Liberec, in the Northern Bohemian region not far from the borders with Poland and Germany, is a place that will nourish both body and mind. The city is on the fringe of the Jizera Mountains, with a bowl of soaring peaks and evergreen mountainsides all around.
In winter Liberec is a prime snow sport destination and a fixture on the ski jumping circuit, while in summer the opportunities for outdoor adventure are almost endless. Inside Liberec there’s a wealth of things to do for ages, but the city’s strong point is its “edutainment” attractions that kids are sure to adore.
1. The view from Ještěd
It doesn’t matter where you are in the city you’ll be able to spot a strange space-age building atop the city’s highest peak. This icon for Liberec is a combined television tower, hotel and restaurant dating to 1966.
The structure is a hyperboloid, a kind of upside-down cone that was designed to enhance the outline of the mountain. Go in for a closer look by road or via the cable-car at Horní Hanychov.
If you’re up for the hike you could also walk the mountain trail, and at the peak you’ll be able to savour a view that extends out over most of Northern Bohemia as well as parts of Germany and Poland.
2. Liberec’s extravagant Town hall
Standing proud on Edvard Benes Square, this grand and intricately-decorated building is another symbol for Liberec and a reminder of the city’s Austro-Hungarian past.
It was designed by the Viennese architect Franz Neumann in the alpine renaissance style at the end of the 19th century, and bears a striking resemblance to Vienna’s own town hall.
The stained-glass windows are exceptionally complex, while the narrow ceremonial tower rises 62 metres above the square. Tours of the town hall are available as well.
3. Liberec Zoo
This animal attraction is the oldest in the country, but that isn’t to say that its standards are outdated. More than 130 species are kept in 13 spacious hectares of landscaped enclosures. Liberec Zoo has full European accreditation and takes part reintroduction programs for birds of prey.
The big story for guests is the park’s numerous wild cats, among which are white Bengal tigers (the only ones to be found in the Czech Republic), lions, snow leopards and lynxes.
For young zoologists there’s much more besides, with aviaries, primate enclosures and a reptile house.
4. Liberec Botanical Gardens
Quieter than its neighbour the zoo, Liberec’s Botanical Garden is the senior attraction of the two, dating back 120 years. There are nine elegant metal and glass pavilions here sustaining a range of habitats.
One pavilion that is sure to draw the curious is the fearsome display of carnivorous plants. Elsewhere there’s a giant corpse plant, Europe’s oldest bonsai tree, which was present at the garden’s inception in 1882, and a wonderful collection of orchids from around the world.
Two of the pavilions also boast aquariums, and include an underwater walkway where tropical fish swim over visitors’ heads.
5. Museum of North Bohemia
Liberec has a long tradition for textile manufacturing, to the point where the city has been dubbed the “Manchester of Bohemia”. At this museum you can get to grips with this aspect of the city’s heritage and see models of traditional weaving workshops.
There are interesting displays of local textiles and tapestries, as well as decorative items such as furniture, glassware, jewellery, clocks, woodcarvings and ceramics.
Other exhibits are devoted to the natural history and archaeology of Liberec and its surrounding region. Take time to admire the museum building, a lovely neo-gothic structure from the late-1800s.
Curious minds of all ages will adore this science centre where hundreds of interactive exhibits and hands-on experiments are at your fingertips.
Educational entertainment is the name of the game at iQLANDIA, so you’ll be able to meet the Czech Republic’s first even humanoid robot or undergo authentic space training. You can also suit-up and experience a simulated firestorm.
Part of the same complex is iPARK, which is where little ones can get some answers to their big questions, and the Planetarium, where you can attend live screenings of the night sky, or watch HD movies about the cosmos and the natural world.
7. Bozkovské Dolomite Caves
Hop on a bus from Liberec to the village of Bozkov, where you’ll descend into the largest cave system in the region. This warren of subterranean chambers and tunnels stretches out for more than a kilometre and its stalagmites and stalactites resemble alien sculptures.
The caves were discovered just a few metres below the surface when a quarry was being blasted in 1947, and in recent years they have been declared a Czech national monument.
The main event here is the vast underground lake, with perfectly clear turquoise waters. Oh, and remember to wrap up warm when you visit: Temperatures never get above 8 °C down here.
8. Czech art and design at the Regional Art Gallery
This fascinating cultural attraction is contained in a beautiful neo-renaissance building next to Liberec’s Castle. The gallery has permanent collections covering contemporary and 20th-century Czech art, 19th-century French impressionism, romantic German and Austrian works from the 1800s and Golden Age Dutch Paintings.
