Karlovy Vary: the spa and movie capital of Czech Republic
It’s a sunny day, you are strolling through an unknown city, drinking mineral water originally from a warm spring from an adorable teacup. You are heading to a spa for a well-deserved, relaxing massage in a stunning building surrounded by greenery… That’s not a dream. Thats Karlovy Vary, a city located in Western Czech Republic with the population of almost 50 000. It is quickly becoming one of the most popular destinations in the Czech Republic for not only local tourists. And I will tell you why… The city centre is relatively small but packed with a lot of interesting sights and picturesque buildings/streets/areas. I personally have visited Karlovy Vary on numerous occasions and even though it does seem like a very touristy, borderline packed city at certain times of the year, the atmosphere there is unlike any other.
How to get there (from Prague)?
Karlovy Vary is an ideal option for tourists who are looking for a relaxing yet eventful day trip whilst visiting Prague seeing as it only takes 2 hours to get there by car/bus. Local bus companies Flixbus and Student Agency offer a good price deal for this particular trip (Prague – Karlovy Vary) and depart from Prague almost every hour. The trip is also very easy to do with a car – the highway connecting these two cities is fairly new. You can also take a train, but most of the time the trains in the Czech Republic are of a poorer quality and are more expensive than buses. Karlovy Vary also has its own airport, but I don’t think flying is the best option – the flights are quite expensive and they aren’t very frequent (it could be a good option if you have a private jet though haha). Also if you are travelling on a budget you might want to check out the ride sharing site Blablacar – locals tend to add ride sharing options quite a lot (the accessibility is great and it you can experience snippets of the true “Czech life” with a local driver) and it can sometimes be cheaper than the chartered buses from Prague. It all really depends on from which city you are planning on visiting Karlovy Vary, but overall I’d say that departing from Prague is your best option.
What to do?
Not only is this city packed with dominant historical events – history going all the way back to Charles IV., it is the most frequented spa city in the country (I haven’t tried any of the spa’s yet but I promise it’s on my bucket list). Besides the spa, Karlovy Vary is unique and very well known for it’s healing thermal springs that are dispersed throughout the city.
Which brings me to what you should try whilst visiting this beautiful city. If you really want to feel like a local, you should buy the typical mug from which the local Czech people drink the mineral water whilst sitting on one of the many white benches scattered around the colonnade. Karlovy Vary is mainly known for the best wafers (waffles) in Czech Republic, so if you are someone who loves sweet things like me, you should definitely try them (there are many flavours). I always feel a very peaceful and calm vibe once I walk down the most famous monument: the colonnade, with water from the thermal spring in one hand and a warm wafer in the other – the moment is magic.
The city itself is very picturesque, almost all the buildings are very photogenic and you might end up feeling a little overwhelmed not knowing where to look and which building to take pictures of first. Once you feel like you’ve had enough of relaxing and enjoying the downtown area and you are ready for a little bit of adventure, you can take a cable car or walk to the lookout tour Diana which offers a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding areas. A few tips when it comes to the cable car: in the summer there is a possibility that the queue for the cable car will be quite long – don’t hesitate to walk. I recommend wearing closed shoes, ideally a pair of sneakers/trainers. It takes no longer than twenty minutes at a steady speed and the trail is not hard. It also gives you an opportunity to hide from the heat and other visitors for a while seeing as there are multiple trails that lead to the lookout tour.
I think I should clarify that even though Karlovy Vary isn’t one of the biggest cities in the Czech Republic, foreigners should not be afraid to visit. The city is tourist friendly and the locals are very helpful. There are two main info centres and there are various maps and signs that make the hunt for sights much easier for non-Czech speakers.
The view from inside one of the colonnades
Other interesting sights worth visiting:
- the two main colonnades: Mlýnská and Tržní
- the main building with the first hot thermal spring – often you can find art exhibits for free in this building too
- Karlovarské divadlo – the local theatre
- hotel Thermal
- Becher museum
- Grand Hotel Pupp – one of the most luxurious hotels in the country. You can see it also in the famous Edith Piaf movie and in the James Bond: Casino Royale movie too 🙂
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
In the first week of July, Karlovy Vary annualy hosts the most important and prestigious event of the year which is the International Film Festival. This film festival has hosted celebrities like Jean Reno, John Travolta, Keira Knightley, Jude Law, and Antonio Banderas (sadly not all in the same year) but it is a very well known and well renowned event that literally takes over the city. This festival attracts mostly Czech tourists and during this week the city is literally packed with people. I personally enjoy Karlovy Vary more when it’s vibrant and packed but you can’t deny the fact that a quiet morning spent in the city centre all by yourself getting lost in the columns of the colonnade has a certain something to it too. Back to the festival: red carpet, bloggers, journalists, fancy clothes, celebrity spottng, tons of people but also cheap hostels, beers, fun and friends and most importantly great movies from all over the world – thats what Karlovy Vary has to offer on top of its already pretty amazing sights. So what are you waiting for? The wafers and the breath-taking colonnade are waiting!