The Czech Republic is not only one of the most beautiful countries in Europe; it’s also one of the most affordable to visit. It is a country characterized by its fairytale-like architecture, red-tiled villages, riverside streets made of cobblestone, historic spa resorts, and remarkably-pretty market squares. The hilly, Czech countryside is no less inviting as its forests, mountains and scenic valleys are dotted with lovely towns, sunny vineyards and unimaginably beautiful castles once belonging to the ruling Bohemian kings. It’s a country where folklore, music, history, and oodles of Central-European charm intersect. And then there’s the beer – and the wine! All in all, this magical place is quite unlike any other country you can visit in Europe.
Its fascinating history has been frequently entangled with the Holy Roman Emperors, the Austrians and its Slovakian neighbors to the east. During much of the 20th century, this former communist country was unknown to western travelers. That’s changed – and it will continue to do so; this European-Union member country is now a prosperous, post-communist success story. Without a doubt, Prague is now a bonafide darling of vacationers traveling to Europe, and the word is spreading on the many treasures found throughout the rest of the country.
So if you’re looking to capture truly good value in a faraway paradise, the Czech Republic is an ideal country to consider for your next vacation to Europe. Its hotels, restaurants and sightseeing still offer affordable prices. Many guidebooks, visitors and locals think in terms of the historical Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia, and we’re inclined to do the same. Therefore, today’s post will feature many of the best towns to visit in Bohemia, the western, more well-known face of the Czech Republic – and soon we’ll follow up with a post solely dedicated to Moravia. Prague, the enchanting, must-see capital of Bohemia and the Czech Republic, works as a great base to visit many of the cities, spa towns and castles we’ll highlight below, so without further delay – here are our Top Ten Favorite Places To Visit in Bohemia Outside of Prague!
1. Ceský Krumlov
Located in the country’s southern frontiers, the Bohemian town of Ceský Krumlov lies near the Czech Republic’s borders with Austria and Germany. Its beautiful, red-tile-topped Old Town is nestled among a vibrantly-green landscape, along the twists and turns of the winding Vltava River. And this magnificent natural setting is further enhanced by some of the finest Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture in Central Europe. In addition to simply strolling the medieval streets of one of the prettiest towns in the Czech Republic, visitors traveling to Ceský Krumlov also seek out its immense, 13th-century castle, which – along with the rest of the historical center – is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Unlike most of the Bohemian towns featured in this post, the western city of Cheb is almost never overrun with tourists. While often overlooked (except by folks traveling west to Germany) we still believe that authentic, enduring Cheb deserves a bit of your time. Having been established over nine centuries ago along the banks of the Ohře River, Cheb’s fascinating history frequently features its German neighbors. (The city was once an important stronghold on the eastern edge of the Holy Roman Empire.)
Cheb’s architecture is interesting, and its colorful Old Town is worth exploring. A chief feature of Cheb’s historic center is its large, striking square, which houses outstanding Baroque and Gothic architecture (Czech and German). Other sights to check out in Cheb include the 13th-century Basilica of Saint Nicholas, the historic Jewish Quarter, and the Romanesque ruins of Cheb Castle. It’s also worth noting that Cheb is located near two of the Czech Republic’s most famous spa towns: Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lázne.
A popular day trip from Prague, Karlštejn Castle lies only 18 miles southwest of the Czech Republic’s fairytale-like capital. It was founded back in the 14th century by one of the best-loved kings of Bohemia: Charles IV (who also served as Holy Roman Emperor for 23 years). Charles used the castle to store the imperial crown jewels and other priceless treasures. The Gothic castle is spectacularly located high in the forested hills above a small market town (also called Karlštejn). It is one of the most beautiful, immortal castles in the whole of the Czech Republic – and that’s saying something.
4. Ceské Budejovice (also called Budweis)
Another shining star of the Czech Republic lies at the scenic spot where the Vltava River meets the Malše: the city of Ceské Budejovice, the largest city in Southern Bohemia. This fortress town’s origin dates to 1265, and the fact that it was such a prosperous town in its heyday is evident by the city’s outstanding architecture, most of which comes from the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods. One of the town’s defining sights is its massive, cobblestone square (Přemysla Otakara II), which is one of the largest in Europe.
However, when one thinks of Ceské Budejovice, it is beer that instantly comes to mind! Ceské Budejovice (Budweis) is the original home of Budweiser beer. However, the town’s tradition of producing beer goes back much farther than that; in fact Ceské Budejovice’s residents have been steadily brewing beer for the past 700 years, and its famed brews have made it a frequent stop on many a European beer tour. Today visitors can tour the Budejovický Budvar (Budweiser Brewery) to learn all about the traditional process of brewing Pilsner-style beers.
