Czech Republic Holiday Planning Guide
From historical towns and cities, to a countryside speckled with castles and chateaus, a Czech Republic holiday can satisfy everybody's taste. Even though it's modern and fully-developed, the country carefully preserves its traditions and heritage. The city of Prague, with its breathtaking architecture, vibrant art and culture scene, and bustling nightlife, is not only one of the country's main attractions, but also a top European tourist hub. The scenic countryside features numerous national parks and nature reserves perfect for hiking, cycling, golfing, and enjoying the natural beauty. In the wintertime, ski buffs have their pick from a selection of resorts. If you're looking to unwind and rejuvenate in picturesque settings, visit the famous spa and wellness resorts that have been renowned in Europe for centuries.
Places to Visit in the Czech Republic
Regions of the Czech RepublicBohemia
: Home to the Czech Republic's capital and main tourist draw, Prague, and numerous small cities brimming with fine examples of Neoclassical architecture, Bohemia makes up the western and most-visited half of the country. Although these destinations can easily fill a Czech Republic itinerary, Bohemia's rolling hills, gentle mountains, and dense forests--and the castles they surround--also warrant exploration.Moravia
: More bucolic and less-touristed than its neighbor to the west, Moravia rewards visitors with an authentic look at Czech life. Villages celebrate autumn vineyard harvests with bacchanalian wine festivals while charming towns and small cities offer Neoclassical atmosphere minus the crowds. Most of the worthwhile destinations lie within a couple-hours drive or train ride from Prague, making it easy and convenient to include Moravia in your Czech Republic holiday plans.
Cities in the Czech RepublicPrague
: If you spent your entire Czech Republic vacation crisscrossing the cobblestoned and statue-adorned Charles Bridge, gazing at the Gothic castle looming above the city, and wandering among pastel-colored buildings in Old Town, you would still come away satisfied.Cesky Krumlov
: Boasting its own castle carved into a cliff, a meandering river, and delightful architecture, Cesky Krumlov serves as a sort of mini-Prague in the far south of Bohemia. Its compact size, however, imbues it with the kind of small-town charm that's missing from the country's capital.Brno
: The country's second-largest city and the historical capital of Moravia, Brno serves as an ideal base from which to venture into surrounding vineyards, caves, and hills. The city itself holds three castles and a handful of palaces, churches, and parks, making it a fine choice for a Czech Republic itinerary blending cultural and outdoor activities.Kutna Hora
: With its attractive mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings, Kutna Hora's Old Town earned itself a spot on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. The city lies a little more than an hour's drive from Prague, and you can see all of its main attractions on foot, making it an ideal daytrip from the capital.Karlovy Vary
: Karlovy Vary has attracted star guests to its spas since the 18th century. Today the hot springs continue to make the town a popular choice for a Czech Republic holiday, but guests also come for the fine architecture, outdoor activities in the surrounding hills, and international film festival that takes place in late June.Pilsen
: Although Pilsen's main attraction remains the famed Pilsner Urquell beer brewery, the city isn't just for hops aficionados. A compact historical Old Town full of museums, churches, and restaurants makes Pilsen one of the best places to see in the Czech Republic. Karlstejn
: A visit to Karlstejn's archetypal castle is one of the top things to do in the Czech Republic. The town is easily accessible via a quick train ride from Prague, making it a convenient day trip from the city.Marianske Lazne
: Although Karlovy Vary remains the country's top spa destination, Marianske Lazne rewards visitors with mountain scenery and well-preserved 19th-century architecture in addition to rejuvenating mineral springs.Olomouc
: Perhaps one of the country's best-kept secrets, Olomouc holds one of the Czech Republic's biggest and oldest urban historical zones. Despite this distinguishing feature, the city sees few foreign visitors. If you add Olomouc to your Czech Republic itinerary, your photos of its fine attractions should be bereft of tourist crowds.
