If you’re in need of a holiday, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Alsace. With gentle weather, amazing gastronomy, and unbelievably friendly folks everywhere, a trip to Alsace is exactly what a holiday should be. And after several months of going from one wine region to the next, I pretty much have a solid rule of thumb: if the place is good enough for the grapes, it’s good enough for you.
On our last night in Cesky Krumlov, we came back from hiking around the Blansky Forest to an empty old town. Having hiked more than 20 kilometers, we were in need of some food but found most of the establishments were already closed and few people were out walking along the lamppost-lit cobblestone streets.
We checked the time – barely 8 PM. What was wrong with people? Granted, it was a Sunday, but still, this was Cesky Krumlov! How can they be sleeping?
My most vivid travel memories always involve food.
I first visited the Czech Republic in 2014. I went around the old town and the castle complex, took a hundred photos along Charles Bridge, and waited for the astronomical clock’s hourly Apostles’ march. But of all these wonderful and historic things in Prague, there’s one thing I remember the most: the smell of cinnamon.
I remember watching the rows of trdelnik grilling in a little stall to the side of the old town square, the crystals of sugar caramelizing further with each turn of the rolled dough, letting out that irresistible smell of burnt sugar. I remember getting my hands on one that was indulgently topped with vanilla ice cream despite the cool weather. I remember biting into the doughy exterior, the cinnamon flavor and caramel mixing perfectly with the soft ice cream.
Here’s how the typical Central European travel itinerary goes: you spend a few days in Prague with several early morning attempts to take pictures at the Charles Bridge, board a train to Vienna where you blitz through the many historical churches and museums, maybe even spend an evening at the opera and have a slice of sachertorte, then take another train to Budapest, where you fill your camera with more crowded pictures of the Fisherman’s Bastion. By the end of this trip, you hardly remember anything and you just want to collapse in bed and take another vacation.
I get it. For most of us non-European travelers, Europe is this shiny, star-studded continent filled with some of the world’s best, most romantic, most historical – most superlative – cities in the world that we just want to cram our itineraries and see ALL. OF. THEM. The lack of borders and ease of movement is also mind-blowing for most of us that we get a little bit (or a lot) trigger-happy when planning our trips.
But here’s a radical suggestion: take it slow. Instead of rushing from one country to the next, take some time to really explore a place. While capital cities like Prague and Vienna are, of course, must-visits for first-time travelers, you can make your trip a lot more interesting with stop-overs to the little towns in between. You’ll establish a deeper connection with the places you visit, gain a better understanding of the culture, and have a more fulfilling holiday experience.
If you’re craving for more of Amsterdam’s Dutch charm and magic but a little less of the crowds and buzz, take a road trip through Flevoland. It’s a region just an hour’s drive northeast of Amsterdam that will take you through the beautiful countryside and to charming canal towns. And yes, Giethoorn – which is every photographer/Instagrammer’s dream – is one of those gorgeous little towns.
While a day trip is doable, I’m pretty sure you’ll want to stay for the night. Check out this road trip itinerary for the best of Flevoland.
The Czech Republic is an amazing country with a wealth of culture, history, architecture, and natural beauty. In this 5-day itinerary for first-time visitors, you’ll fall in love with two of Europe’s most beautiful cities and get a taste of the great outdoors that makes hiking one of the Czechs’ favorite past times. By the end of your trip, you’ll realize 5 days is hardly enough. These are the sights that will surely make you come back.
For first-time visitors, a visit to Prague is a must. Even if you hate touristy cities – which Prague undeniably is – it is still one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and a definite must-see when in Central Europe. One glimpse of Charles Bridge will make battling with the crowds worth it.
To fully enjoy Prague, you should spend at least 2 to 3 days in the city. Most of the tourists who come to Prague are there on day trips – they arrive mid-morning and leave by evening. If you want to have a peaceful moment in the city, stay in the less touristy parts of the city and explore in the early morning.
While you can hit most of the landmarks in a day, stretching out your visit to 2 or 3 days is certainly better – you won’t hate the cobbled steps for ruining your legs, you’ll enjoy your delicious Czech beer for longer, and you’ll be able to appreciate Prague’s sheer beauty better.
