Sunday, February 27, 2011
The Czech Republic's Top 100 Destinations
The Czech Republic is a country with an abundance of cultural and historical riches that warrant and reward extensive exploration. Visitors who spend just a few days in Prague before moving on to the next country are really just scratching the surface, there's so much more that this small Slavic nation has to offer. The list that follows contains what I consider to be the 100 most interesting destinations for tourists, taking into consideration a mix of cultural, architectural, historical and natural attractions.
1. Prague - A city that needs no introduction given its present status as one of the world's greatest tourist destinations. Some people feel it's become too popular for its own good, and I'd agree with that as far as the major routes through the old town and castle district are concerned, but take a stroll away from the tour groups by merely turning down a side street in Malá Strana or Hradčany and you can still see daily life going on just steps from the bustle of the tourist crowds. For a typical Czech experience, look beyond the historic centre to districts like Žižkov, Vinohrady or Holešovice for a place to enjoy local restaurants and pubs without the tourist prices. Experience the city to the fullest, but then be sure to get on a train and go out to see what the rest of the country has to offer, you won't be disappointed!
2. Český Krumlov - One of Europe's most beautiful small towns, featuring an array of medieval buildings which are virtually untouched by modern development. The town has by now been well and truly discovered, and this is the one place outside Prague that a significant number of foreign tourists visit. Don't let that put you off though, this is an essential stop on any tour of the country and a great introduction to the Rose towns of South Bohemia.
3. Olomouc - A major city in the region of North Moravia, Olomouc features an exceptionally pretty old town area centred around two cobbled main squares. This is a great place to experience city life in beautiful surroundings without the accompanying tourist crowds and prices.
4. Karlovy Vary - The largest of the Bohemian spa towns, Karlovy Vary is set in a deep forested river valley with a series of natural springs along the valley floor. It may largely cater to a well-heeled audience of Germans and Russians in search of snazzy and exotic health treatments, but there is plenty for the average tourist to see and experience.
5. Karlštejn Castle - One of the most dramatically impressive castles in the country when viewed from afar, though the interior is somewhat less remarkable. This was King Charles IV's place of retreat from the bustle of Prague, and he forbid women from entering. His wife Anna successfully entered the castle dressed as a man, a tale which became a hugely popular comedy in the 19th century and is still loved today. The castle is at its best at 9am when it first opens, before the tour groups start to arrive.
6. Telč - A perfect medieval square of arcaded 16th-century buildings makes Telč a great place to pause and sample provincial life for a while. Visiting in autumn when the carp ponds which surround the town are drained to harvest the fish provides a uniquely Czech experience.
7. Mikulov - A beautiful small town in South Moravia, found just a few kilometres from the Austrian border. A large chateau sits on a hilltop in the centre with the town spread out on the slopes surrounding it. This is a great place to experience the local Czech wine industry, the white wines produced here are particularly good.
8. Adršpach-Teplice Rock Towns - Huge slabs of stone rise vertically out of the forest in weird and wonderful shapes, making this one of the most interesting natural landscapes in the country. The area provides plenty of hiking opportunities.
9. Loket - A small town in West Bohemia which gives Český Krumlov a run for its money in terms of picturesque location, without the large tourist crowds of the latter.
10. Konopiště Castle - The former home of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, this castle is stuffed with an extensive display of his hunting trophies and furniture. The highlight is the landscaped garden and views of the castle while on the walking trail around the lake.
11. Kutná Hora - A medieval silver mining town which had a population equal to London in the 14th century, Kutná Hora holds a clutch of superb monuments within its old town centre. In the nearby suburb of Sedlec, the ossuary (bone church) forms the main reason most visitors come here, which is to gawk at the downright bizarre sculptures and decorations made from human bones. The highlight is the chandelier, which includes at least one of every different bone in the human body.
12. Bohemian Switzerland National Park - Found in the far north of the country near the German border, this region is famed for its unique sandstone rock formations. The Pravčická Brána is the largest natural stone arch on the European continent and is probably the most impressive sight.
13. Křivoklát Castle - A large castle to the south-west of the capital, Křivoklát is probably my personal favourite of the 'big three' castles near Prague (together with Karlštejn and Konopiště). Set in wooded, hilly countryside, the castle looks spectacular when viewed from one of the surrounding hilltops.
14. Brno - The largest city in Moravia and the country's counterpoint to Prague, Brno features a lively and strollable old town centre with a hilltop castle and the chance to try out some of the nation's finest pubs.
15. Tábor - A pretty town in South Bohemia, Tábor gets far fewer visitors than it deserves. Its web of cobbled streets are fascinating to explore, and as a bonus there is the colourful Klokoty monastery to visit on the outskirts of town.
16. Mariánské Lázně - A spa which once hosted royalty from across Europe, today this small town continues to draw visitors with its healing waters and beautiful 19th-century architecture.
17. Štramberk - Probably my favourite small town in the country, with a collection of wooden buildings in the distinct Wallachian style spread across a hillside below the round castle tower known as Trúba.
18. Český Ráj - The best hiking within easy reach of the capital, with dramatic sandstone cliffs and formations that create a fascinating environment to trek through.
