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Visiting Karlstejn Castle from Prague

It took me three tries before I got to visit Karlstejn Castle in Czechia. I’d wanted to see it ever since my terrifying flight in a teeny-tiny airplane from Czech Airport, when I got, quite literally, a bird’s-eye view of it.

Karlstejn Castle sits on a hill currounded by green forest. It's basically 4 buildings, all with white walls and gray roofs. Two are tower-like, one taller than the other. Walls are visible abour the top of the hill. In the left bottom corner the village is visible, along a road.
Karlstejn Castle as we saw it from our flight. You can see the underside of the plane’s wing at the top of the picture.

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The first time I tried to visit I was on a road trip across Czechia from Ostrava in the eastern end of the country. I had two days, and tried to fit in as many Czech UNESCO sites as I could. On my last day, with a flight scheduled in the evening from Prague Airport, I figured I had plenty of time to swing by Karlstejn Castle from Prague before heading to the airport.

Wrong! The route is not a highway, so it’s not as direct as it looks. On top of that, the parking lot is far from the castle itself. I parked, but then learned that it would be a good twenty minutes to walk up to the castle. It can only be viewed on a guided tour, and I didn’t have time to walk up, take the tour, walk down and still catch my flight.

The second time was on my next trip to Prague in mid-February. My husband came along this time, and I insisted that we had to go to Karlstejn Castle from Prague.

Note to self: I really have to do my research better. I hadn’t checked the castle’s opening hours, and they are quite limited in the winter. By the time we got there, the castle was due to close in a half-hour and we’d missed the last tour.

“Third time’s the charm.” On the same trip, now aware of when it was open, my husband and I stopped at Karlstejn again and finally got to see it.

Approaching Karlstejn castle

While I had seen the castle before – once from the air and twice in passing from the ground – the walk up the hill to the castle shows how formidably situated the castle is.

a typical fairytale castle: with a tower and defensive crenellations on its walls, perched high on a hill above the village visible in the foreground: Visiting Karlstejn Castle from Prague
Karlstejn Castle looms above the village.

This was for good reason. Built by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, King of Bohemia, in the mid-14th century, its purpose was not just for it to be a safe place to live. Only Charles IV and his son Wenceslas IV ever lived there. The castle’s primary function was as a well-guarded place to store the imperial crown jewels as well as various religious relics of great value. It succeeded in this purpose for about 200 years, at which point the treasures were removed to be stored in Prague instead.

The village of Karlstejn is small and nestled among the forested hills. It stretches along a curvy road up to and past the castle, which perches above the village on a rocky outcropping. As far as I could tell, the village is entirely devoted to tourism, offering a range of shops and restaurants to the tourists who climb up the road to the castle.

In this view, more of the walls are visible and less of the towers. Visiting Karlstejn Castle from Prague
This photo was taken from a bit further up the road from the last one, above.

Here are some other articles you might like to read if you’re planning to travel to Czechia:

We took the walk slowly, snapping pictures from every turn in the road. Arriving at the castle itself, we bought tickets at the little ticket window and waited until the next tour. The castle cannot be visited independently; only on a guided tour. Since it was February, it was not crowded, so we didn’t have to wait long.

By the way, if you can’t manage the 20-minute uphill walk, other possibilities are available. A taxi van shuttles people up and back, or you can splurge for a horse-drawn carriage.

If you’re planning a trip, use this map to find your accommodations near Karlsteyn:

The castle tour

I have to admit the tour itself was a bit disappointing. This wasn’t because the tour guide wasn’t knowledgeable; she was. It was because, after seeing such a magnificent castle externally, I had my hopes up for an equally magnificent interior. In fact, the inside was rather empty and mostly sparsely furnished. I like when a castle looks like it would have looked when it was inhabited because it helps me imagine castle life. This one didn’t.

Two simple chairs frame an inlaid table, with a cabinet in the background and paintings on the wall behind.
One of the more fully-furnished rooms. Notice the detailed carving on the cabinet against the wall.

Nevertheless, the tour passed through some interesting rooms. Some had ancient wall and ceiling paneling. One had an ornate bed frame. Another large, echoey hall had a stool that the king had made himself to lean on when he prayed. While there weren’t that many furniture pieces, most of the ones I saw were prettily decorated, either painted, carved or inlaid.

The cabinet is painted in bright colors, with four shields depicted: coats of arms, perhaps. The two top ones seem complete while the two lower ones are only outlines.
A brightly-painted cabinet in Karlstejn Castle.

The basic tour vs. the exclusive tour

The tour we took was the basic tour “The private and representative rooms of Emperor Charles IV.” We would have liked to take the “The sacred rooms of the castle with the Chapel of the Holy Cross,” a.k.a. the “exclusive tour,” but that’s not available in February.

Our tour guide tried her best to fill us in on what we were missing from the exclusive tour, making use of a scale model of the castle, but it wasn’t the same. I would have liked to see these chapels:

  • St. Catherine’s Chapel, inside the Great Hall in the Marian Tower, boasts a decorative arched vault, and its walls and ceiling are gold-covered and set with precious stones and frescoes.
  • The Chapel of the Holy Cross in the Great Tower is where the treasures were kept under lock and key. Again, the chapel has a vaulted ceiling and is covered, like St. Catherine’s Chapel, in precious stones, in this case mostly red. This chapel also houses 129 medieval frescoes by Master Theoderic depicting saints, knights, etc., meant to protect the relics and treasures.
This view from one end of the castle shows three towers, the tallest of which is the Great Tower. The walls are off-white and the roofs are grey. Visiting Karlstejn Castle from Prague
In this view, the Great Tower is on the left.

