I’ve been hearing about Cesky Krumlov since I moved to the Czech Republic. It’s often described as a fairy tale village, one of Europe’s magical hidden gems near the border of both Austria and Germany. So I finally went to see it for myself.
Cesky Krumlov is about 2.5 hours south of Prague. Unless you’re driving, you have two options: take the train or take the bus. In a rare exception to the general rule, this train costs more but also takes longer, making the bus a better option. There are a few bus companies that take you there, like Flixbus and Leo Express. The ride should be no more than $15-20 round trip.
One of the only downsides of Cesky Krumlov as a day trip is that your options are relatively limited and you have to leave early in the morning. Most trains and buses leave around 7 am and come back 10 to 12 hours later. Because of the limited travel times and because it’s one of the most popular cities in the Czech Republic outside of Prague, the buses tend to fill up in advance. You should aim to book your ticket at least a couple of days before the trip to make sure you get a seat.
Why it’s worth it
I rarely advocate traveling 5 hours round trip on the same day. And while you could make a whole weekend trip out of it, Cesky Krumlov is small enough to give you a full day’s worth of activity without having to spring for a night of hotel. Though having visited, I think I would go back to experience the nightlife, because the city seems quaint but hipster enough to be interesting.
The picturesque town is every bit as wondrous as people say it is. The Vltava River (the same one that runs through Prague) snakes it’s way around the city’s cozy center. As much as I hate to say things like this, Cesky Krumlov looks like it was designed by Disney. It’s small enough to walk in its entirety, over wooden bridges and down tiny stone alleys.
My Czech friends, who groaned and told me it was too touristy, were absolutely right. It’s a city that basically exists to be visited. From the restaurants to the buskers playing love songs on the accordion, it caters to out of towners. But I’ve seen worse in basically every city in Europe (including Prague). Cesky Krumlov actually maintains a peaceful idyllic vibe, where you might see children chasing butterflies in a park. Maybe it’s because it’s only April or because of the river that flows audibly through it. But it’s a lovely and relaxing place to spend a day.
What to do in Cesky Krumlov
Aside from walk around and feel like you’re in the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast?
Cesky Krumlov Castle
If you arrive by bus at the Spicak station, you’ll be a 10 minute walk from the city’s castle. The castle grounds are free to enter and walk around in. Since it is elevated on one side of the river, you’ll get marvelous views of the town below. You’ll only need to pay to enter the castle museum and tower, which costs 130 czk (~$5). You can also pay to take a guided tour of the castle interiors. There are two options available, each ranging from 240-260 czk (~$10) including a foreign language guide. The first tour takes you through the most prominent castle halls including the chapel. The second tour is about the Schwarzenberg noble family who owned the castle until 1947. The castle museum and tower are open all year round but tours are only offered from April to October.
Just past the Red Gate entrance to the castle, there’s a bear enclosure under the entrance bridge. Yeah, that’s not a typo. Cesky Krumlov Castle has a small moat for bears. I’ve seen plenty of horse stables, but I’ve never been to a castle that has its own bears. I’m impressed.
The castle also has a massive garden, which is particularly beautiful now that spring is in full bloom. It’s adorned with elaborate fountains and a hedge maze. The garden has an even higher vantage point than the castle walls, so climb up for some sweeping views.
St. Vitus Church
Yes, like Prague’s scenic cathedral, Cesky Krumlov has its own St. Vitus. You can visit for free as long as there’s no service. Though the church’s interior is lovely, St. Vitus looks better from afar. Aside from the castle, it’s the church’s thin spire that gives the town its signature look. But I recommend you check out the inside if you’re walking by it anyway.
The city has a couple of specialty museums where you can spend the afternoon.
One of the most popular museums is the Egon Schiele Art Centrum, which is dedicated to the works of Austrian painter Egon Schiele. Like any museum dedicated to a particular artist, I recommend you skip it if you don’t love Schiele, though there are a couple of other artists exhibited there. The entrance fee is 160 czk (around $6).
For a different kind of art museum, you can go to the Fotoatelier Seidel. It’s in the former home studio of photographers Josef and Frantisek Seidel. It’s a microcosmic look at the history of photography. It features many original cameras, darkroom equipment, and photos dating back to the early 20th century. The studio is still in use today and you can have a photo taken in period clothes from the 1900s. Though entrance is only 100 czk ($4), the photo will cost you 300 czk ($12).
Cesky Krumlov is also home to a Marionette Museum, which features a large collection of marionettes and a couple of old puppet stages. It’s only $3 or so, but I don’t recommend it unless you love being creeped out or you’re killing time before the bar opens.
If you’re looking for a little bit of local history, you can check out the Regional Museum, which depicts life in the city relative to major world events. Outside of that, there’s also a torture and wax museum, which are basically mandatory in any city in the Czech Republic.
Where to eat
If you’re going to spend a day in Cesky Krumlov, you’ll have to eat at least once. The town has some attractive options at different price points. For instance, you’ll find traditional Czech ham hock and bread dumplings in the underground stone cellar of Krcma Marketa.
But I recommend the local Italian, because there is a lot of good Italian food in Cesky Krumlov. In fact, it’s a little bit like finding Italy in the Czech Republic. You can have homemade pasta at Papa’s Living Restaurant and fresh pizza pies at Nonna Gina. You know Italian food is legit when it’s named after someone’s family member. And aside from amazing goat cheese risotto, Papa’s also has a sweet view from the terrace. For quick stop, you can have authentic gelato or coffee at Monnalisa, where the nice Italian server will greet you first in Italian and then in Czech.
For a pre-return trip drink, I recommend Apotheka Cafe Bar for a craft cocktail. You know how much I love cocktail bars. I wouldn’t miss this place for the world. As part of their seasonal spring menu, they had a raspberry and salted caramel vodka cocktail – basically my two favorite flavors in the world.
So overall, I’d say it’s a damn worthwhile day trip. But why stop there? You can spend the day in Cesky Krumlov on the way to Salzburg in Austria. Make a weekend out of it.