If you’ve ever imagined a storybook village, you probably pictured something like Cesky Krumlov. With its narrow, winding streets, its rickety bridges crossing the wide river which almost surrounds it, and above all, its imposing castle, Cesky Krumlov is one of the most picturesque towns in Europe. Unfortunately, the tourists know it, and it is the second most visited place in the Czech Republic — second only to Prague, which is legendary in its touristiness.
However, places become tourist attractions for a reason, and in Cesky Krumlov, that reason is plain to see. Although small, there’s enough to do to fill two or three days, especially if you take things slowly. You’ll be rewarded for staying overnight — most visitors arrive on daytrips, especially from Prague, so the streets are a lot emptier in the evening and it’s easier to get a feel for the place than if you’re only in town for a few hours.
Start the day with a wander through the city, then climb the hill to the castle. As you enter, peer over the walls to check out the bears that are housed in an enclosure near the gate, then continue in to the sprawling labyrinth that is the castle.
Various areas of the building can be visited on a guided tour; you pay more for an English tour than a Czech one. However, if you’re on a budget it’s easy to spend an hour or so just wandering around the castle’s open spaces, admiring the gardens and fountains and checking out the views of the town below.
The tourist office puts on a one-hour tour at 12.30 that costs 200kc (about €8) that takes you through the streets of the old town to the Eggenberg brewery. Although short, you can learn a little about the town and a lot about beer, and the tour ends with a free glass of beer in the brewery bar. This is also a good place for lunch — for a traditional meal, choose something that includes cabbage and dumplings.
Don’t take too much time over your lunch, though, because your next activity is a rafting trip down the river. Malecek Rafting and Canoe has been running for 22 years and is my pick of the many companies who rent rafts on the Vltava river. In high season it’s worth booking your raft in advance; try to get there before 2.30pm to get the most out of the afternoon.
Prices vary depending on the kind of raft you hire and on the distance you plan to travel; you’ll be transported to the launch point and picked up from your destination at a pre-arranged time. The journey from Cesky Krumlov to Zlata Koruna is a good choice, as its a pleasant journey with a bar to stop at about an hour into the trip.
Whatever route you choose, you’ll probably have to go down one or more weirs — which is awesome! You’ll be given instructions about which side to head for as you approach the weir, as a narrow channel for kayaks and rafts is constructed into each one; going down is a mild adventure that’s suitable for people of all ages — my two-year-old nephew loved it.
You’ll be picked up from the meeting point and taken back to town by van, and by now it’s probably time to start thinking about dinner. There are a lot of restaurants to choose from, and the tourist office can give you a list of your options; two great places in the old town are the Gypsy Bar for goulash and the Two Marys for medieval Bohemian food with river views.