No UNESCO designation?

I’ve seen a lot of castles in my travels and this one struck me as UNESCO-worthy, just based on the beauty of its architecture, the grandeur of the site, as well as what we were told about the opulent chapels we didn’t get to see.  So why isn’t it a UNESCO site?

The castle was rebuilt in Gothic style in the 15th century, then again in the 16th century in Renaissance style. Those reconstructions weren’t a problem.

The real issue is the last reconstruction, done by architect Josef Mocker in the 19th century “in the spirit of purism,” to quote the Karlstejn website. Apparently, its present-day appearance – a typical fairytale castle – isn’t true to the earlier reconstructions. Mocker’s “purism” isn’t pure enough for the UNESCO designation.

a piece of the crenellated wall and a small tower  with a steep gray roof in the foreground, a valley between hills in the background, with a cluster of houses.
In this view down from Karlstejn Castle, a bit of the village is visible, along the road that winds up to the castle.

If you love castles like I love castles, check out these others:

Advice for visiting Karlstejn Castle from Prague

With a tour

People usually take a day trip to Karlstejn Castle from Prague; it’s not far away. You can take, for example, any of these half- or full-day tours.

If you’ll be spending time sightseeing in Prague, it might be worth your while to get a Go City Pass. For one price it includes admission to many attractions and will save you money if you plan to visit several.

By train

From Prague’s central train station, you can take a train directly to Karlstejn in about 40 minutes. Getting off at Karlstejn, find the nearest bridge across the river, which will bring you to the beginning of the road up through the village to the castle. It’s about a half-hour walk uphill from train station to castle.

By car

If you decide to go on your own, here’s some advice, culled from my three attempts to see the castle using a rental car:

  1. Don’t trust your GPS to accurately guess how long it’ll take to get there. It’ll be a bit longer.
  2. There is a point, as you approach Karlstejn, when you’ll come to a fork in the road in the middle of farmland. The road signs point one way, while your GPS will tell you to go the other way. Follow the signs, not your GPS! If you follow your GPS, you’ll be led into the forested hills. You’ll pass the castle on your right, but not have anywhere to park. You’ll drive down the hill straight through the village – crowded with tourists walking up to the castle, and probably not a place where you’re supposed to drive anyway. You’ll have to creep along because the road is narrow and people don’t expect any cars. At the end of the road, your GPS will steer you left and then the parking lot will be on the right. If you’d follow the street signs instead of your GPS, you would have gotten there much quicker, even if the distance was longer!
  3. If you can, walk up, or at least walk down. Taking a taxi or horse-drawn carriage will not only cost you extra, but you’ll lose opportunities to see and photograph the castle from lots of different angles.
  4. Check the hours (see below). Get there in plenty of time. Especially in the summer, I suspect that the lines get really long.
  5. Take the “exclusive” tour, which you’ll need to reserve ahead (see below).
  6. In the summer, bring water for the walk up. Or cash to buy something on the way.
A large wall with crenellations and a gateway in its middle, and three towertops visible behind it.
This is how the castle looks from the courtyard where visitors buy tickets and wait for their tours to start.

Opening hours

The castle is closed on Mondays all year. Their website lists times for first and last tours on each day they are open. In the winter, they open fewer days and run fewer tours. Check their website. At busy times, particularly the summer months, tours can run as often as every 10 minutes.

    Admission fees:

    If you take one of the tours to Karlstejn Castle from Prague that I’ve suggested, admission fees and reservations are generally included in the tour. Otherwise, here are the prices:

    • Exclusive tour that includes the chapels: CZK640 (€26 or $28)
    • Basic tour: CZK300 (€12 or $13)


    Tours are offered in Czech, English or German.

    The basic tour does not need to be reserved ahead unless you’re booking for a whole group.

    The “sacred rooms” a.k.a. “exclusive” tour, however, must be booked ahead. Book through the castle’s website or by phone at +420 311 681 617. You’ll be charged an extra Kč20 (€0.75/$0.90) per person reservation fee. It seems worth it, especially in the summer months. You may not be able to get on the tour you want with the language you want if you wait until you are at the castle box office.

    Pinnable image
Text: Karlstejn Castle, day trip from Prague
Image: view up to the castle, with the village at the bottom and the castle looming above it.

    My travel recommendations

    Planning travel

    • Skyscanner is where I always start my flight searches.
    • Booking.com is the company I use most for finding accommodations. If you prefer, Expedia offers more or less the same.
    • Discover Cars offers an easy way to compare prices from all of the major car-rental companies in one place.
    • Use Viator or 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.
    • GetTransfer is the place to book your airport-to-hotel transfers (and vice-versa). It’s so reassuring to have this all set up and paid for ahead of time, rather than having to make decisions after a long, tiring flight!
    • Buy a GoCity Pass when you’re planning to do a lot of sightseeing on a city trip. It can save you a lot on admissions to museums and other attractions in big cities like New York and Amsterdam.
    • 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.
    • Airalo is an e-sim card. You buy it through an app and activate it when you need it. I tried it on my trip to Thailand and it worked just like any other sim card, but without my having to fuss with physical cards.
    • I use ExpressVPN on my phone and laptop when I travel. It keeps me safe from hackers when I use public or hotel wifi.


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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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    I would love to visit Karlstejn Castle – thanks for sharing.