A medieval castle town set on the banks of a capricious river, its streets lined with a mixture of Renaissance, Baroque, and Gothic buildings – if it sounds like I’m describing a fairytale town, that’s exactly what Cesky Krumlov is.
Cesky Krumlov’s storybook appeal has been gradually attracting tourists to uncover this romantic European gem. Previously a “secret” destination, it has been missed by the day trippers flocking to Prague since the 1990s. Like all great secrets, though, it couldn’t stay hidden for too long. Recently, thanks to restoration efforts in Cesky Krumlov, the town is starting to get its large share of tourists, mostly arriving mid-morning in tour buses, blitzing around the old town, and then leaving for Prague or Vienna by evening.
While a day tour to Cesky Krumlov is indeed doable and convenient, I’d like to suggest an alternative to travelers who love to take their time. At the very least, spend a night in the town so you can start your explorations early the following day. If you have a bit more time, extend for a few more days so you can explore the surrounding countryside.
In any case, whether you decide to stay for a day or more, the following self-guided walking tour of the Cesky Krumlov old town will help you get a glimpse of the town’s most popular attractions.
A self-guided walking itinerary of Cesky Krumlov’s Old Town
Note: You can find these spots and a suggested walking path on this Google map, or scroll down to the end of the post.
Get acquainted with the town’s medieval magic
There are several entrances into the old town.
If you’re coming from the train station, you’ll be entering via the northern side, passing through hotels and restaurants along Latran. If you drove to Cesky Krumlov and used the parking lot near the castle (along Chvalsinska), you’ll be coming in from the northwest and you’ll be treated right away to the impressive stone gate leading to the castle grounds. If you chose to stay in the pensions just outside the old town, you would be coming in from the southern entrance.
Wherever you’re coming from, the town’s twisted and narrow streets designed to follow the meanders of the Vltava river will entice and surprise you at every turn. You can’t see far ahead, as the tall imposing buildings rise up to the sky. This keeps the scenery fresh – one moment a row of architectural wonders, another a view of the river and the many lovers holding hands on its banks.
If you are keen on visiting the top museums in the old town, stop by the Information Center at the old town square to get your Cesky Krumlov card. This card covers entrance to 5 of the most popular museums in the town, 3 of which are covered in this walking tour.
Start the day with romance at the castle grounds
One of the most amazing bird’s eye views of the town is right within the castle grounds.
The Krumlov castle was built in the 14th century, originally the dwelling place of the royal families of the Rosenbergs, then the Schwarzenbergs, before it became a property of the state. Since 1992, the castle complex has been designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage monument.
If you have the Cesky Krumlov card, you can visit the castle museum and go up the castle tower for an amazing view of the town.
Afterwards, walk further west towards the castle’s gardens and pond.
Reflect on life (or rest your feet) at the monastery gardens
From the castle grounds, retrace your way back to Latran to visit the monastery.
The Minorite Monastery in Cesky Krumlov was first established in 1350 by the Rosenbergs, with the main aim of weakening the Walden movement, a Christian movement gaining popularity in Europe at the time. The Waldensians promoted apostolic poverty, which of course didn’t fly with the Rosenbergs. The royal family loved their indulgences, including religious ones. The monastery was then used by the royal family to accumulate relics and eventually they started to compete with Prague in terms of festivals and religious relics.
The monastery grounds were designed for reflection. Shaded benches and grassy lawns in a peaceful courtyard invited guests to take a moment and slow down.
The Cesky Krumlov Card will grant you access to two exhibits in the monastery, which allows you a glimpse of how the Minorite monks have been conducting their duties and their lives throughout the centuries. There is also an entire room dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi, with panels of illustrations depicting his life and how he came to be a saint, as well as an audiovisual presentation. It’s all in Czech, though, so either come with someone who can translate everything for you, or just enjoy the illustrations and animations then read up on St. Francis afterwards.
Sample the town’s wares
From the monastery, exit to Latran once more. If you’re looking for souvenirs, turn right on Latran and you’ll immediately see Cesky Pernik – you won’t miss its bright bohemian storefront. This is a perfect place to pick up traditional gingerbreads, mead, chocolates, and other regional specialties.
The Czech Republic takes great pride in its regional products. There are the Czech beers that you will hear every Czech rave about; the Moravian wines that every Moravian could discuss for hours; and in Cesky Krumlov, they have “certified regional” gingerbreads that come with centuries’ worth of artisanal history. The way they elevate their products to national heritage status is actually enviable – now that’s a unique selling proposition you can’t compete with.
Meet the resident bad boy
From Latran, go back through the old town square (or venture into the smaller side streets) and make your way to Egon Schiele Art Centrum – a tribute to Cesky Krumlov’s resident bad boy.
Egon was definitely “edgy” before it was cool. I’m no art expert but one look at Schiele’s bold strokes and erotically-charged motifs and I knew this guy was bad news – in a dangerously intoxicating way. Think: leather jackets, motorcycles, the guy your mother warned you about. He’s even got the brooding pout down pat.
As it turned out, Egon was the James Dean of the early 1900s Cesky Krumlov. Born in Austria surrounded and influenced by the great (and rebellious!) Viennese minds of Freud, Mahler, and Klimt, he spent a considerable amount of time in the widely conservative town of Cesky Krumlov (his mother’s birth town), doing bad boy things like entertaining a slew of lady “visitors” in his studio and producing defiant erotic artworks, earning the ire of the burghers and elitist artists dominating the art scene in those days. He was a lot more bohemian than this Bohemian town could take.
He died at 28 of Spanish flu (one of the 20,000,000 lives claimed by the pandemic throughout Europe) but not before significantly influencing the art climate with his audacious style that challenged all the norms of his time.
You can read more about Egon Schiele’s life and art here:
- The Art Story’s Biography gives a brief on Egon’s life and important works
- Five Things You Might Now Know About Egon Schiele details the juicy bits
- The Radical Nude Review celebrates Egon as a feminist artist ahead of his time
- Egon Schiele: Life and Work by Jane Kallir gives an overview of his art while providing an account of his life – unconventional lifestyle choices and sexual escapades included.
End the day with a glass of beer
When in Czech, there’s no way beer couldn’t be involved. With Cesky Krumlov’s near proximity to Ceske Budejovice, the home of Budvar, a glass of the regional specialty is the best way to round up your trip.
Try to get a table in one of the riverside restaurants, like Papa’s Living Restaurant, to watch the sunset.
Cesky Krumlov Old Town Map
* * *
I hope this guide inspires and helps you to explore Cesky Krumlov’s romantic old town. Don’t forget to bookmark for later or share with a friend.