I had the good fortune of visiting Prague, the city of Spires and ‘the heart of Europe’, according to many.
After spending much longer than I thought I would, I ended up taking a few amazing day trips from Prague.
Three things made me stay longer than I had originally planned
Getting a reputable teaching English gig, making great friends with expats and locals alike, and the exciting opportunities for learning and growth that the Czech Republic has to offer.
Prague alone is brimming with history and quirky fun facts, which I’m a sucker for, an absolute geek if you get me going. The countryside and surrounding towns are equally beguiling.
The following are trips I’ve taken and can personally recommend. If you’re visiting Prague, allow yourself at least an extra day to explore more than just the capital city. You won’t be disappointed.
Wandering what to do outside of Prague? We’ve got you covered with the best places near Prague worth visiting!
Visit the small town of Kutná Hora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see one of the most impressive Gothic churches, St. Barbara, as well as the Cathedral of Our Lady and the historical Italian Court. Then walk ten minutes to Sedlec Ossuary, a church filled with artistically arranged bones. This is probably one of the most popular day trips from Prague!
Terezin Concentration Camp
Terezín is a fully preserved concentration camp used as transit camp during the Nazi Occupation. Once called the Jewish ‘Ghetto’ with a prison in The Small Fortress, over 150,000 Jews were held, overworked and tortured before being transported to Auschwitz or Treblinka.
Plzen: Pilsner Urquell Brewery
Imagine Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets barley and hops. Enter through the famed, double-arched gate pictured on every Pilsner Urquell’s label and take the brewery tour with a sliding wall – ceiling to floor -showing a film projected along a 30-foot crescent wall. You’ll pass over stepping stones through the “purest” water used in beer brewing, and of course you’ll be treated to a tasting in the end. If you don’t want to wait that long for a sample, buy a can of Pilsner from the vending machine in the entrance lobby.
Karlštejn Castle is located approximately 20km west of Prague. It is the most visited and one of the most beautiful castles in the Czech Republic. Although quite touristy, Karlštejn Castle is worthwhile and historically interesting. If you’re not keen on taking the tour of the castle, don’t bother going. You can find all the same food and souvenirs back in Prague, but I recommend the tour.
Construction of the castle was completed in 1365 under the reign of Holy Roman Emporer Charles IV. There is a national forest around the castle with some very nice hiking. Nearby in the village of Svatý Jan Pod Skalou you can visit a beautiful monastery including the ‘holy cave’ that it was built upon.
While Karlštejn is one of the most beautiful castles in the Czech Republic, it is also the most exploited by the tourist industry. The village below the castle is filled with tacky souvenir stalls, very expensive restaurants, and to complete the carnival an ‘erotic city’ porn shop. Fortunately you can make your visit a lot more enjoyable by taking 12km or 20km hiking trips in the unexploited forests of the ?eský kras protected area around Karlštejn, hopefully relieving you of some of your unease after visiting the Castle itself.
Everything is within walking distance. When you arrive at Karlštejn you cannot actually see the castle, turn right at the station exit, walk 200 meters then turn left over a bridge into the village, or just follow the flow of tourists and you’ll get there. The village starts about 500 meters from the train stop, the castle is a short (but slightly tiring) half kilometer hike up a large hill.
Hiking at Karlstejn
A trip to Karlštejn starts with a trip to the castle, which was the the seat of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. The 50-minute tour is delightful, and well worth the time. There is a lovely and picturesque hike available to the Svatý Jan Pod Skalou monastery through the ?eský kras protected area (Bohemian Karst or Czech Karst in English). While at times rugged (it actually is 12 km, and not the 8 km marked), it is more than doable for those who are in good shape and have the proper equipment. It begins at the castle walls (look for the red markings near the trailhead at the castle walls).
Note: The hike is likely to be too challenging if you are not in good physical condition and lack proper hiking shoes. Specifically, the path meanders through forest, stream, several steep uphills, some slippery rocks and tricky downhills. There are numerous locations during the hike where you have no cellular service, and you are unlikely to see another human being for kilometers at a time.