Another city that we’ll visit in this 5-day itinerary is Cesky Krumlov. It’s 180 KM south of Prague, which you can easily reach by train, bus, or by driving. Cesky Krumlov’s Old Town is a perfectly preserved medieval town that will certainly take your breath away. While there, you’ll also have an opportunity to partake in the Czechs’ favorite weekend activity: hiking.
At the end of this guide, I also offer several recommendations for continuing your trip, so if you’re trying to figure out your Central European itinerary, do check it out.
Prague is a magnificent city that no amount of tourists should deter you to explore it yourself.
Most of the city’s tourist sites are in Prague 1, and you can explore the district on foot. Remember to wear comfortable shoes as Prague’s cobbled streets can really kill your feet after an hour or two.
Take frequent stops for a glass of local beer and don’t try to cram in too many sites in one day! Here’s a sample itinerary for your Prague adventures.
Day 1 – Prague Charles Bridge and Castle Complex
From your accommodation, make your way to Staroměstská metro station on Line A or tram stop on trams 17 and 18. Head west to Charles Bridge (local name: Karlův most), one of Prague’s most iconic landmarks.
Charles Bridge (Karlův most)
Charles Bridge is Prague’s oldest and most impressive bridge. It was built from 1357 to 1402 under the direction of Charles IV, but even before that, at least two bridges have existed to connect Prague’s Old Town and Lesser Town across the Vltava river.
In the 10th century, there used to be a wooden bridge; however, this was threatened every time there were floods, so it was eventually replaced by a stone bridge named Judith’s Bridge after the wife of King Vladislav I. Judith’s Bridge existed from around 1170 to 1342, before it was destroyed by a flood. Charles Bridge was then built.
From 1683 to 1928, a total of 30 statues of saints were carved to decorate the bridge, lending Charles Bridge its hauntingly beautiful silhouettes. A great time to visit the bridge is during dawn or sunset to capture the sunlight’s play on the bridge.
During the daytime, you’ll find lots of musicians, artists, and vendors offering their wares along the bridge.
Prague Castle and Cathedral of St. Vitus, Wenceslas & Adalbert
Cross Charles Bridge and make your way to Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records – it occupies an area of almost 70,000 square meters (750,000 square feet)!
Prague Castle (local name: Pražský hrad) was founded in the 9th century. It underwent fortifications and rebuilding throughout the centuries as it housed Bohemian kings, royal families, and Czechoslovak presidents. During the Nazi occupation, it became the headquarters of Reinhard Heydrich, the Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.
Legend has it that a usurper who wears the Bohemian crown on his head will die within a year. True enough, Heydrich, who was said to have worn the crown, was attacked during Operation Anthropoid by Slovak and Czech soldiers and died shortly after.
After the liberation of Czechoslovakia, the Castle housed the offices of the communist government, and when Czechoslovakia split, the castle became the seat of the Head of State of the new Czech Republic.
Due to numerous rebuilding and fortification throughout the centuries, the castle buildings represent every architectural style of the last millennium. There’s the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral (whose official name is the Cathedral of St. Vitus, Wenceslas & Adalbert; locally: metropolitní katedrála svatého Víta, Václava a Vojtěcha), the Romanesque Basilica of St. George, a monastery, and several palaces, gardens, and defense towers.
The view from the Prague castle grounds is fantastic so make sure to go around the perimeter to find views of the city. You’ll find lots to do around the castle complex. There are many small art shops and galleries around as well as souvenir stores. If you’re hungry, visit the charming Rilke Restaurant. But if you still have the energy for a little walk (around half an hour), head to the next destination – Petrin Tower. Otherwise, you can walk along Thunovská and Nerudova and eventually head to Malá Strana, Prague’s Lesser Town.
Just 1 kilometer south of Prague Castle, you’ll find Petrin Tower, a view deck within Petřín Gardens (local: Petřínské sady). From this vantage point, you will come to appreciate Prague’s nickname, “The City of a Hundred Spires.”
Petřín Gardens is also a great place to unwind – just in case Prague’s medieval beauty becomes too much for you, this is a pretty vast expanse of green. You can enjoy the peace and views in one of the restaurants around the tower – check out Petřínské Terasy.
