If Rothenburg ob der Tauber is Germany’s fairy tale village, Český Krumlov is definitely the Czech Republic’s ode to storybook fairy tales. Like Prague, Český Krumlov is situated on the Vltava River which curves its way romantically through town in a way almost reminiscent of streets of Venice.
Added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992, Český Krumlov’s historic old town is a jumble of 750 years of architectural design including Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance-inspired facades. Its most spectacular feature is the castle that towers over it – Český Krumlov Castle – the second largest in the Czech Republic, after Prague Castle.
In the summer months, tourists easily outnumber the local population of just over 14,000. But regardless of the season, a visit to this gorgeous town is always worth powering through the tour groups occupying its narrow lanes.
How to Get to Český Krumlov
After leaving Karlovy Vary, we headed to Prague and then České Budějovice. From there, we were just a quick 35-minute train ride away. If you’re coming from Prague, the journey takes about 3 hours via train or bus. Most stop in České Budějovice on the way.
From the train station, it’s about a 20-minute walk downhill. Easy if you’re traveling for the day and don’t have luggage, but with luggage it’s worth getting a taxi ride into town. Cobble stones and rolling bags are a recipe for disaster, especially on the uphill walk back!
If you’re driving, there are plenty of parking spaces available just outside the historic center for a small fee. Once in the compact town center, all of the main sights are easily walkable.
Best Hotels in Český Krumlov
Hotel Zlaty Andel – This mid-priced, family-run hotel situated in Český Krumlov’s charming main square is where we chose to stay on our recent visit. The hotel offers both traditional rooms and a modern luxury apartment in an adjacent building (great for a splurge!).
There is a full service restaurant on-site and they offer free pick-up and drop-off at the train station if you call them when you arrive. At check-in, when I inquired about the best place to take photos of the town from above, the helpful front desk clerk recommended the street where he lives and gave me walking directions. It turned out to be a fabulous spot on a hill to get terrific shots of the town and castle from above.
Hotel Dvorak – Located along the river, right in the heart of town, this hotel boasts perhaps the best location in all of Český Krumlov. Rooms are generously-sized and many offer balconies with castle views. Spacious family rooms are also available. The outdoor terrace is the perfect spot for people-watching and soaking up the castle and river views.
Mini Hotel Abraka – Located near the main square, this hotel is a great choice for families or those on a budget. Rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable and the service is excellent. The host also provides free transportation to and from the train or bus station. Breakfast is not included in the daily rate but can be arranged on request.
Top 5 Things to Do in Český Krumlov
For a small town, there’s a lot to do in Český Krumlov! Here are a few of my favorite things to see and do around town:
1. Český Krumlov Castle & Chateau
It dominates the town’s skyline and is typically the first stop on any walking tour of the city. Český Krumlov Castle is one of Europe’s largest castle complexes and includes rambling rooms, great halls and noble bedrooms. The views over the town below are picture perfect from every window.
You can walk through the castle courtyards and enjoy the incredible views for free but tickets are required to climb the tower or enter the Baroque Theater. You can check the available tour options and admission fees here.
As you approach the red iron gates toward the Little Castle, you’ll cross over the Bear Moat where, since 1707, the famous Krumlov bears have been kept. Don’t expect to spot them if you visit in the winter, but in the summer months you’re likely to observe them lazing about.
Castle Garden – Sadly, this was closed during our visit but in the spring and summer months it’s definitely worth a visit after exploring the castle. A cascading fountain, maze of hedgerows, French flower beds and a large duck pond make for a nice perfect spot.
2. Baroque Theater
More inspiring on the inside than out, this 250-year-old theater is truly a remarkable structure. The original stage and technical equipment have been incredibly well-preserved allowing today’s visitors to have virtually the same experience as those who attended performances 250 years ago.
3. St. Vitus Church
The second most prominent feature of the Český Krumlov skyline (after the castle, of course!), this Gothic style church with its tall, slim tower was completed at the beginning of the 15th century. The master stone cutters’ work is prominently displayed on the three-aisled dome.
4. Český Krumlov Flatboat Rides
Take to the river to cool off on a hot summer day with a rafting trip that won’t get you wet! Český Krumlov’s unique wooden flatboats offer the chance to get some of the best views in town with an experienced boatman as your guide. Check with your hotel for booking.
Kayaks are another popular way to experience the river and are widely available for rental along the river banks.
5. Synagogue Český Krumlov
One of the few that withstood the war, this synagogue was once used for worship services by American soldiers. Today, the synagogue is home to a permanent exhibition presenting the history of Jewish culture.
Sweet Treats in Český Krumlov
When in the Czech Republic, it’s hard to resist the sugary draw of the local chimney cakes, known as “Trdelnik.” Made from rolled dough wrapped around a stick, the pastry is then grilled over a spit and topped with sugar and walnut mix (and often a wide variety of other toppings like ice cream, chocolate and fruit).
While a quick google search reveals that the Trdelnik is more of a recent creation for tourists than an authentic Bohemian pastry, there’s no arguing with the fact that they are delicious. And it’s fun to watch them made. (Just don’t ask someone’s Czech grandmother to make you one!)
A fun alternative to the trdelnik – waffles! Also widely available in the Czech Republic (and most of Europe!), the waffles can be topped with pretty much anything you choose – chocolate, fruit, ice cream, whipped cream, you name it! Our favorite spot for either a waffle, trdelnik or crepe is Kafemlejnek, just across the bridge from the Hotel Dvorak.
Instagram-Worthy Photo Ops
No matter where I go, I can’t help but obsess about capturing the best images of the destination. If you’re like me, here are a few photo ops to look for to showcase the best of Český Krumlov:
Honorable Mention: The Krumlov bears…if you’re lucky enough to get a shot of them!
Day trip or overnight?
While Český Krumlov can be visited on a (very) long day trip from Prague, it’s absolutely worth an overnight stay or even a full weekend. This UNESCO World Heritage town overflows with Czech charm and beauty and deserves a spot on any traveler’s European Bucket List.