I’ve been a fan of fairy-tales since I was a little girl. As an adult, when I heard that the medieval town and castle Cesky Krumlov would bring to life all the scenes of my childhood dreams, I determined I would get there someday.
After years of eager anticipation, that “someday” recently came to fruition. One of many castles in the Czech Republic, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Český Krumlov did not disappoint.
Located about three hours south of Prague, this enchanting town is nestled in the hills and countryside of in South Bohemia, a region in the Czech Republic. The Vltava River twists, turns and bisects the town forming a natural moat around part the castle.
My first sighting of the castle and idyllic town from the window of our car took my breath away. I’ve traveled throughout all of Europe, and the castle Český Krumlov is one of the most picturesque sights I’ve ever seen. I think you’ll agree…
The Name Český Krumlov
The word “Český” means Czech, or Bohemian; the word “Krumlov” is derived from the German Krumme Aue, which may be translated as “crooked meadow”. The name comes from the topography of the town, specifically from the winding meander of the Vltava River.
History of Český Krumlov
The history of cities like Český Krumlov is dictated by the complex and convoluted history of several high-ranking noble families, each of which had control over the castle and town during different eras, with gaps and overlaps. Here is a brief summary of those times.
Back as far as the 9th century, the area was probably owned by the noble Czech family Slavníkovci, who were slaughtered by the rival family of Přemyslovci in 995.
The history is fuzzy until around 1240 when the Vítkovci family. In 1302 the Vítkovci line became extinct and King Wenceslaus II gifted the town and castle to the Rosenberg family. The Rosenbergs strongly promoted trade and crafts, and in the late 15th century, gold was found nearby. Both of those happenings helped the town to prosper. The 16th century is considered Český Krumlov’s Golden Age, and the city was home to many artists, scientists, and alchemists from all over Europe. The Rosenberg symbol, the rose, is still seen in several places within the castle.
In 1602, the Rosenberg’s sold Krumlov to the Habsburg emperor Rudolf II. After the Bohemian Revolt, Emperor Ferdinand II gave Krumlov to the House of Eggenberg.
From 1719 until 1947 the castle belonged to the House of Schwarzenberg.
During that period, after the First World War, the city was part German-Austria. By the end of 1918, the Czech army had occupied the region so it became part of then Czechoslovakia. In 1938 Nazi Germany took possession, but after World War II all German-speaking population was expelled and it was returned to Czechoslovakia.
The Castle Český Krumlov
You can’t miss the 13th-century castle in Český Krumlov. As the second biggest castle complex in the Czech Republic (first is the castle in Prague), it dominates and is the heartbeat of the medieval town.
As stated above, the castle was built in the 13th-century by the Vítkovci family; from the 14th to 16th-century it was held by the Rosenberg family, who ran the city from this perch for three centuries and sold it in the 17th century. From the early 18th century until its nationalization in 1947 the castle was owned by the House of Schwarzenberg.
One of the features of the castle is the vibrantly colored round tower, originally built to guard the river entries. You can climb the 162 steps for a panoramic view of the old town and river at the top.
Inside the castle grounds is the Gothic-style Church of St. Vitus, dating back to the 15th century, with frescoes from the same period.
The castle grounds also include an extensive garden and bridge over a deep crevice upon which the castle is built.
The Town of Český Krumlov
The utterly adorable town of Český Krumlov just begs visitors to leisurely stroll its picturesque cobbled streets.
Near the Red Gate entrance to the castle complex, the street is lined with umbrella cafés and boutique shops selling puppets, antiques, jewelry, and souvenirs.
Across the river from the castle is a labyrinth of winding streets. Colorful Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings line the hilly streets.
Along with the castle, you can also visit the restored Minority Monastery. It’s a lovely and quiet place where you can escape the crowds during the hectic midday.
Most Instagramable Places of Castle Cesky Krumlov
1. Inside the Castle Complex
Upon entering the Red Gate of the castle complex, continue walking uphill and over the bridge until you see a doorway on the left. The door leads to an open-air terrace where you can get a spectacular view of the castle tower, river, and old town. It can get very crowded on the terrace during midday, but I found everyone to be very polite in letting each other get their photos and selfies from the main spot which juts out a little over the river.