Permanent exhibitions are combined with expertly-curated temporary shows, that have included a huge range of topics, among them every phase of Czech art and design, as well numerous foreign movements, such as British 18th-century lithography.
It’s well worth an afternoon of your time, whether you’re an art-lover or art-curious!
9. Centrum Babylon
The Centrum Babylon is an entertainment, commercial and hotel complex under the roof of a regenerated textile factory. At more than 25,000 m2 it’s the largest attraction of its kind in the Czech Republic, and behind its doors is something for all comers.
The littlest visitors can bounce around in soft play areas or zoom about on traditional fairground rides. Teenagers and adults can try their hands at laser tag or bowling, and people of all ages can make a splash at the Aquapark with its themed pools and slides.
If all that sounds like too much action, then book some “me-time” at the Wellness Centre for a bit of pampering and relaxation.
10. Dino Park
Lurking in the shopping plaza next to the Šaldovo náměstí tram stop at the centre of the city, this educational attraction takes you back millions of years to the age of the dinosaurs.
It’s ideal for school-age children, and inside they’ll experience with sight and sound the environments in which dinosaurs lived, and get up close to convincing scale-models of the creatures themselves. The attraction is in chronological order, so eventually the monsters give way to woolly mammoths and primitive humans.
The big event for little ones is the second floor, which is stalked by convincing life-size models of a stegosaurus, t-rex and diplodocus.
11. Winter sport
When the snow starts to fall Liberec straps on its winter gear and welcomes high-profile competition. Every January the Ski Jumping World Cup comes to town, while in 2009 the prestigious FIS Nordic World Ski Championships were hosted by the city.
If you’re a hockey fan then autumn to spring is when you can cheer on the local team, the Liberec Tigers, as they take to the ice in the Czech Extraliga.
If you want your own taste of the action then the picturesque village of Bedřichov is your gateway for downhill skiing and snowboarding, as well as more than 100 kilometres of cross-country ski trails.
12. Edvard Benes Square
The centre of daily life in Liberec, this grand square is your port of call for an authentic glimpse of the city as it goes about its day.
At Christmas you can browse the fabulous traditional market, and in summer attend one of the concerts put on here, and if the Ski Jump World Cup is on you can be sure that Edvard Benes square will be hosting all sorts of side events.
The town hall is the unmissable landmark on the square, but the other three sides are also delightful, with ornately-painted gothic buildings of different colours and arcaded pavements where bars and restaurants put out chairs and tables in the summer.
13. Mountain adventure in summer
From spring to autumn you’re free to set off into the glorious upland scenery that surrounds Liberec.
The Jizera Mountains are to the northeast, and their soaring peaks and thick cloak of dark-green pine forest are almost Nordic in appearance. The warmer months are the time to pack your backpack and join a trail, and paths marked in red are the longest or most challenging, often weaving along a mountain ridge.
West of Liberec, straddling the German border, are the Lusatian Mountains. The peaks are smaller and the landscape is less forbidding, but the scenery is equally romantic, with rolling pasture dotted with farms and quaint villages.
14. Walking Tour of Old Liberec
Some of the city’s most eye-catching landmarks aren’t open to the public, so the best thing to do is to take a trip on foot to see what you can find. The Church of St. Anthony the Great goes back to 1588 and was the first structure in the city to be built with bricks and mortar. Access is limited to concerts unfortunately.
Liberec Castle is a stunning renaissance chateau with a neoclassical hall, and you can get a feel for the building from its neatly-tended gardens.
Finally, there’s the whimsical Feast of the Giants bus-stop, a sculptured shelter laid-out like the dining table of a giant, complete with outsized beer steins and plates. It’s a zany one for instagram.
15. The Ruins of Ralsko
And this is one for the urban explorers. Ralsko is a big patch of countryside to the southwest of Liberec that was as an artillery range and proving ground for the Czechoslovakian and Soviet armies until 1991.
It’s a 250-square-kilometre space of deep, uninhabited woodland that covers several tall hills, and you can find maps and coordinates online to eerie abandoned installations including barracks and even a disused airport.
Sharing the scenery with these modern ruins are the atmospheric remnants of several medieval castles, Ralsko, Stohanek and Devin, which have lain empty since being sacked by the Swedes in the 30 Years’ War in the 1600s.