Once one of the conjoined twins that formed the Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic as an independent entity came into being as recently as 1993 following the Velvet Divorce with Slovakia.
In addition to the locals, the country has historically been home to many a people – Slovaks, Jews, Germans, French and Italian – which has had a huge impact on the country as we know it. Its blend of cultures, for instance, can be credited for the colourful way of life the Czech Republic is famous for. So, too, is the beautiful architecture that saw skills pour in from all over Europe and put to work on the country’s manors or chateaux, monasteries and churches, and in some parts, entire towns.
The Central European country is one of the smallest in the region, but within those borders is to be found one of the most fascinating and dramatic histories in the entire Europe. It’s pregnant with beautiful contradictions, and herein lies its unique charm for visitors. Its numerous facets mean you’ll encounter every kind of travel experience, and this cornucopia of choice makes it one of the best travel locations anywhere in the world.
Catch splendid views of and enjoy the sunsets from atop striking mountains, visit the dense, unspoiled forests of Moravia, hike to a subterranean river, explore the deep history and rich Slavic traditions, revel in the striking art and civic innovations, sleep in medieval castles, soak in Bohemian spas, stopover in quaint villages and towns, spark the senses with mouthwatering traditional delicacies, and see your evenings off with the famous Czech beer.
The Czech Republic sure will have you spoilt for options. For best experience, avoid overly planning for this trip. Instead, allow the magic of this striking country to unravel upon you. It’s one of those awakening trips that leave you feeling like someone just slapped you hard right across the face.
The city with beautifully preserved Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque and Renaissance architecture brims with character, but it’s not due to the historic aspect alone. There’s plenty of modern charm too, with the cobbled streets and pavements surrounded by art and the people themselves adding their own touch to the beauty.
There are few cities in the world with the allure of Prague, a city also known for its classy decadence and vibrant nightlife. Try the Hemingway Bar if you are looking for a quality cocktail. Prague also has a large LGBT community.
#2 Prague Castle
The famous castle has for years been the focal attraction in Prague and it’s easy to see why.
The 1,000-year castle is the largest ancient castle in the world in terms of area, and through the centuries, has played home to Holy Roman Emperors, Bohemian kings, the Habsburgs, and the country’s president more recently.
#3 Charles Bridge
Another attraction in the capital, the stunning Charles Bridge is Prague’s most important river crossing, spanning 520 metres across the River Vltava, the longest river in the Czech Republic.
It was constructed in the year 1357 and features multiple points of interest. These include a statue of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, and another erected in 1683 in honour of John of Nepomuk, the nation’s most revered saint who was deliberately drowned in the river in the 14th century.
#4 Prague Old Town Square
The image of the Old Town Square is one you’ve probably seen in postcards or images of the city. The square has managed to remain largely unscathed since the 10th century and remains Prague’s beating heart to date.
It’s decked with magnificent churches such as the Church of St. Nicholas and the Tyn Cathedral that looks straight off a fairytale; historical structures such as the Town Hall with its elegant tower and astronomical clock (both attractions in their own right); as well as multicoloured houses in multiple styles.
There is a unique, charming atmosphere about this ancient spot that’s bound to captivate you.
#5 The National Library in the Klementinum
Prague is home to the oldest and most breathtaking libraries in Europe.
The National Library of the Czech Republic is one of them. It sits in the sprawling complex of Klementinum which consists of historic buildings from the Baroque era, once an abode for a Jesuit College and book collection. These would later pass on to the custody of the state, and this opened it to the public. Its ceiling work will blow your mind away.
#6 Strahov Monastery
By chance, the city has another religious site to thank for some of its other most spectacular libraries. The Philosophical Library and Theological Library can be found in the Strahov Monastery, dating back to 1143.
The monastery has survived everything from fires to revolutions, communist regimes to wars, albeit it has occasionally been rebuilt. It is still a place of meditation, tranquility and learning, with about 70 monks living there today.
#7 Kutna Hora
Prague is not the only town around. If you had to choose one, Kutna Hora would make for a wonderful choice. This was home to some of the leading silver mines on the continent, and the wealth generated here helped fund the breathtaking structures that adorn the town, most of which is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
It’s located 80km east of Prague and some of its star attractions include the former palace of Vaclav IV, the Bohemian King, St. Barbara’s Cathedral that was built in 1338, and the old mint that can be found in the impressive Italian Court (Vlassky dvur).
#8 Grevin Wax Museum
The wax museum in Prague is renowned for its wax mannequins depicting international celebrities, sporting heroes, royalty and historic Czech figures.
It’s one of the largest wax museums on the continent, rising three stories, and currently divided into six themed and interactive sections.
#9 Prague National Museum
With five specialised departments, the National Museum in Prague is the largest museum complex in the country. Exhibitions on show include prehistoric remains, specimen rocks and archaeological artifacts.
