48 Hour Guide to Charming Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov is being loved to death by too many tourists; however, we’ll tell you how to have an amazing 48 hours in the Czech Republic’s best little city.
Hot Take: An amazingly charming Central European town, Český Krumlov will transport you (and a horde of daytime tourists) to a magical earlier era. (4.5 stars)
Pro Tip: spend at least one night in Český Krumlov, the difference once the day-trip crowds leave is dramatic.
Český Krumlov is a tiny town of 13,000 in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. Picturesquely straddling the Vltava River, the old town area avoided destruction in the world wars as well as the architecture brutalism of the Communists so it retains its 18th century charm. Let’s get one thing clear up front, Český Krumlov is certainly a UNESCO World Heritage Site that lives up to its billing as an amazing place to visit. However; the secret is out about Český Krumlov and this small town sees almost 1,000,000 annual visitors. It is especially popular with selfie stick wielding Asian tourists due to a very popular Asian soap opera set in the Czech Republic. While the crowding can be oppressive during the day, don’t let the crowds scare you away from this Czech gem; just visit smarter than the hordes. We stayed here for 2 nights which we feel is just right to soak in the majesty of the place.
Day 1: Arrival
Transportation options are surprisingly plentiful to get to this small town from Prague, Austria, or Germany due to its popularity. While the nearest airport is in Prague, Český Krumlov is best accessed from train, bus or private van transfer (note: you can take a rental car to get there but you will not be able to park it in the old town area nor will you need it to explore…so best not to). We took a private van transfer from Vienna for $35 each with Bean Shuttle/CK Shuttle. The drive was stunning as we passed many castles and sun kissed countryside while we shared road beers with some fellow travelers. We arrived in the late afternoon and were dropped right at our lodging.
Day 1: Checking In
After a long travel day, you don’t any more transportation hassles, so book your stay at one of the charming riverside B&B options in the old town. During the period of privatization after the fall of Communism, the rundown shells of these late 18th century buildings could be purchased for as little as $2,000. After extensive modernization (expect wifi and other creature comforts, though no AC), these buildings now sell for millions. However, we stayed at the Guest House Olšakovský for a very reasonable $70 per night. After checking in to our room, we grabbed some excellent Czech beers and made our way to the patio overlooking the river to let the heat of the day (and the crowds) pass.
Day 1: Stroll and Dinner
30 minutes before sunset, the crowds will have mostly departed and you are in the clear to start to explore Český Krumlov. Take advantage of magic hour to capture as many pictures (especially from the numerous bridges) as you can stand before you make your way to dinner by the river. There are a number of restaurants to choose from (generally the food is quite good, though the prices are not cheap). You don’t need reservations, so just wander until you find a restaurant that looks good to you.
Day 1: Evening Walking Tour
Our love of ‘free’ walking tours has been well documented, but Český Krumlov has a wonderful night option from Wiseman Free Tour that starts at 9p (and lasts about 2 hours) from June thru October. The night option is particularly crucial in Český Krumlov because it will introduce you to the city without crowds (and because the guide will be able to project images on the city walls to see pictures from Český Krumlov’s history). The Czech Republic is pretty lax on open container rules, so take a street beer with you to sip while climbing through the history of this little town with an outsized impact on the region’s history. We particularly enjoyed the story behind the bears that live in the castle moats these days.
Day 2: Sunrise
Early birds in Český Krumlov will be rewarded with the picturesque city virtually free of visitors before 7:00a. Climb the city walls to capture the 18th century magic of the place and imagine the city through the centuries. While the main castle tower is closed until 9:00a, the castle walls and bridges make for amazing photo spots.
Day 2: Breakfast and Chill
After 9:00a, as the tourist hordes begin to clog the streets, make your way back to your B&B for a leisurely breakfast. Expect yogurts, meats, fruits, and granola paired with coffee, tea, and juices. If the weather is good, we recommend eating al fresco as the clean air will refresh any city dweller. We loved listening to the city wake up while sitting next to the river as we enjoyed our breakfast. After breakfast, read a book by the river and relax as the city fills with harried tourists.
Day 2: Rafting
To escape the tourist hordes but still enjoy the beauty of Český Krumlov and the region, we recommend an afternoon rafting down the Vltava River. No reservations (or river skills) are required as the waters are calm and the rafting companies have plenty of rafts/kayaks for plenty of visitors. With options from 2 hours to the whole day, we went with a 2 hour float (which we stretched to 3 with a picnic stop along the route). Virtually no paddling was required and the rapids were quite tame (sorry adrenalin junkies), but the views were terrific and seeing alternative views of the city was well worth the modest $20 each charged by Maleček Rafting. We highly recommend that you pack snacks/lunch as well as something to drink (and don’t forget sunscreen). The river is refreshingly cold but plenty of adventurous children were swimming anyways in late July when we floated by.
Day 2: Nap, Stroll and Dinner
After a solid recovery nap (hey, this is vacation after all), repeat the stroll from the night before (but lose yourself down a different alleyway this time). For dinner, we recommend dark beers and a meat platter to finish off your perfect day in Český Krumlov.
Day 3: Český Krumlov Castle and Gardens
Grab a quick, early breakfast and get up to the castle you have been staring at for days before 9:00a (most B&Bs will hold your luggage for you for no fee). Originally built in 1240, the Český Krumlov Castle was expanded through the centuries and updated to the painted Baroque style seen today. Of particular note is the attached castle theatre with its covered entrance for noblemen (it is one of the world's most completely preserved Baroque theatres). You can take tours of the castle and adventurous souls can pay $5 each to climb to the top of the castle tower, but we decided to explore the gardens before the people showed up. While we found the Baroque gardens with an elaborate fountain nice (if nothing special), the park also has a unique revolving theater. One of the world’s largest (and a center of controversy with UNESCO due to its construction in the 1980s), the revolving theater has multiple stages and a rotating grandstand of 600 seats. We wished we had timed our visit to be able to see a show.
Day 3: Departure
After one more long walk through town (try not to pity the poor day tourists too much since they missed out on the best experience), it is time to leave. Taxis are allowed to operate in the old town area, but you must get your accommodation to call one for you. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get to the train or bus station as there is only one main road through town and the stations are not in the old town. Ironically, the taxi cost us more to get to the train station ($17) than the train cost to Prague ($8 each).