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Visiting Cesky Krumlov Castle and UNESCO site

When I first visited Cesky Kromlov in Czechia, it was in early 2019. My husband and I stopped there because it is a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. World Heritage sites never fail to be interesting, no matter what country I visit. Cesky Krumlov did not disappoint.

I recently went there again as part of a press trip sponsored by Visit South Bohemia and Czech Tourism, yet even though it was my second visit, again Cesky Krumlov did not disappoint.

Another disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. This will not affect your price.

Text: Cesky Krumlov: A must-see in South Bohemia, Czech Republic (and the Rachel's Ruminations logo). Images: above, a view of the town from Cesky Krumlov castle tower; below, a view of Cesky Krumlov Castle.

Cesky Krumlov (properly written as Český Krumlov), a completely intact medieval town, huddles around a meander in the Vltava River in south Bohemia. Its dominant landmark is a huge castle – second largest in Czechia after Prague Castle – looming on a rocky height in the middle of the town.

The flat side of the castle rises quite literally from the bedrock it's built on.
Seen from below it looks very forbidding, doesn’t it?

Cesky Krumlov Castle

Cesky Krumlov castle’s design and location emphasize its size: set on a rocky cliff overlooking the river, extended with a series of walkways over a cleft in the hill. The walkways make the castle appear even bigger than it is.

The bridges form arches over the cleft, each bridge built on top of the one below. The top two stories are enclosed while the underneath ones are open to the air.
These bridges over a cleft in the hill connect the main castle building (as seen in the picture above this one) with the garden and stables.

In fact, the castle is a collection of buildings positioned around the edges of the hilltop. You can look at the layout in the screenshot below, taken from Google maps.

view of the castle from above, which looks just like a collection of buildings with orange roofs.
All of the buildings in this satellite view are part of Cesky Krumlov Castle, except for the ones along the curve on the right-hand side. The bridges, stables, theater and garden are outside the picture on the left.

Originally built by the Vitkovci family starting in 1240, the castle passed to the Rosenberg family in the early 14th century. They’re the ones responsible for adding the imposing upper castle, and updating it over the next couple of centuries.

The Rosenbergs sold the castle in the early 17th century to Viennese Emperor Rudolf II, who gave it to a powerful family, the Eggenbergs. This family updated the castle to a baroque style.

When the Eggenberg line died out in 1719, the Schwarzenbergs inherited it, keeping it until after World War II, when it became a property of the state. (The Schwarzenbergs were the same family responsible for the Gothic Revival Hluboká Castle in South Bohemia.)

Today, the castle buildings combine elements of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque design.

Looking up at a rectangular building and a cyclindrical tower behind it. Both are painted to look like they're made of large stone blocks with niches with statues in them.
Part of Cesky Krumlov Castle, with its tower. Notice the trompe-l’oeil painting covering the walls.

If you’re thinking of visiting Czechia, you really should check out these articles as well:


While the outside of the castle fascinates, on my first visit it was February: the wrong time of year to see the castle fully. The Czesky Krumlov Castle Museum was open, but was distinctly less interesting than the outside. A few rooms are furnished, but in a relatively modern form: the castle was used as an administrative building by the Czechoslovakian government after World War II. As you can imagine, the furnishings, such as they are, are more practical than elegant.

Under the bridges archway, the town is visible in the distance.
Looking under the castle bridges to this view of the town in February.

If you visit over the summer, you can take a guided tour to see some of the opulent period rooms upstairs. You can also tour the baroque theater, built in 1680-82 within the castle grounds. Still with its original mechanisms and sets, the theater is only used three times a year for a performance of a baroque opera. The garden is lovely too: restored to its full baroque formality.

Neatly curved flower beds with curved hedges around them and a big old tree throwing shade in the garden of Cesky Krumlov castle.
Cesky Krumlov garden in September.

Views from the castle

Nevertheless, even without seeing the restored and furnished rooms elsewhere in the castle, it was worth its admission fee because of the views from the castle over the town and the countryside beyond. The bridge that forms a walkway over the cleft in the hill allows wonderful views for little effort.

The views from up in the tower are even more amazing, though it takes some effort to climb it: 162 steps, to be exact.

The town from here looks like a crowded huddle of small buildings, with St. Vitus Church above them.
One part of the view from the tower in Cesky Krumlov Castle in February.
A view over the town from Cesky Krumlov castle: lots of pastel buildings with red roofs.
The same view as seen in September.

Things to do in Cesky Krumlov UNESCO site

Cesky Krumlov Castle is only one part of the UNESCO World Heritage designation. Officially, the site includes the whole historic center: “an outstanding example of a small central European medieval town whose architectural heritage has remained intact thanks to its peaceful evolution over more than five centuries,” according to the UNESCO website.

Once you’ve looked at the town from high in the tower, you’ll want to go see it up close. Cesky Krumlov isn’t a big town, and you’ll end up covering most of it by just strolling around randomly.

Two buildings with stucco images.
Two buildings with the remains of stucco decorations

And that stroll is an absolute joy at every turn. The cobbled streets twist and turn, crowded with shops and restaurants. Many of the buildings, which span the 13th to the 18th century, have been beautifully restored. In particular, make sure to look up at their facades, boasting a variety of artworks in stucco or paint above the ground floor. Here is just a small sample:

A painting on a building in Cesky Krumlov
The religious painting is interesting, but I can’t figure out what the oval figure just above it is.
a painted detail on a stuccoed building
a detail of plasterwork and painting

Namasti Svornosti, the old town’s central plaza, is where you’ll find the 16th century town hall and a plague column (1716), common to many towns in Czechia.

