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Of the most popular places to visit in the Czech Republic, the town of Karlovy Vary certainly stands out as being a little different. The largest of Bohemia’s spa towns, it is a place that exists purely to host visitors. Where once aristocrats would visit for their health, now tourists flock to see this exceptionally grandiose place. Visiting Karlovy Vary feels like nowhere else in the Czech Republic, which is why it’s such a good idea if you have the chance.
Despite the size of the town, Karlovy Vary is just a day trip from Prague for so many tourists. Given that attitude and the town’s history, the criticisms leveled against it aren’t surprising. Some write off this famous spa town as being overly touristy with not much to really do. As a first impression, I can certainly understand that, but I feel like there is more depth to Karlovy Vary than people give it credit. So allow me to share my thoughts on sightseeing in Karlovy Vary and the reasons why I think you should definitely visit.
Historic Spa Town
First and foremost Karlovy Vary is known for being a spa town and resort getaway. Home to 13 large hot springs and many smaller ones, people have sought out the restorative waters there for centuries. It was actually founded by Emperor Charles IV who visited the springs in the 14th century from Loket, an awesome castle nearby. Ever since, Karlovy Vary has been known as a grand and popular spa destination.
To find mineral springs in Karlovy Vary, you need to look for the elaborate colonnades around town that house their fountains. Each is quite a special sight and feature different designs from the huge stone pillars of the Mill Colonnade to the ornate woodwork of the Market Colonnade and Park Colonnade.
The other unique part of Karlovy Vary’s hot springs is the special spa cups that people use. Made from porcelain and designed with a long spout, these cups are unique to this part of Bohemia. Their shape is specifically suited for drinking water from the hot springs and as such have become the town’s number one souvenir.
Besides its hot springs, the other main to visit Karlovy Vary is for its stunning architecture. The centre of town runs through one long river valley, with a long run of grand buildings on either side. Since people believed the thermal waters had great medicinal properties, Karlovy Vary attracted quite a lot of wealthy and noble clients over the years. With that kind of money splashed about, it’s little wonder the town is home to so many monumental buildings.
With so many luxurious and palatial buildings to notice, there’s no point in singling out particular buildings. The architecture in Karlovy Vary is mostly a mix of neo-Baroque and neo-Renaissance styles, with no two buildings ever alike. Given its purpose as a spa town, it makes sense that most buildings in the town centre are hotels and spas. Without a doubt the most impressive hotel in town is the Hotel Imperial up on a hill, a massive building that looks like a royal palace.
The best way to see all of Karlovy Vary’s best architecture, simply take a walk up along the Tepla river, stopping at whatever buildings take your fancy.
Karlovy Vary may be one of Europe’s best places to visit once spring rolls around. While the city is full of parks and gardens, it’s the many cherry blossom trees that really bring spring to life here. For anyone who visits Karlovy Vary around then, the trees bursting with pink flowers are impossible to ignore. Considering how picturesque the town is already, it’s hard to describe just how pretty the cherry blossoms make everything.
Admittedly, the cherry blossoms are not right throughout the town. To see them, head for either Theatre Square Park by the riverfront or to Moskevská street downtown. Even though it’s an incredibly popular spot, there weren’t any cherry blossoms at the Dvorakov’s Gardens. Still, there’s more than enough trees for it to have an enchanting effect on Karlovy Vary. Basically, if you’re considering a Karlovy Vary trip, then spring is an excellent time to go.
Of the things to do in Karlovy Vary, one that I highly recommend is exploring the backstreets of the town. Many tourists simply stick to the central thoroughfare of town, but the residential areas up the hillside shouldn’t be missed. Karlovy Vary has always attracted the wealthy and clearly many people choose to build extravagant houses here. Unlike in the town centre, these houses and villas take on many forms, all of which deserve to be seen.
Superb City Views
The way that Karlovy Vary is laid out, with the town stretched out along a valley, makes it a destination made for views. With the river valley wiggling its way through the hills, it’s the perfect recipe for one viewpoint after the next. Sure, reaching those viewpoints means a bit of a walk up, but there’s no denying it’s worth the effort. Karlovy Vary’s viewpoints are mostly on the western side of town and each offer sublime views of this gorgeous town.
Among the various viewpoints, two in particular stand out. The first is the Diana Observation Tower, a 40 metre high tower out in the forest. There’s actually a funicular that runs up to the tower on its hill top, but there are also walking routes that lead there. From the tower you’ll get to look out right over the treetops to the town.
Quiet Hiking Trails
So much focus of a Karlovy Vary visit is the city centre that people overlook the incredible forest found around town. Sure you may skirt the fringes of the woods to reach the viewpoints but there is much more than that to explore. Simply look at a map of Karlovy Vary and you can’t miss the huge green sections that almost swallow the town up. Whether you head into the forest from the riverfront or downtown, you’re in store for some gorgeous, peaceful forest.
When you’re close to the town centre or the Diana Observation Tower, you’re likely to see other walkers occasionally. But once you start wandering to the west and southwest, the trails become much quieter. Karlovy Vary is meant to be a place of rest and relaxation and for some people like me, that means taking a stroll surrounded by nature.
Surprisingly, I actually spent hours walking through the forests of Karlovy Vary simply because I had no real destination in mind. The Czech Republic is home to some really beautiful places to walk and hike, just look at the Adrspach Rocks, and this is surely another one.
Visiting Karlovy Vary
Now that we’ve covered all the reasons why Karlovy Vary is worth visiting, here’s a little on how. The obvious first question you have to ask yourself is whether you go as a day trip or spend a little more time there.
For an overnight visit, working out where to stay won’t be hard with the town’s many hotels, resorts and guesthouses. This is a tourist town after all. Karlovy Vary is not exactly an affordable destination but there are some places that are good value for money. I found the Hotel Adria to be not too expensive and a reasonable option.
The other matter is how you get to Karlovy Vary. The town’s public transport connections are decent, with both trains and bus an option. While there are train connections to places like Prague, the train route is wildly indirect and slow.
A much easier approach is to simply reach Karlovy Vary with Flixbus. If you don’t have time to spend a day or two in town, you may want to consider taking a tour to Karlovy Vary from Prague for the day.