Since the fall of communism in 1989, the Czech Republic – and its capital in particular – has evolved into one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations.
Prague, Cradle of Czech Culture
Everyone who visits the Czech Republic starts with Prague, the cradle of Czech culture and one of Europe’s most fascinating cities. Prague offers a near-intact medieval core of Gothic architecture that can transport you back 500 years – the 14th-century Charles Bridge, connecting two historic neighbourhoods across the Vltava River, with the castle ramparts and the spires of St Vitus Cathedral rising above, is one of the classic sights of world travel. But the city is not just about history; it’s a vital urban centre with a rich array of cultural offerings, and a newly emerging foodie scene.
Castles & Chateaux
The Czech Republic's location in the middle of Europe has seen a long history of raiding tribes, conquering armies and triumphant dynasties. This turbulent past has left a legacy of hundreds of castles and chateaux – everywhere you look there seems to be a many-turreted fortress perched above a town, or a romantic summer palace lazing peacefully amid manicured parkland. The number and variety of Czech castles is simply awe-inspiring – everything from grim Gothic ruins clinging to a dizzy pinnacle of rock, to majestic, baroque mansions filled with the finest furniture that Europe’s artisans could provide.
Folklore & Tradition
The Czech Republic may be a modern, forward-thinking nation riding into the future on the back of the EU and NATO, but it is also a country rich in tradition. This is most apparent in South Bohemia and Moravia, where a still-thriving folk culture sparks into life during the summer festival season. During this time, communities from Český Krumlov to Telč to Mikulov don traditional garb, pick up their musical instruments – and wine glasses – and sing and dance themselves silly, animating ancient traditions in one of the best examples of ‘living history’ in the Czech Republic.
Where Beer Is God
The best beer in the world just got better. Since the invention of Pilsner Urquell in 1842, the Czechs have been famous for producing some of the world's finest brews. But the internationally famous brand names – Urquell, Staropramen and Budvar – have been equalled, and even surpassed, by a bunch of regional Czech beers and microbreweries that are catering to a renewed interest in traditional brewing. Never before have Czech pubs offered such a wide range of brews – names you'll now have to get your head around include Kout na Šumavě, Primátor, Únětice and Matuška.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Czech Republic.
Built over a time span of almost 600 years, St Vitus is one of the most richly endowed cathedrals in central Europe. It is pivotal to the religious and cultural life of Czechia, housing treasures that range from the 14th-century mosaic of the Last Judgement and the tombs of St Wenceslas and Charles IV, to the baroque silver tomb of St John of Nepomuk, the ornate Chapel of St Wenceslas and art-nouveau stained glass by Alfons Mucha.
Strolling across Charles Bridge is everybody’s favourite Prague activity. However, by 9am it’s a 500m-long fairground, with an army of tourists squeezing through a gauntlet of hawkers and buskers beneath the impassive gaze of the baroque statues that line the parapets. If you want to experience the bridge at its most atmospheric, try to visit it at dawn.
Prague’s most popular attraction. Looming above the Vltava's left bank, its serried ranks of spires, towers and palaces dominate the city centre like a fairy-tale fortress. Within its walls lies a varied and fascinating collection of historic buildings, museums and galleries that are home to some of Czechia's greatest artistic and cultural treasures. Note that visitors must pass through a security check before entering the grounds, so bring your passport or EU identification card.
Brno had a reputation in the 1920s as a centre for modern architecture in the Bauhaus style. Arguably the finest example is this family villa, designed by modern master Mies van der Rohe for Greta and Fritz Tugendhat in 1930. The house was the inspiration for British author Simon Mawer in his 2009 bestseller The Glass Room. Entry is by guided tour booked in advance by phone or email. Two tours are available: basic (one hour) and extended (1½ hours).
This museum consists of six Jewish monuments clustered together in Josefov: the Maisel Synagogue; the Pinkas Synagogue; the Spanish Synagogue; the Klaus Synagogue; the Ceremonial Hall; and the Old Jewish Cemetery. There is also the Old-New Synagogue, which is still used for religious services, and requires a separate ticket or additional fee.
Strahov Library is the largest monastic library in the country, with two magnificent baroque halls dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. You can peek through the doors but, sadly, you can’t go into the halls themselves – it was found that fluctuations in humidity caused by visitors’ breath were endangering the frescoes. There's also a display of historical curiosities.
Prague’s most exuberantly art-nouveau building is a labour of love, with every detail of its design and decoration carefully considered, and every painting and sculpture loaded with symbolism. The restaurant and cafe here are like walk-in museums of art-nouveau design, while upstairs there are half a dozen sumptuously decorated halls that you can visit by guided tour. You can look around the lobby and the downstairs bar for free, or book a guided tour in the information centre.
While this monument's massive functionalist structure has all the elegance of a nuclear power station, the interior is a spectacular extravaganza of polished art-deco marble, gilt and mosaics, and is home to a fascinating museum of 20th-century Czechoslovak history.
The Old Royal Palace is one of the oldest parts of Prague Castle, dating from 1135. It was originally used only by Czech princesses, but from the 13th to the 16th centuries it was the king’s own palace. At its heart is the grand Vladislav Hall and the Bohemian Chancellery, scene of the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618.