The photo shows four pastel-colored buildings on a cobbled square with a tall carved column in front.
One side of Namasti Svornosti square, with Cesky Krumlov’s plague column in front.

Just above the river stands the lovely St. Vitus Church. The gothic structure dates from the 15th century, and some frescos from the same century are visible inside. Check out the huge 17th-century Baroque altar.

St. Vitus sits dramatically on a small rise above the river in Cesky Krumlov.
St. Vitus sits dramatically on a small rise above the river in Cesky Krumlov.

Much of the interior, though, is Neo-Gothic, meaning it was renovated in the 19th century. The tall steeple, seeming even taller because of the church’s setting on a small rise, is also a 19th century addition.

The gothic interior of St. Vitus Church in Cesky Krumlov has an enormous baroque altarpiece.
The gothic interior of St. Vitus Church in Cesky Krumlov.

Cesky Krumlov from the river

Because the river Vltava meanders around the town, traveling on the water gives views of the town and the castle from all sides. On the press trip I took recently, our group enjoyed a raft ride along the river, offered by Rafting Malacek. They also rent canoes, but the boat we took was a raft.

The Vltava used to be an important form of transportation, particularly for moving logs downstream. They would be strapped together and poled down the shallow stream by a polesman standing at the back of the raft. Malecek has revived this tradition, though the rafts are more boat-like now and accommodate passengers in wooden seats.

A simple wooden rectangle maybe a foot off from the surface of the water, with 4 2-person benches one in front of the other. A flat space at the back for the polesman to stand.
Our raft before we boarded.

The river around the old city is shallow and the water doesn’t run very fast – except in the two weirs which are, essentially, low dams used to control the river’s change in level. Each has been designed with a sort of chute at one side, specifically to allow rafts to descend to the lower water level.

Our boatsman, while he poled the raft along, told us much about the history of the town and the rafts. He pointed out highlights as we went, and positioned the raft so we could get pictures. As a local, he could also tell us what life is like for the people who live here and how the town has changed since it was “discovered” as a tourism destination.

Cesky Krumlov castle rises high above the river, its multi-story bridge partly visible. On the river, two parallel walls ahead and a bit to the left channel the water into a gentle slope.
The castle as seen from the river just before descending the chute at the left.

While it would also be fun to rent a canoe and get around by yourself, the added value of the polesman acting as tour guide leads me to recommend the raft over the canoe.

The Czech Republic has a lot to offer beyond Prague, and I certainly think that Cesky Krumlov should be high on your list. This is one of the most picturesque towns I’ve ever visited.

Getting there from Prague

Visiting Cesky Krumlov is quite doable as a day trip from Prague. It would be a long day, though: about 3 hours on a FlixBus or RegioJet bus from Prague each way. Driving takes about 2.5 hours each way.

It will be a much more relaxed visit if you stay a night or two, with the added benefit of enjoying the town in the early morning or late afternoon when there are fewer tourists around.

An alternative is to take a small group or private tour from Prague. It’s the easiest way because you don’t have to find your way around the bus system and you can leave the driving to someone else. The link will take you to a choice of several such tours.

Seen from below a classical statue with a halo looms, with the conical castle tower behind it.
Statue near the entrance to Cesky Krumlov Castle with the castle’s tower in the background. Notice the faded paintwork on the tower and the castle.

Details for visiting Cesky Krumlov

Admission times and prices vary depending on the time of year, how much you want to see, and whether you take a tour. See their website for details.

  • Cesky Krumlov Castle Museum and Castle Tower are open all year, though the days and times shift. It can be visited individually, i.e. without a guide. In the winter it’s closed on Mondays, and closes earlier in the afternoon.
  • Cesky Krumlov Castle Tour I (guided) includes Renaissance and Baroque interiors, some with wall paintings and decorative ceilings.
  • Cesky Krumlov Castle Tour II (guided) is mostly about the Schwarzenberg family, including a portrait gallery and a whole series of furnished rooms.
  • The castle garden (unguided) is open daily in April-October. Admission is free.
  • The Baroque theater has very limited hours: again, check the website for details. 
  • The Baroque stables (unguided) are in a Renaissance building next to the baroque theater.
The castle extends across the whole photo, with a large blockish building on the left and a round tower on the right.
Cesky Krumlov Castle

Have you been to Cesky Krumlov? Do you have any comments or tips? Add them below!

My travel recommendations

Planning travel

  • Booking.com is the company I use most for finding accommodations. If you prefer, Expedia offers more or less the same.
  • Rentalcars.com offers an easy way to compare prices from all of the major car-rental companies in one place.
  • Use GetYourGuide to find walking tours, day tours, airport pickups, city cards, tickets and whatever else you need at your destination.
  • Bookmundi is great when you’re looking for a longer tour of a few days to a few weeks, private or with a group, pretty much anywhere in the world. Lots of different tour companies list their tours here, so you can comparison shop.
  • Get a Priority Pass if you fly a lot so that you can use airport lounges while you wait for flights. Plan your visits around meals and/or drink times and it’s definitely worth the investment!
  • I’m a fan of SCOTTeVEST’s jackets and vests because when I wear one, I don’t have to carry a handbag. I feel like all my stuff is safer when I travel because it’s in inside pockets close to my body.
  • Wordery isn’t specifically about travel; it’s a bookstore, but they do carry all of the most popular travel guidebooks.

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more…

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Loved Cesky Krumlov – it’s such a lovely town for wandering and the surrounding area has a lot to offer too! It’s wonderful in summer – but packed with people, so Feb might be a very good time to visit!

We were in Cesky Krumlov in October, 2017 and loved the town. Thank you for doing such a fine job of bringing back those lovely memories.