Today we take you to Karlovy Vary in the Bohemian Spa Triangle in Czech Republic. The city is the best known and most fashionable spa town in the country, and with its hot springs and beautiful villas it resembles a synthesis of the arts. Not only were the Carlsbad Resolutions passed here, marking a significant turning point in German history, but such great artists as Goethe, Schiller and Beethoven went here for a cure. So there are plenty of reasons to take a closer look at Karlovy Vary!
This is Karlovy Vary
Karlovy Vary is the largest spa in the Bohemian Spa Triangle and one of the most famous spas in the world. As early as the Middle Ages, people made pilgrimages here because they expected the healing waters of the Karlovy Vary springs to alleviate their illnesses and ailments. Over time, Karlovy Vary became more and more popular and the list of famous spa guests, some of whom spent months here, is long: Peter the Great, Goethe, Beethoven, Wagner, Herder, Leibnitz, Schiller and Chopin are just a few of the illustrious personalities who stayed here for a cure.
Even today, many convalescents and tourists flock to the city to drink from the 80 or so springs that spring up here. But it is not only the water that attracts guests, especially from Russia and Germany, but also the unique beauty of the center of Karlovy Vary. When this part of the world still belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, numerous magnificent buildings were built, which still characterize the face of the city today. And so today you can comfortably drink a healing water from a Karlovy Vary sippy cup while strolling through the city and enjoying the Karlovy Vary flair. The most beautiful places in Karlovy Vary are presented here.
Grand Hotel Pupp
Have you seen the James Bond movie Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig? Then the building in the middle of the picture will certainly look familiar. The Pupp served as the film’s location, even though the action takes place not in Czech Republic but in Montenegro. Since 1893, the guests of the Pupp have been welcomed in the luxury hotel, which leaves nothing to be desired. In addition to the casino, you will find timelessly elegant rooms, ballrooms, underground wine cellars and much more.
In socialist times, the most famous politicians of the Eastern Bloc stayed here. Before the First World War, Emperor Franz Joseph was a guest here. If you have the necessary change, you can even book his room and take the same bath as Sissi’s husband. If a stay is too expensive for you, you should at least take a look at the foyer and try the Pupp cake in the café, which is almost as famous in the Czech Republic as the Sacher cake is in Vienna.
Have you ever heard of Fellner & Helmer? The Austrian architectural firm was one of the most innovative in the world around the year 1900, specializing in theater buildings. Whether in Odesa, Prague, Bratislava, Tshernivtsi or Vienna, they created masterpieces that are among the most beautiful buildings of their kind. And also in the imperial Karlovy Vary they were allowed to lay hand or pen and created a masterpiece of neo-baroque. For the paintings in the interior and the stage curtain they engaged none other than the Klimt brothers and Ernst Matsch.
However, the Karlovy Vary Municipal Theater can also look back on a dark episode: from the balcony, Adolf Hitler announced the “homecoming” of the Sudetenland to the German Reich after the Munich Agreement in 1938. If you want to attend a performance, you can buy a ticket on the theater’s website and enjoy the magnificent interior with its sculptures designed by Viennese artist Theodor Friedl.
Even Goethe, who was interested in geology, was fascinated by the Karlovy Vary Vřídlo. This is a 73.4° hot water jet that shoots meters into the air in the center of Karlovy Vary not far from the theater. The fountain has been used as a healing spring for centuries, and there are dozens of them all over the city. They all have a different temperature and are used for drinking and other cures. The spa doctors of Karlovy Vary know exactly which water helps with which ailment. However, you should be careful when drinking the sparkling water, because too much is not healthy either.
But back to the Vřídlo: The water jet was repeatedly built over, but the water always caused corrosion. Not even the concrete block built in the 1970s that now stands here could withstand the pressure of the more than 2,000 liters that shoot out of the ground here every minute. That’s why it’s currently undergoing extensive restoration, and the Vřídlo was unceremoniously moved a few meters outside. Tip: You can book a tour to explore the underground of the fountain and learn a lot about this geologically unique region.
In a city with so many sights it is difficult to choose the absolute favorite place. Nevertheless, I have decided on one, the market square of the city. In the shadow of the town houses stands the market colonnade, which in this style one would rather expect in the Alps. It was built by the same architects as the theater, who once again proved their versatility here. Interesting is also the plague column, which you can see in the photo on the left and which reminds us that Karlovy Vary was once spared from a plague epidemic. For me, the marketplace is also so beautiful because you can sit comfortably on the terrace of a café and watch the colorful hustle and bustle with a coffee and a piece of cake.
Peter and Paul Cathedral
In percentage terms, Czech Republic is the country in Europe with the most atheists. The fact that there are nevertheless impressive churches here is shown by the Orthodox Peter and Paul Cathedral. Karlovy Vary was and is especially popular with well-heeled Russian spa guests; it was not least Peter the Great who vacationed here several times. And so that the faithful also had a church befitting their status, this gem was built at the end of the 19th century, for which the Russian Tsar Nicholas II donated several icons. In style, it is reminiscent of the Trinity Cathedral in Moscow’s Ostankino. It was not until 2019 that the church was restored, so that today you can admire it again in all its glory.