Next up is a tourist spot that’s a little less… ancient. After his murder in December 1980, John Lennon became a pacifist hero for many Czechs. An image of Lennon was painted on this wall, along with political graffiti.
During the communist regime, the wall was repeatedly whitewashed – but this did not deter Prague’s youth, and it became a site of artistic political expression for them. Now, you’ll find little of the original political graffiti, but the wall continues to hold global ideals of love and peace.
After a full day of walking, spend the evening around Malá Strana – look for the swans along the Vltava, watch the sunset over Charles Bridge, and end the day with a local meal or drinks.
To go back to your hotel, the nearest public transportation stops are Malostranská metro station along line A and the LRT and tram stop Malostranské náměstí for trams 12, 20, and 22.
Day 2 – Prague Old Town
For your second day of touring Prague, head once more to Staroměstská metro station on Line A or tram stop on trams 17 and 18. We’ll be exploring the old town square for this day. This is also a great time to try out the local cuisine and do some shopping.
Old Town Square
The Old Town Square is, as you would expect, the heart of Prague. This is where you would see most of the city’s oldest and most historic relics. This is understandably touristy, but if you appreciate culture and history, this is definitely worth a visit.
Prague Astronomical Clock
The medieval astronomical clock (local: Pražský orloj) mounted on the southern wall of the Old Town Hall is the oldest operating astronomical clock in the world. It was first installed in 1410.
Every hour on the hour, you can catch “The Walk of the Apostles,” a mechanical parade of the apostles. The four figures flanking the clock also start moving and these figures represent the four things that were despised at the time the clock was made: Vanity, represented by a figure admiring himself with a mirror; Greed or Usury, represented by a man holding a bag of gold; Death, represented by a skeleton; and beside it is a figure representing Lust and earthly pleasures.
You’ll find a lot of tourists gathering around the clock near the top of the hour. While many have said that this mechanical performance is one of the most disappointing tourist attractions in Europe, try and imagine what it must have been like to watch this in the Middle Ages. For it to be doing this every hour for half a millennium – there’s nothing really underwhelming about that! I personally liked it, but even if it does disappoint you, well, at least you could check off “see Europe’s most disappointing tourist attraction” off your list.
What’s definitely not disappointing about it though, is the astronomical dial. It depicts the movement of the celestial bodies around the Earth – reflecting the geocentric paradigm of the times when it was built, and still consistent with modern astrology’s practical application of geocentric models. Here’s an in-depth guide to reading the astronomical clock.
Church of Our Lady before Týn
This 14th-century Gothic church (locally: Kostel Matky Boží před Týnem / Týnský chrám) is one of the most dominant features of the old town of Prague. It is most notable for its twin spires – in the City of a Hundred Spires, these are the queen spires.
The itineraries for days 1 and 2 are fairly packed and involve a lot of walking. If you prefer to soak in the sights instead of rushing from one tourist spot to the next, you can stretch it out to 3 days.
Otherwise, you can use day 3 to check out Prague’s other sights. Or, if you plan to drive to Cesky Krumlov, you can check out of your Prague hotel by noontime, pick up your rental car, and start the scenic drive to Cesky Krumlov (details in the next section).
Here are some more spots to check out in Prague:
The Dancing House (local: Tančící dům) certainly stands out among the Baroque, Gothic, and Art Noveau buildings that define Prague’s distinctive architectural landscape. It was designed by Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić and Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry in 1992 and built on the site of a house destroyed by the US bombing of Prague in 1945.
It was formerly nicknamed Fred and Ginger after dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but this nickname is now rarely used for fear of importing American Hollywood kitsch to Prague, according to Gehry. The architectural style is known as deconstructivity or “new-baroque,” and the building’s shape is featured on gold 2,000 Czech koruna coins.
Jewish Quarter / Josefov
Jews have a long history in Prague, having settled in the city as early as the 10th century. On the first pogrom (or violent attacks on an ethnic or religious group) in 1096, the Jews were concentrated in a walled ghetto. Throughout the centuries, they continued to be persecuted, with one of the worst pogroms occurring in 1389 massacring around 1,500 Jews.
