The Czech Republic's western province boasts surprising variety. Český Krumlov, with its riverside setting and Renaissance castle, is in a class by itself, but lesser-known towns such as Třeboň in the south and Loket in the west exude unexpected charm. Big cities like České Budějovice and Plzeň, the EU Cultural Capital for 2015, offer great museums and restaurants.
The Czech Republic’s easternmost province, Moravia is yin to Bohemia’s yang. If Bohemians love beer, Moravians love wine. If Bohemia is about towns and cities, Moravia is rolling hills and pretty landscapes. The capital, Brno, has the museums, but the northern city of Olomouc has captivating architecture.
Among Czechs, Moravia’s capital has a dull rep; a likeable enough place where not much actually happens. There was even a hit movie a few years back called Nuda v Brně (Boredom in Brno). The reality, though, is very different. Tens of thousands of students ensure lively cafe and club scenes that easily rival Prague's. The museums are great too.
Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), or simply 'Vary' to Czechs, has greatly stepped up its game in recent years, thanks largely to a property boom spurred by wealthy Russian investors. Indeed, the first thing you'll notice is the high number of Russian visitors, all following in the footsteps of Tsar Peter the Great, who stayed here for treatments in the early 18th century.
Plzeň, the second-biggest city in Bohemia after Prague and the European Union's 'Cultural Capital' selection for 2015, is best known as the birthplace of Pilsner Urquell beer, but as the EU obviously knows, the city's charms run much deeper. In Plzeň's case, literally deeper: exploring the city's extensive underground tunnels is worth the trip here alone.
České Budějovice (pronounced chesky bood-yo-vit-zah or simply 'Budweis') is the provincial capital of southern Bohemia and a natural base for exploring the region. Transport connections to nearby Český Krumlov are good, meaning you could easily take in both places on an overnight excursion from Prague.
The 20th-century Czech poet Jan Skácel (1922–89) bequeathed Mikulov a tourist slogan for the ages when he penned that the town was a 'piece of Italy moved to Moravia by God's hand'. Mikulov is arguably the most attractive of the southern Moravian wine towns, surrounded by white, chalky hills and adorned with an amazing hilltop Renaissance chateau, visible for miles around.
The town of Tábor, south of Prague, earned its place in Czech history in the 15th century as home to the most radical wing of the Hussite movement. These days, there aren't many radicals left, but Tábor makes for a convenient lunch-and-a-stroll stopover on the trip south towards České Budějovice and Český Krumlov.
The border town of Znojmo is one of southern Moravia’s most-beloved day trips, particularly for travellers from neighbouring Austria. People come for the wine and to stroll the town’s village-like alleys, linking intimate plazas with bustling main squares. Znojmo lies midway between Prague and Vienna and could easily be covered in a few hours as a stopover en route.
Třeboň is traditionally known throughout the Czech Republic for its many fish ponds, which produce much of the carp consumed around the country on Christmas Eve. The ponds are still there, but these days they're also prized for aesthetic reasons: they make a picturesque backdrop while hiking or biking through the Třeboňsko Protected Landscape.