Taking in stunning chateaux, epic hiking and biking trails, enchanting cruise routes, and wild water-sports spots, the Czech Republic’s Vltava River delivers an abundance of historic and natural beauty. Connecting South Bohemia and Central Bohemia through impossibly picturesque Prague, and taking its name from the old Germanic term for wild water (Wilt-ahwa), at 430km the Vltava is the Czech Republic’s longest river. It’s also a national symbol that was immortalised by the esteemed Czech composer Smetana in his stirring Má Vlast (My Country) composition. For independent travellers who like to get off the beaten track, touring the Vltava presents a uniquely enriching experience that rewards culture vultures and outdoor adventurers alike. In addition, trips exploring the Vltava are also ideal for visitors who like to travel responsibly, with plenty of environmentally-sound ways to get around (think bikes, boats and trains). Read on for some top experiences to enjoy along the vibrant Vltava.
Stretching along the left bank of the Vltava, Prague’s District 7 is a uniquely vibrant (and lesser-visited) area of the city. With a huge concentration of galleries, museums, theatres and creative studios, it has something of a Berlin-vibe about it. At every turn, visitors are greeted by architectural innovation and reinvention, not least at the Trade Fair Palace, which houses the National Gallery’s excellent modern art collections. Then there’s the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, an ingeniously re-appropriated factory that hosts art projects, film screenings and interactive workshops.
Café culture also reigns supreme in Prague 7. The Vnitroblock Centre, for example, serves some of the city’s finest coffee in a buzzy theatre, cabaret and dance studio space. This spirit of art and culture is also extended to the district’s outdoor spaces, with Letná Park boasting a dramatic, kinetic sculpture of a giant metronome within its gorgeous green grounds.
Taking a boat cruise offers an excellent, alternative way to take in Prague’s diverse beauty, with a host of rewarding routes available. A top choice is to venture to the “Venice of Prague” around Kampa Island. Situated near majestic Charles Bridge in the romantic Lesser Town district, this is the perfect way to experience Prague at a slower pace.
Alternatively, sail south to see stunning Střelecký Island before continuing to the myth-infused area of Vyšehrad. Legend-lovers will be interested to know that it’s from here that mythical Princess Libuse foretold of a great city whose glory would touch the stars, as Prague’s many spires indeed appear to. Foodies, meanwhile, will want to investigate booking a wine and dine cruise experience to enjoy international and Czech culinary delights while taking in the city’s sights from the Vltava.
It’s not for nothing that Prague was named the European Forest City of 2021. To experience the city’s green grandeur first-hand, it doesn‘t get better than meandering Prague’s manicured parks, many of which offer incredible views of the Vltava River. Take poetic Petřín Hill, for example. Known for the Eiffel Tower-esque structure that adorns its peak, and accessed by a quaint funicular railway (unless you fancy walking), this swathe of emerald slopes boasts natural beauty, historic buildings, and all the fun of the fair in the form of the child-pleasing Mirror Maze that’s housed in a cute little castle.
Stromovka - Prague’s elegant answer to Central Park - is another of the city’s great, green open spaces. Formerly a royal residence, this 250-acre oasis features the grand Summer Palace, a gorgeous rose garden, beautiful ponds and a host of paths to walk and cycle. In addition, Prague’s palace gardens blend Baroque beauty with natural allure - don’t miss Wallenstein Garden, Ledeburk Garden, and Prague Castle’s many horticultural delights.
Located in Southern Bohemia, Reservoir Orlík is the Czech Republic’s largest hydroelectric dam. Taking its name from Orlík Chateau, a ravishing Renaissance building surrounded by stunning countryside, the reservoir is a top site for fishing and water sports. For example, underwater adventurers can dive beneath its waters to explore the flooded church of the former village of Těchnice. Back on land, enchanting Zvíkov Castle is big on fairy tale beauty. Located near the reservoir, and founded by the Přemyslid dynasty in the 13th century, it occupies a high promontory above the confluence of the Vltava and Otava rivers. Stunning inside and out, Zvíkov Castle is a South Bohemian must-visit.
One for adrenaline junkies, this. Located in the protected nature reserve of Karvanice on the left bank of the Vltava River, the Via Ferrata Hluboká rock formation is accessed from a bike route, with heights ranging from 8 to 20 metres. Split into three options that cater for different experience levels, a new, secure climbing path has been created on the rocks above the river. With guides and equipment at the Hluboká nad Vltavou centre, this is a unique way to experience the river, and to appreciate the Czech Republic’s exceptional natural beauty in exhilarating style.