Another thing to remember is that the path markings while clear after some experience reading them, first appear rudimentary, so always follow the red markings on the trees. The green trail marks also are fine–they track the red markings until approximately 1km before the monastery, and there is a clear sign marking the turnoff to the monastery.
Once you arrive at the monastery (which closes at 4 PM), you have the choice to take another hike to the town of Srbsko, where you catch the train back to Prague. The hike from the monastery to Srbsko actually is 8km, and not 5km, as indicated. The yellow signs purportedly indicating the path to Srbsko are nearly impossible to find. Alternatively, if you call a taxi from the local restaurant in Svatý Jan Pod Skalou (75 meters from the monastery, on the right), this is a 12km hike, punctuated by round-trip train rides and taxis. This option is highly recommended, and as of June, 2007, there is someone at the restaurant who speaks English. If you choose to hike to Srbsko, be prepared for an all day, 20 km hike. If you do decide to hike to Srbsko (and assuming you can find the yellow signs), the Srbsko train station is directly across the blue bridge. There is no place to purchase tickets. Those can be purchased on the train, however. Although you will see little mention of it on the signs, the town of Beroun is closer and larger, making for an easier and faster train journey back to Prague. The best choice is to ask the manager of the pub near the monastery to request a taxi to take you to the Beroun train station.
Extra travel tip
For the more adventurous, there are also several open pit abandoned mines that have filled up with water and have become a popular place for Czechs to go swimming. They are a bit difficult to find but if you ask around and have a good map you should be able to find them. Be warned that they are officially closed to the public because access to them is somewhat dangerous.
Getting to Karlstejn from Prague
You can take a train from the main station (Hlavní nádraží) in Prague to Karlštejn or from Smichov train station (see time schedule). For groups of 3 or larger the cost for a return ticket is 30k per person.
Trains run every hour, you can pick them up either in Srbsko, Beroun, or in Karlštejn. If you are in Svatý Jan Pod Skalou, you can hike to Srbsko (8 km), take a taxi to the Beroun train station, or take a bus that runs from the village to Prague every two hours or so. Check the bus schedule at the bus stop or ask at the restaurant when the next bus will be to Prague. The taxi to the Beroun station is the easiest option.
?eský ráj, literally meaning “Czech Paradise”, is an outdoor junkie’s dream. Walking, rock climbing, bicycling… you could probably even take a hang glider up there if you have one. Explore the region for castles, castle ruins, Shire-like dwellings, rock dwellings, or go mushroom picking. It’s a wonderful day trip from Prague for exploring the outdoors!
Máchovo jezero (Mácha Lake)
A section of the Mácha Lake hosts a small water park in the summertime, called Stare Splavy Aquapark, with slides and huge inflatable playgrounds that children and adults alike lark around. It has a beach for sunbathing, food stalls, umbrellas for hire, and is a great spot for people watching.
Best Trips Outside of Prague – Two or More Days
Apart from day trips from Prague, there are a few other nearby towns and attractions that warrant at least staying over for the night or for a weekend trip.
The town of Karlovy Vary attracts many visitors throughout the year to partake in the mineral water, drinking from ornate porcelain spa cups with built-in straws. Many people visit for relaxation and spa treatments.
Karlovy Vary is the largest spa in the Czech Republic. It is mainly used for the treatment of digestive, musculoskeletal and metabolic diseases. The city has numerous spa hotels and other facilities that offer traditional spa treatments, a wide range of wellness programs and customized treatments.
But apart from the different spas, sightseers will not be disappointed. The city has a number of remarkable landmarks and attractions.
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Karlovy Vary is also known for its film festival, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which is undoubtedly the absolute highlight of the city. It takes place every year in July and enjoys unbroken popularity.
This unique event has been held since 1946 and is considered as one of the most important film exhibitions in Central Europe. Films from all over the world compete in various categories for the coveted main prize, the Crystal Globe.
The city was also host for several the locations where James Bond Casino Royale was filmed.