A stone’s throw from Ceské Budejovice (and about halfway between Prague and Vienna), the Bohemian, walled town of Třeboň is entirely charming. Easygoing and serene, this is a relaxing, rather “off the beaten path” place to visit in the Czech Republic. While it was founded in the mid-1100s, its prosperity really began to take shape in the Late Middle Ages with the development of its famed carp fish ponds. Yes, some of Třeboň’s most-famous residents reside in the town’s multitude of ponds (and are often served up at Christmas dinner)!
The area’s natural offerings are marvelous, so if you’re interested in biking or hiking in the Czech countryside, you won’t be disappointed with the pristine, forested surroundings of Třeboň. Very good beer is also produced in the area, and those interested can take a guided tour of the Regent Brewery, which was founded in 1379. Other visits to consider making in Třeboň include the Renaissance-style Třeboň Castle and the 14th-century Augustine Monastery.
6. Karlovy Vary (also called Carlsbad or Karlsbad)
Eighty miles west of Prague lies the most-famous of all Czech resort spa towns: Karlovy Vary. The town was founded in the 14th century by Charles IV, and visitors in need of a good soak have been flocking to its numerous, thermal hot springs for centuries. In its heyday, Chopin, Beethoven, Goethe and Peter the Great all frequented Karlovy Vary for its healing, sulfur-rich waters. Today visitors can still enjoy the town’s 13 major springs, many of which can be sipped (or chugged if you’re game!) at the colonnades – you just need to buy a mug to use. Normally there is also a great variety of treatments available at the local spas. Just as enjoyable is simply exploring the town’s elegant boulevards, pavilions, and tranquil forested trails. Also deserving of a visit is the Glassworks Moser Museum.
7. Plzeň (also spelled Pilsen)
We’ve mentioned that the Bohemian city of Ceské Budejovice is famous for its beer production. While that is certainly true, the city is often upstaged by its big-beer-brother: Plzeň. This historic (but undeniably industrial) city has lent its name to one of the Czech Republic’s most-famous exports: Pilsner Urquell. Visitors traveling to Plzeň can (and should) tour the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, which has been successfully brewing since 1842. There is also a Beer Museum worth visiting.
Despite the city’s unpolished image, it still houses several attractions worthy of your time; be sure to see Námestí Republiky (Plzeň’s primary square), the Gothic Cathedral of St. Bartholomew and the Great Synagogue.
8. Mariánské Lázně (also called Marienbad)
While less-famous than nearby Karlovy Vary, the picturesque spa town of Mariánské Lázně offers visitors a relaxing, delightful pause from sightseeing. This scenic town, which is encircled by forested mountains, is home to beautiful parks, colonnades, elegant homes and pretty pavilions. As with many other Central European spa towns, the 19th century saw Mariánské Lázně’s popularity peak. (Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, Chopin, Kafka, Wagner, Goethe, Strauss and Freud all frequented the town.) However, many of the hotels and resorts offer a variety of invigorating, natural spa services – even for day trippers.
While the town of Litomyšl lies along the eastern edges of the historical region of Bohemia (near its border with Moravia), today it technically forms part of the Pardubice Region in the Czech Republic, which sits just east of Prague. We’re including it in this post because of its prized castle. Litomyšl Castle, which was constructed in the 16th century, is a remarkable example of a Renaissance arcade castle, and its interiors – including a one-of-a-kind neoclassical, wooden theatre – are extraordinary. Because of Litomyšl Castle’s immense cultural value, it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
10. Kutná Hora
A one-hour drive from Prague heading east will take you to another Bohemian gem: the city of Kutná Hora. The town is stunning, and during the Late Middle Ages (when its silver mines were bringing in the big bucks), out of all Bohemia – it was second only to Prague in wealth. The scenery is sensational, and there is much to see and do. In fact, the entire Old Town of Kutná Hora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Major sights to visit in this unusually-pretty city include the magnificent, Gothic Cathedral of St. Barbara; the former Royal Mint located inside the Italian Court palace; and the Sedlec Ossuary, a small chapel located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints. The famed ossuary, which is spookily (yet certainly elaborately) decorated with over 40,000 human bones (yep, you read that right), is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the Czech Republic.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the Czech Republic’s historical region of Bohemia! For more great vacation ideas on the Czech Republic, please stay tuned for the second part of this post, which will highlight the historical Czech region of Moravia and will feature amazing countryside, more beautiful towns and several outstanding Czech wine regions. To peruse our vacation packages to the Czech Republic, please kindly click here. And should you prefer to travel in a group setting, we offer an excellent Escorted Tour to Central and Eastern Europe, which features expert guiding and truly-good value. Lastly, if you already have a group of friends or family members interested in visiting the Czech Republic, our Groups Department would be more than happy to customize an unforgettable itinerary – just for you.