My complete visitor guide to Zatec town in Czech Republic and its beer-making and hop-growing heritage, which was just listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List (September 2023).
When I visited Zatec this summer, I was surprised at how many interesting places I found just in one day! The historic centre of Žatec has a square with pretty houses, an imposing town hall and a quirky church tucked away at the end of the square. The side streets and squares have more historic houses dating as far as medieval and Renaissance times. And then there is the hop-growing and beer-making heritage, which includes the smallest hop garden and the largest hop museum in the world.
On top of that Žatec’s beer-making heritage, building and the surrounding hop-growing areas have just been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List (September 2023).
Is zatec town worth visiting?
Yes, most definitely! Zatec is just over an hour and half away from Prague, so it makes a great day out from Prague. If you like beer, industrial heritage or history in general, you’ll love Zatec as there are so many interesting areas to see. If you’ve seen the film JoJo Rabbit you’ll recognise the main square, the church and the side streets from the film.
I’ve already mentioned the smallest hop garden, largest hop museum and the only brewing and hop-growing region in the whole world to be in the UNESCO list, so that’s definitely a good enough reason to visit Zatec on its own. If that’s not enough to entice you to visit, then I like the fact that the town’s original castle was rebuilt into a brewery and in the 16 century, Zatec was one of the 5 chosen towns to survive the apocalypse!
Introducing the historic town of Zatec
Žatec (in German: Saaz) is a town in the northwest of the Czech Republic, in the Ústí nad Labem Region, in the district of Louny. It’s based on the Ohře River. There are approximately 19,000 people living there, making Žatec the largest town in the district. The historic centre has a 19th-century industrial quarter, which has the largest concentration of buildings related to hop processing and trade, and was added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in September 2023.
History of Zatec
The area around today’s town of Zatec was already inhabited by the Celts from the 4th century BC, and in the mid-6th century, the Slavs settled in the area. In the 10th century, a fortified settlement was built here, which was important enough to become the seat of a noble prince. A market was founded in the foothills of the fortress, and a settlement grew up around it, which became a royal town in 1265. The first hop gardens and vineyards were planted in the 14th century around the town.
During the Hussitas Revolution, Žatec played an important role and was deemed by the Hussitas to be one of the five cities (along with the “Sun City” of Plzeň, Louny, Klatovy, and Slaný) that would escape destruction in the impending end of the world. By the 16th century, Žatec was among the largest Czech cities.
After that time, the town’s history was mainly linked to the hop-growing and beer-producing business with one of the largest breweries in the whole Austria-Hungarian Kingdom. After the 2nd World War, the breweries and other private factories were taken over by the communist state, and German citizens forcefully moved out. New people, who needed accommodation were moved from larger towns to Zatec and the town started to decline.
In 1960, Zatec also lost its region town status to nearby Louny, which meant that funding, jobs and general building maintenance weren’t prioritised. After 1989 some properties went back to their rightful owners and the town started to regenerate itself. A lot of amazing work has been done to preserve the heritage and the town, but there are still many buildings that are just hanging on and waiting to be restored to their former glory.
The Gothic castle converted into a city brewery, and other hop-growing buildings, including the museum, have been listed as UNESCO monuments in the Žatec and Žatec hop region since September 2023.
What to see in Zatec
The temple of hop and beer
This is the more modern and ‘easy to digest’ beer museum, where you can climb the accessible town hall tower with the exhibition “Žatec in the Changes of Time”; see the exhibition on films shot in Zatec; learn about the tombstone of the oldest brewer Lojza Lupulin. You can also discover why red hops are the best quality type of hops and they only grow in Zatec region. There are several different tours which will show you different parts of the museum and gallery, depending on what you’d like to see. Most tours are guided, but in Czech language, with brief descriptions in both Czech and English languages.
- Open times: All year round – October – May – Tuesday – Sunday 10-5pm, Summer season – June – September – every day 10- 5pm
- Tickets: from 60 CZK for the tower to 220 CZK for full tour and combined ticket with the Hop museum
The hop museum in Zatec, is the world’s largest hop museum. It shows the development of hop growing from the early Middle Ages to the present day on an area of 4,000 m². The museum is converted from one of the original beer-making buildings and by viewing the exhibitions you get to see the whole building from the ground floor to the under-roof rooms.
You can easily spend a few hours in this museum as there is a lot to see, but even if you just walk around the museum gives you a really good sense of how hop growing is important for the area and how much goes into producing a single bottle of beer. I certainly enjoyed looking around as the exhibitions also included different machinery and old photos of the Zatec and people working on the hop fields, breweries and malt houses.
