Things to Do in Czech Republic
It may be the Czech Republic’s newest national park, but Bohemian Switzerland National Park (Narodni Park Ceske Svycarsko) has long been a popular destination for traders and artists. The park’s curious name was inspired by two 19th-century Swiss artists who settled in the region because it reminded them of their homeland. Today the park draws hikers, bikers, climbers, and nature lovers from around the world.
Sitting high on a hill overlooking the Charles Bridge and Vltava River, Prague Castle (Pražský Hrad) is a huge complex of museums, churches, palaces, and gardens dating from the ninth century. Nestled in the historic center of Prague—all of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site—the largest castle complex in the world is an outstanding relic of Prague’s architectural history and a must for any visitor to the City of a Hundred Spires.
The Czech Republic is famous for the volume of beer (pivo) the nation consumes. The favourite drink of locals and tourists alike is lager and none is more popular than the classically Czech brand Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj), which is produced at an historic brewery in Pilsen (Plzeň in Czech).
An hour’s drive from Prague, Pilsen is the capital of West Bohemia and was European City of Culture in 2016. Beer has been brewed in the city since 1295, but the story of Pilsner Urquell begins with the building of the Prazdroj Brewery in 1842. This was the year that Josef Groll developed his unique method of brewing, which is still used in making Pilsner lager today.
A guided tour of the brewery leads through the brewing process, from the vast copper storage vats in the factory through the 1930s brew house before traveling to the state-of-the-art bottling facility, which is capable of handling 120,000 bottles an hour. Every tour lasts one hour and 40 minutes and ends in the historic cellars with a tasting session of several unfiltered pilsners straight from the oak cask. To learn about another traditional Czech craft, combine a visit to the Pilsner Urquell Brewery with a tour of the Bohemia glassworks in Nizbor.
Bohemia has long been associated with the making of fine crystal and glassware, and one of its finest exponents is Moser Glassworks (Sklárne Moser), founded in 1893 and based in the famous, picturesque spa town of Karlovy Vary, 130 km (81.25 miles) west of Prague. Traditionally made according to a secret formula, Moser glass is renowned for its intense, jewel-like colors and is created by hand in the factory – which is open for tours – using eco-friendly lead-free crystal. Glassblowers hand their skills on from generation to generation and in all it takes up to ten years to become expert in hand shaping and blowing the glass while working alongside furnaces heated to 1,200°C. Elegant Moser glassware graces Royal tables and Is used in the making of the awards for the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, held each year in July. Fine examples of the craft, from sapphire-blue flower vases to delicately gilded wine goblets, are beautifully displayed in the new Moser Museum, which offers multimedia accounts of the company’s long history while celebrating more than 120 years of glass-blowing talent. A sales gallery allows visitors to purchase Moser glassware and the café terrace is a pleasant summer spot for coffee and cake amid sparkling crystal sculptures and splashing fountains.
Forming a grand walkway between Prague Old Town, and the Lesser Town and Castle District, the 15th-century Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) is one of the city’s most striking landmarks. The magnificent Gothic bridge features 16 stone arches, two watchtowers, and 30 blackened baroque statues depicting various saints.
The village of Lednice is in the heart of the Czech Republic’s wine-growing region, southeast from Prague in South Moravia and famous for its fairy-tale chateau surrounded by extensive parklands. Lednice Chateau (Státní Zámek Lednice) forms part of the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape, which is UNESCO listed, and began life as 12th-century defence stronghold positioned on the former border between Czechoslovakia and Poland, although it has been transformed over the centuries into a stately Neo-Gothic palace.
There are three routes for exploring the interior of Lednice Chateau, which was owned by the aristocratic Lichtenstein dynasty. Tours take in the lavish private apartments, the vaulted Knight’s Hall and the puppet museum. The manicured gardens contain a vast cast-iron glasshouse, built in 1845 and filled with tropical plants, while the Baroque master architect Johann Bernard Fischer von Erlach designed the riding school in the late 17th century; it stands almost unaltered today.
Hidden around the grounds are several follies—including an artificial cave—as well as a lakeside minaret, designed by Josef Hardmuth and completed in 1797; this was home to the Lichtenstein family’s collection of Oriental artifacts and a spiral staircase leads 302 steps up to an observation gallery in the 197-foot (60-meter) tower for glorious views over the estate. In summer boat cruises along the River Dyje are available along with carriage rides around the grounds and daily birds of prey shows. There are also several wineries close by for tasting the local vintages.
Prague day-trippers and German border-hoppers all flock to the northwestern edge of the Czech Republic to explore one of the country’s favorite nature escapes. Called Bohemian Switzerland National Park, it is blanketed in lush green landscapes, steep navigable river gorges, and, most famously Pravcice Gate (Pravcická Brána). Noted as Europe’s largest natural rock arch, Pravcice Gate reaches 16 meters high and 3 meters wide, and stands as the park’s most proud symbol.
