Český Krumlov, Czech Republic: Southern Bohemian Charm
Upon entering town you are immediately struck by the architecture. The gothic buildings intermingling with their baroque and renaissance neighbors present a familiar scene. The familiarity is not quite complete, though; there is an otherness about the place. The town of Český Krumlov steps out of a fairytale and presents itself to your senses as an unrealized memory from your childhood. Dating back to at least the 13th century — first mentioned in 1253 — Český Krumlov has certainly earned its place in history. A UNESCO site since 1992, the town has witnessed, and survived, dynasties, world wars, communism, and tourism all the while retaining an authenticity and charm that many towns in Europe struggle to retain in these days of mass tourism.
The town, a mere three hours south of Prague, undoubtedly evokes shades of the capital through its architecture, its twisting lanes, and its pastel color schemes. And while the comparisons are fair, they fail to capture the beauty of Český Krumlov. From its large castle complex — replete with a moat and black bears — to its diminutive sluice of Vltava River that wraps the town like a shawl, the place defines itself in ways that Prague cannot. A town of just 14,000 people, it opens itself to exploring every crack and crevice. It allows the casual tourist to meander its streets, get lost, and still manage to find their way back for the afternoon beer and cheese platter by the river. Gone are the kitschy knick-knack shops that line the capitals main tourist streets; replacing them is a number of handicraft stores and artisans. The seemingly endless array of cobblestoned streets that makes Prague so breathtaking are noticeably lesser, allowing easy access to a trek through the woods or quiet stroll along the riverside to enjoying a refreshing break from the concrete and crowds.
When the day-trippers depart the town truly reveals itself, rewarding those who overnight with some truly idyllic ambiance. Top notch restaurants, the world-renowned Czech pilsner, and a smattering of cafes compliment the ambiance and make the town much more than a mere day trip from Prague or its slight larger neighbor České Budějovice. Step back in time and dine at Krčma U dwau Maryí, a medieval house set alongside the twisting Vltava dedicated to providing traditional Bohemian meals in a carefully restored setting. Or try Krčma Markéta, a period tavern located behind the Castle riding school, where you can enjoy a variety of meals cooked over an open fire. For something a little more modern, Papa’s Living Restaurant located right off the famous Latrán Street provides an outstanding menu with a number of international dishes, alongside the banks of the Vltava. In addition, there are a number of hotels to fit all styles and budgets, which makes spending a few days in Český Krumlov an easy endeavor and a lot easier on the budget than larger cities. With accommodations that range from the opulent to B&Bs and self-service apartments , the town offers something for all types of travellers.
Regardless of the season, wandering through the town is likely to be the essential experience you will have during your stay. The churches, chateaus, monasteries, and synagogues that litter the town and its immediate surroundings punctuate the beautiful buildings with their colorful facades. Starting from Budějovická Gate and following along Latrán Street will reward even the most casual observer with a visual feast. Lined with burgher houses, shops, cafes, and a marionette museum the place was designed for strolling. Crossing over the Lazebnický (Barber) Bridge with the gentle Vltava flowing beneath, you will enter the inner town, where the castle looms large over town. Parkán Street, the site of the former canal, sits right off the bridge and offers a nice turn through one of the quieter areas of the town. Off the main square, Horní Street, the main thoroughfare of the inner town, is home to a number of stores and offers great views of the castle with the town below. Meanwhile, Dlouha Street winds its way past the town Mill eventually providing access to a small footbridge that empties onto Rybářská Street — allowing an easy walk alongside the river towards the other side of town.
No matter the starting point, the castle complex will feature prominently in any walking tour. Dating from the 13th century, the castle design slices through history, demonstrating the architectural marks of the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo periods like the rings of a majestic tree. With a tower, lapidarium, museum, gardens, and stables the castle is the second largest in Czech Republic after the Prague castle. Guided tours are available for a nominal fee or you can just wander the area and enjoy the views over town that the castle’s perch provides. It may be that the biggest draw is not the castle itself, but the black bears that inhabit the moat surrounding the castle — certainly a unique draw for the children. Regardless of what you find most impressive, a nighttime walk through the castle and across the bridge connecting the gardens will undoubtedly linger in your memory for years to come. The charm that comes with a quiet night and the ability to see the stars while lingering with your thoughts lends the town a dreamlike quality.
And do not be fooled by its diminutive size or provincial location, Český Krumlov embraces the arts as well as any big city. The town hosts a handful of highly renowned museums, such as The Egon Schiele Art Center, Museum Fotoatelier Seidel, and the Regional Museum. There’s an annual music international music festival that occurs in mid-July lasting for a few weeks. In addition, there are a numerous events throughout the year that highlight Czech history and culture.
Meanwhile, outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate the easy access to the surrounding nature. Šumava National Park, Czech Republic’s largest national park at 70,000 hectares is an easy day trip from town. For something a little closer try the 8km trek to Kleť mountain, where you’ll be rewarded with views of southern Bohemia and a tour of the observatory. If hiking is not your thing, enjoy a leisurely saunter around the Plesivec district of town which houses a small municipal park or try your hand at rafting down the Vltava. If you are in town for more than a few days, take the chance to explore the surrounding countryside with daytrips to a number of beautiful castle ruins that will make a photographer overjoyed.
In short, whether it is art, food, beer, history, or nature that excites your travel senses, Český Krumlov will not disappoint. The next time you are in the region plan to stay a few days (or longer) in this Southern Bohemian jewel.