Monday 1 June 2009

The best daytrips from Prague

The strategy of using a big city as a base for day trips into the surrounding countryside is a popular one, and there are plenty of interesting destinations within an hour or so of Prague.

Kutná Hora
Most travellers first hear of Kutná Hora in connection with the famous “bone church” in which the skeletal remains of up to 40,000 people have been arranged into decorative shapes such as urns, a coat of arms and a chandelier that contains at least one of every bone in the human body.

The daytrip from Prague is an easy one, with frequent train connections to Kutná Hora main station, from where it’s about 10minutes’ walk through the suburb of Sedlec to the bone church. Don’t make the mistake of turning around and going home once you’ve seen it though, because a short bus ride or 20 minute walk away is one of Bohemia’s most beautiful historic old towns.

St Barbara’s in the centre of Kutná Hora is probably the most spectacular cathedral in the country, the museum of alchemy is excellent and it’s possible to descend six floors down into Kutná Hora’s cold, dark underbelly on a hard-hatted, torchlit tour of the medieval silver mines. If you don’t have that much enthusiasm for sights and activities, the cobbled streets and squares of old Kutná Hora easily support an afternoon’s lazy wandering and there are some good cheap restaurants, bars and cafes serving local drinks and food.

Karlštejn castle
The second really popular daytrip from Prague is to Karlštejn castle, set above a village in the green valley of the Berounka river. Again the daytrip is simple, with dozens of direct trains between Prague and Karlštejn each day. Karlštejn castle was built in the 1300’s to house Charles IV’s collection of holy relics and the Bohemian crown jewels. At 330Kc for the complete tour, it’s not the cheapest daytrip from Prague and as visitor numbers to the upper palace are limited it may require some planning in advance.

About an hour north of Prague, not far from the junction of the Ohře and Labe rivers lies an old red brick baroque fortress erected by the Austrians to help guard their lands against the Prussians in the 18th century.

The Austro-Prussian tensions were resolved elsewhere, but Terezín played a key role in a 20th century military conflict, when it was converted by the Nazis into their foremost Jewish ghetto and prison in the Czech lands. The Jewish and Christian cemeteries, former Gestapo prison, concentration camp and Jewish ghetto are all open to the public and their stories are well-told and fascinating, if not especially cheerful. Direct buses from Prague’s Florenc station take about an hour to reach Terezín.

Much closer to Prague, but also connected with WWII are the memorial and museum at the former site of Lidice, which was the first village completely wiped from the map by Nazi machine guns, bulldozers and explosives in retaliation for the assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich by the Czechoslovakian resistance in 1942. Halfway between Prague and Kladno, the memorial is open year round and is an eloquent commentary on the senseless brutality of the Nazi occupation.

Czech beer is famous worldwide and Žatec makes an excellent daytrip from Prague for any connoisseur of the amber fluid. Better known abroad under its old German name Saaz, Žatec is the centre of one of the world’s premier hops-growing regions, and the town’s hops museum is a top-notch place to get the full story before you hit a pub to try the award winning local Žatec beer. Even if you’re not into beer, Žatec has a lovely historic old town centre filled with church spires, renaissance arcades and gothic gate towers. Get there before they make the UNESCO-world heritage list and everybody wants to go.

Mělník is similar to Žatec in size, age and riverside location, but is the place to go for Bohemian wine. South Moravia is the Czech Republic’s main winemaking region but the one place in Bohemia with the right conditions is the Labe river valley near Mělník. The renaissance chateau or any of the local wine cellars offer wine-tasting but it’s also worth leaving time to explore the charming old town. The lookout tower and bone-crypt of the majestic clifftop church of Sts Peter and Paul, the tour of the catacombs and a visit to the teahouse in the old gothic gate tower are the highlights.

Related posts and resources:
Kutná Hora
Bone churches of Bohemia and Moravia
The Kutná Hora bone church
Free daytrip guide to Kutná Hora with maps
Getting to Kutná Hora
Charles has left the building
Bohemia’s saddest buildings
Getting to Terezín
Lidice memorial and museum
Žatec Hops museum
Getting to Mělník

Related posts: Top 10 daytrips from Olomouc

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