While on your visit to the park, check out the sweet riverside town of Hřensko before or after trekking up to see the Pravcice Gate, which can be spied from various viewpoints (several of which have a fee, so bring currency). Then — during your return on the circular route — travel by boat down the calm waters of the river-cut Edward’s Gorge.
On Jan. 16, 1969, a student named Jan Palach set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. Today, a truly unique memorial comprised of a horizontal weather-worn wooden cross rising up from cobblestone streets pays homage to Palach and his friend, Jan Zajic, who killed themselves as an act of political protest.
Today, visitors can stop at Jan Palach Memorial (Památník Jana Palacha) and reflect on the changes that have taken place in this Eastern European country. While travelers agree that the memorial isn’t well marked, or very well-explained, its significance in Czech history is great and certainly worth a visit.
One of Prague’s most popular tourist attractions, the Astronomical Clock (Prazský Orloj) was built in the 15th century and is a mechanical marvel. Found on the south side of Prague’s imposing town hall in Old Town Square (Staromestske namestí), visitors line up in their hundreds to see the display as the clock strikes the hour.
Prague’s Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) is the historic heart and navigational center of the city’s UNESCO-listed Old Town. A feast of architectural wonders, the medieval square is ringed with grandiose Romanesque, baroque, and Gothic style buildings, including some of Prague’s most photographed monuments.
More Things to Do in Czech Republic
Wenceslas Square (Václavské Námesti), one of Prague’s largest public squares, is actually more of a boulevard. Wide and tree-lined with sidewalk cafes and stylish boutiques, it feels modern and cosmopolitan. The square is bursting with history—from its intricate art nouveau buildings to its poignant memorial to the victims of Soviet occupation.
Golden Lane (Zlata Ulicka) runs along the northern wall of Prague Castle and is one of the most famous and picturesque streets in the city. The lane and its miniature houses were built in the 15th century for castle guards but later housed artists and writers, including Franz Kafka.
Located close to Prague castle, Strahov Monastery (Strahovský Kláster) has been home to a community of monks since the 12th century. The monastery is one of the most important landmarks in the Czech Republic and is famous for its historic library, which contains countless volumes, including over 3,000 original manuscripts.
Built during the Nazi occupation as an air-raid shelter from US and Soviet bombardment of the Czech city, then converted into a Cold War nuclear shelter for the elite,10-Z was the most highly classified shelter in Brno. Up to 500 people could live for three days in the bunker, which now serves as a tourist attraction and cultural space.
The Villa Tugendhat in Brno is the only example of Modern architecture in the Czech Republic. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was designed by famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in the early 20th century. The villa was confiscated by the Gestapo in 1939, suffered serious damage at the end of World War II, when it served as quarters and stables for the Soviet military. The original owner, Greta Tugendhat, returned to the villa in 1967 and a group of Czech architects began work to return it to its original state. After another renewal and restoration in 2010-12, the villa now appears much as it did in 1930.
Since 1994, the villa has been open to the public as a museum. The interior features exact replicas of the original furnishings and an exhibition tells the story of van der Rohe, the Tugendhat family and the era during which is was built. Guided tours take visitors through the main living space, kitchen, bedrooms, garden and, on extended tours, the technical floor where the boiler room, engine room and laundry room can be found.
Visible from all over town, hilltop Prague Castle (Pražský Hrad) is one of the city’s most memorable landmarks. The castle is just one part of Prague’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hradcany (Castle Hill), a vast complex of palaces, cathedrals, and royal buildings, including some of Prague’s finest works of architecture.
Cutting a swathe through the Baroque beauty of Prague’s historic heart, Nerudova Street (Nerudova Ulice) runs uphill through Malá Strana (Lesser Town), forming a link between Charles Bridge and Prague Castle on the west banks of the Vltava River. In the days of the Czech monarchy, the street formed part of the Royal Way, which the king followed from the Old Town Square to the castle on ceremonial occasions.
Now named after the famous 19th-century poet Jan Neruda, who lived at no. 47, the street is composed of brightly colored and gabled Baroque townhouses and palaces, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries and today bursting with boutique hotels, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants; as the street wends up towards the castle it becomes the province of several overseas embassies. Unusual features of Nerudova are the symbols painted or carved on to the façades of the buildings; these represent the professions of the original owners in the days before street numbering was introduced; thus a musician lived at ‘At the Three Violins’ (no. 12) and a goldsmith at ‘At the Golden Cup’ (no. 16). An intriguing pharmacy with its original interior dating from 1821 is located at ‘At the Golden Lion’ (no. 32) and the elegant Morzin Palace (no. 5) is embellished with imposing statues of Moors; this is currently the Romanian Embassy.