Designated a UNESCO World Historic Site, the mind-bogglingly attractive town of Český Krumlov is presided over by an extraordinary 13th-century castle. While the town itself is an absolute must-visit - ideal for ambling with stop-offs in museums and cafés - it’s arguably best appreciated from the Vltava River. A wonderful way to discover the town’s history while taking in its beauty is on a river rafting trip. Once the area’s most important means of transport, today rafts-men guides adorn traditional garb as they take visitors on trips back in time along the river. The region also offers more high-octane water-sports action, with the stretch of the Vltava between Český Krumlov and Zlatá Koruna renowned for its cool kayaking experiences.
Known as the Czech Riviera, the Lipno lake area in the Šumava countryside is a hotspot for cycling, swimming, windsurfing, sailing and sunbathing. A place that’s perfect for blending getting-away-from-it-all relaxation with a huge range of outdoor activities. What’s more, it has a fantastic family-friendly vibe, with pedal boats to hire, and tonnes of biking and hiking trails to suit all ages and fitness levels.
A top attraction here is the Lipno Treetop Walk that offers breath-taking birds'-eye views of the Šumava countryside and the distant alps. After heading along a barrier-free path that scales 24-metres, a walkway leads visitors to a 40-metre-high look-out tower. If you visit in July and August, it’s open until midnight, which makes for an especially magical experience. Once you’ve taken in the views, a thrilling toboggan ride whizzes you back down to earth.
If you think of the Czech Republic, chances are beer will figure somewhere in your mind’s eye. And in good news for lovers of the great outdoors who also like a drop of the golden good stuff, stunning South Bohemia has found an innovative way to combine a host of top Czech attractions. Courtesy of six excellently-curated beer tourist trails, visitors can uncover the history of Bohemian beer-making through visiting micro-breweries in beautiful historic towns and villages backed by outstanding countryside.
Trail One, for example, affords opportunities to visit the famous family-owned Bukovar Brewery, Hluboká Brewery, Budějovický Budvar, and many more besides. But it’s not all about the beer, folks. This route also takes in the enchanting city of České Budějovice and handsome Hluboká Chateau. Moreover, the trails make travelling responsibly easy, with scenic walking, biking and train routes between sites - all of which adds up to a more immersive visitor experience while being better for the environment.
Perched on a gentle slope above the Vltava River, some 35km north of Prague, Central Bohemia’s Nelahozeves Chateau is one of the Czech Republic’s most captivating Renaissance castles (and that’s saying something). Founded in the early 16th-century as a fortress, it later served as a chateau for the Lobkowicz family, who were wealthy patrons of scientists and artists, including none other than Ludwig van Beethoven.
Today the chateau houses a huge collection of Spanish art from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with the Lobkowicz collection boasting around 1500 paintings, including masterpieces by Brueghel, Velázquez and Rubens. The chateau also hosts the renowned Dvořák’s Musical Nelahozeves festival, and has its own award-winning winery, making it an all-round top attraction for aficionados of fine art and wine.
Another must-visit for wine-lovers, magnificent Mělník occupies a stunning site at the confluence of the Vltava and Elbe rivers. With its skyline dominated by the Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul (head to its crypt to explore one of the Czech Republic’s biggest ossuarys - it contains the remains of around 15,000 people), the town is most known for its wine. To sample some for yourself, tour the cellars of Mělník Chateau, or else book a table in the restaurant for an unforgettably elegant dining experience. Alongside a fine menu, it serves up awe-inspiring views of the Elbe and Vltava rivers, and across to the Central Bohemian Highlands.
More wine-tasting experiences can be enjoyed at the charmingly quirky Mělník Regional Museum, where an exhibition on the “history of pram manufacturing in Czech Republic” sits alongside displays offering fascinating insights into Bohemia’s viticulture. An expert-led wine-tasting tour takes visitors into the museum’s atmospheric gothic cellar.
If you’re looking to combine water-based activities with historic attractions, fine food, and relaxation, Marina Vltava might just be your ideal spot. This Central Bohemian recreational complex is located on the banks of the Vltava River and offers visitors easy access to a host of varied, rewarding experiences and attractions. The site itself is home to a harbour, restaurant and guest house. It’s also a top place to rent a boat, or else book a sightseeing cruise to let someone else do all the hard work while you take in the sights. Viewing the likes of Nelahozeves Chateau from the river makes for an unforgettable experience.
That said, you’ll want to jump ship to explore the chateau, along with the nearby Baroque birthplace of Antonín Dvořák. Managed by the National Museum, the house is furnished in the style of Dvořák’s day, and designed to give insights into how the famed composer would have spent his musical youth.
Intrigued to discover more Vltava River trip options? Visit Czech Republic is a veritable trove of ideas about what to see and do along the Czech Republic’s spectacular Vltava River, from eco-friendly trail-walking, to exploring historic gems and incredible art.
Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her