Although one of the continent’s smaller countries, the Czech Republic will not disappoint for travelers looking for a taste of Central Europe. Given its size – and thanks to a top-notch public transport system – it’s an easy country to get around, especially for those who plan to spend most of their time exploring the country’s beautiful capital, Prague, which has almost endless viewing options and things to do.
But while Prague has an extraordinary number of excellent attractions, there are plenty of remote places that require exploring by car. Highlights of a trip to the Czech countryside include many excellent national parks and protected areas. One of the most popular is aptly named Bohemian Paradise , an area of outstanding natural beauty characterized by numerous beautiful rock formations and many beautiful ancient castles, and another area worth visiting Podyjí National Parkin Moravia, with its large unspoilt forests. Along the way you will come across numerous ancient villages and towns, unchanged since the Middle Ages and home to beautiful old churches, palaces and public squares, all worth a visit.
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1 Prague Castle
For most travelers, Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) is the main point of a visit to the Czech Republic. Located in the city’s Hradčany district and dating from the end of the 10th century, Prague Castle has been central to Eastern European history for centuries and was once the residence of the Holy Roman Emperors, the Habsburgs, the Bohemian Kings and, more recently, the President of the Czech Republic. Over the course of its 1,000-year history, the castle – the largest in the world by area – has undergone many dramatic changes in architectural style, evidence of which can be seen in the many buildings built into its walls over the centuries. Highlights include beautiful St. Vitus Cathedral , St. George’s Basilica, the Powder Tower , and the Golden Lane with its medieval workshops. Of particular interest is the Old Royal Palace with its magnificent Vladislav Hall so large it was used to host knightly jousting tournaments, as well as the adjacent 16th century Royal Garden with its spectacular Singing Fountain. English-language tours and audio guides are available.
Address: 119 08 Prague 1
Official site: www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle-for-visitors
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Prague: Best Areas and Hotels
2 Prague’s Charles Bridge
It is impossible to visit Prague without taking the time to cross the city’s main river crossing, the spectacular Charles Bridge (Karlův Most). This famous structure spreads over the Vltava Riverwas built in 1357 and has many unique points of interest along its 520-meter span, including numerous beautiful statues. Perhaps the most famous are those of the bridge’s namesake, Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, as well as the 1683 statue of John of Nepomuk, which honors the country’s most venerated saint who, ironically, was deliberately drowned in the Vltava . The bridge is extremely popular with tourists and photographers because of its beautiful views. In fact, some of the best views are captured during off-peak hours, at dawn and dusk, making for a much less crowded visit.
3 St. Vitus Cathedral
Part of Prague Castlecomplex, St. Vitus Cathedral is best known as the home of the Bohemian Coronation Jewels, as well as the tomb of the Czech people’s most venerated saint, St. Wenceslas. The cathedral has a long history, dating back to the year 925, when Prince Wenceslas built a chapel on the site. The building grew as Prague’s importance did, and it soon became a basilica after the Diocese of Prague was established. Between 1344 and 1419 there was another period of expansion during which it began its transformation into a Gothic cathedral and the St. Wenceslas Chapel was built. At the end of the 18th century, construction and repairs resumed with the addition of neo-Gothic elements. Highlights include the bronze doors decorated with reliefs from the cathedral’s history, ornate stained glass windows in the chapels and the Royal Mausoleum. Tourists should be sure to visit St. Wenceslas Chapel to admire the murals, which are original 14th-century depictions of the Stations of the Cross, as well as scenes depicting the life of St. Wenceslas.
Location: Prague Castle
Official site: www.katedralasvatehovita.cz/en
4 Prague’s Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square
Prague’s Old Town Square was the city’s first market, located at the intersection of trade routes, and still features buildings from the 10th century. In addition to many medieval houses, the square is home to important historical sites, including Old Town City Hall , which houses the Astronomical Clock , as does St. Nicholas Church . This square has been the site of many defining moments in Czech history, unfortunately mostly public executions and political protests. A statue of the Protestant reformer Jan Hus stands in the center and this is a popular sightseeing area that hosts Prague’s traditional Christmas markets every December.
Just a five-minute walk from Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square is in the heart of the New Town. Not as new as it sounds, this large public space was created in the 14th century as a horse market. Today it is used for parades, festivals and sometimes demonstrations. This is a popular tourist area rich in hotels, restaurants, shops and entertainment venues.
