Historic home of Skoda cars and Pilsner beer, the pretty city of Plzen west of Prague has usurped Liberec as the provincial hub of Czech football.
Flagship club Viktoria, formerly Skoda Plzen, are enjoying their best spell in their century-old history, winning their first title in their centenary year of 2011, and becoming champions again in 2013 and 2015.
‘Viktorka’ have also pulled off some remarkable feats in Europe, beating Napoli 5-0 (!) on aggregate and Atlético Madrid in the Europa League and gaining a third-placed spot in a Champions League group that included Barcelona and Milan. Schalke 04 only got the better of the Red and Blues in extra-time.
Coinciding with the centenary, Viktoria’s quaint little ground has undergone a complete renovation and gained a sponsor’s name but the Doosan Arena, formerly Struncovy Sady, is still surrounded by downtown greenery at the fork of two fast-flowing rivers.
It’s also a short walk to both the brewery and railway station, and it was a railway official who helped form the club in 1911. Their first game was against another local side, Olympia, who have since sunk without trace – the only Olympia today is the city’s main shopping mall on the outskirts of town.
Since the 1930s, Viktoria have been the only game in town, but not the only name – the post-war restructuring of sport under Communism saw capricious changes dictated from above. The Plzen club were forced to change names five times in 16 years – you can still see the ruins of the terrace TJ Skoda Plzen played alongside, behind the visitors’ entrance of today’s modern if modest stadium.
No longer forced to stage Champions League fixtures in Prague, Viktoria hosted the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester City in their own beer-fuelled homestead in 2013-14.
Prague’s Václav Havel Airport is 89km (55 miles) away. A bus service (€6) runs almost hourly until 6.35pm from the airport to Plzen, journey time 3hrs with one change. Alternatively, the Airport Express bus (every 30mins, 35-min journey time) runs to the main train station, Hlavní nádrazí, tickets Kc60 from the driver. From there a train takes 90mins and costs 100Kc.
Karlovy Vary 72km (44.5 miles) is closer but currently only has links with Russia.
In Plzen, station, stadium and city centre are all a reasonably easy walk from each other. If required, public transport consists of trams, buses and trolleybuses, single tickets 18Kc, transfers 16/20Kc (30/60min).
You’ll probably only need a taxi if arriving into the station late at night – they’ll be waiting outside. No fare in town should be more than 100Kc. Phone one on +420 377 377 377.
Plzen Tourist Office has a full list of hotels.
There are several accommodation options around the stadium, the nearest two being the comfortable four-star Gondola, with its spa, sauna and restaurant; and the six rooms and three apartments in the B&B area of the Groll bar/restaurant. Also close is another stylish four-star, Hotel U Zvonu.
Visiting teams and officials are luxuriously housed in the Marriott Courtyard Pilsen, by the main road close to the stadium.
When renovation is complete, the Hotel Continental should be returned to its former glory, a fin-de-siècle landmark built by the brewery whose café still echoes the old days.
Plzen is a beer capital where Urquell was created as the world’s first pilsner-type beer. Traditional Na Parkánu, with its large TV screen, dates back to these times.
More modern The Pub on Prazksá is the first of a chain now present elsewhere in Plzen, Prague, the Czech Republic, Berlin and beyond. Sport-focused and branded around pour-your-own taps of Pilsner at each table, The Pub offers decent pub grub too. Nearby The Source (Prazská 12) puts the emphasis on music, as does Dominik (Dominikánská 3), both open daytimes.