Prague is undoubtedly one of the historical and cultural centre-points of Europe, playing host to a number of migrations, settlements and empires for over 1,000 years. Nowadays, the modern incarnation of the city finds itself as one of the top 5 destinations in Europe and one of the most popular locations in the world for global tourists. But if you’re heading to Prague and want to see more of what the country has to offer, here’s our guide to the absolute best of the Czech Republic.
The tiny village of Karlštejn is perhaps best known for its beautiful and extremely popular castle, the rather grandly titled Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, built almost 900 years ago under the rule of Charles IV. The castle itself was certainly fit for such nobility, with its scale, its position perched on a promontory overlooking the town below and containing a specifically built fresh water system which was a closely guarded state secret.
However, if castles and long dead royalty aren’t up your street, why not take a detour off the beaten track and head for a hike in the nearby woods? The national forest and nature reserve of Český kras offers trails to walk, wander and whistle your way along – just remember to bring your boots.
A chapel furnished with the bones of up to 70,000 people might sound like something out of a horror film, but beneath the Church of All Saints in Sedlec, that’s exactly what you’ll find. Chandeliers, coats of arms and ornamental garnish are all made from the skeletal remains of the long dead and pepper the corners of this most macabre place of worship.
Sedlec itself is a neighbouring town of the city of Kutná Hora, and fans of the gothic could do worse than paying a visit to the beautiful St Barbara’s Church, a UNESCO world heritage site, and the Cathedral of Our Lady. Both are impressive and imposing reminders of disparate influences that have been felt around Europe in the last millennia, and these grand collisions of religion and architecture are certainly worthy of the highest praise.
1 hour 5 minutes
Dotted with brightly coloured buildings, a warm water river and healing springs, Karlovy Vary is the perfect pick me up if you’re looking for a relaxing break from Prague. Take a stroll around what was, in 2014, voted the leading spa resort in the Czech Republic and welcome a tradition of wellness into your life that has been established in the area for over 650 years.
If you’re suitably relaxed, the Diana Tower which overlooks the spa town is a short trek up the charmingly named Friendship Hill, but if you’re not keen on the walk perhaps your best friend will be the funicular, which cuts your journey time down to a far cosier three minutes. From the top of the tower it is said you can see over 40 miles into the distance – bring your binoculars, hope for a clear day and why not test the claims out?
1 hour 50 minutes
Second only to the capital in terms of size and population, Brno is a quieter yet fiercely cultural ‘little brother’ to Prague, with an intriguing brand of modernity mixing with the largely traditional on display at every turn. Historical buildings are commonplace, including the oldest playhouse in Central Europe, the Reduta Theatre and, as a result, the city retains an authentic ‘Moravian’ feel.
And while the most visited places in Brno are the castles, churches and museums you might have come to expect of the Czech Republic, the city truly reveals itself when you park up somewhere for the night. You’ll be hungry after your travels so you’ll be pleased to hear of the roast pork and dumplings that you’ll be sure to find throughout the city. This should, of course, be washed down with the local speciality – Moravia accounts for over 90% of the country’s vineyards
2 hours 5 minutes
In keeping with the almost fairy-tale vibe found throughout the architecture of the Czech Republic, a trip to the city of Olomouc will present you with baroque columns, gothic towers, a decommissioned nuclear bunker for the ‘city’s elite’ and a cathedral linked with the murder of the ‘good king’ Wenceslas over 1,000 years ago. For a city with a relatively little known reputation, it has quite the history to discover.
Aside from its past, you may be interested in discovering that Olomouc is home to a burgeoning yet respectfully subdued nightlife scene. A student town as yet undisturbed by too much of an outside influence, heading out for an evening on the town can feel similar to the moment you discovered your new favourite bar or restaurant back home – fun, a little exciting and with the sneaking feeling that you’ve found something special before anyone else has.
2 hours 40 minutes