This sprawling national park is just a 90 minute drive from Prague, but it may as well be on a different planet. You will find no trace of city life here. Home to verdant gulches, towering sandstone cliffs, peaceful swaths of farmland, quaint little villages, and majestic rock formations Bohemian Switzerland is a delight for all outdoor enthusiasts.
Let’s quickly address the sandstone elephant in the room. Bohemian Switzerland is NOT actually in Switzerland. It is a region in the north of the Czech Republic, or Czechia as the country might soon be called.
“Well then, what’s up with the misleading name?”, you might ask.
It’s a simple matter, really. At some point in the 1800’s two Swiss artists decided that a particular area in the north of the Bohemian Kingdom (now the Czech Republic) reminded them of their home country. They were sort of popular (tons of Twitter followers and such), and thus the name was born.
Day Trips from Prague – Bohemian Switzerland
The first thought that comes to most people’s minds when the Czech Republic is mentioned is Prague. Which is totally understandable, as Prague is iconic, and gorgeous. We lived in Prague for seven incredible months, and we are counting down the days until we are lucky enough to do so again.
But…if Prague is the extent of what you see when you visit the Czech Republic you are truly missing out on some spectacular locations. The fairy tale town of Cesky Krumlov, the birthplace of Pilsen beer Plzen, the spas of Karlovy Vary, and so much more. So when you come to Prague you should absolutely make time to visit other locations. If you are a fan of the outdoors, if you want to experience some incredible hiking or biking, then you need to go to Bohemian Switzerland.
Our own Bohemian adventure took place over an all too brief weekend in early spring. We had spent what seemed to be a long (yet still beautiful) winter in Prague. So it was a huge thrill to get outdoors and explore a bit of the Czech countryside. We were treated to two full days of hiking and gallivanting around Bohemian Switzerland by the really cool guys at Northern Hikes. This won’t be the last time we mentioned them, as they really pulled out the stops to share their passion for Bohemian Switzerland with us.
Soutěsky Kamenice – The Gorges of Kamenice
The first stop on our Bohemian excursion were the Gorges of Kamenice, a deep and narrow mossy valley carved out of sandstone.
The gentle hiking trail down in the gorge meanders alongside the banks of the lazy river, as moss and lichen coat the towering grey rock with verdant fuzz. Most of the trail can be hiked on foot, aside from two areas through which only a river boat can go.
And so on a river boat we went. The pole boats glided over the dark shallow waters, taking us for a short ride through narrow passes between grey-green lichen crusted slabs of rock. The eco-system that evolved down in the gulch felt secretive and primal, old from a time before anything that resembled man walked this earth.
The gully teems with life; a fragrant lushness that makes you want to take a deep breath, and perhaps just sink into the stone. There is a stillness within those so-green-they-don’t-look-real rocky walls, and a permeating sense of ancient wisdom. “Follow the emerald trail, listen to the river, and all will be revealed, child” the gorges seemed to say.
It was easy to fall under the pacifying spell of the river and its companions; the setting is seductive in its tranquility. In an ideal world we’d start many Saturday mornings with a gentle contemplative hike among the stillness of the Gorges of Kamenice.
This was but our first stop on that particular Saturday, and Bohemian Switzerland had only just begun to reveal her secrets.
We hiked out of the gorge and stopped by the “U Forta” restaurant/hotel, one of only two such establishments within walking distance…within walking distance from the main trails in the park. U Forta serves an assortment of traditional Czech dishes, and many tasty beverages for hikers, bikers, and explorers to happily consume. They even managed to arrange a vegan dish, which is a trend that we hope will gain traction in the Czech country side.
Saunstejn – The Bandit’s Keep
High above the Bohemian countryside, built atop the ruins of an old castle, sits Saunstejn. In order to gain this commanding view of the breathtaking landscape one must brave a series of steep stairs and metal ladders. Ascending to the pinnacle rewards you with a spectacular vista that can stretch for miles on a clear day.
So we climbed it, of course.
Local legend has it that after the castle, which was built to protect merchants on the long road between centers of civilization, fell into disrepair centuries ago it was taken over by bandits. These fearsome outlaws used the ruins as a base of operations, plundering the very caravans the castle was once built to protect.
