Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
Historic home of Škoda cars and Pilsner beer, the pretty city of Plzeň west of Prague has long usurped Liberec as the provincial hub of Czech football.
Flagship club Viktoria, formerly Škoda Plzeň, are enjoying their best spell in their century-old history, winning their first title in their centenary year of 2011, and becoming champions for the sixth time in 2022.
‘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.
Also coinciding with the club’s centenary, Viktoria’s quaint little ground underwent a complete renovation and gained a sponsor’s name. The Doosan Arena, formerly Štruncovy 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 Plzeň club were forced to change names five times in 16 years – you can still see the ruins of the terrace TJ Škoda Plzeň 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. In the autumn of 2022, it was Bayern, Barcelona and Inter, although the level of opposition when the Czech Republic play at the Doosan Arena isn’t always as stellar.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
Prague’s Václav Havel Airport is 89km (55 miles) away. A bus service (Kč140/€6) runs almost hourly until 6.35pm from the airport to Plzeň, journey time 3hrs with one change. Alternatively, the Airport Express bus (every 30mins, 35min journey time) runs to the main train station, Hlavní nádraží, tickets Kč60/€2.50 from the driver. From there a train takes 90mins and costs Kč100/€4.20.
In Plzeň, 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 Kč18/€0.75, transfers Kč16/€0.70 and Kč20/€0.85 (30/60mins).
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 Kč100/€4.20. Phone one on +420 377 377 377.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
Plzeň 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 Pražksá is the first of a chain now present elsewhere in Plzeň, 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 (Pražská 12) puts the emphasis on music, as does Dominik (Dominikánská 3), both open daytimes.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the stadium and city centre
Plzeň 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.