In the 18th century, Jews were emancipated by the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II with the Patent of Toleration, an edict extending religious freedom to non-Catholic Christians living in Habsburg lands. The Jewish quarter was then renamed “Josefstadt” or Joseph’s City after him.
Josefov, with its wealth of museums and memorials, is a great place to learn more about Jewish history.
Czech cuisine cooking class – If you’d love to take home a nice new skill, take a cooking class like this one. You’ll also have a guided tour of the farmer’s market plus an in-depth appreciation of Czech cuisine.
Prague food tour – A yummy intro to the Czech Republic! Get to know Prague’s delicious delicacies while exploring Mala Strana’s alleys.
Bohemian Switzerland day trip – If you want to explore the Czech Republic’s natural landscape, head north to Cesky Svycarsko or Bohemian Switzerland. Ideally, you’d want to stay for at least two days, but if you’re short on time, this day trip is your best option to see the best of the amazing natural park.
Essential information / Tips for your trip to Prague
Getting around Prague: To get around Prague, you can use the public transportation (metro, trams, bus). You can check the fares here. If you think you’re going to be traveling around the city a lot, getting a 3-day card may be the best option. You can also check out the Prague Card, which is especially a good deal if you’re planning to visit the major museums.
Renting a car in Prague: While in Prague, having a rental car isn’t necessary. But if you want to explore the surrounding countryside, self-driving is a wonderful way to see the country.
Bonus: Driving itinerary from Prague to Cesky Krumlov
The next major destination for this 5-day itinerary is Cesky Krumlov, a gorgeous medieval town in South Bohemia. You can easily reach Cesky Krumlov by bus from Prague. Buses go from Prague to Cesky Krumlov and back almost hourly from 6 am to 8 pm, and takes about 3 hours. You can reserve and book your bus tickets online here.
But another great way to get to Cesky Krumlov from Prague is to drive. Get your rental car in Prague and visit the following stops on the way to Cesky Krumlov.
First stop: choose between Pilsen or Kutná Hora
Both of these cities are just a little bit out of the way, but both are great side trips from Prague.
Pilsen (local: Plzeň) is a city about 90 KM west of Prague, most famous for its Pilsner beer. You can visit the Plzeňský Prazdroj for a brewery tour to learn about the history of beer. Apart from the brewery, you can also admire the Gothic St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, the Great Synagogue, and a historic underground tunnel network.
If you want to see something a bit more bizarre, go east instead to Kutná Hora, a city best known for the Sedlec Ossuary or “bone church.” In 1870, the local woodcarver František Rint piled bones in the crypt and decorated the monastery with skulls and femurs, with a giant chandelier made of human bones as the centerpiece.
Apart from the bone church, Kutná Hora is itself a UNESCO World Heritage site with a historical town center and well-preserved Gothic buildings.
Several castles have been built, expanded, and rebuilt on the site – a Gothic castle in the 13th century, a Baroque castle in the 18th century, and then its current appearance during the 19th century, when the Schwarzenbergs ordered its reconstruction in the romantic style of England’s Windsor Castle.
You can stop by for an hour to walk around the castle gardens, admire the castle up close, and have refreshments at the nearby café.
The next stop is České Budějovice, the capital of the South Bohemian Region and an excellent place to grab lunch. If you skipped Pilsen and you’re keen to learn about Czech beer, you can show up at the Budweiser Budvar Brewery for a brewery tour (check schedules or book an appointment here). Otherwise, you can continue to the next stopover.
Holašovice is a small historic village which, despite its quaint and charming row of Baroque houses, has a bit of a dark history.
In the 16th century, Holašovice was nearly wiped out by the bubonic plague in the span of 5 years. Only two inhabitants survived, and it took another 5 years for the population to rise to 17. In the following centuries until the 1900s, the village became home to a primarily German-speaking community – an enclave within a Czech language area.
At the end of World War 2, the German residents were driven away, and the village became deserted during the Czech communist regime. It was only in 1990 when the village was once again restored and inhabited, with its “South Bohemian folk Baroque” style preserved. It is now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for being an example of a traditional European folk village.
Destination: Český Krumlov
The next stop is Český Krumlov, where I would recommend at least a 2-day stay. If you’re bringing a car with you, look for accommodations just outside the old town as they usually have free parking space (you won’t need your car in the old town). I recommend Penzion Panorama (rooms start at USD 50).