Things to Do in the Czech Republic
Popular Czech Republic Tourist AttractionsCharles Bridge
: Linking Prague's hilltop castle with its Old Town across the Vltava River, Charles Bridge serves as a top Czech Republic attraction due to its Gothic style, cobblestones, 30 statues of saints, and spectacular views of the castle above. Old Town (Stare Mesto)
: Brimming with exquisite examples of Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical architecture that line cobblestone streets, Old Town serves as one of the best examples of how Europe's finest cities looked before World War II.Prague Castle
: A must for every Czech Republic itinerary, Prague Castle forms the focal point of many of the city's postcard-worthy views. The complex, where the country's president officially resides, includes the towering Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, four palaces, and five gardens.Old Town Square
: One of the largest public squares in Europe, Old Town Square holds a handful of Prague's most notable landmarks, including the 600-year-old Astronomical Clock, Jan Hus statue, and double-spired Tyn Church.Prague Astronomical Clock
: Sightseeing in the Czech Republic invariably includes a visit to Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock. The 600-year-old mechanical clock puts on a show of moving sculptures on the hour, and the tower above it offers commanding views of Old Town Square.St. Vitus Cathedral
: The visual centerpiece of the Prague Castle complex, St. Vitus Cathedral invites you inside with its 14th-century mosaics, exquisite stained glass, medieval frescoes, and tombs of saints and royalty.Prague Zoo
: Occupying 111 acres (45 acres) of wooded land and housing some 5,000 animals across 700 or so species, Prague Zoo provides an ideal family respite from visiting and studying the city's monuments and landmarks.Castle District
: Exploring neighborhoods remains a favorite pastime of Czech Republic vacations, and the palaces, churches, and commanding views over Prague make the Castle District one of the country's best places for urban roaming.Mala strana
: Many visitors trudge right through the Lesser Quarter on their way from the Castle to Charles Bridge and Old Town Square, but the neighborhood's tall, domed Baroque Church and cobblestone alleyways holding historical pubs make it well worth deeper exploration.Petřín
: Rising on the left bank of the Vltava River, Petrin Hill delivers sweeping views of Prague from the lookout tower at the top.
Planning a Czech Republic Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in the Czech Republic with Kids
Although most Czech Republic sightseeing highlights are geared toward adults, top tourist destinations also hold kid-friendly attractions. Prague
can be a fun city for young travelers, especially when the weather is suitable for outdoor activities. Other towns and cities tend to be more limited in their kid-friendly offerings, but Cesky Krumlov
is a suitable destination if your children enjoy being outdoors. The prospect of visiting Pilsen
's diversions for kids might also help your young ones exhibit enough patience to get them through the city's more sophisticated attractions.
Things to Do in the Czech Republic with Kids
Far and away, Prague
holds the most to do for a Czech Republic family vacation. The thousands of animals and the cable-car tour of the Prague Zoo
provides plenty of entertainment for kids. Check the schedule of puppet shows at the Marionette museum
, and listen to urban legends told by a costumed storyteller during the nighttime Mysterium Tours
. When the weather is balmy, head to one of the city's parks, such as Kampa
. The former sits near Vltava Beach
, which might lack sand but does offer a fleet of swans and outstanding waterside views of the city. The latter features a beer garden, playground, and striking views as well. Kids can expend some energy in the mirror maze
at the top of Petřín
, and they should also enjoy a boat tour of the city along the Vltava River.
Although you'll find more kid-friendly attractions in Prague than any other destination, you don't have to limit your Czech Republic itinerary to the country's capital. The Cesky Krumlov Castle
in Cesky Krumlov has a couple of resident bears and a duck pond, and you can leisurely paddle through town on the Vltava River
in a canoe or kayak. Pilsen offers DinoPark Plzen
, a theme park of dinosaur statues within the Zoo Plzeň
, and the small Akva Tera
, which holds some big animals like lions and tigers. If you choose to visit Olomouc
, each city has a zoo.
Tips for a Family Vacation in the Czech Republic
If you take a family vacation in the Czech Republic with small children, you'll probably want to use a stroller with heavy-duty wheels to navigate cobblestone streets. Since many of the country's kid-friendly attractions are outdoors, traveling in late spring, summer, or early fall opens up a lot more possibilities for things to do. Since the Czech Republic is dotted with castles, consider renting a car to visit one or two of them in the countryside. Although they may not include activities for kids on their grounds, these castles tend to leave a lasting impression on young visitors.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in the Czech Republic
Cuisine of the Czech Republic
Meat and potatoes form the linchpins of traditional Czech cuisine. Beef and pork are particularly popular, usually accompanied by boiled or roasted potatoes and sauerkraut. Expect to see goulash—a thick beef stew with dumplings made of bread or potatoes—and pork schnitzel on a lot of menus. Chicken and duck are also common. Although these dishes might sound basic, sauces and seasonings impart flavor and the food itself serves as a sort of sponge for soaking up the famous Czech national beverage, beer.