- Tickets: 120 CZK adults (over 16 years), 80 CZK children, senior citizens
- Opening Times – April – October – every day apart from Monday – 10 – 5 pm
The Zatec Brewery Museum
There is another smaller brewery museum opposite the Zatec Brewery at Zizkovo Square. This is a great alternative to the large hop museum if you only have a limited time, as it’s a great introduction to the hop growing in the Zatec region. The area around this museum is fascinating too, you get to see the Zatec brewery and there are some amazing historic houses on the same street.
- Tickets: 50 CZK adults (over 16 years), 30 CZK children, senior citizens
- Opening Times – April – October – every day apart from Monday – 10 – 5 pm
The smallest hop field in the world
Just a few metres long, Zatec also has the smallest hop field in the world which is on the main square just outside the tourist information centre.
The Malt House Gallery
The Malt House Gallery was originally a Renaissance building built in 1573-1574. Over the years, the building was used as a town granary, a municipal malt house, a residential house in 1801, and finally as a paint and varnish factory owned by Ferdinand and Marie Jacobová. Later, the building fell into the hands of the state and began to decay until 2010 when it was completely renovated.
Today, the Sladovna Gallery offers an information office on the ground floor, where you can purchase tours not only of the Sladovna or the Hop and Beer Temple but also many beer-related souvenirs. On the ground floor, you can also see the permanent exhibition of the malting process.
There is also an interactive exhibition about the history of pencils, art displays by various artists and the exhibition “Žatec in Film” with short clips of Czech and foreign films shot in Žatec.
Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary
This church was originally built in the Romanesque style and later rebuilt in the Baroque style. It’s one of the dominant buildings on the main square. If you’ve seen the Rabit JoJo film the statues in front of the church (and the church itself) feature in several scenes in the film.
Former Brewery Dreher
Walking around the former Dreher brewery you really get the sense of how big the hop growing and beer-making was in its heyday. The area is used by various businesses and it’s not officially open for visitors, but you can walk around the outside.
Anton Dreher was a brewer who in 1840 invented the first lager beer – a completely new type of beer, which became popular in Viena and then everywhere in the whole. The brewery was built between 1898 and 1926 and was the biggest and the most modern brewery in the whole Austria-Hungary kingdom. Sadly the brewery was taken over by the communist state in 1948 and turned into fruit syrup production. When the fruit company finished, the buildings started to deteriorate even more, but since 2018 most of the buildings have been purchased by the town, which is trying to find more suitable use for the former brewery. I hope that the fact that Zatec was just accepted into UNESCO list will help to find investors and open the brewery buildings to the visitors.
The site of the brewery is slightly outside the centre of Zatec, but if you have the time is well worth the walk. It’s about 20 minutes from Zizkovo Square – leaving the town by the Minster Tower and walking down across the Ohre river and straight for another 5 minutes on the main road.
Old Paper Mill Regional Museum
The regional museum is housed in several buildings, including the old paper mill. The museum has the usual exhibitions about the town’s history. At the beginning of this year, the museum also opened a unique exhibition to showcase the Zatec Treasure.
The Žatec treasure was buried around 1012 and the owner was probably someone from the closest circle of Bohemian Prince Jaromír.
The clay pot with 494 items was discovered in August 1937 when the workers were digging foundations for a new brewery building. The pot contained jewellery, silver necklaces, more than 300 coins, two gold rings, and other items. The entire hoard weighed 2.7 kilograms.
This collection represented a fairy-tale wealth for its owner at the time and to this day, it is still the heaviest and richest hoard hidden before 1050 in Bohemia.
Whilst it’s not known, who the original owner was, according to historians the owner must have belonged to the wealthiest social elite and possibly could have been one of the Prince’s jewellers. The value of the treasure was enormous. It represents the equivalent of about 2,700 denarii, which could buy 27,000 hens from Prague market at the time or wheat flour for a person for 225 years or barley feed for a horse for 300 years.
Opening Times: opening times vary based on the exhibition, but generally it’s 9-12 and 13-4 pm all year round and closed on Mondays.
Tickets: from 60 CZK – 160 CZK depending on the exhibition you like to see (the Zatec Treasure is 160 CZK and it’s recommended to book it in advance as there are only 12 people permitted in the exhibition area).
The Minister’s Gate
This is one of the two still existing towers as part of the medieval walls that protected Zatec town. Until the middle of the 15th century, there was a nearby monastery at what is now Zizkovo Square, which is why the gate is called the ‘Minister’s Gate’.
The Libocanska Gate
This is the second tower that survived from the original four Zatec gates. It’s only 2 metres wide inside so it’s only for pedestrian use now and the top is used as a house. The gate is 19 metres tall and has five levels.
The house known as “Mederhaus” (after its last German owners) is one of the most valuable examples of late Gothic residential architecture in Žatec.