Address; Staroměstské nám., 110 00 Staré Město
5 Kasteel Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov Castle dominates the old town, after which it is named. It is remarkably well preserved considering its age, dating from the 13th century. Much of what is on this UNESCO World Heritage List today dates from the 17th century, including the Rosenberg Ballroom and Renaissance Hall , the Royal Apartments , and the Chapel of St. George. Also worth seeing is the castle’s old Baroque theater, built in 1682, which is still used for special performances. Other highlights include historic collections of paintings and tapestries, beautiful décor and antique furnishings. The Český Krumlov castle complex consists of 40 buildings, including beautiful old palaces, castle courts and gardens. Tourists can easily spend several days wandering the park, although those who want to see the highlights can enjoy one of the English-language tours available.
Accommodation: where to stay in Cesky Krumlov
6 Brno’s Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul
High above the old town of Brno lies the beautiful Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, one of the Czech Republic’s most important national monuments. The site of the cathedral first held an 11th-century Romanesque chapel which was later expanded with a crypt and a basilica, the remains of which can still be seen. Ultimately it was rebuilt as a Gothic cathedral in the 18th century. The interior is a Baroque masterpiece designed by architect Mořic Grimm. Some of the most notable features are the Kapistránka Pulpit and the Crypt, which are home to not only tombs but also the remains of Brno’s original city walls. Added in the early 20th century, the building’s two 84-meter-high towers are home to the church bell that sounds every day at 11 a.m. instead of noon. This tradition continued to commemorate the city’s successful attempt to entice an attacking army to abandon their siege after the general announced that they would give up if they did not take the city by noon. Also in Brno is the 13th centuryŠpilberk Castle (hrad Špilberk), home to the Brno City Museum , as well as the fascinating Tugendhat Villa , built in 1930 and one of the most important examples of early 20th century modern architecture in Europe.
Accommodation: where to stay in Brno0
7 Bone Collectors: Czech Crypts, Tombs and Cemeteries
Scattered across the Czech Republic are a number of fascinating sites dedicated to preserving the remains of those killed in war or killed by diseases such as the terrible plagues that gripped Europe in the Middle Ages. But what makes these places even more interesting is the often bizarre way in which these ancient human relics are displayed. Nowhere is this more evident than in the town of Sedlec , home of the famous ” Bone Church ,” the Gothic All Saints Chapel. Here the curious are rewarded with a chance to see the remains of around 70,000 people who died between the 14th and 16th centuries, displayed in a rather chilling artistic manner, including coats of arms, chandeliers, chalices and bells. A similar effect was created at the Brno Ossuary where the remains of some 50,000 people were found, stacked in heaps in arches and used as decorative displays and decorations. A little less creepy but impressive for its sheer size is the spectacular Schwartzenberg Tomb , a huge crypt dedicated to one of the country’s most powerful dynasties.
Accommodation: where to stay in Sedlec
8 The colonnades and spas of Karlovy Vary
Often referred to by its old German name Karlsbad, Karlovy Vary is a must-visit for anyone interested in an authentic spa experience. Founded in 1358, Karlovy Vary has been a popular destination for Europe’s elite for centuries, from royals such as Peter the Great to famous composers and writers including Beethoven, Chopin and Goethe. Evidence of the city’s 13 major springs, not to mention countless smaller springs, is everywhere. In addition to the grand spas, the city is filled with neoclassical and art nouveau colonnades with drinking and bathing fountains. A beautiful fountain lies in the middle of the Tepla River and shoots jets of water 14 meters into the air. The city is also a major cultural destination, home to a number of art galleries and museums, as well as the popular Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, one of the oldest film festivals in Europe.
Accommodation: where to stay in Karlovy Vary
9 Spectacular libraries: the Clementinum and Strahov Monastery
Three of the most beautiful and oldest libraries in Europe can be found in Prague. The largest, the National Library of the Czech Republic , is in the beautiful Clementinum (Klementinum), which is in the center of historic Prague next to the Charles Bridge . This vast complex of historic Baroque buildings is one of the largest in Europe, with several points of interest. Library Hall is best known for its frescoed ceiling and the Astronomical Tower is also located here, from which tourists can enjoy beautiful views.
The 12th century Strahov Monastery (Strahovsky kláster) contains two beautiful libraries, including the Philosophical Library , with its beautiful furnishings and ceiling paintings, and the Baroque Theological Library , with excellent frescoes and stuccowork. These libraries also contain numerous rare manuscripts, including the nearly 1,200-year-old Strahov Gospel .
10 Glassworks of Karlovy Vary
In addition to its many beautiful spa towns, the pretty town of Karlovy Vary remains one of Europe’s most prominent glassmaking centers, a sector that has flourished here for more than 150 years. A fascinating excursion is to the Moser Visitor Centre , part of the Moser Glass Factory, which was founded in 1857. Thanks to the skills and craftsmanship of the local glassblowers the company employs, it is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of decorative glass. Tours of the facility include a chance to learn about the history of glassblowing, visit the factory floor to see glassblowers at work and see approximately 2,000 fine examples of glass creations in theGlass Museum . Guided tours in English are available.
