Castles and Europe go hand in hand. They just do. When people think of European Castles, probably countries like Germany and France come to mind. And yet just a little further to the east, the Czech Republic is home to some undeniably gorgeous castles. Like in the rest of Europe, they come in different shapes and sizes and from different periods of history but they are all worth seeking out. Here are 5 Czech castles you need to check out, pun intended.
Found above the small town of Karlštejn, southwest of Prague, is the dramatic Karlštejn Castle. This castle lies upon a steep hill top, looming high over the quiet streets of the town below. With its gothic style it makes quite an impression, especially in poor weather that amplifies its menacing mood.
The castle dates back to 1348 AD, built by the King of Bohemia Charles IV, likely where it gets its name from. For several centuries Karlštejn Castle kept safe the Bohemian crown jewels after the Hussite Wars of the 15th century. Such an important decision makes sense when you see how well fortified and located the castle was. With three gates, fortified ramparts and several high towers, the compact castle would have been hard to attack. This is on top of being located on a hilltop with steep slopes.
To reach the castle, you must first walk up through the town as the main street winds its way up into the hillside. Rounding the first corner in town, you’ll be granted your first view of the castle and what a view! The walk up to the castle isn’t light, but for those either unable or unwilling to walk up there are horse and carts you can hire to take you up. Due to its proximity to the ever-popular Prague, Karlstejn is a common day trip from the nation’s capital.
Certainly a lesser known Czech castle is that of Loket, a tiny town near the spa town of Karlovy Vary. However, just because it is less well-known does not mean it isn’t worth visiting. The castle of Loket dwarfs the modest town around it and fascinates with its abundance of local folklore.
Loket, which translates as elbow, gets its name from sitting in a bend in the Ohre River. This formidable castle was founded in 870 AD, but it wasn’t until the 12th century that it was built in stone. Its appearance as a Gothic fortress didn’t take shape until the 13th century when it was expanded and given additional fortifications. It was in Loket Castle that King Charles IV was held prisoner as a child but later in life enjoyed spending time at while hunting in the nearby woods. Unfortunately, the castle was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1725 and was restored in the early 19th century.
One of my favourite parts of visiting this castle was learning about some of the entertaining local legends. For starters, Loket was the site of a meteorite landing in 1400 AD, with several mystical legends revolving around the extraterrestrial stone. One legend stated that every time they threw the meteorite in the well out of superstitious fear, it would reappear elsewhere soon after. The castle was also said to be plagued by a local dragon and haunted by a goblin obsessed with harassing children with unkempt hair. The legends really add to an already stunning castle.
Špilberk Castle, Brno
While it may not be the most spectacular castle here, Špilberk Castle in the city of Brno has surprising depth. Situated just outside the city centre, the castle is a splendid spot to get a view out over the city while also adding to Brno’s skyline. Brno is more a student city than one driven by tourism, but that doesn’t mean it lacks attractions and Špilberk Castle is one of them.
The castle was built by the Kings of Bohemia during the 13th century and would become the seat of the Margraves of Moravia, vassals to Bohemia. Over time the castle was converted into a fortress and later used as a prison. Throughout the years protestants, soldiers, revolutionaries and state prisoners from across the Austro-Hungarian Empire were imprisoned here. It was also used by the Nazis during their occupation of Czechoslovakia.
Špilberk is surrounded by sizeable fortifications that you gradually weave your way through as you climb the gradual hill it lies on. Inside the main fortress are several multi-layered courtyards and some great views atop its inner walls. The keep houses the Brno City Museum and access to a view tower. Information can be found here. A visit to Špilberk Castle is a recommended endeavour for those in Brno looking for a nice view or to learn more about the city.
The city of Prague has a lot of attractions popular with tourists but its castle may be its best. Prague Castle is an immense site and a true treasure of the city. Home to a myriad of sights, Prague Castle is home to gorgeous courtyards, striking churches, breathtaking views and turbulent history. In all honesty, this may be the most important of the Czech Castles.
Prague Castle’s history dates back to the late 800s, when a church was built upon the castle grounds. From the 10th century it would become the royal seat, with a Romanesque style palace erected in the 12th century. During the reign of Charles IV, the castle was rebuilt in a Gothic style and was at the peak of its power as the royal seat of the Holy Roman Empire. Unfortunately, the castle was abandoned during the Hussite Wars and was only shortly used afterwards before the Habsburgs moved the capital to Vienna. After WWI, it became the Presidential residence and saw a great deal of reconstruction.
Really the best way to see the entirety of Prague Castle at once is from the across the Vltava river. This is because Prague Castle is simply massive, in fact being regarded as the largest ancient castle complex in the world. There are so many parts of the castle to visit, from the St Vitus Cathedral, to the Golden Lane, to the gardens, that it’s hard to mention them all. If you want a fully comprehensive visit to Prague Castle, you best allow several hours in order to cover it all. If not, just freely wander the complex and take in its magnificence.
Český Krumlov Castle
I’ve already expressed how painfully beautiful Český Krumlov and its castle are in my Fairytale Towns of Central Europe post. This charming Bohemian town really is a highlight of the Czech Republic and that is in large part because of its delightful UNESCO heritage-listed castle. Sitting over the banks of the Vltava River and across from the picturesque old town, I can’t imagine a better setting for a medieval castle.
The first mention of Cesky Krumlov Castle can be found in a poem by Ulrich of Lichtenstein around 1240 AD. Unlike many of the castles on this list, the castle didn’t belong to royalty but to local nobles and later dukes. As such, its history is quite a bit less tumultuous. As it passed from generation to generation of the Eggenberg family, the castle saw Baroque renovations in the late 17th century. In 1717, the castle was passed over to the Schwarzenberg family with whom it stayed until the 1947 when it was given to the local province.
What is particularly interesting about Český Krumlov Castle is the blend of styles it incorporates, with elements of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture. This combination, plus the way it curves along with the shape of the river, gives the castle a wholly unique look. Walking through the grounds, you’ll be struck by the unusual passageways that lead you from one courtyard to the next. But first make sure to stop by the Bear Pit, where depending on circumstances you may be able to see the castle’s furry defenders. If you continue walking up from the castle you will find the extensive and peaceful castle gardens, that spans 7 hectares. A mighty castle for a small, but pretty town.
Have you visited any of these castles? Are there other castles in the Czech Republic people should visit? Please share in the comments below.
Why Not Pin It For Later