Day 4 – Cesky Krumlov Old Town
You can easily visit all of Cesky Krumlov’s Old Town landmarks in a day or two. If you are more fast-paced, spend a day exploring the old town and then the next day hiking around the Blanský forest. Wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be walking around cobbled steps. It’s worth getting a Cesky Krumlov card at the Infocenter if you’re thinking of visiting the museums, and it’s an especially good value if you’re traveling with children.
Start your walking tour at the Cesky Krumlov castle, then head to the Minorite Monastery. Pass by Cesky Pernik for souvenirs, then cross the town to the Egon Schiele Art Centrum. End your day with a beer and a local Bohemian meal at one of the riverside restaurants.
Here’s an in-depth travel guide to Cesky Krumlov – you’ll find information on recommended accommodation and restaurant options, a self-guided walking tour itinerary of the old town, and plenty of tips for your stay.
Day 5 – Hiking in Blanský forest
Cesky Krumlov is right in the middle of the Blanský forest nature reserve and is an ideal starting point for hikes around the area.
You can start just outside the Cesky Krumlov castle (look for the signposts) or at the train station. You can refer to the Google map above to find the general location of each site, but it’s best to follow the marked trails when hiking around the forest.
Klet’ is the highest peak of the Blanský natural reserve, and on a clear day, the observation tower at the top can give you amazing views of the surrounding countryside.
The hiking trail from Cesky Krumlov is suitable for beginners, but you can also ride a cable car to the top from the Krasetin station near the village of Holoubov. You can find more information here.
You’ll find a restaurant beside the viewing tower – I had the best goulash I’ve ever tasted there. Also go for the česnečka (Czech garlic soup) and of course, a cold glass of the region’s beer, the Budweiser Budvar. Don’t be turned off by the busy dining area – order your food and go up the second level where you’ll find more tables.
Hiking Klet’ and Dívčí Kámen will take up a whole day. We started at around 10 AM, had lunch at Klet’, continued our hike to Dívčí Kámen, then took the train from Trisov back to Cesky Krumlov, where we had dinner at the old town. This was a total of around 22 kilometers and took about 8 hours, including stops.
Beyond 5 days in the Czech Republic – continuing your travels in Central Europe
As I’m sure you’ll realize soon enough, 5 days in the Czech Republic is hardly enough – but this itinerary is a great start. Adjust according to your pace – this is more of a fast-paced itinerary, so if you’re not into road trips or hiking trips, you’ll be able to explore the cities at leisure.
If you have more than 5 days, here are other places you can visit within and around the Czech Republic – click through for my travel guides for each:
The next practical destination after Prague is Vienna, but instead of taking a 4-hour train ride, stretch out your journey by going on a road trip through the Czech Republic’s southern region! You’ll see more of South Bohemia and South Moravia on this road trip.
This is the Czech Republic’s southwestern region, most known for its vineyards and nature trails. It’s ideal for wine enthusiasts and a good time to visit is during the beginning of fall (early September) when wine harvest festivals begin.
If you’re looking for a cool European city with loads of culture and attitude, minus the crowds and the hefty price tag, Brno’s the perfect destination for you. While largely overshadowed by Prague, Czech Republic’s second city has a lot to offer. Its medieval streets and underground labyrinths tell stories as far back as the 13th century while the modern buildings and cafes that sprout endlessly continue to make Brno the vibrant city it is today.
This is one of my favorite road trip itineraries in Europe, and if you’re coming from Prague, you can easily modify this to create an amazing road trip itinerary. Pick up your car in Prague, drive to Cesky Krumlov (check out my recommended stopovers on the map above), drive to Salzburg and follow the driving itinerary to Vienna, then drive to South Moravia and spend a few days there before returning your car to Brno. Just writing down this itinerary gets me really excited and if you have the time to do it (a fast-paced version will take you a week at least), it’s an amazing overview of the Central European countryside.
* * *
I hope you fall in love with the Czech Republic as much as I did. I now call it my second home, and I’m excited to explore more of it.
If you have any questions at all, I’d be happy to help. Send me a message, and I’ll get back to you ASAP!