwhile, has long skewed toward the alternative. “Here there was always a strong underground scene,” says Martin Kozumplík, who runs one of the city’s most popular venues, Kabinet Múz. “Growing up in the time of communism, it felt like everyone played in a band.”
With floor-to-ceiling windows and houseplant decor, Kabinet Múz is a light-filled vegan café by day, serving fried tofu “sushi” bowls and fragrant homemade soups while playing vinyl records from its own label. At night, a 300-strong clientele drinks pivo (beer) in the back room while seeing indie rock or electronica shows.

Brno’s history as the capital of Moravia—a winemaking region with a deep corresponding tradition of folk song and dance—has some bearing on its musical culture, as does its easy distance to the larger cities of Vienna and Prague, since performers often stop here on their tours. To honor the bicentennial of 19th-century Bohemian composer Bedřich Smetana, renowned for his operas and symphonic poems, 2024 has been designated a national Year of Czech Music, and Brno will be a focal point of the celebrations.
Brno’s artistic streak extends beyond music. The recently reopened Museum of Applied Arts, founded in 1873 and housed in a three-story Renaissance revival palazzo with fin de siècle interiors, has been recently transformed by the Czech architect Ivan Koleček. Exhibits including Lucie Koldová’s elegantly curved chairs and tables float alongside catwalks suspended across its light-filled atrium.There’s even a café inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, where a robot arm delivers you a cappuccino with your own picture appearing in the foam.

Meanwhile, a new gastronomy is blossoming in Brno; try farm-to-table bistro Atelier or Italian spot Castellana Trattoria. At the cocktail bar Super Panda Circus, drinks are served as part of a story-telling experience in which guests play a role. Visitors should stay at the 37-room Hotel Avion, which reopened in 2022 after six years of renovation and many decades of decay. It’s a classic of the city’s 1920s love for functionalist design and an architectural oddity at only 26 feet wide—the kind of place you wouldn’t find anywhere else but Brno.