Beyond Prague: 3 Czech Republic Towns not to Miss
In Eastern Europe, one of the most beautiful cities has to be Prague, in the Czech Republic. Because Hitler intended it to be the jewel of his European empire, it was spared the destruction that befell many other large cities. As such, it maintains a beauty and alluring charm with many gothic, revivalist and modern buildings marking its skyline. One can spend a week in Prague and never have to venture more than a few kilometers outside its main center to find an interesting museum, castle or historical site. But if you tire of the crowds and decide to take a day trip outside its walls, you’ll be rewarded with many other intriguing places to visit and come away with a rich sense of the Czech Republic’s history and culture that you wouldn’t have gotten by just staying in Prague.
High on the list of day trips is Karlovy Vary, a town located near the German border in what is considered the Bohemia area of the Czech Republic. The town is world famous for its thermal hot springs, which bubble up throughout the city and spill out of decorative fountains in ornate colonnades. You are encouraged to bring a mug and sip the healing waters that have put this place on the map since 1358, when one of Charles IV’s hunting dogs became wounded in pursuit of a stag and was miraculously healed when it walked through the hot waters. If just drinking the water doesn’t suffice, you can take in any number of spas that offer treatments for all sorts of ailments, from a sore back to arthritis. If you want to avoid the crowds, don’t visit in mid-summer, when Karlovy Vary plays host to an international film festival. Foodies, make sure to sample both the “lazenské oplátky,” or spa waffles, and “Becherovka,” a famous Czech alcoholic spirit made from a secret blend of herbs.
If relaxing spa towns don’t interest you, perhaps a more historical Jewish one will. Terezin is a town that was converted entirely into a holding camp for Jews on their way to death camps further east during World War II. Of the over 140,000 men, women and children who passed through this town, only 3,000 returned alive. The town maintains an eerie atmosphere that is only enhanced by its grid-like patterned streets. Of the sights to see here is the Ghetto Museum, where you’ll learn that Terezin was used in propaganda films to show a flourishing Jewish community, when in reality it was anything but. The other main site is the Small Fortress, which was built by the Gestapo as a prison. It is now a museum which details the horrors that took place within its walls. Terezin is not a beautiful place in the way that Karlovy Vary is, but rather a place to visit, reflect and remember that history is often filled with tragedy and we must never erase the past, no matter how painful.
By far the most relaxing place to enjoy a day away and perhaps a night outside of Prague is Cesky Krumlov. This tiny little town, once German speaking and included in the Sudetendland, is picturesque in every way, from the pink Renaissance tower in the castle to the charming cobbled streets and walkways. You’ll recognize the castle from recent movies and be amazed at its 40 buildings and five courtyards, one of the most extensive castles in all of Central Europe. Be sure to walk along the five-tiered bridge and take in the extensive formal gardens that play host to a summer music festival. For adventurous types, rent a kayak and paddle around the double loop of the Vltava River, which encompasses the town. Or my favorite, take in the Eggenberg Brewery and drink in its many types of beer. You won’t be at a loss for things to do in this town, or if you wish to do nothing but relax, kick back in a tea house along the river and take in the sights and sounds of this gem of a city.