Many people who visit Prague are often caught up in the romance of the city’s architecture and culture. Ironically enough though, the city’s “castle” is more stoic compared to the castles travelers can see elsewhere in the country. The Czech Republic may not be known for its castles like France, England, and Germany are, but there are more than 130 castles and chateaus spread throughout, and many of them are well-preserved or have remained within prominent families for decades.
Some Czech castles make for a worthwhile day trip from Prague; others are better seen while traveling between other destinations, as they can be difficult to get to without a car. Regardless, there are plenty of them to see and explore for history and art fans of all kinds. These are 10 of the most amazing castles which will have visitors feeling as though they are part of a rich, old fairytale.
More of a governmental compound than an actual castle, this is one of Prague’s main attractions and also happens to be one of the largest castle complexes in the world, dating back to 880, and today visitors can enter the political apartments and learn more about the history of Prague and the Czech Republic, or explore St. Vitus Cathedral, the magnificent Gothic-style cathedral that can be seen throughout the city. In the warmer months, the gardens and grounds of Prague Castle are also worth exploring and include a winery with some of the best views in Prague.
Less than an hour from Prague, Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, made Karlštejn Castle his home in medieval times. His royal residence was filled with religious artifacts, including the imperial crown jewels. The crown is no longer there, but today visitors can view a replica, and explore original 14th-century wall decorations, galleries of medieval and Renaissance art, and views of the valley and village below from the castle’s highest tower, the Well Tower. Two tours are available, one that guides visitors through personal chambers and meeting rooms of Charles IV, the other focusing on religious art and architecture.
Český Krumlov Castle
No trip to Český Krumlov is complete without a visit to its castle, with its sgraffito facade, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, and pastel-painted tower that enhances the fairytale-like ambiance visitors often associate with the city. From the top of the Cloak Bridge, which connects the Upper Castle and the Baroque theater, you get a stunning view of Český Krumlov and the Vltava river. The theater is especially of note, with original sets, lighting, props, costumes, and architecture well preserved or restored from the past. Since the 16th century, the castle has been guarded by bears housed in their own “moat” and well taken care of by the staff.
Located on a hill within the city of Brno, Špilberk Castle has had a very active history since the 13th century. It’s been used as a military fortress, a jail for political prisoners, a military barracks, and now is home to the Brno City Museum. A tour of the casemates is highly recommended, as this underground layer of the castle once served as the harshest dungeon in all of Europe during the 18th century, and visitors will be acquainted with stories of famous prisoners and folk legends.
Another quick and easy day trip from Brno includes a visit to Pernštejn Castle, a Gothic-style castle that comes with its own spooky legends. A trip through the forests bordering Bohemia and Moravia reveals this fortress, built by one of the richest families in the country (after which the castle is named). Two interesting facts typically attract visitors. The first, is that Pernštejn Castle was never seized by outside forces during times of war. As though its placement on a high rock formation wasn’t disuasive enough, the castle also has a series of dikes, drawbridges, ramparts, and towers. The second intriguing aspect of this castle, lies with its White Lady legend. She used to be a mischievous chambermaid, cursed by a monk after she declined to attend mass. Legend has it that visitors who look into the mirrors of the castle will lose their beauty within a year, so be careful when checking yourself out amongst the chambers and hallways.
Carlsbad (its Czech name is Karlovy Vary) has turned many of its majestic palaces into spas and wellness retreats, but once they’ve had enough relaxing, travelers can explore the nearby oxbow town of Loket to get their castle fix. Loket castle belonged to John of Bohemia, but was primarily used as a fortress for keeping his son, Charles IV, as a prisoner in his younger years. Charles IV would later go on to become Holy Roman Emperor, but Loket remained close to his heart; much of the castle’s exhibits are dedicated to him. The castle also includes an extensive collection of arms, historic documents, porcelain, and an entire section dedicated to Medieval torture, which frequently occured in the castle’s dungeons. Don’t miss the room of frescos, dating back to the 15th century, depicting the castle’s gardens.
