By Jim Ferri
For years I’d wanted to take a trip to Cesky Krumlov from Prague whenever I visited the capital. I became captivated by this southern Bohemian city, the second-most popular tourist destination in the Czech Republic.
I’d heard about its beauty, its laid-back southern Bohemian atmosphere, its history, etc., and had even seen it referred to as being “like Prague in miniature.”
Although I wouldn’t go that far, after visiting it I will say it’s one of Europe’s most picturesque towns. And well worth visiting.
It’s a small city, a medieval UNESCO World Heritage Site of winding lanes, cobbled streets, and Renaissance buildings. And it’s all authentic medieval since Cesky Krumlov escaped the bombings during World War II.
Today the city’s Old Town remains one of those places that’s great for wandering about, aimlessly poking into little shops all along the way.
Arriving in Cesky Krumlov
It was March, and my wife and I were driving to Cesky Krumlov from Prague, and as we came around a bend we saw the city in the distance. It was a fairytale scene with a castle standing above a sea of ochre rooftops and trees.
As the guidebook raves about the city ran through my mind, I couldn’t help but just stare. The town almost looked as if it were a movie set.
Minutes later, when we arrived in the city, we were surprised we could drive our rental through the pedestrian-only streets to our hotel. I had booked us at the Hotel Dvořák, which turned out to be comfortable and in a great location in Vnitřní Měst, the inner town with the old town square. It was also adjacent to the small bridge that crosses into Latrán, the Old Town with the castle.
We were given a permit for the dash, at the cost of about $18, and told to park in the rear. We only had a day to spend in Cesky Krumlov, so we dropped our luggage in our room and set off immediately to wander about.
Exiting the Dvořák, we turned left and crossed the little bridge into the Old Town. We immediately began our aimless but immensely satisfying walk through the Old Town.
We just wandered aimlessly about its maze of cobbled streets and alleyways, poking our heads into small shops and antique stores along the way. Just about everywhere we walked, we could see the tower of the castle above us, decorated with different designs from its base to its top. It was unlike any I’d ever seen before.
Cesky Krumlov Castle
The 13th-century Cesky Krumlov Castle was the home of the Rožmberks, a family that played an essential part in Czech history from the 13th – early 17th centuries. It sits on the Vltava riverbank, the same river that flows through Prague to the north.
In Cesky Krumlov, though, the river makes a dramatic horseshoe slice right through the middle of town where the castle maintains a strategic position on the riverbank. The colorful tower guarded the river crossing at that point.
The castle is actually a complex of forty buildings and palaces with five castle courts. Beyond it are formal castle gardens covering 27 acres (10.875 hectares) and a castle park spanning an area of seven hectares.
But since we had chosen to visit in the off-season – to avoid the claustrophobic tour-bus crowds that invade the town in the warmer months – the castle was closed to visitors. But we were still able to walk along the roads along the garden walls, which provided a stunning view of the town below the ramparts.
When the castle is open to visitors – April to October, 9am-5pm (until 6pm June – August) – visitors can take two guided tours, each one hour long, which provide a taste of noble Bohemian life in past centuries.
The first tour of Český Krumlov Castle concentrates on the original Castle interiors from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The second focuses on the history of the Schwarzenberg family, and covers most of those areas of the castle not seen on the first tour. Tour prices are 320 CZK (about $14) per adult, 230 CZK ($10) per child.
For many visitors, the highlight of the castle is the Baroque Theater, one of only two surviving in Europe (the other is in Stockholm). Energetic visitors can climb the 162 steps to the top of the tower for a good view of the town and surrounding area.
There are also three restaurants and two cafes in the castle complex.
Benefits of Cesky Krumlov in the Off-Season
Even with the seasonal closing of the castle, off-season in Cesky Krumlov does have its benefits.
In addition to lower prices, a few other tourists and we had the town to ourselves and enjoyed its medieval and Renaissance charm at a leisurely pace. It also meant that we weren’t tied to a schedule and didn’t have to worry about restaurant reservations and the like.
After walking about for a few hours, we stopped for lunch in a small restaurant, Pizzerie Latrán, which I’m sure would be quite crowded in spring and summer. Even then we’d likely have to endure a long wait for a table. But now, to our delight, it was nearly empty.
Although it labeled itself a “pizzeria”, it did have a good menu ranging from pizza and pasta to various meat dishes. We ordered some pasta, two different dishes, each remarkably excellent and fresh, which along with two Czech beers, cost us about $21.
