I have to confess I had never heard of Pardubice before my recent visit to the Czech Republic. Yet the phrase “Shine Like Pardubice” was once common, a reference to the town’s grand architecture. There is plenty to see and do here, even apart from the buildings, the old town and the castle. You could easily base yourself in Pardubice for a whole vacation, exploring the city and the region of East Bohemia. And it is easy to get to – just an hour by train from Prague or, for those in the UK, there are direct flights to Pardubice from Stansted.
“Shine Like Pardubice”: The Old Town and its Architecture
Although Pardubice has always been an industrial town the historic centre is remarkably well preserved. You walk down cobbled streets lined with ornate buildings, mostly from the 16th century. (Before that time the houses were mostly wooden but following a series of fires they were rebuilt in stone.)
Once you get to the main square you are surrounded by buildings of varying periods and styles: Renaissance, late Gothic and 19th century. Look out for elaborate ornamentation and frescoes on the sides of buildings. Over time the architecture became so grand that people in other cities started to use the expression “Shine like Pardubice”.
Apart from the castle, little now remains of the city fortifications. However, look out for the “Green Gate”, a 16th century gatehouse.
The grandest building in Pardubice is the castle. This was built in 1295 and acquired by an aristocratic family in the 15th century. It later fell into ruin and a total reconstruction began in 1994.
No-one knows exactly what the castle was like originally – there are no drawings – so the reconstruction was a best estimate. However we do know that it was once fortified with a bank and a moat. And the final result is a splendid building similar to other castles in the Czech Republic.
Today the castle houses the Museum of East Bohemia, mostly based on military history. The interior is also interesting for its old wall paintings.
The Horses of Pardubice
Horses are an important part of the history of East Bohemia. If you are in Pardubice on the second Sunday in October you can watch the Velká pardubická. This is the oldest steeplechase in Europe, which has been running since 1874. The race features 31 jumps, including the Taxis Ditch which is reputed to be the most difficult jump in the world.
Around 25 km from Pardubice is Kladruby nad Labem. This is one of the oldest stud farms in the world, dating from the 12th century. At one time it was owned by the Emperor Maximilian of Austria, who brought strong horses from Spain and Italy, and bred them to pull carriages. Today the horses still pull carriages, and are in demand as police horses. They are particularly popular with the royal families of Sweden and Denmark.
The stud buildings date from the 17th century, although some of them have recently been modernised, putting in separate stalls for the horses. Guided tours of Kladruby nad Labem are available.
Food and Drink in Pardubice
Pardubice has long been associated with beer. The oldest brewery is Pivovar Pardubice, founded in 1507. Today it produces a traditional porter (brewed from a recipe dating back to 1891), and it also has a microbrewery where specialist beers are produced. Visitors can tour the brewery and, of course, shop for beer to take away.
You can eat well in Pardubice. We had excellent meals at Na Staré Rybárně (Czech cuisine) and at the Hotel 100 (Italian). Finally, look out for the delicious gingerbread that is a speciality of the region. This is often decorated with a horse’s head, a combination of two local traditions.