On your Czech Republic trip, you'll find traditional meals in pubs known as hospody (singular: hospoda). If you're looking for more variety, though, Prague
offers plenty. The city's restaurant scene features cuisines from all over the world and numerous establishments with novel takes on traditional dishes. Smaller cities such as Pilsen and Brno also deliver a surprising amount of diversity.
The country is known throughout the world for producing exquisite beer. If you'd like to learn more about how it earned this reputation, add the Pilsner Urquell Brewery
to your Czech Republic itinerary. The Budějovický Budvar, národní podnik
in Ceske Budejovice produces the original Budweiser beer—which bears little resemblance to the American version—and makes for a convenient excursion from Cesky Krumlov. If you'd like an education in traditional Czech brewing without leaving Prague, drop into the Staropramen Visitor Center
. Or, better yet, see how the monks have done it for hundreds of years at the Strahov Monastery
Shopping in the Czech Republic
Bohemian crystal is prized around the world for its intricate patterns, and tourist areas are full of shops meeting massive visitor demand for it. Many of the pieces are imported imitations, so look for a sticker confirming the crystal's origin. Bohemian glass is heavier and refracts light into a rainbow of colors. You'll find some of the highest quality crystal in well-known shops such as Moser
and Erpet Bohemia Crystal
. For a close look at the production process and the chance to purchase direct from the manufacturer, consider adding a tour of the Nizbor Glass Factory to your Czech Republic itinerary.
Marionettes and wooden toys make great gifts, and tasty wafer cookies from Karlovy Vary
are usually a hit with friends and family back at home. The Czech Republic also produces well-known spirits such as plum brandy known as slivovitz, herb-flavored Becherovka, and the infamous absinthe, which is purported to produce hallucinations when consumed in great quantities and banned in many countries around the world.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to the Czech Republic
History of the Czech Republic
Slavic tribes arrived in present-day Bohemia and Moravia in the sixth century and the Duchy of Bohemia arose three centuries later. The Golden Age of Czech history took place during the reign of King Charles IV, which lasted from 1316-1378. Charles IV became King of the Holy Roman Empire, established Charles University in Prague, and built Charles Bridge
and much of Prague Castle
The Czech Reformation, an uprising against the domination of the Catholic Church over Bohemia, began in the years after Charles IV's reign. The leader of the movement, Jan Hus, was burned in Constance (on the present-day border between Germany and Switzerland) in 1415, and the Hussite Wars against Catholic Crusaders began soon after. Hus is still regarded as a hero of Czech history, as the Jan Hus Monument
in Prague's Old Town Square attests. Be sure to add it to your list of Czech Republic things to do.
The Czech lands came under Habsburg rule in the 16th century and remained so until World War I. Although the Czech people experienced numerous hardships during this period, including war,famine, and the suppression of all faiths other than Catholicism, their cities also inherited their currently renowned architecture.
The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I led to the emergence of Czechoslovakia. This modern democratic state flourished in the interwar years, developing one of the world's strongest economies. In 1938, Nazi Germany halted the development of Czechoslovakia by annexing the German-speaking industrial region of Sudetenland from Bohemia. Czechoslovak allies Great Britain and France along with Italy ceded the land as part of the Munich Agreement. Slovakia broke away and formed an independent state allied with Germany months before the outbreak of World War II.
Nazi Germany occupied Bohemia and Moravia during the war, while Slovakia functioned as a puppet state. This arrangement spared both the Czech lands and Slovakia from the physical destruction other European countries experienced, but it also resulted in the deportation of most of these countries' Jewish populations to death camps. The Nazis settled Czech Jews in the ghetto of Terezin, an hour north of Prague, before moving them to extermination camps. Today, the Terezin Museum
is a must for any Czech Republic itinerary concerned with the country's Holocaust history. The Jewish Museum in Prague
also provides an in-depth look at Jewish life in the Czech lands.
