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By visiting the Czech Republic, one can bring history to life; the artistic and artful architectural wonderland and impeccable cultural tradition encourage to visit the place. The country is known for its ornate castles, native beers, and long history. Prague is the capital of Czech Republic and home to grand 9th century Prague Castle. In Prague, there are around 30 statues mounted to the balustrade of Charles Bridge, whereas Cesky Krumlov is a small town in the South Bohemia region, which is remarkable for its Gothic architecture, Baroque buildings, and house restaurants and shops.
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World Heritage Kuntá Hora symbolizes the artistic originality of Bohemia. The bones of 40,000 people make up Sedlec Ossuary; skulls gaze down from the ceiling, a coat of arms is constructed from femurs and the chandeliers are human in origin. After plague and war, the bones stood in mass pyramids for over 300 years, until artist Frantisek Rint weaved his every creation. A 600-year-old labyrinthine silver mine runs under the city, explored on tours that are not suited for those who are claustrophobic. Vibrant frescoes and outrageous stained-glass windows immediately impress at Santa Barbara Cathedral, a sublime structure that gave rise to the Gothic Bohemian style.
Castle turrets are your compass points in Crumlaw, a small town packed full of baroque and Renaissance architecture. Pastel-colored townhouses stand above broad pedestrian lanes, 750 years of jumbled architecture, which can be explored on two feet. Rose-tinted churches lure you inwards while the town’s red roofs slope down towards Vltava River curves. Crumlaw is indelibly cute and charming for 20 hours of the day, just not when the Prague tour buses deposit throngs of day-trippers into the World Heritage center. You could explore on a visit from Prague, but it’s far more relaxed and authentic to spend the evening, relaxing on the old town square after almost everyone else has left.
Outdoor Adventures in the Czech Republic
Czech landscapes roll past from the train or car window for most visitors. With all the history, and old towns the wilder side of the country is mostly forgotten. Which is all the better for those who like the outdoors? Alpine foothills rise to the south, blanketed in thick forests, and hiking trails. Stunning limestone karst dot Movaria easily visited on walks from the towns. Castles rise above rolling farmland, which is beautifully lush in spring. You can hike, bike, raft down the Vltava River, and spend many days getting lost in the forests. When your legs are tired there are a number of spa towns for some re-energizing bliss.
The Different Sides to Prague
It’s easy to visit Prague and tick off the postcards. Prague Castle with its palaces and St. Vitus Cathedral; the 14th-century Charles Bridge; a walk around the Old Town to Tyn Church and the astronomical clock; then the Jewish quarter and a cruise on the river. In two days you can cram in a lot of sights. Prague was founded in the 9th century and has been one of Europe’s great cities throughout its entire history. There are stories to uncover and secrets to find. Jazz music bars, island beaches, local markets, boutique art galleries and that’s before you even reach the new part of Prague, where Frank Gehry’s Dancing House is as striking as anything else in the city. The Czech can be a tick-list of sights, but it really is too unique, and diverse for that.
Castles and Chateaux
A country in the heart of Europe was always going to see its fair share of battles. Castles cover the Czech landscape and are remnants of many different times and empires. Prague has the largest and most famous castles and is a great example of how the castles came to incorporate protective, religious and royal functions. Beyond the capital, lies Karlstejn Castle, Jaromerice Castle, the Renaissance castle of Litomysl and several others. Several castles are in ruins, others have been restored, certain castles seem to never have been damaged, and some have been converted to boutique hotels.
The Czech Republic is understandably popular and has evolved into Central Europe’s most popular destination. July and August are considered the busy season to visit. The weather is great at this time of year, but be mindful of the crowds. Consider staying overnight in popular day-trip destinations and incorporate some of the lesser-known Bohemia and Movaria highlights. April through June, and September through October are the best times to go. The weather is pleasant and the days are more than long enough. Landscapes come alive with blossoming flowers or fall foliage. The thick surge of summer visitors is yet to start or has already died down. During these months, you can explore everywhere in the Czech Republic, and really get to know the country. Easter is an interesting time as somewhat archaic local customs are followed, especially in Movaria.
