From the moment we first saw a picture of Karlovy Vary, we knew we had to make it a stop on our summer trip through the Czech Republic.
Since we were based out of Prague for a week, we hopped on a bus for the comfortable 2.5 hour ride to Karlovy Vary. Student Agency offers affordable bus options all over Europe (to people of all ages; not just students) and several of their buses come equipped with WiFi and TV/Movies to keep you entertained during the journey. (Be sure to check for this when you are booking, as these nicer buses are clearly marked on the site.)
The sky was a little overcast during our visit and it started to sprinkle shortly after our arrival, but it certainly wasn’t enough to dampen our spirits!
Karlovy Vary – The Definitive Spa Town
The kaleidoscope of colors seen on the buildings throughout the town were enough to distract from the gloomy weather.
Karlovy Vary is the largest and most popular spa town in the Czech Republic. The town was founded in the 14th century shortly after the discovery of its thermal springs, which is what continues to attract visitors from all over the world.
Very quickly we noticed that every other person was walking around sipping out of a thin porcelain mug, so had to stop someone to inquire about this local trend.
Turns out it’s mineral water and a part of the Karlovy Vary Drinking Cure. Karlovy Vary thermal mineral water is a complex, highly concentrated mixture of natural substances, and supposedly provides treatment of the following diagnoses: diseases of the gastrointestinal system, metabolic disorders (such as diabetes), obesity, gout, periodontitis, and diseases of locomotive organs. We also learned that drinking too much mineral water can lead to ultra ‘cleansing’ experiences, if you get what we mean!
The other trend we noticed throughout the town was the consumption of large thin wafers. Now THIS was something we could get behind. Warm, crisp, flavorful wafers… YUM! So, we may have had a few throughout the day, and bought a few boxes to take with us.
The architecture around town is simply astonishing! Only a few of the original buildings remain, due to a series of natural disasters over the centuries. However, most of the landmarks seen today originate from the 18th and 19th centuries when the town experienced its golden days!
One notable landmark is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene, located in the heart of Karlovy Vary. This Baroque-style cathedral was built in 1737 on the site of a former Gothic church. You can visit the church daily and take an excursion tour (for a small fee) through the underground crypt from May to late September. (From October to April tours are conducted by appointment only.)
Another notable landmark is the Grand Hotel Pupp. You may recognize it from its appearance in the James Bond film, Casino Royale.
Behind the hotel is a network of trails through the forest.
Rather than hiking uphill, we took a ride on the funicular leading to the Diana Observation Tower atop Friendship Hill.
The funicular runs every 15 minutes and takes about 3 minutes. The cost is just a few dollars per person.
150 steps take visitors to the top of the tower, or you can simply ride the elevator. Entrance to the tower is free.
The tower offers gorgeous views over the surrounding forest and of colorful Karlovy Vary below. The weather was still a little overcast, but not enough to ruin the view.
Though the clouds above threatened with rain, rather than taking the funicular back down, we wanted to walk through the inviting forest.
Trails are marked for easy navigation, and although it drizzled slightly on our hike down, the atmosphere of the forest didn’t disappoint.
Hidden down obstructed stairs was this abandoned bunker. The square hole in the ground had a ladder leading to a deeper chamber. We were too scared to explore further, but it was a neat find nonetheless.
Occasionally, trees would part ways in the forest revealing a classic view of the town below… and before we knew it, we were back in the city center.
Karlovy Vary can easily be walked from one end of town to the other in less than an hour, but we guarantee you will want to make many stops along the way to take pictures, sample some mineral water, taste a delicious wafer, or take part in a luxurious spa treatment.
Following a scrumptious, traditional meal at Restaurant u Tomase…
…we again boarded the Student Agency bus at the bus terminal…
… for a relaxing ride back to Prague through the Czech countryside.
For more information about things to do and happenings in Karlovy Vary, be sure to check out their information page.
Transportation for our day trip to Karlovy Vary from Prague was compliments of JayWay Travel. JayWay provides structured and customizable tours throughout Central and Eastern Europe.