Karlovy Vary, one of the most popular European spa towns, is among the best places to visit in the Czech Republic that you can’t miss. It’s beautiful, interesting, chic and offers plenty of things to do. I was lucky to visit Karlovy Vary once, some 15 years ago, and I’ve been hoping to return ever since.
Fortunately, a fellow blogger Derek from Robe trotting has decided to share the best Karlovy Vary attractions here with us. If you are wondering what to do in Karlovy Vary this post is for you!
Since the 19th century, a tiny spa town in the hills of Western Bohemia has been attracting the wealthy and famous of Europe and beyond. In Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic (Carlsbad) the elite have flocked to receive spa treatments and relax in the healing thermal waters of the town.
Today, the beautiful destination of Karlovy Vary is accessible for all. Travelers with a curious sense visit Karlovy Vary to immerse themselves in the Bohemian Czech culture. Other visitors travel to the town seeking medicinal and spa treatments of all types. Hikers love walking the trails around Karlovy Vary and taking in the views from the lookouts in the hillside.
Because there are so many things to do in Karlovy Vary, this itinerary will provide a highlight of all the town has to offer in three days. It can be condensed for time or spread out over a few more days. The main draw of Karlovy Vary is the relaxation at some of Europe’s best thermal baths and spas – so a few extra days of relaxation is always welcomed.
Table of contents
- 1 How to Get to Karlovy Vary
- 2 Where to stay in Karlovy Vary
- 3 The Best Time to Visit Karlovy Vary
- 4 What to do in Karlovy Vary
- 5 Final Thoughts on Visiting Karlovy Vary
- 6 Further reading
- 7 Travel Resources
How to Get to Karlovy Vary
Most travelers reach Karlovy Vary from the city of Prague. For international travelers, flying into Prague is the first step before a three and a half hour train ride, a two hour long bus ride, or a 90-minute drive to Karlovy Vary.
Depending on your budget, preference, and time constraints, renting a car will cut down significantly on your travel time, but it is pricey. The bus trip will save you time over the train and is still an affordable option to reach Karlovy Vary. Travelers who opt for train travel get to enjoy a relaxing ride through beautiful landscapes and the price is under €7.
Keep in mind that the transportation center in Karlovy Vary is about a 10-minute walk to the hotel district or farther depending on where you stay. This can be challenging with luggage, but there is a transport bus that can take you to the center of town.
Where to stay in Karlovy Vary
Karlovy Vary is a beautiful city built in a valley along a small river, the Tepla. The city has a wide range of hotels and spa hotels to fit any budget and desired level of pampering. There’s a picturesque riverside promenade lined with spa hotels and you can expect higher prices along this stretch of the city. Lodging becomes more affordable as you move out from the promenade and away from the spa district.
Here are the recommended places to stay in Karlovy Vary:
- Budget: A.Dalia (8.8/10)
- Mid-range: Hotel Boston (9.0/10)
- Luxury: Rubin Luxury Apartments (9.9/10)
- and more!
The Best Time to Visit Karlovy Vary
Karlovy Vary is a gorgeous destination all year long, but the spa season opens in late May with a large annual celebration. Another exciting time to visit the city is the first week in July for the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. It’s one of the oldest and most lavish film festivals in the world, attracting visitors from around the globe.
The tourist season runs well into the autumn months when the forested hills surrounding Karlovy Vary display their fall foliage. During the winter months, Karlovy Vary tourism slows and almost seems to stop. However, you can take advantage of favorable pricing at the hotels and spas in town. There are also several Christmas events and Winter Balls in the town to entertain those who visit in the off-season.
What to do in Karlovy Vary
Day One: Hiking and Colonnades
For your first day in Karlovy Vary, the focus will be on orienting to the town and its surroundings by walking the streets and getting a bird’s eye view. To do this we’ll walk around to all of the hot spring fountains and then climb to the lookouts and observation towers in the hills.
The perfect start to your Karlovy Vary trip is to visit the iconic colonnades of the town and try our “The Becher Drinking Cure”. It’s a great way to orient yourself with Karlovy Vary, learn a bit about the history, and take part in a must-do tradition.
The Becher Drinking Cure refers to the centuries-old practice of drinking from the 13 mineral springs around the town of Karlovy Vary. Each spring has a unique mineral composition believed to hold medicinal properties.
To get started, a porcelain sipping cup can be purchased at any number of stands, shops, and even spas in town. Tip: many stands only accept cash payment, so have some Czech Krona available.
The rest is simple, you simply visit the fountains of thermal water around the city, fill your cup, and sip. Each thermal spring flows at a different temperature and has a unique name which is displayed next to the fountain.
Start at the Market Colonnade, a Swiss-inspired structure built in 1883. There you’ll find the Charles IV spring and Castle spring, two of the most famous thermal springs in town. Next, move up the hill to the Market Colonnade, home of five additional thermal spring fountains. It’s composed of 124 Corinthian columns, two walkways, and a nave. Last, head to the Hot Springs Colonnade where you can watch a hot geyser shoot water 12 meters into the air.