The ground floor of Meder’s house still has simple beam ceilings, two Gothic cellars are located under the front section, and the original wide staircase to the street is vaulted. The building is Gothic in its core and on the first floor, rebuilt mainly after the Žatec fires in the 18th century.
One of the oldest houses in Žatec dates back to the 14th century. Originally, it was a late Gothic house that underwent a Baroque reconstruction in the 18th century. However, over time, the house changed owners frequently, from wealthy people to ordinary Žatec residents who no longer had the necessary means for the house’s upkeep. Because of that, the house’s complete Gothic layout has been preserved, but by 1959, the building was considerably dilapidated as a result.
By 2016 when the locals managed to put together the needed funds the building had already lost its roof and only the perimeter walls remained of what was once a beautiful house. The reconstruction shows the house as it would have looked like at the beginning of the 20th century and it was based on the oldest period photographs available.
The house was finally opened to the public in 2022, so I was really excited to see it this year. The entry ticket was 100 CZK and you can walk around at your own pace.
The upper floor is arranged as a period room, where you can see, among other things, a piano made in Žatec around 1900. The attic belongs to the Žatec native, world-famous herbalist Maria Treben and I particularly liked the kitchen room.
The newly reconstructed Jewish synagogue is the second largest synagogue in the Czech Republic and will be soon opening to the public as a modern gallery and cultural centre.
The synagogue was built between 1871-1872 in the Moorish style based on the plans of architect Johann Staňek. The fact that it is the second-largest synagogue in the Czech Republic, illustrates how much the hop trade was successful at the time (and the local Jewish community was of course significantly involved in the hop trade).
After the tragic events in 1938, the synagogue ceased to serve its original purpose and decayed for decades. This changed when it was purchased by Ing. Daniel Černý in 2013. He decided to restore the synagogue and neighbouring rabbi’s house and create a cultural centre commemorating the history of the Jewish community in Žatec.
You can see the synagogue as you leave the main square towards the railway station.
The newspaper stand
This is totally one of my best finds in Zatec – a newly restored newspaper stand, which is on the steep ‘Nadrazni Schody’ street (The Train station steps). You can just imagine people rushing down the hill to catch the train or walking slowly with their luggage and buying newspapers or sweets from the stand. There is also a lovely view from the top and you get to see a beautiful fountain a few metres away as well as some more interesting architecture.
You can see the newspaper stand any time as it’s on the corner of a garden facing the steps. On special occasions, the stand is used for concerts and selling refreshments. It’s privately owned and restored and the same owner has also helped to restore the Jewish synagogue.
Křížova Villa is a Neo-Renaissance building, but dates originally back to 1769, when it was rebuilt. The villa is named after Wilém Kříž who purchased the villa in 1926 and owned it until the end of World War II. Kriz was the first Zatec town doctor in 1871.
The beautiful villa now houses a branch of the K. A. Polánek Regional Museum in Žatec and it’s open to the public. You can see the original interiors of the villa together with a secluded garden behind the building. The villa is just a short walk from the centre of Zatec and you can see other beautiful and historic villas in the area as you walk around.
Lüdersdorf Villa was built in 1884 based on the design of architect Josef Petrovský in the Neo-Renaissance style for the local entrepreneur and owner of a cardboard and paper box factory, Moritz Lüdersdorf. The villa was built as part of the factory complex, which was at the time one of the largest enterprises of its kind in Austria-Hungary employing over 300 people.
The Monastery Garden
The Monastery Garden is newly restored area of a former large monastery garden. In the upper part of the garden, there is a historic hop pole, herb garden, vineyard, children’s corner, and pretty water fountain.
The lower part of the garden is dominated by the Fountain of Hop Knights, a bust of Jan from Žatec, flower beds, and greenery. You can also see several peacocks roaming around the garden and there is also a bird aviary. The garden is free to enter and it’s open all year round – morning until dusk.
Walk around the Zatec town following the historic trail
The easiest way to discover Zatec is to walk around following the historic trails. This way, you don’t miss anything and you can also read the informative panels along the way. You can pick up a leaflet with the walks from the information centre on the main square.
There are three different walking routes: a short (30 minutes), medium (1 hr), and long trail (1, 5 hr) and you can also combine them together. I usually walk around the town turning into whichever street interests me, but this is definitely a great way to explore the town, without getting lost too much.
How to get to Zatec from Prague
The quickest and the best way to get to Zatec from Prague by public transport is by bus number 405 from Praha – Zlicin, which is the end stop for the Prague Underground Line B. The whole journey takes about 1 hr and 20 minutes by the fast bus that stops only in a few towns along the way. There are other buses that start from the same bus stop and might take a little longer depending on which route they take. Going back from Zatec to Prague is also simple – the buses leave regularly until late at night.