19. Hradec Králové - A large city in East Bohmemia, with a showpiece main square and an impressive old town. Across the river lies the new town, built in the interwar years in the distinctive Czech style known as Rondo-Cubism.
20. Terezín - Originally a Habsburg-era fortress town, Terezín was put to much darker use during WW2 as a Jewish ghetto used as a transit point en route to the Nazi concentration camps in Poland. A visit to the museum here is an essential stop on a historical tour of the country.
21. Moravian Karst - A landscape of limestone canyons and caves just north of the city of Brno.
22. Slavonice - A small town on the Austrian border with an exceptional collection of sgraffito facades in its two main squares.
23. Lednice - Part of the Lednice-Valtice complex once owned by the Lichtenstein family, the town features a chateau with impressive gardens and a 30-metre minaret to climb.
24. Rožnov Pod Radhoštěm - The finest Skansen (outdoor museum) in the country, with dozens of wooden buildings representing the typical traditional architecture of the mountainous Wallachia region.
25. Plzeň - A large city in West Bohemia which has the Pilsner Urquell brewery as its prime attraction. The Gothic cathedral in the central square has the tallest steeple in the country, which you can climb for a panoramic view.
26. Hluboká nad Vltavou - A mock-Gothic castle in South Bohemia which was supposedly redesigned to resemble England's Windsor castle.
27. Pernštejn Castle - A classic Gothic castle on a wooded hill found north-west of Brno.
28. Litomyšl - A small town in East Bohemia with a beautiful old town and the bizarre Portmoneum. It was also the birthplace of the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana.
29. Šumava National Park - This is the most pristine stretch of mountain wilderness in the country, making it a magnet for visitors who enjoy hiking and outdoor activities.
30. Třeboň - A small walled town in South Bohemia surrounded by a network of carp ponds. The old town core is one of the most architecturally complete in Bohemia.
31. České Budějovice - A large city in South Bohemia which produces the famous Budvar beer. Try a glass while sitting in the picturesque central square.
32. Moravský Krumlov - Home to the Slav Epic paintings by Czech artist Alfons Mucha in the town's chateau. The paintings may soon be moved to Prague, so take the opportunity to see them in their original home before they head off to the big city.
33. Znojmo - A picturesque town perched on the edge of a deep river valley, with impressive Romanesque frescoes in its old town area.
34. Jindřichův Hradec - A small town in South Bohemia with an impressive castle complex.
35. Vranov Nad Dyjí Castle - A castle perched on a clifftop near the Austrian border in South Moravia.
36. Krkonoše Mountains - The best skiing in the country is found here, along with the country's highest mountain, Sněžka.
37. Kokořín Castle - A 14th-century castle which sits among wooded hills and valleys to the north of Prague.
38. Litoměřice - A small town in North Bohemia with an old town containing many picturesque churches.
39. Valtice - The southern town of the Lednice-Valtice complex, featuring the palace which the Lichtenstein family once called home.
40. Kroměříž - A pretty town in South Moravia with a chateau and extensive landscaped gardens.
41. Pardubice - A city in East Bohemia which includes a large palace and old town square containing several buildings with highly decorative facades.
42. Prachatice - A small walled town in South Bohemia with impressive sgraffito facades in its old town centre.
43. Bouzov Castle - A huge Neo-Gothic castle not far from the city of Olomouc.
44. Mělník - A town in North Bohemia which is noted for its wine production as well as its castle perched high above the point where the Vltava and Labe rivers meet.
45. Pustevny - A small village of colourfully decorated folk cottages on a mountaintop, with excellent hiking or skiing options in the vicinity.
46. Červená Lhota Castle - A renaissance-era castle in South Bohemia beautifully situated in the middle of a lake.
47. Liberec - A major city of North Bohemia with a splendid neo-renaissance town hall.
48. Trosky Castle - A castle perched on a narrow blade of rock at the edge of the Český Ráj region.
49. Zvíkov Castle - A striking medieval castle found in South Bohemia.
50. Zelená Hora Pilgrimage Church in Ždár Nad Sazavou - A unique star-shaped structure on a hilltop designed by Giovanni Santini.
51. Český Šternberk Castle - A Gothic castle sitting high above a river valley to the south-east of the capital.
52. Kost Castle - A large castle sitting on top of a column of sandstone in the Český Ráj region.
53. Bítov Castle - A hilltop castle located in South Moravia.
54. Svatá Hora Shrine in Příbram - A colourful Marian shrine on a hill in an otherwise drab industrial town in Bohemia.
55. Ještěd Tower - A socialist-era TV tower and hotel near the city of Liberec which has become one of the most recognisable symbols of the Czech lands, at least to the Czechs themselves.
56. Františkovy Lázně - The third of the major spa towns of West Bohemia, with pleasant architecture and a much more relaxed feel than Karlovy Vary.
57. Bezděz Castle - A Gothic ruin perched on a rocky outcrop in North Bohemia.
58. Podyjí National Park - A series or rolling hills and woodlands dotted with various castles and ruins, creating an ideal destination for hiking.
