Karlštejn Castle, 30km southwest of Prague, started life in 1348 as a hideaway for the crown jewels of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. After falling into disrepair, it's been restored to fairy-tale perfection and wouldn’t look out of place on Disneyland’s Main Street. Entry is by guided tour only (three main tours available), and is best booked in advance by phone or email. Even if you don't go inside, the views of Karlštejn’s stunning exterior are worth the trip alone.
The three main tours:
Tour 1 (55 minutes) is considered the 'basic tour' and will be enough for most visitors. The tour passes through the Knight’s Hall, still daubed with the coats-of-arms and names of the knight-vassals, Charles IV’s Bedchamber, the Audience Hall and the Jewel House, which includes treasures from the Chapel of the Holy Cross and a replica of the St Wenceslas Crown.
Tour 2 (100 minutes, May to October only) takes in the Marian Tower, with the Church of the Virgin Mary and the Chapel of St Catherine, then moves to the Great Tower for the castle's star attraction, the exquisite Chapel of the Holy Cross, its walls and vaulted ceiling adorned with thousands of polished semiprecious stones set in gilt stucco in the form of crosses, and with religious and heraldic paintings. Because of the length of the tour, this is not recommended for children.
Tour 3 (45 minutes, May to September only) visits the upper levels of the Great Tower, the highest point of the castle, which provides stunning views over the surrounding countryside.