Karlštejn Castle is a foreboding yet fairy tale restored Gothic building set atop a hill, amidst evergreen forests, 30 kilometers south-west of Prague.
It’s one of three famous castles close to the capital and an easy day trip by car, train or guided tour.
The castle, pronounced ‘Karlshtain’ by locals, is the fifth most visited castle in the Czech Republic and has a storied past, once housing the Bohemian crown jewels during the reign of Charles IV.
Located in a pretty town of the same name, the castle is a haven for history enthusiasts, adventurers, photographers, making it one of the best and easiest day trips from Prague.
Here are a few top tips for visiting Karlštejn Castle and what you can see and do in the local area.
Karlštejn Castle History
Karlštejn Castle was founded by Charles IV in 1348, and during his reign, it was a lavish residence filled with grand halls and chapels used to house Holy Roman relics and the Bohemian crown jewels.
The castle had a strategic position, built atop a hill so that incoming invaders could be spotted miles away; however, it didn’t stop many foreign armies who tried to besiege the castle for its treasures.
During the Hussite Wars, the invaders went to extreme lengths to gain access, throwing bodies of 2,000 deceased over the castle walls.
They tried to spread the infection to its inhabitants in order to take over the structure and steal the jewels.
However, many attempts failed, and the crown jewels and relics were moved for safekeeping.
Following a fire in the main tower and further attacks in 1648 by the Swedes, the once majestic structure fell into disrepair and was used for grain storage by locals.
However, the castle was later reconstructed in the neo-Gothic style we see today by architect Josef Mocker.
Karlštejn Castle has an architectural layout like no other in the area, and this was purposeful.
It was built on a spur and rocky ridge overlooking the village below – constructed in this way as a message to other kingdoms that Bohemia had elevated itself to become the cultural and political centre of Central Europe.
Around the same time, the village of Buda was built below the castle before being renamed twice and finally becoming Karlštejn as it is known today.
Highlights of Karlštejn Castle
There’s much to see within the castle and its grounds. Several rooms are open to the public as part of an extensive guided tour.
Of all the chapels at Karlštejn Castle, the most impressive is the Chapel of the Holy Cross. The remains of saints lie within this chapel, and it was once the space in which the Imperial and Bohemian crown jewels were kept.
The chapel is divided by a gilded screen set with precious gemstones into two sections known as the nave and presbytery.
The vault is also covered with rounded glass insets and gilded stucco, while upper parts of the chapel are adorned with frescoes and almost 130-panel paintings of apostles, knights, sovereigns, angels, and prophets by Master Theoderic.
The views from the Great Tower of the Karlštejn Castle are also not to be missed. From this elevated vantage point, you can overlook the castle fortifications and imagine life as it was in the times of Charles IV.
Dense woodland surrounds the building, and from this perspective, the emerald countryside and rooftops of the village really come into effect, creating a perfect spot for photographers.
There’s an interesting exhibition dedicated to Josef Mocker, who reconstructed the castle and the Imperial Residence of Charles IV to see with its historic interiors and valuable furnishings dating from the 14th to 19th centuries.
Marian Tower is another point of interest, as is the wood-paneled Audience Hall and Knights Hall with the stunning architecture of the time. The Church of Our Lady also has a beautiful timber ceiling and faded fragments of a fresco from the 14th century.
If you want to meditate like a king, St. Catherine’s Chapel is where Charles IV retreated to collect his thoughts. The chapel itself is decorated with numerous historical paintings and embedded with precious stones.
You could also venture to the lowest part of the castle to see how water was collected in days gone by.
The Well Tower contains an ancient wooden treadwheel and shows how the castle and its inhabitants obtained water from nearby rivers and streams.
If you are a fan of European castles, so are Trakai Castle in Lithuania and Brasov Castle, the home to Dracula in Romania, both worth a visit. Or what about Malbork Castle in Poland, the largest castle in the world.
Things to Do Near Karlštejn Castle
There’s the option to take a guided day trip to Karlštejn Castle from Prague. However, it’s just as easy to jump in a car or train and make your own way to avoid tour time constraints.
Karlštejn town is bursting with charm with bars, restaurants, and independent shopping, or you can opt to visit one of the local museums or even hike in the countryside.
