Try these suggestions for an authentic Czech experience without the throngs of crowds spilling into Prague’s streets and attractions.
The Czech Republic is a traveller’s dream come true: delicious cuisine, good beer, fascinating attractions, and medieval architecture untouched by the ravages of European history. However, along with these positives, comes the truth: over 3.5 million tourists descend on this Bohemian oasis every year. While I can recommend Prague as a must-see, here are six suggested Czech hideaways should you feel the need for some breathing room.
While Ceský Krumlov is the 2nd most visited city in the Czech Republic, its tourism numbers pale in comparison to the masses in Prague. The historic town center in its entirety is an UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, and it is easy to see why—winding cobblestone streets lined with kitsch shops inside incredibly well preserved medieval buildings. The city is a picture postcard view from nearly every direction and viewpoint, day or night; don’t forget to check out the view from the castle tower. Try the Eggenberg Brewery for the best local brews to quench your thrist, and for a unique dining experience, descend to the underground catacombs at The Old Inn (reservations recommended).
Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) is Czech healing for the soul. Famous for its mineral springs, the surrounding hillsides provide an excellent backdrop for the many posted walking paths. Back in the small city center, one cannot help but admire the calming influence of the various colonnades and colourful architecture. See if you can manage a glass of Becherovka (a bittersweet herbal liquor that is quite powerful), or for those weaker of heart, aim for the celebrated Karlsbad spa wafer (I prefer mine freshly warmed with cinnamon). Both are available at various shops or street vendors throughout the town.
The second-largest city in the Czech Republic, Brno is the young-and-trendy cultural sister to Prague. A plethora of museums here—The Moravian Gallery being my favourite—will keep you entertained, but freshen your senses with a stroll around the grounds of Špilberk Castle, formerly a gruesome prison. Should the dungeons not be enough for you, head out of town for the awe-inspiring caves in nearby Blankso. Return in time for dinner, though: a must-experience food and dining destination is Pegas, offering excellent beer made on the premises coupled with Czech classics.
Your first thought on Plzen is probably the city’s association with Pilsner Urquell and the namesake pilsner beer – indeed the brewery is worth a visit as one of the key attractions here, in case you are curious to know what exactly is a pilsner beer – but the city has a host of wonderful restaurants to be enjoyed and quaint city parks to be explored. Go up in the tower of the Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew, as it has the highest church spire in the Czech Republic, with a view to match.
Telc has often been called one of the prettiest towns in the Czech Republic, and I couldn’t agree more. This sleepy, petite town burnt in 1530, and the reconstruction effort by Italian master builders and architects is thoroughly impressive. You can tour the Telc Chateau, with its ornately decorated rooms (check out the ceilings) full of medieval arms, furniture, and porcelain. By walking a circuit around the city center, you can admire reflections of the stunning buildings in the two old fishponds that virtually surround the town center.
Virtually unknown to tourists, Olomouc has a distinct, vibrant feel as the student population tops 18,000 during the academic year. The city is home to a virtual buffet of religious grandeur: lavishly decorated churches hidden away (try Saint Michael’s), beautifully restored chapels, stunning squares, and nine fountains. The main square hosts the Holy Trinity column, best seen at dusk with its beautiful amber lighting. On the north face of the town hall, there is also one of only two astronomical clocks in the Czech Republic – unlike the one in Prague, here you can take a closer look and linger as long as you like.
Written by and photos Andy Hayes for EuropeUpClose.com