59. Rabí Castle - A large castle ruin in South Bohemia sitting above the village of the same name.
60. Strážnice Folk Festival - The largest and most popular folk festival in the country, held each year in June.
61. Kuks - A collection of Baroque spa buildings with a fantastic collection of ornate statues.
62. Cheb - A town on the German border in West Bohemia with a beautiful old town centre and an imposing castle.
63. Kladruby Monastery - A Benedictine monastery containing a central church in Romanesque and Gothic style.
64. Orlík Castle - A 19th-century riverside castle with elegant interiors found in South Bohemia.
65. Wooden Churches of the Beskydy Region - Several impressive Roman Catholic wooden churches can be seen in far-east Moravia. The finest is in the village of Guty, near the Polish border.
66. Blatná Castle - A water castle surrounded by an artificial lake found in South Bohemia.
67. Nové Město Nad Metují - A small town in East Bohemia with a chateau and perfectly preserved central square.
68. Rožmberk Nad Vltavou - A quaint village near Český Krumlov with a huge fortress on a narrow ledge of rock above the Vltava river.
69. Landštejn Castle - A ruined 13th-century structure located near the Austrian border.
70. Holašovice - A village of baroque-style folk architecture in South Bohemia.
71. Pelhřimov - A small medieval town east of Tábor with a well-preserved central square and a museum dedicated to Czech attempts to break Guiness Book world records.
72. Domažlice - A pleasant town centred on a long and narrow central square found not far from the German border in West Bohemia.
73. Písek Bridge - An 11th-century stone construction which is even older than Prague's Charles Bridge.
74. Lidice Museum - A small museum which describes the WW2 events in which the Nazis burned the village of Lidice to the ground and shot the inhabitants or sent them off to concentration camps in retaliation for the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich.
75. Buchlov Castle - A Gothic castle in hilly countryside in South Moravia.
76. Jičín - A welcoming town with an arcaded central square and a renaissance palace found in East Bohemia.
77. Nelahozoves - A village just north of Prague with a large chateau and the birthplace museum of the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák.
78. Ride of the Kings Folk Festival in Vlčnov - A folk festival in the Slovacko region of Moravia held each year in May.
79. Šternberk Castle - A large castle in the town of Šternberk found north of the city of Olomouc.
80. Třebíč - Features one of the most well-preserved Jewish ghettos in the country, as well as a Romanesque basilica.
81. Slavkov (Austerlitz Battlefield) - The location where in 1805 Napoleon's troops defeated the combined forces of Austria and Russia. Today there is a Peace Monument and a museum on the site.
82. Boskovice - A town north of Brno with a fine chateau, castle ruin, Jewish synagogue and a rather unexpected Wild West theme park.
83. The Grave of T.G. Masaryk in Lány - This village to the west of Prague is where the first President of Czechoslovakia is buried, and his grave is a place of pilgrimage for many Czechs. Nearby the grave site is the Czech presidential summer palace.
84. Veltrusy - A beautiful baroque chateau surrounded by gardens and a park north of Prague.
85. Kašperské Hory - A pretty little village in South Moravia which was once a German mining town. The highlights include an eye-catching renaissance town hall and an unusual motorcycle museum.
86. Velké Losiny - A small Moravian spa town featuring an impressive Renaissance-style chateau and a hand-made paper museum.
87. Strakonice Castle - A 13th-century fortress with a round tower in South Bohemia.
88. Broumov Wooden Church - Probably the finest wooden church in the country along with the one in Guty. This is the oldest one in the Czech Republic, dating from the 14th century.
89. Český Kras caves - A region south of the capital with a large number of caves, one of which is officially open to the public, the Koněpruské Jeskyně.
90. Žatec - A pleasant old town in North Bohemia with a museum dedicated to the hops industry and its role in beer production.
91. Preserved Section of the Iron Curtain in Čížov - A stretch of the original barbed wire fences and a watchtower which have been preserved as a monument in the village of Čížov, on the border with Austria.
92. Nový Jičín - A town in north Moravia with an impressive central square with arcaded facades and a hat museum.
93. Řip Hill - A hill north of the capital which legend claims was the place where the founding father of the Czech nation, Praotec Čech, declared all the territory which surrounded the hill as the Czech lands. There is a 12th-century rotunda at the top to visit, so climbing the hill is a popular patriotic activity for Czechs.
94. Helfštýn Castle - An excellent hilltop castle ruin in North Moravia, with great hiking in the surrounding hills.
95. Kadaň - A historic town in North Bohemia full of 18th-century buildings and a strikingly unique town hall.
96. Jihlava - An old silver mining town in South Moravia with an attractive old town centre.
97. Sázava - A small town featuring a chateau and an 11th-century monastery high on a plateau above the Sázava river.
98. Jaroměřice nad Rokytnou - A huge and colourful baroque chateau dominates this small town in south Moravia.
99. Kolin - A small medieval town to the east of Prague with a cobbled square full of Renaissance and Baroque buildings.
100. Náchod - A small town on the Polish border with a beautiful hilltop chateau.