In Karlovy Vary, there is a whole series of colonnades. Here the spa guests draw their water and slowly stroll through the area sipping it. The walk is an important part of the therapy. One colonnade is more beautiful than the other. The most famous, however, is the Mlýnská kolonáda in the neo-Renaissance style. Five springs rise here and the building, like many others, stands on the bank of the Teplá River, creating a beautiful contrast with the classicist villas on the other side of the river. In the Mlýnská kolonáda, concerts are held every day during the summer, and you can listen to them for free.
If you follow the banks of the Teplá River, you will come to a less classic sight, but still worth a visit. Czech Republic is known for its beer, but also for wine and Becherovka. The “Kalrsbader Becherbitter”, as the drink was originally called, was invented here over 200 years ago by a German pharmacist and an English doctor, and to this day the exact recipe is a well-kept secret.
But you can still look over the shoulder of the inventors of Becherovka, because in the Becherovka Center you can enjoy a modern exhibition about the drink, which is somewhat reminiscent of Jägermeister and is said to have true miraculous healing powers. Afterwards there will be a tasting. What you can’t get here, but is very popular in the Czech Republic, is Beton (concrete). Beton? Yes, you read that right: Bechervoka with tonic water is certainly the most Czech of all long drinks and tastes really delicious due to the combination of bitter and sweet.
Karlovy Vary is a “vertical city”, so it goes up and down. And to get the best view, you have to climb the Diana Tower. Don’t worry, if you don’t want to make the climb, you can take the historic funicular from Hotel Pupp to the top. From the top of the tower, you’ll have a fabulous view that stretches across the entire Imperial Forest all the way to Germany. There is also a mini-zoo and an exciting butterfly house, especially for children. And when I visited the nice café below the tower, a cheeky peacock paid me a visit and stole some of my food.
From the Diana Tower you can take a short walk to tthe Stags’ Leap, another vantage point. Alternatively, you can take the funicular, which also stops here. The place is connected with the legend of the founding of the town, because Emperor Charles IV is said to have founded Karlovy Vary here because a deer jumped into a hot spring when he was about to kill it. When you look at the photo, of course, you wonder why there is no stag in the picture. Baron von Lützow made a joke out of the founding legend and had a metal chamois erected here, since in his opinion no deer would be so insane as to jump over a precipice. No matter if deer or chamois, the view from here is always beautiful …
A few meters away you can see a bust of Peter the Great, who loved to ride his horse here. Next to it, a stele commemorates Marie Thérèse Charlotte of France. She was another famous spa guest and the daughter of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI and the only member of the French royal family to survive the French Revolution.
Ludwig Moser came up with the idea of establishing a glass business in Karlovy Vary about 150 years ago. This marked the start of one of the most successful Czech companies. Today, Bohemian glass enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide, and in the past there was hardly a royal court where people did not drink from Moser glasses. On the factory premises in the outskirts of Karlovy Vary, you can watch the glassblowers at their sweaty work and marvel at some of the most beautiful specimens Moser has ever produced in the museum. There’s also a store, of course, but you’d better start saving …
Accommodation in Karlovy Vary
There are a number of high-class accommodations in Karlovy Vary. When visiting the city, you’ll have to dig a little deeper into your pocket than elsewhere, but many of the hotels are steeped in history and have some special features.
- Grandhotel Pupp*: Sleeping like James Bond or the Austrian Emperor for once, that’s only possible at the Pupp. Of course, the hotel has its price, but the class of the Pupp is almost unmatched.
- Egerländer Hof*: Much cheaper and very rustic is the Egerländer Hof run by a Sudeten German family. The historic house on the market square looks like a small museum and the operating family lovingly takes care of their guests.
- Hotel Imperial*: You might know the hotel in the picture from the movie “Cadaver”, which was released on Netflix in 2020. Here you can rest your head high above the city on a mountain and have a great view of the city. It was one of the largest hotels in Austria-Hungary when it opened, and the house, designed by the interior designers of the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, looks a bit like a fairy-tale castle, especially when the house is surrounded by fog in the early morning.
Eating and drinking in Karlovy Vary
Compared to the sometimes crisp hotel prices, the food in Karlovy Vary is relatively cheap. I can fully recommend these restaurants:
- Pivovar Karel IV: Near the Becherovka Center there is a rustic brewery cellar, where you can get real Czech beer on tap and taste the whole variety of hearty Czech cuisine.
- Malé Versailles: In “Little Versailles”, where I also took the photo, you sit wonderfully by a lake in an outdoor park not far from the Orthodox church. In addition to salads, there are also grilled and changing daily specials. There is also a small playground for children.
- Pirosmani: Fed up with Czech cuisine? Pirosmani, which is somewhat hidden on a hillside, offers the best Georgian dishes. Plus, you’ll feel like you’re in a Georgian farmhouse.
Karlovy Vary Book recommendation
Classic tour guide, that does not only present the most beautiful Karlovy Vary sights, but also the rest of the country.