Bohemia has always put on a show for visitors. Old cities have always been proud of their grandeur and used to go out of their way to impress foreigners. After the decades of communism, this hospitality has been revived in the 21st century, creating a wonderful array of choice in the high-end market. Chateaux converted to decadent hotels; glamorous townhouses with spacious rooms overlooking narrow cobbled streets; historic buildings transformed with contemporary flair. In most of the destinations, you can sleep amid the history, cathedral bells chiming in the distance, and cobblestone lanes extending from the front door. There are more unusual options as well, such as a houseboat on the Vltava River or a wooden chalet in the remote forest. For families, the most important consideration should be the location. Large parts of old cities can only be accessed on foot; the more central you are, the less distance you have to cover in a day. Modern improvements mean that many of the top hotels now have interconnecting rooms for family use.
For general information, the Czech Republic is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Area travel region. U.S. and Canadian citizens are given a visa-free 90-day stay upon arrival at any of the international airports or land borders. Technically you must register with the foreign police within three days of arriving, but this is taken care of by your tour guide or hotel. The country’s central location means there are so many ways to turn. A key consideration before you go is how the Czech Republic will fit into your European vacation. Even with three weeks, there’s enough to keep you entertained just in Czech. Only with a week in Europe, the country may be combined with one or two others. There’s Germany to the west, Poland to the north, Austria to the south (Vienna is very close), then the whole of Eastern Europe beckoning as well. With its superb transport connections (mainly by air and rail through Prague), the Czech Republic is easy to incorporate into any European itinerary.
Tourists rarely run into problems in the Czech Republic. The country is as safe as any in Europe. For a city of its size and the number of visitors it receives, Prague is remarkably free of crime. Health facilities are generally of a good standard across Bohemia, just make sure you are properly insured and have copies of your policy in case of an emergency. In rural Movaria, and Bohemia, it is advised to take a guide with you to any hospital or clinic, as it’s unlikely that staff will speak English. Pharmacies may dispense certain medications over the counter, but you should still bring everything you may need with you. Tap water is classified, as safe to drink, but it is wise to exercise some caution in highly industrial areas.
It is easy to feel welcome in the Czech Republic. But there are two kinds of welcome. As tourism has grown, you will find whole streets overtaken by tourists and overpriced restaurants. These typically lead from the front door of a castle to the nearest bus stop, or along the most common route between major attractions. With their fridge magnets, silly t-shirts, and inflated beer prices, these places provide a less than genuine welcome to the country. You only have to walk to the next street for a more authentic experience. That is magnified when you travel to destinations that are not so common on the tourist trail.
The Czech greeting always starts slow and reserved; public shows of affection are not common, nor is smiling excessively in public, but you should not mistake this for a sour mood. Establishments may not seem warmly welcome at first, but again, they are. For example, some of the small taverns can look claustrophobic and intimidating, yet they are anything but and will be quick to welcome you inside. In a country that drinks more beer per capita than anywhere else on the planet, you should not expect anything to be too reserved.
The Czechs are more complex than the stereotype of bearded beer guzzlers. As befitting a country of such grandeur, and history, there’s much to discover beyond the stereotypes. It’s certainly worth learning a handful of Czech words. While you can easily get by with English in all the places visited by tourists, a Dobry den (good day) or Dekuji (thank you) goes a long way. Visa and Mastercard ATMs are found almost everywhere, and it’s rare to encounter challenges withdrawing Czech Koruna. Euros are accepted in some places, but should not be relied upon, and the exchange rate will be poor. Both dollars and euros are exchangeable at forex offices in towns and cities; the hotel or your guide can advise the best place. Tipping is now considered commonplace, and 10% is usual in most restaurants and bars. In tourist places, it is usually added to the bill.
You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who declares Czech food to be a highlight, especially in comparison to the rest of Europe. Goulash and dumpling are favorite staples to try, along with traditional roast pork and apple strudel. It is not healthy, but it is very filling, and you need energy for long days exploring on foot. The highlight, of course, is the beer. There are dozens to try, from the famous to the up and coming. You will quickly recognize similarities with major international beer brands, and then come to realize why the original is always the best.
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