2. Across the River
For the best views with the castle in the background, head across the river. There’s a terrace that looks down and across to the castle for that iconic shot that you see in glossy travel brochures. It took me 10 minutes to walk from my hotel near the Red Gate, across the river bridge and to the terrace. There were hardly any people there, and I was able to get as many photos as I wanted without other people jockeying and vying to get my spot perched on the wall. From other locations in town, the longest it would take would be approximately 20 minutes.
3. When to Beat the Crowds
If you want photos without people in them, or without having to squeeze your way through the crowds, you’ll have to get up early. Don’t worry; you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn unless you want to. I left my hotel around 8:00 a.m. and there was no one else around as I made my way through the cobblestone streets, except for the occasional delivery truck.
On the way back to my hotel, I ducked back into the castle to get more photos at a different time of day and without the crowds that I’d experienced the day before. The castle grounds open at 9:00 am. If you get there as soon as it opens, you’ll have about an hour or so before the hordes descend.
I spent a good deal of my time just wandering around, soaking in the surreal medieval vibe and snapping one photo after another. I simply could not get enough of the red-tiled roofs, winding river, and the countryside on the horizon.
Things to Do in Český Krumlov
One of the castle’s highlights is the 17th-century Baroque Theater. It’s been in continuous use since its construction when nobility would go for evening concerts. Český Krumlov’s theater is one of only two Baroque theaters that survive in good shape and is open to tourists, the others burned down, except for one remaining in Stockholm.
On a summer visit, boating on the Vltava River is a must-do experience. For the more adventurous, you can rent a canoe for a three-hour drift on the river, passing the town and countryside and ending at a 13th-century abbey. For an abbreviated but equally fun outing rafts and kayaks can be rented to explore the river around the peninsula.
I was fortunate enough to be in Český Krumlov during the International Music Festival, which takes place from late July to early September. We attended a classical chamber music concert the castle’s ornate Masquerade Hall. Whimsically painted Renaissance-are spectators are lined on murals along all of the walls. The classical woodwind concert, performed by a group of talented young musicians, was excellent.
Beer brewing has a long history in Český Krumlov, dating back to 1336. Around 1625, the House of Rosenberg relocated its brewery to the current brewery location. In 1628 dominion of brewery and castle Český Krumlov was given to the House of Eggenberg The Eggenberg’s held the brewery until 1717 when it passed to the House of Schwarzenberg who decorated it in the Baroque style.
Where to Eat in Český Krumlov
After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Český Krumlov set on a path to become a gastronomic destination. Nearly ninety restaurants have been established in the center of town, located along the river, and near the castle.
We had a great time eating our medieval carnivorous feast at Krčma Šatlava near the town square. Heaping platters with every type of meat were set in front of us, but not surprisingly, no utensils were provided. Lucky for me I love crispy chicken wings, so I commandeered as many as I could find on to my own crude plate. I did not share. Sorry-not-sorry Russell!
Where to Stay in Český Krumlov
We stayed right in a lovely boutique hotel in the middle of the historic center, at the Hotel Latrán. It was just a few minutes’ walk to the Red Gate castle entrance and convenient to many shops and restaurants.
The rooms were attractively decorated in a style reminiscent of medieval times, but with all the amenities you’d want, including breakfast, and very friendly and helpful staff.
Best Time to Visit Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov is undoubtedly crowded and touristy, but there’s a reason for that. Everyone wants to experience the magical, fairytale charm.
The town can be overrun with tourists from group bus day trips from Prague. These tours dump large groups of tourists who stay from midmorning to midday. My advice would be to avoid the castle area during that time. The light around the castle is more gentle in the morning and weather cooler (in the summer months). It’s pure magic at night with the twinkling lights of the town below.
As far as what season is best, that’s totally subjective. Some people say winter is magical and un-crowded. I’m not fond of winter, so I’d personally never go at that time. Summer, while full of tourists, has the weather I prefer. The shoulder seasons of spring and fall would have moderate weather, lower prices, and fewer people, which would be enticing to many.
Do you want to experience a medieval fairytale town first-hand? Head straight to dreamy Český Krumlov. Find your perfect place to stay here.
Český Krumlov and South Bohemia are wonderful, but there’s also a lot to do in North Bohemia!
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of Czech Tourism during her stay in Česky Krumlov, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning blog Luggage and Lipstick. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.
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