All About Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is the ultimate Central European nation, a land of baroque city spires and craggy medieval castles. Wedged between Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria, the Czech Republic is an odd mix of Teutonic and Slavic, of beer and goulash, and a place where local history and culture have a wonderfully weird tinge—most noticeably in the arts, from the folk-infused symphonies of Smetana and Dvořák to the writings of Franz Kafka.
The Czech capital is the perennially hippest post-Cold War city in Eastern Europe. The Old Town—a bit over-restored, but a looker nonetheless—is that perfect combination of baroque flourishes and twisting cobblestone lanes for which you came to Europe in the first place. You can tour the historic synagogues of the Jewish quarter to the chiming bells of church towers mingled with the strains of 101 street musicians, all of it laid out under the glowering Prague Castle, a fortified hilltop conglomeration of gothic cathedral, royal halls, and shop-houses huddled against mighty defensive walls.
From Prague, hop a train for the 45-minute ride to the 14th century Karlstejn Castle, a postcard Gothic fortress above a tiny hamlet. (Note that a rail pass also gets you discounts on CD buses where trains don’t run, station taxis in Prague, and bike rentals all across the country.)
The Czech Republic’s western half, Bohemia is the homeland of lager (Pilsner Urquell was invented in Plzen; Budvar, the original “Budweiser” beer, comes from České Budějovice). It’s non-brewed attractions range from the mountain spa town of Karlovy Vary to the castle dominating the medieval stronghold of Cesky Krumlov to the old silver-mining town of Kutná Hora, famous for its bristling gothic churches—and the creepy decorations made of human bones in a suburban cemetery chapel.
The eastern half of the republic, Moravia is where wine takes the place of beer at many tables and a legacy of Austro-Hungarian rule and German influence still resonate from the nation’s second city, Brno—where the German-speaking friar Gregor Mendel puzzled out genetics at St. Thomas Abbey under the Romanesque Hrad Špilberk castle—to historically German Olomouc, a university town blessed with a bevvy of baroque fountains and a neo-Gothic cathedral.
When to Go to Czech Republic: As with much of central Europe and its temperate climate, spring to fall is the ideal time to visit—though Prague can get insufferably crowded in summer.