Troops from the Soviet Union's Red Army liberated Czechoslovakia from Nazi control, and the restored Czechoslovak government immediately expelled 3 million Sudeten Germans from the country. Following the war, much of the Czechoslovak population remained bitter toward the West over the betrayal of the 1938 Munich Agreement. This helped create greater sympathy for the country's Communist Party, which won 38 percent of the vote in the 1946 elections and grabbed absolute power in a coup d'etat two years later. To learn more about the country's communist period, including the 1968 invasion by Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces, add Prague's Museum of Communism
to your list of things to do in the Czech Republic.
Massive peaceful demonstrations in November 1989 led to the collapse of the Communist regime and the restoration of liberal democracy. Three years after this "Velvet Revolution," Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, an event sardonically referred to as the "Velvet Divorce." Each country subsequently pursued its own path toward privatizing and liberalizing its economy, and each has experienced significant economic growth since.
For a comprehensive look at the country's history, add the Národní muzeum
National Museum in Prague to your Czech Republic itinerary.
Customs of the Czech Republic
Social interaction in the Czech Republic tends to be more formal, with Czechs using—in their own language—polite forms of greetings such as "Good day" and "Good evening" and addressing one another with the polite form of "you," except among family and friends.
If you are invited to a Czech home, make sure to bring a gift and to remove your shoes as soon as you enter. Chocolates, wine, brandy, and flowers are all appropriate gifts. If you opt for flowers, though, be aware that odd numbers are seen as unlucky.
Holidays & Festivals in the Czech Republic
Of the numerous Czech state holidays, a couple hold interest for the traveler. Hand-painted eggs circulate around cities and villages during Easter and Christmas markets. Tubs of live carp, which is prepared for the traditional Christmas meal, fill town squares in late December.
If you take a holiday in the Czech Republic at the end of April, consider heading out to a village for the Burning of the Witches. Taking place on the last day of the month, this holiday celebrates the end of winter with the burning of a witch effigy.
Plenty of festivals take place in various destinations throughout the year. If you're planning a Czech Republic trip in early July, head to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in Karlovy Vary
and book your accommodation in advance. Cesky Krumlov
hosts a classical music and opera festival from mid-July through August, and Prague
offers various music, food, and arts festivals when the weather's warm.
Czech Republic Travel Tips
With a continental temperate climate, the Czech Republic experiences warm sunny summers and cold winters. The mountains generally receive plenty of snow in the winter, making them ideal for skiing and snowboarding. If you plan a Czech Republic vacation in summer, you can expect good weather for outdoor activities, but the summer months also average the greatest amount of rain. Autumn offers colorful foliage, while spring includes a mix of warm sunny weather and cool rainy days.
Transportation in the Czech Republic
Getting around the Czech Republic with or without a car remains relatively easy thanks to extensive rail and road networks. If you're not driving, you can transfer between cities by train or bus, both of which run reliably. Train cars have undergone considerable upgrades since the end of communism, but you might still encounter older models if you travel to small towns and villages. If you do drive on your trip to the Czech Republic, you'll find a well-maintained network of roads including six major highways. Cities provide paid parking in lots and on the street.
Cities provide public transportation via trams, buses, and, in the case of Prague, subway lines. You can purchase tickets from machines, tobacco shops, and, in some cases, from the driver. Be sure to check whether or not you have to validate the ticket when you enter the transport.
Language of the Czech Republic
Over 96 percent of the population speaks Czech, a Slavic language related to Slovak, Polish, Russian, Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, and others. The Latin alphabet is similar to the one used in English, though you'll see accent marks above various letters. Most young people in cities speak English, while the older generation tends to speak Russian or German as a second language.
Tipping in the Czech Republic
In higher-quality restaurants, a 10-percent tip is standard. Do not, however, leave the tip on the table; when the waiter approaches your table to settle the bill, state the total amount you are paying including the tip. On a bill of 500 Czech crowns, for example, you would say "550 crowns" to indicate that you would like to leave a 50-crown tip. The waiter will return your change accordingly. If you pay by card, the waiter will charge 550 crowns. Older Czechs tend to leave spare change as a tip, but more is expected from the younger generation and visitors. Beware of restaurants in tourist areas that include the tip in the bill--you should avoid them to begin with, but do not leave anything extra if you do find yourself in one.
For taxis, round up the fare to the next 20 or 50 crowns. A 40-crown tip is appropriate for hotel porters.