I have been to a large number of places in the Czech Republic so rather than write about each one, I hope it will be more useful to my readers to give a brief overview of each of the other places I have been in this country. You can find my compact guide to Prague itself here.
In spite of its small size, you could happily spend a relaxing month travelling around Czech Republic and of course there are still a huge number of places that I have not yet seen either. Anyway, here are some of my recommendations for those planning their travels through the Czech Republic or any expats living in Prague who want a break from the hordes of tourists.
Daytrips from Prague
Three days is the absolute minimum you want to spend in Prague even if you are or a very tight schedule. I would personally recommend that you skip it if you don’t have at least three nights and instead go somewhere a little more manageable and better suited to a shorter stay. Assuming you only have about three days, you should try to allocate one of those days for a daytrip. Here are my daytrip recommendations with my favourites at the top of the list.
Kutná Hora – This place is a beauty, a small place about an hour outside of Prague by train and definitely a great place to spend the day. In fact, if you have enough time, it is worth staying overnight since there is plenty to see there.
Kutná Hora is home to the famous ossuary, although you do need to get a short bus ride to the neighbouring town of Sedlec to get there. You could walk the 2-3 kilometres though if you’re up for it. This place is a small Roman Catholic chapel, decorated with the bones of around forty-thousand human skeletons; victims of the Black Death. It’s a bit of a gimmick and the place is very small, but if you haven’t seen such a place before, then this morbid experience is well worth checking out.
Unfortunately, many people only go to the ossuary if they take the trouble to go to Kutná Hora, as I did the first time I went there. There is a great deal more to this delightful town, including one of the most impressive Gothic churches in all of Europe. St. Barbara’s Church is located near the centre and you will easily find it with many signs pointing to the various attractions in town. You might have seen it already, since this area has been the setting for various film shoots, including a scene from the Johnny Depp film, From Hell. The church is not to be missed, and I’d say it should be the priority of a visit to Kutná Hora.
Kutná Hora is also a great place to have lunch in, with many very pleasant medieval themed restaurants where prices are typically very reasonable.
Karlštejn Castle – This is the definitive fairytale castle, set into the hills about thirty kilometres outside of Prague. It’s surrounded by a small village which has a number of restaurants open in the summer. This Gothic castle is almost nine-hundred years old, and thoroughly well maintained; the perfect postcard image, in fact.
You will probably want to take a tour of the castle but to be honest, I did not find the interior particularly interesting. Anyway, if you are going to do a second daytrip from Prague, I’d suggest this be it. Keep in mind however, it is closed to the public through the middle of the winter and on Mondays.
Český Krumlov – I am probably one of the few people who have spent a few months here on various trips over the years. However, whenever I go there, there is always at least one person who gets completely stuck and just refuses to leave, sometimes for several weeks. It’s one of those few places which I always enjoy returning to just for the sole reason to relax, laze about and drink beer all day .
Not only that, it’s a magically beautiful town too and very small and manageable in size. It’s about three hours or so from Prague. Get the bus, not the train, unless you are prepared for quite a hike once you get there. Make sure you get off the bus at the Špičak bus stop if you are staying in Hostel99. Also, don’t bother trying to do this place on a daytrip as some people do. You should also try to allow two nights here.
Český Krumlov is very convenient as a stopover on the way to Austria as there are various bus connections to the neighbouring country. Other than that, it can be a bit out of the way, but if you are spending a few weeks in Czech Republic, there’s no reason not to do this little detour.
Český Krumlov is built around a winding river and it has a quaint Old Town Square and a castle which is also worth a look around and a climb up the tower for some beautiful views on a sunny day.
I’ve always stayed in Hostel 99, since I love its location a hundred yards or so away from the bus stop, it’s huge terrace and nice bar and restaurant. It also has large and airy rooms and is a great place to socialize. However, it’s the terrace and the barbeques that really make this place for me.
There are many other hostels there and indeed this town is a bit of a Mecca for backpackers in the summer months. Other popular hostels include Krumlov House and Traveller’s Hostel. Though I haven’t stayed in either myself, I hear they are very good and I always enjoy a few drinks in the wonderfully fun Traveller’s Hostel bar. You can find it just to the right down a winding side street just before you reach the square (assuming you’re coming from the bus stop / Hostel 99). Definitely worth a visit!
Now hopefully one of you can help me here; but there’s a brilliant medieval restaurant in Český Krumlov whose name I have forgotten. It is to the left off the town square (again, coming from the north of town) and as you walk inside, there’s a huge grill on your right. The food is brilliant and prices are very reasonable. If anyone knows the name of this place, please feel free to comment.
The gypsy bar (Cikánská Jízba) is NOT to be missed. This place is a haven for good times and though touristy and gimmicky, it is extremely fun and locals do go there as well. Unfortunately however, whether there is space or not is entirely a matter of luck, since as far as I know, they do not take reservations. A good idea is to go there around six and keep returning between visiting other bars and pubs to see if there’s any space. They have live gypsy folk music on the weekends and the food, though not as cheap as it once was, is very hearty and fulfilling. You can find this quaint little place on Dlouhá street. Any hostel receptionist will tell you exactly where to go.
Other Places Worth a Visit
This is by no means a complete list, since there are many places I have not been in Czech Republic which are well known for there attractions. Examples include Olomouc, Karlovy Vary and Tábor. I’m sure it’s worth checking up on these places though, but I won’t write about them since I’ve never been there (that’s Lonely Planet’s job, isn’t it?). Anyway, I probably will some day, in which case I’ll update this post. Here are my favourites so far:
Hradec Králové – This is a large town a couple of hours away from Prague and a place really worth stopping a night on the way to Poland. It’s the most underrated place I have been in the country and there is not even any hostel there. If you are headed to Poland, you should try to stop here at least for a look around, since it is a beautiful and very smart town, home to plenty of festivals and a fun student scene. A bargain of a place, you can enjoy a great night out here and there are some top restaurants and great cocktail bars which are very cheap.
Hradec Králové is convenient as a stopover for those going to Ukraine as well, since there are direct busses to Lviv from here too. I have been to this town twice, but unfortunately I do not remember any names of specific establishments, so you’ll have to find out for yourself – you won’t regret it!
Telč – It’s a bit out of the way all the way over in Moravia, but this is a nice place to spend a night on route to somewhere else. There is a pleasant little hostel here called Pantof which is only open in the summer and is more like staying in someone’s private home. The town has a long plaza and a castle and is a very pleasant escape from the city although you’ll probably get bored senseless here if you stay any more than a night.
České Budějovice – Home of the original Budweiser, this place is a small industrial city, but it has a pleasant centre and is well worth a daytrip if you are staying in Český Krumlov for a few days which is about half an hour away. When I went here, I just walked around town for a bit and enjoyed lunch on the plaza (something only those with money to burn can do in Prague). You should probably do the brewery tour, but I didn’t make it that far.
Vranov nad Dyjí – I stopped here when driving with my family from Hungary through Austria and then into Czech Republic. It’s tiny and budget accommodation options are almost non existent, but I’ll add it anyway since if there’s any easy way you can get there or you have a car, this place is worth a visit. It has a magnificent castle and some beautiful imperial era buildings in the centre.
Vranov is not far from the Austrian border, the region of which is the sleaziest place I have ever seen. The road between the main town in the area, Znojmo, and the Austrian border is about ten kilometres of the most gaudy brothels, strip clubs, casinos and wandering prostitutes. I’m not quite sure what sort of first impressions the Czechs are trying to build up for their country, but if you first enter from this border, you’ll probably think you are entering history’s biggest sleaze fest, and you probably are .