Josef Schulz, the famous Czech architect, designed the giant building that features 10 adjourned buildings with an overall neo-Renaissance style. It has been part of the Prague skyline since the 1880s.
#10 Bohemian Paradise
As the name suggests, the Bohemian Paradise is a natural gem that is a magnet for sightseers and hikers who come to witness its natural bridges, striking sandstone hills, soaring basalt columns and outcroppings. It’s located in one of the most beautiful locations of the Czech Republic, and that says a la-hot. Little wonder it’s been marked a UNESCO Geopark.
Part of the beauty includes the famous physics-defying giant rock formations sticking up from the ground without any support that are sure to intrigue you. On top of that, the region features several fine castles, including Trosky Castle and Kost Castle.
#11 Terezin Concentration Camp
What started as a fortress town to protect Bohemia from Prussian attacks would later turn into the infamous Theresienstadt, aka Paradise Camp.
But this was only paradise in the eyes of the Nazis who used it as a transit camp to hold Holocaust victims before they were transferred to Auschwitz and Treblinka.
#12 Karlstejn Castle
Located 29km southwest of the capital, the gothic castle is one of the nation’s most graced attractions.
It’s nestled atop a hill that looms over the Karlstejn village, and was used by Charles IV from 1348 as a haven for the Imperial Regalia as well as his personal collection of holy relics and crown jewels.
#13 Pilsner Urquell Brewery
The Czech Republic is one of the world’s top beer consumers, and no beer is more popular than the nation’s own Pilsner Urquell.
The lager is brewed at a historic brewery in Pilsen (capital of West Bohemia), just an hour’s drive from Prague. The tradition has been practiced in the 2016 European City of Culture since 1295, but the tale of Pilsner Urquell would not begin until 1842 when the Prazdroj Brewery was completed. This was the same year when Josef Groll came up with a unique method of brewing that is still used to make Pilsner lager to this day.
#14 Konopiste Chateau
The Konopiste Chateau is a stunning 13th century palace that easily passes off as the most beautiful in the land. The four-winged French-style chateau is known by many as the last residence of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand whose assassination is said to have sparked the First World War.
There are over 300,000 animal trophies from his hunting exploits on display, painstakingly catalogued over a two-decade period, together with his other original artifacts. You can also view a magnificent collection of ancient weapons and armour, along with several other attractions. By the way, the bullet that killed the Archduke can be viewed in the chateau’s museum.
#15 Krizik Fountain
Another of the country’s many landmarks, Krizik Fountain has been running since 1891 when it served as a meeting point for city residents on the move.
It’s metamorphosed into a rather unique spectacle with dancing water, brilliant colours and traditional music, as it plays host to dozens of live shows. In the evenings, there are regular film projections on the water with the regional ballet company providing live accompaniment.
#16 Spas of Karlovy Vary
Anyone looking to experience an authentic spa experience has to head over to the spa town of Karlovy Vary in west Bohemia region.
Since 1358, many of Europe’s elite have made their way here – from Peter the Great to Beethoven to Goethe to Chopin – all looking to enjoy the magical hot springs of Karlsbad (the spa town’s old German name).
The town is also an important centre in terms of art, culture and museums, not forgetting one of the oldest film festivals in Europe, the popular Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
#17 Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul
This is one of the state’s most dear national monuments. The stunning 18th century cathedral is located high above the city of Brno and its exquisite exterior opens up to an interior that is well worth exploring.
It also has a number of attractions including a crypt that houses numerous old tombs and remainders of the original city walls, as well as twin towers each rising 84 metres high.
#18 Golden Lane
This little alley that can be found at Prague Castle is one of the most famous and picturesque streets in Prague. It comprises cosy houses that were once used by guards patrolling the fortification, but with the limited space to accommodate them all, the resulting structures became very tiny.
Legend has it that in the 16th century, Emperor Rudolf II tasked some goldsmiths – who in real sense were alchemists – with turning the common metals into gold and find the philosopher’s stone.
#19 Hluboka Castle
The large white Hluboka Castle is often touted as the most beautiful castle from the over hundred castles in the Czech Republic and its arresting Neo-Gothic style is largely to thank (top-most image).
The structure was built in the 1660s and stands on the site of an older fortress dating back to the 13th century. The renovations that later followed gave it the present Gothic Tudor style which loosely borrows from the world-famous Windsor Castle in England.
#20 Moser Glassworks
Moser glass is famous for its intense jewel-resembling coloured look which has made it preserve of royalty. Manufactured by hand with eco-friendly lead-free crystal, the factory located in Karlovy Vary is open for public tours.
It takes ten years to hone one’s glassmaking skills, a skill passed down the generations. But a look at the final product explains it all.