Hiking and history in the enchanting Czech Republic

written by Joanne Owen
updated 7/19/2021
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Majestic mountains and fairy-tale forests. Riverside rambling-routes and charming spa towns. Czechia is a dream destination for hikers looking to enjoy culture and history (and world-beating beer) alongside outdoor adventuring. And with 40,000 km of marked trails, hiking is arguably the most rewarding way to experience its diverse delights.

One thing’s for sure, however you choose to explore Czechia, whichever paths you take, beautiful Bohemia is a land that nature-lovers fall in love with and return to - time and time again.

To experience the outdoor adventures covered here, fly to Prague’s Václav Havel Airport (flights from the UK take around one hour fifty minutes), which is served by the likes of British Airways, Ryanair and EasyJet. On arrival, take Bus AE (Airport Express) to Prague’s main station (Hlavní nádraží) to connect to the excellent national train and bus network. Visit www.dpp.cz/en to book in advance.

View Gorges in Czech Switzerland on the Kamenice River © GitaFoto/Shutterstock

North Bohemia - Scale magical mountains, ramble romantic rocks, uncover Crystal Valley culture

North Bohemia’s landscapes are the stuff of fairy tales, not least in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. Best explored by taking the trail along the Kamenice River, this is a pine-forested paradise of wild waterfalls, and valleys speckled with cottages that look like they’ve been conjured from a picture book. The park’s highlight is iconic Pravčická brána, Europe’s largest natural sandstone arch - the fact Hans Christian Andersen wrote part of The Snow Queen here tells you everything you need to know about this romantic rock formation.

Home to Sněžka, the Czech Republic’s highest mountain, and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Krkonoše National Park boasts hiking trails through glacial landscapes and alpine meadows. To enjoy epic walks alongside another Czech tradition, trek the 35km Krkonoše Beer Trail - it connects four microbreweries across magnificent mountain scenery.

For a dazzling experience that combines culture and nature, it doesn’t get better than Crystal Valley. Located deep in an area of the Jizerské Mountains and Lusatian Mountains, exquisite Czech glass has been crafted here for over 460 years. North Bohemia is also home to the Czech Republic’s oldest spa - Spa Teplice. Tucked in a the Krušné Mountains, it’s clear to see why it’s known as the “little Paris of Bohemia”. Arguably the peak pull around Teplice is the Krušné Mountains themselves. Famed for their silver mines, they’re beloved by hikers and cyclers, with attractive towns in their foothills, among them Jáchymov, site of the world’s first radon spa.

Prisecnice dam in Krusne hory mountains © Jiri Fejkl/Shutterstock

West Bohemia - Roam fairy-tale forests, saunter chic spa towns, sup world-class beer

In the heart of West Bohemia, picturesque Pilsen holds pivo (beer) close to its own heart. The city is home to the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, where visitors can enjoy unfiltered beer straight from oak barrels. The region’s smaller breweries are well worth visiting too, such as Chodova Plana’s Chodovar brewery, which has its own beer spa. But be sure to explore Pilsen’s architecture before heading off. The Moorish-Romanesque Great Synagogue is stunning, as are the interiors created by pioneering Modernist architect, Adolf Loos.

When it comes to nature, West Bohemia’s Šumava National Park (another UNESCO Biosphere Reserve) sits top of the tree - an immaculate landscape encompassing Central Europe’s largest forest, crystalline glacial lakes and Boubín primaeval forest, which exudes the eerie allure of a Brothers Grimm story.

Hiking to the park’s duo of darkly-named lakes is an unforgettable experience. Black Lake is the Czech Republic’s largest, deepest lake, with its name deriving from the dark, encroaching forest. From here a twisting trail leads to Devil’s Lake - an expanse of glassy water framed by emerald forests. As for its name, legend has it that the devil’s plan to drag a girl to hell was foiled when she tied a stone to his tail - taking him with her, and creating the valley.

The Spa Triangle towns of Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně and Františkovy Lázně showcase yet more West Bohemian beauty. Karlovy Vary, for example (home to an international film festival), is the epitome of spa town elegance, making it the perfect place to rejuvenate in style. You’ll be following in fine footsteps too - its colonnades were once strolled by the likes of Mozart and Beethoven.

Traditional farm houses in Holasovice, Czech Republic © Thomas Dekiere/Shutterstock

South Bohemia - Trek scenic trails, explore stunning chateaux, feast on first-class fish

South Bohemia is ideal for blending historic sightseeing with back-to-nature adventuring, with the medieval town of Český Krumlov an absolute must-visit. Designated a UNESCO World Historic Site, the town is presided over by an extraordinary 13th-century castle.

For another UNESCO-rated experience, Holašovice is a rural idyll like nowhere else on earth - and that’s no exaggeration. The village has retained the same number of buildings (seventeen farms, a blacksmith’s, two taverns, one chapel) through its 800-year existence.

Holašovice is but a hop away from handsome Hluboká Chateau. Reminiscent of Windsor Castle, this 13th-century stunner was given a Romantic makeover in the mid-19th-century. Alternatively, visit 17th-century Červená Lhota (Red Village) chateau. Its burnished-red facade presents a captivating contrast with the surrounding lake and trees.

The Lipno lake area in the Šumava countryside is a hotspot for cycling, swimming, windsurfing, sailing - and sunbathing (there’s a reason it’s known as the Czech riviera) - while adventurers will be thrilled by the 24-metre Treetop Walk.

South Bohemia’s Toulavá trail is a trek to take your time over, not least because its name derives from the Czech word toulat, meaning ‘to wander’. It winds along the Lužnice River through enchanting valleys and historic towns like Tábor and Bechyně. Following the old salt trade route, and routing through the Šumava Mountains, trekking the Golden Trail is another rewarding way to see cultural highlights, including the mountain village of Volary.

Hikers will also be in heaven exploring Třeboňsko. Noted for its ponds and canals, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve has plenty of well-marked trails, with gratifying historic detours to take (Chateau Třeboň for example, once visited by imperial alchemists Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley). And you won’t want to miss the region’s culinary specialties, with restaurant-rich Třeboň being the perfect place to feast on local fish dishes.

If Czechia is on your travel wish-list, don't miss the top things to do in the Czech Republic. Plus, stray from the tourist trail and uncover an alternative side to Prague.

To find out more, got to www.visitczechrepublic.com, and for more about these beautiful regions, go to www.branadocech.cz/en; ​­www.‌zivykraj.cz/en; www.visitpilsen.eu; and www.jiznicechy.cz/en.

Top image: View Gorges in Czech on the Kamenice River © GitaFoto/Shutterstock

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written by Joanne Owen
updated 7/19/2021
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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 @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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