When people think of the Czech Republic, Prague immediately comes to mind. And with good reason – Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. However, there’s much more to the Czech Republic than just its major city. When you go, make sure to venture outside of Prague and see the surrounding area.
We approached the Czech border via Austria in a rental car (a Subaru, to be exact – the Sixt in Munich allegedly hands out BMWs like they’re going out of style, but they didn’t give one to us due to the risk of emblem/headlight theft in the Czech Republic). Upon crossing the border, it was akin to stepping into another world. The country is filled with large forests and stretches without any civilization in sight. Gone are the alpine landscapes with sheer mountains all around – it’s all about coniferous trees in the Czech Republic. It kind of looks like Maine, in some ways. That is, until you get to a town. The towns are still heavily influenced by the country’s Soviet era, where it was basically a puppet state of the USSR. There is a lot of block architecture (also known as “brutalist architecture“) in the more modern areas. After a bit of driving, however, a hidden gem emerges – Český Krumlov.
Český Krumlov was founded in the late 13th century. Built around the serpentine Vltava River (the same river that runs through Prague, two hours to the north), Český Krumlov maintains its medieval charm. Its centerpiece is its castle, which is unusually large for a town of Český Krumlov’s size. The town’s population is only 14,000, but the castle is quite grand for Czech standards.
We were only in Český Krumlov for about 36 hours, and it was a bit overcast with some occasional rain at that. Despite imperfect weather, the town was still quite charming. Due to the fact that it was a chilly April day, the streets were generally empty, which allowed us to roam around without much interruption. We enjoyed the medieval architecture, cheap Czech beer (about $1.50-2 per liter), and local fare. One of my favorite Český Krumlov memories was stopping at Krcma v Satlavske Ulici, a local restaurant. The cave-like dining room is centered around the open fire that the chef cooks on. The chef, naturally, was an imposing man with a beard who spoke very little English in short grunts. He seemed like a gruff dude. However, when we asked him to take a photo of us at the table, he became an artist, directing us to pose in different ways and encouraging us in broken English to “look natural.” On top of the great local hospitality, the food was outstanding.
So whether you’re looking for a fantastic day trip from Prague or you’d like to spend a few days (recommended), put Český Krumlov on your must-see list.