We can not attest to the validity of this particular piece of lore, mind you. But the feeling of standing atop of Saunstejn, which is already quite the experience, is made all the more sweet by the thought of it.
As you can see, Bohemian Switzerland really tickled our imagination, and it wasn’t quite done yet. Not by a long shot…
Mariina Skala – Mary’s Rock
To bask in a sunset on our first day exploring, Northern Hikes took us to Mary’s Rock, a lookout point very few visitors ever find. Once a watchtower used to spot forest fires Mariina Skala is now where local lovers, poets, and photographers go to bid farewell to the setting sun.
The hike up to Mary’s is pretty strenuous, although it does not require the sort of vertical climbing the Bandit’s Keep did. The views are well worth the effort, presenting anyone who undertakes the task brilliant vistas and the potential for lovely sunsets.
We bid farewell to the sun from our vantage point high above the countryside, and then made a slow return back down for a dinner and a much deserved beer.
Gabrielina Stezka – Gabriela’s Trail
Gabriela’s trail begins at the steps of the U Forta hotel mentioned above, and meanders through a green conifer forest before gently climbing up into sandstone mountains. It offers hikers of all ages an up close and personal acquaintance with the sandstone formations that form the skeleton of the Bohemian Switzerland national park.
Six kilometers of relatively easy hiking on a Sunday morning brought us to the most famous landmark in Bohemian Switzerland…
Pravcicka Brana – Pravcicka Gate
Pravcicka Gate is undoubtedly the most photographed location in Bohemian Switzerland, and with good reason. Just look at it. It’s huge.
The majestic sandstone arch is the largest of its kind in Europe and among the grandest in the world. Towering 16 meters (52 feet) into the air, the arch has a uniquely wide top, giving it the look of a sturdy bridge.
(This is where we’re obligated to mention that the arch was part of the Chronicles of Narnia movie, a fact that excites some people. We are very excited about that as well. Super excited.)
The hiking continued, and we gained access to the cliff top near Pravcicka Gate, allowing the arch to be viewed from above. It’s as stunning from above as it is intimidating from below, a truly exceptional bit of sculpting work by mother nature.
The cliff opposite the arch also rewarded us with additional sweeping vista views. More lush Czech country side, and a peak into Germany whose order is only about a kilometer away.
Hiking can be a thirsty business, so we rested our feet and had a couple of beers at the Falcon’s Nest, a hotel constructed in the 19th century. Fittingly this impressive structure is built in a very architectural Swiss style, making it the most Swiss thing about Bohemian Switzerland!
Saxon Switzerland National Park
Laying adjacent to Bohemian Switzerland, Saxon Switzerland National Park is located right across the German border. The Bastei Bridge, as seen above, was built in 1851, and links several massive rock formations together. It served no defensive or commercial purpose, and existed solely for people to bask in the intimidating beauty of the region. Not much was done with tourism in mind back in those days, making this stunning bridge ahead of its time.
The bridge itself is impressive, and Bastei offers some truly spectacular look-out points of the surrounding park and river. It made for a fitting last stop in our exploration of the region.
We normally dislike tours and planned trips, preferring to explore any given town, city, or region at our own pace. When we DO opt in for a tour we do so with a local guide, and with a locally owned business. A tour needs a passionate guide to truly be worth our time. Which is why we are thrilled to recommend Northern Hikes to any of our readers who want an organized hiking trip to Bohemian Switzerland.
Northern Hikes is a small, local Czech company founded by Vit Slezak. Vit was born and raised in the town of Decin, and has spent nearly 21 years exploring Bohemian Switzerland National Park. Tired with his meaningless corporate job Vit founded Northern Tours with a mission statement aimed at enriching the experience of people visiting the Czech Republic by introducing them to the beauty of the region he grew up in. His energy and passion for Bohemian Switzerland is readily on display, and we are hard-pressed to think of a better guide for our own trip.
Want to see more of the stunning national park? Here is a video our friend Hynek Hampl shot during our trip to Bohemian Switzerland. You should also check out his Instagram account for some incredible photos!
Note: Special thanks to the Northern Hikes who hosted us and organized our trip. As always, all opinions expressed are 100% our own.