We followed lunch with more sightseeing about both the old town and the inner town for several hours, before returning to our hotel to relax.
Authentic Czech Cuisine
That evening we asked the manager for a recommendation of a good restaurant that served authentic Czech cuisine. He immediately suggested Satlavské, which was right off the town square only a few minutes’ walk away.
At first, we couldn’t find it, so we stopped in another hotel and asked for directions. “Oh, it’s right here, I’ll show you,” the man at the desk said, and he took us outside and pointed about 30 yards down the street.
Even though it was one of the more popular restaurants in town, requiring reservations in advance during the busy tour-bus summer season, the place was so nondescript on the outside we never would have found it without help.
Inside we found a long cave-like room lined with bare wooden tables and, about halfway down the right wall, a fire pit with a grill over it. Illuminated mostly by candles, it was a barbecue cellar right out of Cesky Krumlov’s medieval times.
We sat at a long table next to the fire (which later turned out to be not such a good idea due to the heat) since we wanted to see how and what they cooked. There was plenty of beef, pork, chicken, and turkey items on the menu with a fair number of vegetables as well, each done in the old Czech style.
We ordered the mixed grill for one person (turkey, pork, beef, baked potato, and potato pancake, about $10 for one person, $20 for three) along with two salads. However, the portion turned out to be so large that even though we had only ordered one, we couldn’t finish the meal.
Our entire dinner with drinks (and a somewhat disappointing apple strudel, which they should have left it well enough alone and not put chocolate syrup and whipped cream on top of the ice cream) wound up being only $23. It was also much better than the meal we had at a larger and more popular and expensive restaurant in Prague the night before.
Just another benefit to enjoy in Cesky Krumlov during the off-season.
If You Go:
How to Get to Cesky Krumlov By Car:
If you have a rental car or a driver, Cesky Krumlov is a 2½-hour drive from Prague via the E50/E55 (toll). It takes the same amount of time from Vienna via A22/S5/E55 (toll). From Salzburg take the A1/E60/E55 (toll), about a 2-hour drive.
How to Get to Cesky Krumlov by Train
There is only one direct train a day from Prague to Cesky Krumlov. It departs Prague (Hlavni) at 08:02am and arrives Cesky Krumlov at 10:50am. Fares are $10-17; drinks and snacks are served onboard.
For the return trip there’s only one express train between Český Krumlov and Prague each day, which departs at 2:07pm and arrives in Prague (Hlavni) at 4:56pm. Since a departure that early takes quite a bit out of your time in Český Krumlov, you may want to take a later non-express train. They depart Český Krumlov every two hours for the three-hour trip to Prague, with a change of trains in České Budějovice.
Another option is simply to overnight in Český Krumlov and take the express both ways.
Also be aware that the train station in Cesky Krumlov is not in the city so you’ll need to walk or take a taxi ($4-5) from the station to the Old Town.
How to Get to Cesky Krumlov By Bus:
Another option is to take a bus from Prague, a 3-hour trip ($13-16 per person). They depart three times per day (8am, noon and 4pm) from Prague’s Na Knížecí bus station. The return trips to Prague depart Cesky Krumlov at 11:50am, 12:10pm, and 4:40pm for the approximately 3-hour journey.
There are also, of course, many day tours from Prague to Cesky Krumlov as well, for which you don’t need to be concerned about the transportation logistics.
If you’re traveling to Cesky Krumlov on a day trip from Austria, it’s not worth taking the train or bus since the trip is much longer and involves multiple connections.
Editor’s Note: You may also enjoy Things to Do in Prague…With a Map for a Walking Tour, Getting Around Prague, and Prague in Winter, a perfect Time to Visit
Where to Stay in Cesky Krumlov – Hotels Near the Historic Center:
381 01 Český Krumlov
Tel: 420 380 711 020
Cesky Krumlov 381 01
Tel: 420 380 711 611
Cesky Krumlov 381 01
Good Restaurants in Cesky Krumlov:
Tel: 420 380 713 344
Pizzerie Latrán $$-$$$
381 01 Český Krumlov
Tel: +420 380 712 651
Le Jardin (Bellevue Hotel) $$$$
Cesky Krumlov 381 01
Tel: +420 380 720 109
1109 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10028
Tel: (212) 288 0830
State Castle of Český Krumlov