My first view of the southwestern Czech town of Český Krumlov (pronounced CHESS-key KRUM loff — from now on I’ll just call it Krumlov, as the locals do) was from Castle hill above the town. Having just spent a week in the wonderful city of Prague, I thought I might have developed some immunity to historic beauty — but I was wrong. The small town of Krumlov is magical!
Separated by a 2 1/2 hour drive, Prague and Krumlov have some things in common. Both are exceptionally well preserved historic sites spared the ravages of bombing in WWII. Like Prague, Krumlov is dominated by a large castle on a nearby hill (which over the centuries was home to three families of rulers, most notably the Rozmberks, whose 5 leafed rose became an important symbol of Krumlov). Like Prague, Krumlov is surrounded by picturesque hills. Like Prague, Krumlov also lies on the Vltava River — in fact, the river makes a serpentine “S” shaped twist around the town and is one of the core features of Krumlov. In both cities the Vltava River is a busy place, with lots of traffic (tour boats in Prague and rafts and kayaks in Krumlov). But unlike the phenomenal Charles Bridge in Prague — perhaps the most beautiful bridge in the world — Krumlov has no monumental passages over the Vltava.
Krumlov’s history dates back to the time before Christ. It is a wonderfully intact medieval town, earning it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list . Besides the historic castle, Krumlov features over 300 well preserved 15th and 16th century homes, all with intact facades. The streets are cobble-stoned and there are almost no vehicles in town, so except for the modern clothes of the tourists who make their way here each year, it’s not hard to imagine that you’re taking a stroll in the 16th century. The town is small and easy to navigate if you have a map (available at the tourist information office off the central town square). While tourists outnumber local citizens they disperse throughout the town and you will likely not feel overwhelmed by them.
The town itself is the main draw for any visitor and lacks “must see” attractions. Spend at least a few hours strolling through its streets, studying its architecture and visiting its shops. Have lunch or refreshments at one of its many cafes and bask in its ambiance. But there are a few places worth noting and seeing while in Krumlov.
1) The town square is the heart of the town of Krumlov and highlights a plague monument. Historic Renaissance and Baroque buildings line the square including one which has been a pharmacy for over 400 years. This is a good place to begin your exploration of the town. Everything worth seeing in Krumlov is within a few minute walk of this square.
2) St. Vitus cathedral, a beautiful 15th century church which is best viewed from across the river. It doesn’t cost anything to go inside and look around its lovely baroque interior, The spire of this church is the main landmark in Krumlov just as Castle tower is the highlight of the Castle complex.
3) Krumlov Castle towers over the town on its hill and is the second largest castle in the Czech Republic (only the one in Prague is larger), a sign of how important the region was historically to the kings who ruled these lands. The castle’s history dates back to the 13th century and its grounds offer the finest view of Krumlov. The castle was built in phases, as you can easily see when you look at it, and is dominated by the Round Tower (which one can climb for great view of the town). You will need to take a guided tour to see the inside of the castle, with original art and furnishings, and learn more about the Royal Families who lived here. Tours last around an hour and we enjoyed ours. The grounds and gardens are beautiful and free to visitors. Stop by the historic bear pits near the drawbridge and see if the bruins are hiding in the shade or strolling around. There is a Baroque Theater in the Castle which is a popular venue that still has many of its historic features (eg. backdrops) preserved.
4) There are several small museums in Krumlov including a Museum of Regional History, a Puppet Museum and Museum of Torture. The Regional History museum was closed for remodeling when we visited; the others didn’t interest us enough to visit them.
5) The Vltava River is a popular river playground in the summer and besides rafting and kayaking around the town of Krumlov, longer options are available including a paddle/float to the Zlata Koruna Abbey.
There are lots of great cafes and restaurants and town and dozens of hostels and small hotels. While the town can easily be seen in one day, linger awhile and enjoy your step back in time.
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