St. Vitus (or Katedrála svatého Víta) is the biggest and most important church in Prague, the pinnacle of the Castle complex, and one of the most knockout cathedrals in Europe. It's broodingly Gothic, with a forest of spires and a rose window to rival that of Notre Dame.
Enter by the Golden Portal to take a look at the stunningLast Judgement mosaic. Inside you'll find the final resting places of both Charles IV (who gave his name to Charles Bridge) and Saint Wenceslas. The chapel containing Wenceslas' remains is a stunner, encrusted with semi-precious stones.
The cathedral also contains the crown jewels of the Bohemian kings and an Art Nouveau window by Mucha. Climb the tower for a stunning view of the Castle District.
Starting life as a tribute to musical icon and peace activist John Lennon after his untimely death in 1980, Prague’s John Lennon Wall quickly became a symbol of peace and free speech for young Czechs angry and disillusioned with the country’s communist regime—much western pop music was banned under the regime, and some Czech musicians were even imprisoned for playing it.
Found in the Baroque streets of Prague’s Malá Strana (Lesser Town) on the west bank of the Vltava River, the Church of Our Lady Victorious (Kostel Panny Marie Vitezne) has its origins back in 1611. It was rebuilt in its present, richly Baroque style in the 30 years up to 1669 by a Carmelite order of monks and has an interior of dazzling gilt and marble adornment. However, the church’s main claim to fame is its painted wooden statuette of the Infant Jesus of Prague. At about 20 inches (50 cm) in height, it has a highly stylized head topped with cherubic curls and its right hand is raised in blessing. The Infant Jesus is originally from Spain and was donated to the Carmelites by a princess of the noble Lobkowicz dynasty in 1628; he has an rich wardrobe donated by visiting dignitaries as well as two crowns—one a gift studded with pearls and garnets given by Pope Benedict XVI when he visited Prague in 2009—and his outfits are changed at set points in the church year.
The statue’s bejeweled, fur-lined robes and crowns can be seen in the Museum of the Prague Infant Jesus above the church, which is accessible via spiral staircase.
Malá Strana is the area that meanders down from the Castle Hill to the Vltava River. A literal translation of its name would be 'Small Side' but its most often called the Lesser Side. Unfair? Well, while it might not have the grandeur of the Old Town across the river, many find it more charming.
Because the area was razed by fires in the 16th century, the architecture here is mainly baroque. Its finest site is the Wallenstein Palace with its fabulous walled garden full of fountains and statues. There's also the Church of Saint Nicholas and, high on Petřín Hill, a miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower.
The Rudolfinum is a prestigious music and art venue located on Jan Palach Square on the bank of the Vltava River in Prague. This impressive neo-Renaissance building was built between 1876 and 1884, opening in 1885 to serve as a multi-purpose cultural center combining concert halls and exhibition rooms.
Today, the Rudolfinum is home to the Galerie Rudolfinum and hosts a varied programme of classical music concerts and art exhibitions. It is the home venue of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, which was founded in 1896. The Philharmonic Orchestra holds world-class classical performances throughout the year from the building’s largest hall, the Dvořák, which is one of the oldest concert halls in Europe and is noted for its exceptional acoustics.
As well as being able to buy tickets for various performances and exhibitions at the Rudolfinum, guided tours are available for those interested in the history and architecture of the building.
The Jewish ghetto in Prague grew up in Josefov around the Old New Synagogue (Staronová Synagoga), which was in use as early as 1270. It has the distinction of being oldest functioning synagogue in Europe – for over 700 years services were only halted during Nazi occupation between 1942–45 – and today it is once more the heart of Jewish worship in the city. A Gothic oddity, the whitewashed synagogue is topped with brick gables and its interior is starkly simple and little changed since the 13th century, with one prayer hall for the men and an adjoining gallery for women, who originally were only allowed to witness services from behind a glass screen. An elaborate wrought-iron grill encases the pulpit and the Torah scrolls are contained in a plain Ark on one wall. Apart from a couple of chandeliers, the only embellishment is a tattered red flag bearing the Star of David hanging from the ceiling, given as a gesture of respect to the Jewish community by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1357; the red banner close by was a gift from Ferdinand III in thanks for Jewish help in repulsing a Swedish invasion in 1648. Down the centuries the building has survived fires, pogroms and sieges, giving rise to the legend that is protected by angels.
The Czech Republic’s longest river, the Vltava begins in southern Bohemia before meandering 270 miles (430 kilometers) northward toward Prague. The river has shaped the Czech capital over millennia, splitting Malá Strana (Lower Town) in the west from Staré Mĕsto (Old Town) and the modern city to the east.
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