The Czech Republic lies in the heart of Europe. Still, not many people living out of Europe recall the name. It is slightly better with Czechoslovakia. Nonetheless, Czechoslovakia does no longer exist, exactly since the “Velvet divorce” in 1993. Do not worry, everything was peaceful, no one was hurt. Now you can either visit the Czech Republic or Slovakia.
Troubles with name
I would say the Czech Republic has quite a good reputation. Wait, am I saying the Czech Republic? Pardon me, it is Czechia now. In 2016, the Czech Republic was basically renamed to Czechia. This happened pretty much without anyone there knowing. And I am not sure why did they have a need for it anyway. The Czech Republic is too long? Please. Therefore it is not surprising that no one really uses the short term Czechia (not even the Ministry of foreign affairs!), except for foreign travelers, and tourist agencies in Prague.
Let’s not follow the usual paths
Whatever you decided to call it (and you can see what name is close to my heart), the Czech Republic is still a pretty good place to visit. People usually recall its capital Prague, extremely cheap beer (for westerners anyway), and beautiful women. Don’t get me wrong, it is awesome that people don’t just stare at you blankly when you talk about it. But there is more to the Czech Republic. Get ready to take notes, I will try to show you 5 little less crowded and less popular places around. Why only 5? Well, there are many more obviously, but that article would be just too long to write. I mean read.
Karlštejn Castle is very famous. Due to that, it doesn’t really fit into my category “less crowded and less popular”. But it is beautiful, and it is worth it, okay? Karlštejn Castle has seen centuries (nearly 7 to be exact), its walls protecting the Bohemian crown jewels and many holy relics. You definitely don’t want to miss the Chapel of the Holy Cross, and the Great Tower view is stunning too.
How to get there?
In the main season (June-August) get ready for many tourists and lines. Go in early fall. Not only the castle is striking but also its surrounding. And all those colorful leaves shining in autumn sun… You will find Karlštejn quite close to Prague. Getting there should take around one hour by car. Please note Karlštejn town is pedestrian zone, and you need to leave your car on the only parking lot under the castle. In main season it will get full pretty fast. And yes, you have to pay for it.
I would recommend going by train. Not only there are trains going every 30 mins or so from Prague (or Beroun), also you can enjoy beautiful views on the way. Czech trains are known for their delays among locals but do not worry. On this route, you will be just fine. Do not forget to buy tickets at the station. The train conductor will mark them on the train. Also, if you are traveling in a group, ask about group tickets and return tickets for discounts. ISIC card (discount student card) should give you some discounts too.
Kutná Hora – churches and bones
This town located in the Central Bohemia is full of interesting architectonic buildings. And bones. Sedlec abbey is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is probably the creepiest thing you can see in the Czech Republic. Although the abbey itself is quite interesting, do not miss the tour to its basement. It holds Sedlec Ossuary. Even though it is quite small, it contains skeletons of approximately 50 000 people. But the story doesn’t end there. Those bones are arranged to form the decoration of the chapel! And all that started simply because there was not enough place in the cemetery.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site in this mining town is Saint Barbara’s Church. Even though its construction started in the 14th century, the church wasn’t finished until the beginning of the 20th century. Today, Saint Barbara’s Church is an iconic building of Kutná Hora, and it is surrounded by a lovely park. Just next to it you can visit Jesuit College with Gallery of the Central Bohemian Region or you can simply walk above the vineyards, have some refreshing drink, and take pleasure in the surprising view.
While enjoying a walk around town do not forget to find Stone fountain. After years of mining, the town found itself without water. This unusual fountain was built to supply drinking water, and continued doing so until the late 19th century. Another place worth seeing is Plague column, baroque structure built in the 18th century after a plague epidemic killing more than a thousand people.
How to get there?
Kutná Hora is easily reachable from Prague (or any other town really) either by train or bus. I am sure you would find organized tours from Prague too.
Český ráj – Bohemian Paradise
North of Prague you will find local little natural paradise. You can spend your days exploring caves, climbing interestingly shaped rocks, hiking or maybe swimming. This area can simply please anyone. A rich history of Bohemian Paradise breathes through walls of castles and beautiful chateaux, colorful old towns invite you to explore. And when you are tired of people there are striking prettiness of nature, picturesque rock towns, lookout towers and viewpoints…Bohemian Paradise has it all. For this one, you definitely need to do your research. There are simply too many possibilities. For the most interesting and beautiful spots, you can follow the Golden Path (it has 118 km, and it is marked – actually, the Czech Republic has a very good system of trail marks). Plan your trip along this path, and move from town to town. Or pick one place to explore, and do one-day trips around. You will find many camping sites, guest houses, hotels and apartments for rent.
Macocha Abyss and Moravian Karst
Close to the second biggest city of the Czech Republic Brno, there is another hidden gem – the Moravian Karst. This protected nature reserve covers roughly 100 square kilometers with a cave system and gorges, and many of them are open to tourists. The Macocha Abyss is a 138 m deep gorge, and it is the deepest of its kind in Central Europe. And of course, there is a dark legend connected to this place. To hear it, you will have to visit. Macocha is part of Punkva caves with interesting geological formations, and if you are not scared you can join one-hour long boat tour (and I know you are dying to find out what horrible happened in Macocha). Plus, you can explore Catherine’s Cave, Výpustek Cave or Barcalka Cave.
Brno – the second capital
Since we just got close to the “capital” city of Moravian region, it would be a shame to miss it. Between Brno and Prague, there is a rivalry. Czechs are known for their (often very dark) sense of humor. And beware to drive to the Brno with Prague car plate (and park badly). Of course, it works the same the opposite direction. The Moravian region has specific accent (Prague has a specific accent too), and locals just know straight away where exactly who is from. And the amount of jokes is infinite. Nonetheless, I vaguely recall that Brno was picked as the best place to live for foreigners in Central Europe. Or maybe it was just the Czech Republic. You got the message. Just go to Brno. I mean, they have mummies (and also dragon)!
There is something for everyone
Brno has many little squares, and on every single one, there is something interesting to see. You can admire old churches, new modern art, strange clock not telling time or historical gate. Pretty much everything is nice and close together. My favorite place though is Špilberk Castle. It sits on the hill above the city, and it used to be the harshest jail in Europe. Today, you can let your tour guide to lock you down in vaulted passages, or you can visit the Brno City Museum or some of many concerts and festivals. And the view is stunning; you can see the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul. Its bells ring at 11 instead of noon in remembrance of the trick played on Swedes when they were trying to conquer Brno. The Swedish general claimed he would leave if his army failed to overcome the city before the bells started to ring at noon. So they rang them one hour earlier. Brilliant!
Mummies in Central Europe
What about those mummies and dragon you ask? Well, you can find the dragon in the Old Town Hall. Spoilers ahead, it is only stuffed crocodile. No one really knows its origin, and I think it is really cool (and a little disappointing, who would not want to see a real dragon?). Mummies, on the other hand, are very real. You can see them in the Capuchin Crypt in the historical center. Capuchin friars believed coffins to be luxury, and thanks to the unique composition of the ground (and the system of airing) buried bodies turned into mummies.