Now that I’ve been living in Prague for a while, I’m falling into the trap of getting into a routine. I go to the same coffee shop three times a week, the same restaurants and bars. And despite the fact that I have a growing list of places I want to go to on a day trip, I always put it off in favor of sleeping in and getting a latte at Monolok.
So I woke up today and put my foot down on my own laziness. I went to the train station around midday and took myself to one of the most famed Gothic castles in the Czech Republic, Karlstejn Castle.
Getting to Karlstejn from Prague
Karlstejn is only about 40 minutes from Prague. If you don’t have a car, the easiest way to get there is by train. You can buy your tickets in advance at the Ceske Drahy national transportation website. However, I recommend buying it in person. There is a huge ticket office in Prague’s main railway station, Hlavni Nadrazi, where you’ll hardly ever encounter a line. There you can also buy an open round trip ticket so you can go and come back at your leisure. The price is the same online or in person: 105 czk (around $4).
Trains to Karlstejn run approximately every hour and every half hour from Karlstejn back to Prague. The train terminates in Beroun, so that is the destination you’ll see on the departing screens at the station. For the way back, I recommend taking a screenshot of the schedule so you can keep it in mind while you’re exploring in Karlstejn. There are no timetables posted in the Karlstejn station; they just announce the incoming trains. So you’ll feel a little less disoriented if you already know the time it will arrive.
The castle is located within walking distance of the train station, but it’s an uphill 30-40 minute walk, so come prepared. Since it’s one of the most visited castles in the Czech Republic, the area around it is very touristy and will be full of souvenir shops and stands. Karlstejn will be towering above you in all its royal glory the entire time, motivating you to continue the walk up.
Once you get up to the castle, you can walk around inside the walls and enjoy the view all around the castle for free. But for a few hundred crowns, there are several tours that you can take inside the castle. If you’re interested in these tours, I highly recommend you check the opening times on the official website because Karlstejn hours and opening days are extremely confusing and vary wildly for each type of tour. You definitely don’t want to go all the way over there and find out there are no tours that day.
All the tours in Karlstejn are guided. And though you can walk around the grounds for free, anything inside the castle buildings will require a paid ticket.
The shortest and most basic tour of the castle you can do is tour one which takes you through the private halls of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, who built the castle in 1348. You’ll be able to see the bedrooms, the treasury, banquet halls, and even the castle prison for 330 czk (around $13). It takes a little less than an hour.
Tour two takes you through the holy area including the Chapel of The Holy Cross, the Church of our Lady, and the Chapel of St. Catherine. This one lasts 100 minutes and requires a reservation, as there is a maximum of 16 people per tour. It costs 580 czk (around $23).
Tour three takes you to the 3rd, 4th and 5th floor of the Great Tower, giving you sweeping views of the castle grounds and the village and forest all around. It costs 260 czk (around $10) and lasts 40 minutes.
The fourth tour is the Karlstejn Treasure tour which is only 80 czk ($3) and gives you self-guided access to only the treasury.
If you’re really interested in history, you can easily do a few of these in one day. You just have to plan your day ahead of time. I really can’t stress enough how weird these opening hours are. Some of the tours are not available for months at a time. So be mindful of the time of year and the specific day of the week.
So if you’re going all the way to Karlstejn Castle, is there anything to do there other than the castle?
The Cesky kras national forest
Karlstejn is surrounded by the Cesky kras national forest. There are some hiking trails through the nature reserve that will take you from the castle down to the village of Svatý Jan Pod Skalou (which translates to St. John under a rock) and its monastery, which is about two hours downhill through the forest. This is not a comfy stroll. It’s an actual hike: uphill, downhill, through trees, rocky paths, and streams. So if you have the right shoes and you’re up for it, I’m sure it’s a lovely way to get to and from the castle.
However, keep in mind, it takes two hours to walk from the Karlstejn train station to Svatý Jan Pod Skalou which may require additional transportation. You could theoretically hike the whole day, but it will definitely be a full day of walking. Otherwise you will be relegated to walking up to Karlstejn with the throngs of tourists through the village. Though on a Tuesday in April, it’s actually wonderfully quiet and peaceful.
The route from the train station to the castle consists of one long stretch of restaurants and stores. Outside of souvenir shops, there are some really cool antique stores where you can browse old and historical artifacts. If you’re into collecting war memorabilia, this is a great place to find pins, hats, and medals. Of course, there are plenty of places to stop for lunch, but heavy Czech food is served up at most of the area restaurants. Closer to the castle, you’ll find stands with very cheap hot dogs and paninis if you prefer a quick meal.
Karlstejn also has a couple of museums on the route up to the castle. I couldn’t in good conscience recommend these. One is the Wax Museum. I’m not a fan of wax museums to begin with, but you definitely couldn’t pay me to walk through the monstrosities that are advertised to be on display at this wax museum. Though on second thought, if I had like 6 beers and I could see it for free, I would go just for the laughs.
Another museum in the vicinity is the Museum of Nativity Scenes. That’s right. It’s a museum with various nativity scenes on display. I know… Don’t everyone rush to get in now! It actually has pretty decent reviews on TripAdvisor from all 13 people that had an hour to kill in Karlstejn.
But if you bought an open ticket, you don’t have to wander around filling the time. The trip to Karlstejn can take as along as a full day or a couple of hours depending on what you want to see. But it’s definitely a fabulous castle you shouldn’t miss if you’re in the Czech Republic. And if you’re a lazy blogger living in Prague, you’ll get back to town early enough for a hearty meal at your favorite burger place. (Because a little routine is not that bad.)