For the best day trip from Prague it’s hard to beat Karlstejn Castle.
Karstejn Castle, a fairy-tale structure if ever there was one, is located strategically on a hill overlooking some of the country’s most beautiful nature. As with almost everything in the Czech Republic with “Karl” in the name (Karlův most, Karlovo námĕstí, Karlovy Vary), it was built on the orders of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.
Karlstejn Castle dates from 1348, the same year the ever-industrious Charles founded Prague’s New Town and the Charles University. Charles planned to use his new castle to store relics belonging to the Holy Roman Empire – and that’s exactly what he did. The Czech crown jewels were kept at Karlstejn, as well.
During the Thirty Years’ War, the Swedes broke into the castle and looted it; fortunately, the treasures of the Holy Roman Empire and the Czech crown jewels had long since been removed. (The crown jewels are now stored at St. Vitus’s Cathedral in Prague.) Later in the 17th century, Karlštejn fell into disrepair. The former residence of kings was now used to store grain.
In the 19th century, interest in Karlštejn revived, and the castle was, fortunately, repaired and restored to its former glory.
How to Get to Karlstejn Castle From Prague
Visiting Karlstejn Castle is super easy on a day trip from Prague, and the little town below offers many delights, as well. Not only is visiting Karlstejn Castle a true pleasure, it’s very convenient to the capital, and provides both tourists and locals with a chance to escape the often-overwhelming crowds in Prague.
Take the Train From Prague to Karlstejn Castle: This day trip from Prague is easy to plan and carry out. If you don’t have a car, it’s really the only fast way to get there, as Karlstejn has no bus service. The train, which takes about 40 minutes, runs every half an hour from Prague, and can be boarded at either the main station (Hlavní nádraží) or in Prague 5, at Smíchovské nádraží. You can book your train tickets to Karlstejn in advance here.
(Pro Tip: If you have a Prague transportation pass, that green card called “Lítačka”, present it when you buy your ticket. You will get a discount from the already-affordable fare.)
The trains are very clean, comfortable, and clear in their announcements of the towns along the route. You will know when you are approaching Karlstejn, and you will certainly know when you have arrived. Once you disembark, follow the other passengers down the street (at least a few of them will be traveling into the village).
It’s a walk of approximately two kilometers – that is, more than a mile – but along flat terrain. You will walk down the street to the bridge over the Berounka River, across the bridge, and parallel to the river. Finally, on the left you will see the village’s main street, lined with delightfully kitschy houses and businesses.
The castle is uphill, and can be a challenging walk for those with impaired movement. From here, if you don’t wish to walk, you can take a taxi.
Bike From Prague to Karlstejn Castle: Karlstejn may be the best day trip from Prague by bike. Several Prague-based tour agencies offer bike tours to the village, or you can get a map and go it yourself. Maps are available at information centers, or you can just click here.
Take a Car From Prague to Karlstejn Castle: You’ll start from Prague 5, taking either K Barrandovu or Route 101 (a third option, via Plzeňská, is a toll road). For directions, click here. The castle’s parking lot is in the village, so again, you will have to decide how you want to travel up the hill.
Things to Do in Karlstejn
Take a Tour of Karlstejn Castle
The castle offers four tours, ranging in length from 30 minutes to 100 minutes. The lowest-priced tour, and the only one without a guide, costs only CZK 80; the longest and most expensive is the 100-minute guided tour, priced at CZK 880 (these prices are for full admission; certain discounts are available). All tours must be booked in advance, and it is important to keep in mind that the castle is closed on Mondays, all year round.
When (if) you’ve had enough of wandering around the castle and grounds, you can descend into the village for a look around. The main street is the one where, understandably, most of the action is. This is where you eat, where you may end up staying overnight (or several nights), and this is where you will find the village’s other attractions.
The Museum of Nativity Scenes
The Museum of Nativity Scenes highlights one of the Czech Republic’s favorite pastimes. Although the country is predominantly atheist, the Czechs throw themselves into the creation of Nativity scenes with wild abandon. These scenes go far beyond the usual group around the manger; they take more of an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. The Nativity figures can be made of porcelain, wood, clay, and even gingerbread. The largest scene on display is located in the loft of the building, and covers an area of approximately 80 square meters. In all, the museum contains around 50 Nativity scenes.
During the Christmas season, visitors can take part in workshops, including decorating Christmas wreaths, creating figures from marzipan or glass (these latter figures can have a name engraved on them), decorating gingerbread, painting wooden figures, and more.
Full admission to the museum is only 50 CZK, and as with the castle, some discounts are offered. The website is in Czech only.
The Wax Museum
The Wax Museum is another attraction in the village. The website – in Czech only, again – has photos showing various famous figures from Czech history, as well as exhibits showing unlucky lawbreakers of a bygone era undergoing torture.
The wine festival, called “Karlštejn Vintage”, is a joyous occasion featuring (what else?) wine. It’s an all-out event at the end of September, featuring medieval-style market stalls along the village’s main street, a Gothic-themed fashion show, fire eaters, fencing, and historical dancing.
Hike Around Karlstejn Castle and Its Surrounding Country Side
If hiking is your thing, you can get started from the castle itself. The Czech Republic is crisscrossed with well-marked hiking trails, and those near the castle will take you to some beautiful nature areas and charming villages. One hike will take you all the way to Beroun, but if you choose, you can stop at one of the locations along the way and then hike back to Karlstejn. This hiking trail is marked with a red sandwiched between two white stripes, which signifies that it is a long-distance trail.
The trail starts at the northern point of the castle, winding its way downhill to a notable area of interest, called “Velka Amerika”. This former quarry has been filled with water, and is now a swimming area. Further along, you will find more filled-in quarries, named “Mexiko” and “Malá Amerika”.
Further along the trail, you will come to the village of Svatý Jan pod Skalou, which translates as “St. John under the Rock”. Part of the little church here (the Nativity of St. John the Baptist) is literally carved out of the rock, hence the name. You can stop in the village for a beer or two, or a full meal, before returning to Karlštejn or continuing on.
If you decide to follow the trail to its end, you will follow roads, for the most part, until you arrive in Beroun. From here, you can take the train back to Prague.
Where to Eat and Stay at Karlstejn Castle
You might decide to stay a night or more in Karlstejn, in which case, you may want to try the four-star Hotel Karlstejn. Located along the main street, it offers single, double, and triple rooms; a heated swimming pool and sauna; bicycle rental; wedding packages; a restaurant on the premises; and a large gift shop. For more information, independent reviews, or the best prices on Hotel Karlstejn click here.
For a meal, visitors to the village have ranked U Adama very highly. The website is in Czech only, so to give you an idea of the menu, the restaurant offers primarily stick-to-the-ribs Czech fare. Dishes include beef goulash with dumplings; a baked duck quarter with two types of sauerkraut and two types of dumplings; hamburgers; and cod with pureed peas. A few salads are on offer, as are some pasta dishes. The restaurant – as with almost everything else in Karlstejn – is located on the main street below the castle.
Ready to return to Prague? Simply retrace your steps to the train station and board the next train. You won’t have to wait long.
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