You buy your bus ticket on the bus (just say ‘ Jednou do Zatce’ – one to Zatec or just ‘Zatec’) and pay the driver. The ticket is about 70-90 KCZ depending on whether you have a Prague Travel Card or not. You can pay by Czech crowns or by any debit or credit card. You get your ticket as you pay and whilst I’ve never seen a ticket inspector on these types of buses, it’s always a good idea to keep the ticket somewhere handy during your journey.
You can also take the train, but it’s a much longer journey from Praha – Dejvice train station with a change over at Luzna u Rakovnika. The whole journey takes about 2 hrs and you can buy your ticket at the train ticket office at Praha – Dejvice.
If you have a car, you can get to Zatec from Prague in about 1 hour and 15 minutes, depending on traffic.
How to get around Zatec once you are there
Zatec is small enough to walk around as most of the sights are within the town centre. The bus station is a short walking distance from the centre (just 5 minutes), but if you are coming by train, you’ll need to walk up quite a steep hill and it’s at least 20-25 minutes walk.
Best time to visit Zatec
I visited Zatec during the main tourist season in summer on Sunday and although I’ve really enjoyed my time there if you want shops, pubs and coffee places to be open, you are better off coming on a weekday.
All the attractions are open during the weekend – during the main tourist season – but the places that will serve food and drinks might be limited. All the regular shops (apart from the supermarkets or late-night food shops) close after 11 am on Saturday and stay closed on Sunday. If you don’t mind that, then you’ll find Zatec completely deserted on Sundays, which is nice if you want to wander around without too many people.
You can of course visit Zatec any time as there is plenty to see and do, but if you want to experience the hop growing and beer-making culture at its best, you should visit in the first week in September, when the hop harvest festival takes place.
How much time do I need to visit Zatec
Like with all-day trips from Prague, the longer time you have the better! If you want to see the beer museum or the beer-making experience you’ll need at least 90 minutes for each and about 60 minutes to see the historic Medel’s house. The walk around the town will take you through the outskirts of the historic centre and give you a good idea of what the town looks like. Plus, if you want to stop for a nice lunch somewhere, you’ll need extra time for that too.
Where to eat & drink in ZAtec
There are plenty of pubs and restaurants on the main square or as you are walking from the bus station. Most are traditional Czech pubs, but there are also Italian and Vietnamese restaurants to choose from. There are also plenty of cafes dotted around, but the choice on Sundays is quite limited (I found only one cafe open on the square on Sunday afternoon)
The main public toilets are at the main square, bus station and the train station (all payable).
There are plenty of independent shops on the main square and in the streets leading towards the square. Most shops close at 11 or 12 noon on Saturday and don’t open until Monday morning. Also shops usually have a lunch break between 12 and 1 pm (sometimes just 30 minutes) and usually close at 4 or 5 pm in the afternoon. Large supermarkets (which are on the outskirts of Zatec, but not in the centre) stay open all week until 8 or 9 pm each day.
Souvenirs to bring back from Zatec
If you’ve come for the beer, then the best souvenir is to get or try the local beer made by the Zatecky Pivovar (Zatec Brewery), including the Zatecka 11, Plavcik, Sedmy Schod, APA and Baronka. The Hop & Brewery Museum have beer and hop-related souvenirs, including beer cosmetics, like shampoos and other not-so-traditional beer-related gifts you can buy.
Can I do this independently or do I need a guided tour to visit
This is definitely an easy day out from Prague. You only need to take one bus (and stay on until the final stop) from Prague and once you are in Zatec everything is fairly central and walkable. The buses there and back are very regular and super affordable. You don’t need to book anything in advance, all tickets to the museums can be purchased at the door and there is no waiting. Don’t expect everyone to speak English, although most younger people will do. Not all signs are in English (you are more likely to see German here as the second language), but this might change as Zatec has been added to the UNESCO list and the assumption is that this will bring more international tourists to the area.
Every year, the oldest hop and beer festival in the Czech Republic takes place in the historic centre of the town. The festival, called ‘Dočesná’ is held on the first weekend in September and includes an entertainment programme on several stages, displays from large and small breweries, food stalls, workshops and attractions for children and plenty of beer tasting for adults.
What else you can see and do nearby
This is still on my list to do, but Steknik Castle is only 8 km away from Zatec by an easy walk through the hop-growing valley. It’s a beautiful baroque palace, that’s surrounded by the hop fields and has a very intriguing history.
There are also other walks around Zatec all giving you the feel for the area as a hop-growing country and it’s a great way to understand the history of the place and how important hops were to the development of the Zatec region.
This blog post was originally written on 4 October 2023 and last updated on 4 October 2023
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