Spring makes every city beautiful and a little bit magical, as nature awakens after long winter dream. That’s when you should head out to Czech Republic, get a car and drive across the country surrounded by sunshine-yellow fields and blooming trees. Nearly every town you pass offers rich history, an authentic brewery and a real castle. Add to that relatively low prices (compare to other European cities) and friendly locals, and you’ve got a perfect spring getaway. Lets start at the south.
A small city in South Bohemian region is the second most visited destination in Czech after Prague with Old Town recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site (read more here). Undoubtedly crowded in summer months, Český Krumlov can be pleasantly empty early to mid spring as the neighboring Germans seek warmer locations in Italy or southern France. Due to its small size and compact layout, the city can be easily explored in one day. The walk through the streets of old town will reveal the usual souvenir shops, skillfully disguised to blend into the maze of historical buildings, and an unusually large number of toy stores with bright traditional wooden dolls.
As you make your way to the castle, stop by at one of the tiny, dimly-lit cafes for hot chocolate or cappuccino and a piece of cake. On a sunny day, try getting a spot with a view of a river at Café Cukrárna (Rybářská 1). It’s worth mentioning that cakes and pastries I tried during my trip through Czech Republic were consistently excellent due to being conservatively sweet, meaning they had just enough sugar to make you realize they are meant to be a dessert without causing headaches from sugar overdose (caused by eating typical pastry in France or Italy). So please, have some cake while you’re there.
Finally, when you arrive at the castle, take the time to walk through multiple courtyards and absorb the history hidden within the walls (castle dates back to year 1240 and belonged to Rosenberg family). Climb up the narrow stairs of the castle tower, with richly decorated exterior, and imagine Rapunzel awaiting her rescue… Be sure to take a side step half-way through the tower and glance down the dungeon to see what happened to the unfortunate princess. Ladies, don’t wait to be rescued, get out of the tower yourself. Before you leave the castle, don’t forget to stop on the bridge above the Bear Moat and look down – you’re in for a surprise!
A trip would not be complete without visiting Rytirska Krcma Marketa (U Zamecke zahrady 62) for an authentic Czech feast. Hidden on the edge of Castle Gardens (and the edge of the city), this place makes you feel like you just crossed invisible line and stepped into the medieval past where wood burning ovens and candles were the only source of light and food was prepared over open flame. Although the restaurant caters mostly to carnivores, vegetarians will be rewarded with skillfully grilled vegetables, locally brewed beer (try dark or unfiltered Eggenberg), an unforgettable atmosphere and very reasonable prices. Don’t forget to try dessert of the day.
As you make your way north to Prague, make a stop along the way to explore yet another castle. For example, visit Konopiště château in Central Bohemia where you will be welcomed by a bear in the moat, a peacock on the tree (who knew peacocks could climb trees?), a bunch of sleepy owls, and an angry bald eagle. If you are not saturated enough with castles, you can buy a ticket to go on a tour through chateau’s rooms including hunting corridor full of dead animals (I did not go). Interestingly, castles have become popular location for weddings so you’re likely to a spot a bride or two strolling through the gardens.
It’s worth making a short detour east on the approach to Prague and go visit another small city, famous for being a home to Sedlec Ossuary aka Bone Church. The small chapel is said to contain the skeletons of at least 40,000 people whose bones are arranged in various shapes to make up ossuary’s interior decorations. The result is curiously disturbing although most tourists seem to enjoy themselves, posing for photographs in front of coat-of-arms made of bones, which will inevitably end up on someone’s Facebook profile later. Regardless of how you feel about such ‘tourist attraction’, it would be a shame to miss this artistic exhibit of death.
Leave behind the gloomy mood that Kutna Hora may have put you in and prepare to enter beautiful Prague. Noticeably busier than other cities in Czech, it is nevertheless possible to find a quiet, charming street to explore at your leisure.
You have to start your day with a tour of world’s largest ancient castle, stopping to see several basilicas, cathedrals and churches located within castle’s gates. By the time you’re done with walking and pushing through the crowds, escape to a little veg restaurant, less than ten minutes away from castle entrance. The best feature of Lo Veg is a rooftop terrace with terrific view of the city and the castle so cross your fingers and pray for a sunny day and one of the two tables to be available
Make your way to the river past the castle for a wonderful view of the bridges connecting two parts of the city, and walk across Charles Bridge to the Old Town square. To be honest, the walk across the famous bridge to the famous square was not particularly enjoyable as it is incredible crowded and busy. But if you need to do it just to cross of the list of ‘must see’ things, then hold on to your wallet and prepare to make your way through a bunch of street artists and souvenir sellers.
To continue the trend of vegetarian restaurants, end your day at Radost FX cafe (Bělehradská 120) with creative, international, and remarkably healthy cuisine served above the night club. Be sure and read the menu before you head out or else you’ll spend half an hour trying to make up your mind. Being a vegetarian in meat-dominated countries like Germany and Czech Republic, I am used to quickly scanning the menu and finding one lonely option that claims to not have meat (but unfortunately often full of butter, cheese, and salt). It was refreshing to come to a place where the entire menu caters to my food preferences (i.e. healthy vegetarian).
My journey through Czech has come to an end but hopefully yours is about to begin!