Experience glorious historical architecture, a picturesque ancient spa city and scenic hiking trails in Czechia, a popular European destination.
The Czech Republic, or Czechia as it’s also known, is an ideal place to visit this time of the year. During the day, the temperature generally doesn’t exceed 25 degrees Celsius and nights are cooler. In this article, we will explore interesting things to see and do in two major cities, each offering starkly different experiences, as well as some popular hiking routes.
The capital city, Prague, is said to have the one of the best public transportation systems in Europe so, getting around is easy. The architecture here is particularly noteworthy. You can spot a wide range of styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and more modern ones such as Art Nouveau and Neo-Classical. Prague Castle is a major attraction. It’s a complex comprising many structures exhibiting different styles such as the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral and the Romanesque St. George’s Basilica. The latter is the oldest surviving church building within this complex, which also includes a monastery and several palaces, gardens and defence towers. Most of the areas are open to tourists. Further, it houses many museums including the National Gallery Prague. The permanent exhibition here is dedicated to Czech history.
In addition to being a historical hub, Prague has much for arts enthusiast. The Lennon Wall, inspired by the late former Beatle, offers the perfect backdrop for a memorable photograph with John Lennon-inspired graffiti; lyrics of the band’s songs feature in addition to designs relating to local and global causes. Lovers of literature must visit the Franz Kafka Museum, which exhibits first edition books and original letters, diaries and drawings – an absolute treat for fans!
Make a pitstop for a lunch cruise on the Vltava river and enjoy amazing views of the Old Town Bridge Tower and Charles Bridge. Czech gastronomy features hearty stews and meaty mains. Svíćková, which gets its name from the popular local sauce made of root vegetables and heavy cream, is a steak dish. The meat is cooked with vegetables and spices and doused in the velvety sauce. It’s served with knedlíky, which are the traditional dumplings. They are boiled, which gives them their distinct spongy texture. Whipped cream and cranberry sauce are typically served as part of the dish. The Czech goulash, a robust beef stew typically served with bread or potato knedlíky, is another staple. If you’re looking for something lighter, we recommend the ubiquitous chlebíćek – open-faced sandwich. If you’re on the go, get a Czech-style hot dog or párek v rohlíku. The local sausages have a thicker casing, offering a good bite.
Czech brews are also popular and you could book one of the brew tours. Plus there’s much to appease the sweet toothed; trdelník, a hollow cylinder of dough dusted with cinnamon, sugar and nuts, is popular with locals and tourists alike. Or enjoy the spirit of the holiday season in summer with the immaculately decorated perníćky or gingerbread cookies and vánoćní cukroví, which are a selection of Christmas cookies; they’re sold all year round.
Prague’s Old Town has many interesting offerings. The Prague Orloj, a medieval astronomical clock attached to the Old Town Hall, features interesting components; it indicates the position of the sun and moon in the sky and has a calendar dial and figures of Catholic saints. The architectural extravaganza continues here and in New Town, which is home to the famed Dancing House. The original building, which was destroyed during the war has been restored in a way that part of it appears slanted.
Spa treatments are a great way to relax, especially on a holiday. Head to Karlovy Vary or Carlsbad, one of Europe’s best spa towns. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s home to numerous natural hot springs teaming with minerals, which are said to have cured illnesses for centuries.
There are five main colonnades, flaunting beautiful architectural styles where the springs’ waters seep: Mill Colonnade, Park Colonnade, Market Colonnade, Castle Colonnade and Hot Spring Colonnade – which houses the biggest and hottest spring. You can collect the water at a fountain-like structure in the colonnade and sip on it. A caveat: drinking large quantities could give you a stomach ache.
We recommend you check into one of the many spa hotels in the area. They offer a range of wellness treatments in addition to a prescribed [spring water] drinking programmes tailored to suit your medical condition. Even if you don’t have a health issue, simply unwind at the pool or get a massage. Some spa hotels offer thermal baths with water from the springs. You could even take a bottle of the hot spring salts home as a souvenir. Don’t forget to try the spa wafers or lázećské oplatky. Back in the day, they were sprinkled with sugar and served to spa guests. Spring water and salt are said to give this melt-inyour-mouth traditional snack its unique flavour. You can buy them fresh from street vendors or packaged at shops. These days, different flavours including hazelnut, almond, chocolate and vanilla are available.
Other souvenirs include Becherovka, which is produced here. It was first sold in 1807 as ‘English Bitter’, a remedy for stomach illnesses. Having the flavours of ginger and cinnamon, it’s consumed as a digestive or appetiser. Cheese lovers must take home some abertam, a traditional Czech variety from Karlovy Vary. A picturesque town, Carlsbad is also sprinkled with parks and gardens that are beautifully landscaped. Relax under a gazebo or head to an observation tower on the hills to enjoy breath-taking views of the city.
If you’re the outdoorsy type or simply want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, you’ll be pleased to know that the Czech Republic is home to numerous hiking trails. Bohemian Switzerland National Park has many well-marked routes. Most of them permit hiking and cycling – you can rent a bike or bring your own. Some areas are best accessed via boat, which is a paid service. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, there’s a trail for every traveller.
Located about two hours from Prague by road, the park contains the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, dense forests and deep gorges. If you are driving, parking areas are available for a fee. Or you could board a train from Prague.
Bohemian Switzerland National Park is part of the larger Bohemian Switzerland, a picturesque landscape. While day tours are available, you need more time to fully experience this natural wonder. There are hotels in the surrounding area and campgrounds too. Some major landmarks to watch out for include Pravćická Brána or Pravćická Gate. Reaching a height of about 16 metres, it’s a rock formation in the shape of an archway. Tiské Stćny, meaning Tisa Walls, which also go by the name of Tisa Rocks, are sculpted sandstone pillars reaching a height of 30 metres. This attraction is popular with rock climbing enthusiasts and offers stunning views from the top. The gorges of the Kamenice River are another beauty to behold. The cliff walls tower at up to 150 metres.
Another trekkers’ paradise, Lužnice Valley Hiking Trail’s 55-kilometre route is touted as one of Europe’s best. It leads through several nature reserves, forests, valleys, rocks, tunnels and historical and cultural sights.
Mumlavský Vodopád or Mumlava Waterfall is a beautiful spot in Krkonoše National Park. It’s said to look different each time you see it, depending on the volume of water in the river. In winter, it’s frozen, in spring, the stream is strongest and in summer, water just trickles down. You can even enjoy a swim in the river at this time of the year. Due to the water’s force, the rocks at the foot of the waterfall are sculpted into deep bowl-like shapes where the water is collected; the deepest of these giant pots is three metres. Mumlava Waterfall is a destination in itself but also a starting point for hiking and biking trails. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve site, Krkonoše National Park offers many. The park is nestled in the Krkonoše Mountains, which is the highest range in the country. Cable car riding is a popular summer activity, offering beautiful views of the rocky expanse. It’s mesmerising to witness the sunrise from atop the Snćžka – the tallest mountain in the range. You could hike your way to the summit or ride the cableway. Many plan their adventures before dawn so they can catch the first rays shooting across the horizon. ✤