In the center of the town, not far from the Market Colonnade, stands the Castle Tower (Zámecká věž).
This imposing tower is the last remnant of a 14th-century castle complex built by Charles IV. The castle may have been destroyed in the course of time, but this impressive tower has survived against all odds.
Visitors have the opportunity to climb the tower and enjoy a spectacular view of the entire Old Town.
Diana Observation Tower
Diana observation tower (Rozhledna Diana) is located in the immediate vicinity of the city center, at an altitude of 562 meters above sea level. From there you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the surrounding area.
If you prefer to be active, several hiking trails lead to the tower and offer a nice way to exercise your muscles.
Goethe’s Lookout Tower
Goethe’s Lookout Tower (Rozhledna Goethova vyhlídka) is a beautiful example of neo-Gothic architecture and sits majestically on a hill called Výšina věčného života.
Like several other landmarks in the city, this impressive tower was designed by the famous architectural duo Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer.
The colonnades are a characteristic feature of the Karlovy Vary cityscape. Thanks to them, visitors can enjoy the fountains even in rainy weather. There are five colonnades in the city.
The Spa Colonnade (Vřídelní kolonáda) is located directly on Divadelní Square in the spa center. Here you can find the most spectacular geyser in the city: the Hot Spring – called Pramen Vřídlo.
The water of this thermal spring has a temperature of 72°C and reaches a height of about twelve meters. Approximately 2000 liters of mineral water gush out every minute, some of which is diverted to smaller wells for drinking.
The structure itself dates from 1975 and bears the signature of renowned Czech architect Jaroslav Otruba, who is also known for his design elements in the Prague Metro stations. It replaced an earlier cast-iron structure, also designed by Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer.
The Market Colonnade (Tržní kolonáda) is a white wooden structure in the center of the city on the left bank of the Teplá River. It was built and opened to the public in 1883 by Austrian architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer in the Swiss chalet style.
The Mill Colonnade (Mlýnská kolonáda) is the largest of the colonnades in the town. It is located in the spa center on Mlýnské Nábřeží Street and was built in 1881 according to the plans of the famous Czech architect Josef Zítek in the neoclassical style. There are also five mineral fountains in the Mill Colonnade.
The Chateau Colonnade (Zámecká kolonáda) is located near Zámekčky Vrch Street. The Art Nouveau building dates back to 1912 and was designed by the Austrian architect Friedrich Ohmann.
Today it is only partially open to the public, as at the beginning of the 21st century the chateau spa was established here, which is reserved exclusively for guests. The summerhouse with the Upper Castle Spring, however, is still open to the public.
The Park Colonnade (Sadová kolonáda) is located in the Dvořák Park next to Zahradní Street. This colonnade was also designed by Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer and was opened in 1881. It houses the Snake Spring (Hadí pramen).
Stroll the colonnades sipping the water’s healing powers and take in the stunning architectural surrounds.
Loket, meaning “elbow”, is named due to its location on a bend in the Ohre River. It’s a sleepy little town and provides a well-deserved break for big city dwellers.
The castle in Loket was built as a royal fortress in the 12th century during the reign of King Vladislav II and is of Romanesque origin.
In the seven buildings of the castle you can admire exhibits from the so-called Loket collections. These include furniture, wooden sculptures, paintings, porcelain, minerals, weapons and pewter objects. The torture exhibition in the prison area of the castle is particularly impressive.
Visit as well the small Beer Museum. The exhibition belongs to the St. Florian family brewery and is a little highlight. In three rooms the traditional beer production is presented, starting with the barrel production and the processing of the malt to the original bottling and the old machines.
You can get to this exciting exhibition either directly from the brewery restaurant in the basement of the Hotel Kaiser Ferdinand or from the Payer’s House on the square – no entrance fee!
Address: Sobotova 10/2, 357 33 Loket
Here you will find excellent Italian GRIECO coffee, which you can enjoy as espresso, cappuccino or latte (with soy and almond milk). Decaffeinated coffee is also available, as well as filter coffee from a local roaster and homemade sodas.
