Czechia’s capital city is a fantastic sprawl of Gothic, Renaissance and baroque buildings that line both banks of the Vltava River. Millions come here every year to soak in the atmosphere and architectural splendor, but with so many people crowding the streets, the flavor of the country itself can get lost.
The surrounding countryside holds some of Czechia’s most important sights, from a church made of human bones to the castle that once enshrined the Bohemian crown jewels. More importantly, leaving the Prague tourist bubble – even for a day – allows you to learn more about Czechs, their culture and history. These are the best excursions from Prague within a 90-minute radius of the city limits.
1. Visit the country’s favorite castle at Karlštejn
Travel time: 45 minutes
It might come as a surprise, but many Czechs regard Karlštejn Castle, a gleaming Disneyesque pile that rises dramatically beside the Berounka River, as their favorite – beating out even Prague’s own sprawling castle complex.
This massive walled structure traces its roots back to 1348 and the reign of Prague’s Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. The building was originally conceived as a hiding place for the Bohemian crown jewels. Entry is by guided tour, so consult the castle website in advance to check availability and book tickets.
After you’ve toured the castle, meander through pretty Karlštejn village, packed with pubs, or take a 15km hike through the woods to Beroun before catching a train back to Prague. Restaurace Pod Dračí Skálou offers decent Czech food and Pilsner Urquell beer on tap.
How to get to Karlštejn: The 30km drive from Prague to Karlštejn takes 40 minutes along the D5 motorway (follow signs to Plzeň). Regular trains depart from Prague’s main station in the direction of Beroun; the trip takes 45 minutes.
2. Spook the kids at creepy Kutná Hora
Travel time: 1 hour
Central Europe’s spookiest attraction lies an hour east of Prague at the Sedlec Ossuary – aka “Bone Church” – in the historic mining town of Kutná Hora. This macabre chapel was created by local woodcarver František Rint in the 1870s, using bones from tens of thousands of human skeletons in the town crypt to fashion chapels, crosses, chalices and monstrances.
Still, there’s more than just old bones in Kutná Hora. The city grew wealthy in the 14th and 15th centuries as the center of silver mining for the kingdom of Bohemia. You can don a miner’s helmet and tour the old silver mines, then pay your respects at the gloriously Gothic Cathedral of St Barbara, the patron church of miners.
Once you’ve had your fill of bones and medieval finery, wet your whistle at Pivnice Dačický, with its wide selection of local beers.
How to get to Kutná Hora: Kutná Hora is 65km east of Prague, and the drive takes about an hour. Buses leave throughout the day from Prague’s Háje station on metro line C (red), while direct trains depart from Prague’s main station.
3. Learn of a harrowing WWII story at Terezín
Travel time: 1 hour
The former military fortress at Terezín, or Theresienstadt, was home to the most notorious German-run concentration camp on Czech soil. It wasn’t a mass extermination camp, like Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, but a holding center for Jews and other Holocaust victims before they could be sent onward to their deaths. Conditions were atrocious, and thousands perished from hunger and disease.
The main Ghetto Museum is spread out over several buildings, and the permanent exhibitions explore both the daily lives of the prisoners and the way the Nazis used Terezín as a showcase camp to deceive the International Red Cross.
Bring along a packed lunch, as Terezín is short on restaurants. Radniční sklípek in nearby Litoměřice offers the best food in the area but will require a car or bus to reach.
How to get to Terezín: Terezín is 60km north of Prague, and the drive takes less than an hour. Buses from Prague take about an hour and depart from above the Praha-Holešovice metro station on line C (red).
4. The trek to Plzeň is a no-brainer for beer-lovers
Travel time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Modern lager – pilsner – was invented here in 1842, and town brewers have zealously preserved their beer’s storied heritage ever since. For fans of the amber liquid, a guided tour of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, is a pilgrimage. The tours are popular, so it’s best to buy tickets in advance. The Brewery Museum is also worth a look in.
In keeping with the beer theme, sample some excellent pub grub. The pub Na Spilce is situated on the brewery grounds, and tours end at its door. Na Parkánu is another popular pub-restaurant, situated next to the Brewery Museum.
Plzeň has other attractions too. The city’s extensive underground tunnels, used for both beer production and defense, are fascinating. Kids will love the Techmania Science Center. It’s a massive interactive science lab, with an infrared camera, magnets, a planetarium and other wonders.
How to get to Plzeň: The city is easily reached by car, bus or train; the drive from Prague takes about an hour and 20 minutes. Buses run every half-hour from Prague’s Zličín metro station on line B (yellow), while trains depart from Prague’s main station.
5. Meet the real Franz Ferdinand at Konopiště Chateau
Travel time: 30 minutes
Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was one of the 20th century’s most fateful figures. His assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 triggered the bloodbath of WWI. What’s not widely known, though, is that he lived not far from Prague at stately Konopiště Chateau.
A guided tour around the staterooms offers fascinating insight into how the wealthy lived in the early years of the 20th century and the archduke’s many eccentricities, which included hunting and the cult of St George. The chateau gardens make for a restful respite.
For a meal, head to Stará Myslivna for old-fashioned Czech cooking with – true to the archduke’s passion – lots of game on the menu.
How to get to Konopiště: Drivers follow the D1 motorway south from Prague to Benešov u Prahy, the closest town to Konopiště. Local buses run from here to the castle. Buses to Benešov travel throughout the day from Prague’s Roztyly station on metro line C (red). Alternatively, come by train from Prague’s main station. The trip takes about 30 minutes.