The Becher Drinking Cure recommends walking during and after your water treatments, so an afternoon hike is next. On top of the hills around the city are several lookouts and observation towers. From these points, you can enjoy sweeping views of Karlovy Vary and get to see the town from above.
The first stop is the most famous, Diana Observation Tower. It takes about 35 minutes to hike to the brick structure above the city from the trail behind the Grandhotel Pupp. A funicular is also available in case you’re not up for the hike. The observation deck platform is 150 steps from the ground-level but does have a lift for those who prefer a ride to the top.
From the Diana Observation Tower, you can walk about 6 minutes to the Deer Jump Lookout. It’s a famous statue of a deer perched on a rocky outcrop. The legend of the statue dates back to the founding of Karlovy Vary. Allegedly there was a hunting party chasing a stag and their dog fell into a deep hole. The dog began howling because the hole was actually a hot spring and that’s how they were discovered.
After a long day of walking through the city, drinking the mineral waters and hiking to the scenic overlooks around town, make your way back to town and relax with dinner and an evening stroll. Make sure to walk past Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, the ornate Russian Orthodox Church.
Day Two: A Castle and Medicinal Liquor
For your second day in Karlovy Vary you’ll visit nearby Loket Castle for a half-day trip. Finally, you will finish the day with a trip to the Jan Becher Museum and enjoy a tasting of Becherovka, the medicinal elixir that originated in Karlovy Vary.
To reach Loket Castle you can take the intercity bus or take the train from the upper station and transfer at Chodov. It’s also possible to bike there using cycling route 204 and if you’re keen on a walk along the scenic Ohře River. It will take you a little over two hours to trek the 9.5 km.
Once you reach the town you can make your way to the Romanesque Loket Castle. It was built in the 13th century and by the 15th century, a fortified town had developed around the castle. During its history, the castle has served as a royal residence, a jail, and today it’s a museum that’s open to the public.
When looking at the castle, your eye is drawn to the massive square tower. From the top of the tower, you’ll have an incredible view of the town of Loket and the surrounding river valley. Below is the museum portion of the castle which features exhibits on medieval Loket, agriculture and there’s even a torture exhibit.
If you decide to linger in Loket, head to the late Gothic church of St. Wenceslas. You can admire the architecture of this church built in 1473. The Baroque Town Hall building is also a beautiful attraction and in the Town Hall Square, you’ll find a beautiful sculpture of the Holy Trinity. Before heading back to Karlovy Vary, stop for a bite to eat and a beer at the local brewery, Saint Florian.
Make sure to time your visit to be back in Karlovy Vary for a late afternoon visit to the Jan Becher Museum. There you’ll learn all about the traditional herbal liqueur, Becherovka. It was developed and produced on-site, and while the factory has been moved to a larger facility, you can tour the museum and learn about this medicinal herbal liqueur.
There are four options for your tour and three of them include a tasting at the conclusion of your visit. Whatever option you select, you’ll discover the history of Becherovka, the production process, and the secrets of the recipe.
Day Three: Relaxing Spa Day
During day three you’ll spend the day being pampered. The essence of Karlovy Vary is relaxation, so a spa day and low key final evening are the perfect way to close out a fabulous visit to this Czech spa destination.
For a day at the spa, you’ll have to first select which facility to visit. While there are numerous spa hotels, many visitors opt to also visit the stand-alone spas.
If you’re traveling with kids, the best option is Elizabeth Baths. It’s over 100 years old and includes pools, hot tubs, steam rooms, saunas, and a full list of medical spa treatments and therapies.
The Castle Spa is a better fit for adult visitors and they too have a full range of procedures and mineral baths.
After a relaxing day in the spa, you should have time to enjoy the city and shops for keepsakes and souvenirs from the trip. Revisit the thermal fountains and colonnades or simply relax at a cafe on the river and enjoy a meal or drink and do some people watching.
A romantic way to cap the trip is with an evening ride on a horse-drawn carriage. They’re easy to find carrying folks up and down the hillside of Karlovy Vary.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Karlovy Vary
In just a few days you can see the highlights of Karlovy Vary, one of Europe’s oldest spa towns. It’s full of history, charm, and glamor of a bygone era. This beautiful gem in the hills of Western Bohemia is a must-visit destination.
If you’re exploring the region or find yourself in Prague, make sure to carve out three days in your itinerary to see Karlovy Vary.
About the author: Derek Hartman is a Philadelphia native who now lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. He and his partner Mike create content about travel, expat life and LGBTQ+ travel on their blog Robe Trotting and YouTube Channel. They also run a destination site called Everything Copenhagen covering their new hometown. You can follow their adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
If you are planning a trip to the Czech Republic I have a few articles about the country that you might find useful or interesting:
- Visit Olomouc Czech Republic – a perfect alternative to Prague
- Liberec – the overlooked gem of Czech Republic
- Visit Brno – a perfect Central European city
- Trebic, Czech Republic – charming town with two UNESCO sites
- Beautiful and overlooked Jihlava, Czech Republic
- and more!
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