11 Kutná Hora
If you can only visit one Czech city outside of Prague, you can’t do much better than Kutná Hora, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just 80 kilometers east of the capital, Kutná Hora was once home to one of Europe’s leading silver mines, the wealth of which has helped finance many of the city’s finest buildings. Highlights include the Baroque St. Barbara’s Cathedral , built in 1338 and notable for its beautifully decorated interior and frescoes that not only feature religious themes such as the mural entitled The Vision of St. Ignatius but also references to the mining industry that financed its construction. The Czech Silver Museum contains exhibits on the medieval mining industry, as well as the Stone House, which explores everyday life at that time. Tourists can also visit the city’s ancient mint housed in the beautiful Italian court (Vlassky dvur), the former palace of the Bohemian king Vaclav IV and the Gothic Sedlec Ossuary.
Accommodation: where to stay in Kutná Hora
12 The Bohemian paradise
One of the most beautiful corners of the Czech Republic is Eastern Bohemia, home to the spectacular Bohemian Paradise (Český ráj). This area of outstanding natural beauty is known for its many massive rock formations that protrude from the ground like spikes and pillars, formed by tens of thousands of years of erosion by the elements. Now a UNESCO Geopark, the region attracts hikers and tourists from all over Europe for its beautiful sandstone hills, natural bridges and tall basalt columns and outcroppings, all accessible by a network of trails and scenic drives. The region also has many ancient castles, including Kost Castle and Trosky Castle . Start your adventure in the city of Turnov , home of theBohemian Paradise Visitor Center , where you can find lots of tourist information and maps of the region.
Accommodation: where to stay in Turnov
13 Konopiště Castle and the Archduke’s trophies
One of the most beautiful palaces in the Czech Republic, Konopiště Chateau is located just 50 kilometers southeast of Prague. Established in the 13th century and given its current Baroque form in the 18th century, this beautiful French four-winged castle is famous as the last residence of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose untimely assassination is attributed to the start of the First World War. The bullet that killed him is on display in the castle’s museum, as are many of the Archduke’s animal trophies and many original objects he once owned. Other highlights include a wonderful collection of ancient weapons and equipment, an indoor shooting range with moving targets and a beautiful garden with numerous statues and outbuildings.
Address: 256 01 Benešov
Official site: www.zamek-konopiste.cz/en/
14 Kasteel Hluboká
A short drive north of the town of České Budějovice, the enormous white neo-Gothic Hluboká Castle (Hluboká nad Vltavou) is often regarded as the most beautiful of the Czech Republic’s many beautiful castles. Built on the site of an older 13th-century fort, the current castle was built in the 1660s and was given its current Gothic Tudor style – loosely based on that of England’s famous Windsor Castle – in later extensive renovations. Highlights of a visit are the enormous hedge mazes and lush foliage, along with the fine interior woodwork, stained glass windows and furnishings. The castle is also home to an extensive art collection, including numerous works by leading Czech artists.
Address: 373 41 Hluboká nad Vltavou
Official site: www.zamek-hluboka.eu/en/
15 Kasteel Karlstejn
Karlštejn Castle was built between 1348 and 1365 for Charles IV, who was both the Czech king and the Holy Roman Emperor. The grounds are arranged in a physical hierarchy, with the sacred Chapel of the Holy Cross in the Great Tower . It is in this chapel that Charles IV locked his most prized possessions, including the Crown Jewels of the Roman Empire, and his personal collection of artifacts, including bones of saints. The interior of the chapel can be viewed on a guided tour and contains extensive frescoes by Master Theodoric. Other highlights include the Imperial Palace and Marian Tower , which are complete with antique furnishings, the castle prison, the Nou Towerand replicas of the Roman and Czech Crown Jewels.
Address: 267 18 Karlštejn
Official site: www.hrad-karlstejn.cz/en
16 Průhonice Park
Průhonice Park, which is also home to Průhonice Castle , is a UNESCO World Heritage Site just 15 kilometers south of Prague. Covering a total area of 250 hectares, the extensive preserve includes formal gardens, wooded areas, streams, ponds and 25 kilometers of walking trails. Among the 1,600 plant species is a collection of more than 100 species of rhododendrons, with a total of 8,000 specimens. The Greater Castle , with parts dating from the 12th century, forms a semicircle overlooking the lake and gardens. The courtyard features frescoes, statues and a replica of the fountain on Old Market Square in Prague.
Address: 252 43 Průhonice
Official site: www.pruhnickypark.cz/en