Explore Karlstejn Town
Karlštejn’s main street is your first port of call when you arrive by car or train, and there are plenty of shops in which to spend your Czech Koruna.
The prices are much cheaper than in Prague, and there’s a wide selection of handmade crafts, great coffee bars, and restaurants along the Main Street.
Don’t leave without marveling at a piece of Bohemian glassware and perhaps pick up a couple of souvenirs as a memento of your day trip.
Visit Karlštejn Wax Museum
The wax museum is a must-visit for historians and those who wish to look deeper into the region’s heritage.
The wax museum has photos of historical Czech figures and, more gruesomely, punishment methods used in the past for those who broke the law.
Enjoy Karlštejn Vintage Wine Festival
This fun event held in late September in the Karlštejn is colorful, vibrant, and medieval in style, with a multitude of craft and food stalls lining the main street. Experience life in the era of Charles IV as you observe fire eaters, fencing contests, and traditional dancing, all whilst sampling delicious local wines.
Experience Christmas All Year
Karlštejn’s Museum of Nativity Scenes or Muzeum Betlémůallows visitors to celebrate the festivities year-round.
This all-encompassing museum boasts nativity figures made from a multitude of materials, ranging from clay to wood, porcelain, and even gingerbread.
During the Christmas season, visitors can participate in various crafting workshops with locals. Whether you wish to create festive biscuits, a charming glass decoration, ice some gingerbread, or even make a festive wreath.
You can do it all during the month of December in Karlštejn and take your handmade souvenir home with you!
Karlštejn Zoo, next to the river, is home to lions, tigers, monkeys, and even miniature ponies! In addition to the animals, you can also make time for leisurely paddle boarding on the river, and hot air balloon rides over Karlštejn Castle.
Hike the Czech Countryside
Avid adventurers will adore the hiking and trekking trails near Karlštejn. There are well-signposted paths that transport you through ancient woodland, forgotten villages, by rivers and streams, to deserted quarries, and even up close to the castle.
One trail winds its way towards the quaint Bohemian village of St. John under the Rock (Svatý Jan pod Skalou in Czech).
The village carved out of rock has a couple of good eateries where you can break for a beer and a plate of authentic Czech food before continuing with your hike.
Where to Eat Near Karlštejn Castle
You’re going to get hungry after all the walking and sightseeing. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to eat near Karlštejn Castle.
U Adama rates highly among visitors, mainly because there’s a selection of both Czech cuisine and familiar western food on the menu ranging from beef goulash and dumplings to hamburgers and salads.
The restaurant is located on the main street in the village below the castle.
Alternatively, for healthier options, try Karlštejn 34, a delightful pizza restaurant with outdoor seating serving soups and a wide selection of delicious vegetarian and vegan options.
How to Get to Karlštejn Castle from Prague
It’s easy to get to Karlštejn Castle from Prague by train.
The service runs every hour during the day from Prague and can be accessed from Praha hlavni nadrazi, the capital’s principal train station, or Smíchovské nádraží station in Prague 5 district.
Tickets can be booked in advance online.
Please note, when you reach Karlštejn station, it’s around 2 kilometers walk to the castle, but the scenic views of the countryside, charming houses, and town more than make up for it!
The final stretch to the castle is uphill; therefore, if you don’t fancy the trek, take a taxi from the station!
If you want an easy and stress-free day with hotel pickup, why don´t you book a day tour with a driver from Prague to Karlštejn Castle
Driving from Prague to Karlštejn Castle
It’s a relatively short drive to Karlštejn Castle from Prague via Route 101 (approximately 45 minutes).
However, parking for the castle is down in the village, so you will still have to walk up the hill when you get there or take a taxi.
Cycling from Prague to Karlštejn Castle
There are a variety of day tours traveling by bike from Prague to Karlštejn Castle. Outdoorvisit.com offers a leisurely bike tour meandering through the Czech countryside for 35 kilometers, passing two rivers, and stopping at delightful Czech bakeries and a local pub on route!
Taxi from Prague to Karlštejn Castle
If you don’t wish to drive, cycle, catch the train or take a guided tour, you can always travel to Karlštejn Castle by taxi!
The cost from Prague is around 50 euros each way, but make sure you confirm the price in advance.