One of Europe’s most beautiful and romantic cities, Prague boasts an enchanting riverside location and a skyline dotted with hundreds of golden spires glittering in the sun. Having largely escaped the architectural purge of the Cold War, the city’s medieval Old Town looks much as it did a thousand years ago, full of cobblestone streets winding around spacious city squares. While it’s tempting to spend an entire holiday exploring Prague’s architectural, musical and culinary delights, day trips offer the adventurous traveler rewarding experiences as well. From fairytale castles and old breweries to sites that serve as witness to the Czech Republic’s war-torn past, day trips from Prague present rare opportunities to experience the extraordinary richness of the country’s culture.
For travelers looking for a castle tour that feels like taking a trip back in time, it’s hard to beat a trip to Krivoklat Castle in the Berounka River Valley. Perched atop a forested hill, the castle was built as a royal residence in the 13th century. Its secluded location has helped to preserve the castle’s Gothic interiors, which are filled with paintings, art and more than 50,000 volumes of books. Used to house political prisoners during the Middle Ages, the castle features some unusual reminders of its darker past, including carvings in the Royal Chapel that depict angels bearing instruments of torture.
Pilsner Urquell Brewery
Located 100 km southwest of Prague in Plzen, the Pilsner Urquell Brewery was the first to produce the pale lager known as Pilsner. The brewery’s history demonstrates how passionate Czechs are about their beer, which they call “pizo.” In 1838, the citizens of Plzen were so disgusted with the quality of the town’s beer that they poured barrels of it in front of the city hall in protest. The brewers responded by uniting to create Pilsner, which remains the most widely consumed beer in the country today. Tours of the brewery include beer tasting while the nearby Beer Museum displays brewing equipment and beer mugs.
South of Prague lies the 17th-century Konopiste castle that Archduke Franz Ferdinand turned into his personal hunting lodge in 1887. The heir to the Habsburg throne used the lodge extensively until his assassination in 1914, assembling what is today the largest collection of mounted animals in Europe. Hunting trophies fill the castle and include wild boars, birds of prey and hundreds of antlers. The lodge boasts a fine collection of Meissen porcelain as well. The castle moat is home to two live bears, and peacocks and other fowl roam the estates beautifully manicured gardens.
The medieval castle town of Cesky Krumlov 170 km south of Prague is situated at a crossing in the Vltava River, which made it an important city for trade from the 14th to 17th centuries. Most of the town’s original architecture is still intact. Standing on a hill overlooking the winding loops of the Vltava River, the massive Cesky Krumlov castle dominates the town. In addition to the castle’s exquisite interiors, the grounds feature a large Rococo-style garden with a recently restored elaborate fountain. With its original stage machinery, props and scenery, the castle’s Baroque theatre is notable as well.