The team also makes delicious cakes and pies in their own bakery. The terrace is the perfect place to sit with friends or just read a book alone with a cup of coffee.
You can also discover local and international artists and admire their works. The café offers some products made by talented artists.
In addition to the permanent exhibitions, there are also regular temporary exhibitions throughout the year. These feature paintings and ceramics from different periods and styles. It is always exciting to see how the creative landscape evolves.
In addition to the visual arts, Café Galerie also offers musical performances for all tastes. Concerts of various genres are held to delight young and old alike.
There are also theatrical performances: from classical drama to modern experimental theater, there is something for everyone! The atmosphere of Café Galerie makes these events even more special.
Whether you’re interested in painting or music, the Cafe Galerie family art café has something for you.
Address: T. G. Masaryka 32
Hotel Stein Elbogen
Hotel Stein Elbogen is located in a historical building, which was once inhabited by the owners of the oldest porcelain factory in Bohemia. You can relax by the fireplace, on the sun terrace or in the hotel’s quiet garden. The hotel also has a café-bar where you can enjoy quality coffee specialties.
Each studio has a small kitchenette where you can prepare your own snacks. There is also a comfortable seating and dining area, as well as a flat-screen cable TV and private bathroom. Free Wi-Fi is available in all areas.
In the morning you can enjoy a delicious homemade breakfast. You can choose from an extensive menu. Enjoy premium coffee or tea, as well as delicious jams and fresh juices.
Secure parking for your vehicle is available at the hotel.
Address: Rooseveltova 181, 357 33 Loket
Lazy River Hostel
For nice, decently priced accommodation, try the Lazy River Hostel with friendly service.
Here you will find a choice of single, double and dormitory rooms. To make your stay even more enjoyable, there is a wellness center where you can relax and unwind. You can also take advantage of free Wi-Fi access throughout the hostel. If you arrive by car, you can use the hostel’s secure parking lot for a small fee.
Address: Kostelní 61/18, 357 33 Loket
This fairy tale-like town was my absolute favorite destination outside of Prague. Besides the castle presiding over the town, there are unique shops and delicious restaurants and pubs on the river.
Cesky Krumlov is also proud to be on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Along the meandering Vltava River you can still find a unique ensemble of burgher houses, most of which date back to the 16th century.
Let the city drive you and enjoy the wonderful architecture combined with museums, galleries, concerts and festivals.
There is much to discover and admire in Cesky Krumlov. Every house here is a masterpiece with a rich history. A walk through the chateau is like an adventure in different architectural styles. The galleries and museums attract visitors with exciting exhibitions. Fascinating stories full of mystery await you in the special monasteries of eský Krumlov.
In the summertime, rent a raft to float the river, stopping off at a couple of quiet riverside watering holes for a beer.
I can recommend Hostel 99, located at the entrance to town with staff who had intended to stay a weekend then never left.
For fresh mountain air, go hiking around Špindleruv Mlýn in the summer or go skiing in the winter. Few foreigners make it this way, but it’s a peaceful mountain getaway with a variety of restaurants and friendly locals.
Spindleruv Mlyn, a picturesque mountain town and an extremely popular tourist center, has developed over the years into an important resort with a long tradition of winter sports.
The town is located on the Labe River in the middle of the Giant Mountains – the highest mountain range in the Czech Republic – just a few kilometers from its sources. Its unique charm has been admired by visitors for centuries and is now protected by the Krkonoše National Park.
The Giant Mountains offer beautiful landscapes, breathtaking mountains and fresh air. It offers numerous challenging tourist routes as well as opportunities for excursions and hikes – a true paradise for nature lovers. This mountain range is one of the most beautiful in the Czech Republic.
Whether you are looking for fun for your children, an adventure with friends, or an unconventional experience as a gift for your partner: In Špindleruv Mlýn you can experience a variety of exciting activities in winter as well as in summer. From sporting adventures such as quad biking and bobsleighing, to morning horseback rides on half-empty slopes and adrenaline snow camps, it’s all here. You can also enjoy a romantic dinner of course.