Admirers of architecture will enjoy a trip to Star Castle, a 16th-century landmark in the western area of Prague on the Hvězda Game Preserve. The building was formerly a hunting lodge and summer palace for Ferdinand of Tyrol, but its shape, a six-pointed star, is what draws visitors to its grounds. The inside contains historic art and artifacts from the castle and the surrounding area, as well as an intimate look at the construction of the castle. One of the highlights includes a yearly recreation of the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. The battle is narrated in Czech, with history fans dressed in Renaissance clothing and using replica weaponry, but the grounds include food stands, clothing, and other kitschy gifts.
Hazmburk Castle is a castle made for those who wish to rule, with as much solitude as possible. Located in Northwestern Bohemia, less than an hour from Prague by car, this historic site is actually distinguished by its two towers, which are all that remain of the castle today. They are nicknamed “White” for the layer of white stone that crowns the top, and “Black” for its distinct black basalt color throughout the structure. In medieval times, it was used as a fortress for keeping religious artifacts from the Strahov Monastery in Prague and other important items away from thieves. But the castle itself was built so strategically that it was nearly impossible for anyone to truly seize it. Visitors who come to the ruins today can climb to the top of the White tower, and view the landscape below, as far as the Central Bohemian mountains.
Český Šternberk Castle
It takes a bit of coordination to reach, but a visit to the “Pearl of Posázaví” often makes for a memorable day trip that will set your trip to the Czech Republic apart from the rest. The castle is still owned by the family that built it in the 13th century, which became part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2010. The site is especially known for its demonstrations of falconry and birds of prey training, which has been a family tradition for more than 4,000 years. Inside, there are several rooms with period furniture and decor from the Sternberg family’s rich history, as well as a series of 545 etchings from the time of the Thirty Years War.
Czech castles tend to be very Gothic in nature, but other forms of architecture are represented all around the country. A good example is Hluboká Castle, just outside of České Budějovice. This romantic building is sometimes referred to as more of a chateau than a castle, but the Neo-Gothic construction and cream-colored exterior make many feel like they’ve been transported to the English countryside. This was due in part to the Schwarzenberg family, who claimed the property in the 19th century and redesigned not only the castle itself, but the grounds as well. Inside, visitors have access to a selection of 140 rooms, including the castle’s kitchen, which has preserved many pieces of the Schwarzenberg family’s original tools and equipment. The English-style gardens are especially lovely for walking through in the warmer months with hundreds of flora represented and imported from abroad.
Those traveling to Olomouc might take pleasure in a day trip to Bouzov Castle, considered to be one of the most romantic castles in the Moravian region. It’s not surprising; the current facade was modeled after the Austrian and German castles Archduke Eugene Habsburg grew up around. He redesigned Bouzov Castle in the 19th century, as well as furnished the inside, which is what visitors can see for themselves as they tour through the grounds and interior. The Archduke was always interested in the most modern facilities and housing technology, much of which is still used today (such as how the rooms of this massive castle were heated efficiently using an advanced piping system). Visitors can also see 15th- and 16th- century weaponry, and the Neo-Gothic chapel, an important part of the Archduke’s life while there.
Kutna Hora might be the Bone Church in the Czech Republic, but Kost literally translates to “bone” in the national language. Travelers won’t find any spooky bone furnishings here however; the name allegedly comes from the strength of the walls, as hard as “bone” according to past residents. Kost Castle has remained a stronghold for centuries, thanks to the innovative security strategies put into place. The castle is located near several bodies of water, and in times of war, the castle guards would purposely flood the surrounding areas to create a moat-like system that kept enemies at bay. Today, visitors can take a tour of the castle as seen through a medieval lens, with character actors guiding them through the various rooms, including a medieval torture chamber. The castle had several owners over the years, which is why travelers can see several architectural styles represented, from medieval Gothic, Renaissance sgraffito, and more.