Things to Do in Bohemia
The Czech Republic is famous for its fine crystal glassware, which travelers can admire, learn about, and purchase at Karlovy Vary’s Moser Glassworks. Founded in 1857, the glassworks produces a range of decorative and practical glass pieces using environmentally friendly techniques. Visitors can tour the museum and shop for fine glassware at the Moser Glassworks.
Cesky Sternberk Castle sits on a cliff over the small village of Sternberk, in the countryside of Bohemia. It was built in the 1240s, redesigned in the Gothic style in the 15th century, and renovated in the baroque style in the 17th. It’s still owned by descendants of its original owners, who still live there.
It may be the Czech Republic’s newest national park, but Bohemian Switzerland National Park (Narodni Park Ceske Svycarsko) has long been a popular destination for traders and artists. The park’s curious name was inspired by two 19th-century Swiss artists who settled in the region because it reminded them of their homeland. Today the park draws hikers, bikers, climbers, and nature lovers from around the world.
At the northwestern edge of the Czech Republic, you’ll find one of the country’s favorite nature escapes. Bohemian Switzerland National Park is blanketed in lush green landscapes, steep navigable river gorges, and the 52-foot (16-meter -high Pravcice Gate (Pravcická Brána, Europe’s largest natural rock arch and the park’s symbol.
The austere towers and battlements of 12th-century Gothic Loket Castle (Hrad Loket) stands on a granite headland over a bend in the River Ohře and dominates the Western Bohemian town of Loket close to the peat bogs, pine trees and birch forests of the Slavkov Forest Protected Landscape Area. Originally built as a defensive fortress to protect trade routes from Prague, the castle became the favorite royal retreat of King Charles IV of Bohemia, who came here in the mid 14th century to enjoy hunting in the surrounding forests. Later in its life, Loket was occupied by several noble Czech families and between 1822 and 1948 was used as a prison. Today tours of its imposing interior include the torture chambers in the dungeons, where some extremely graphic instruments of torture can be spotted.
In the course of the 19th century, the town of Loket became known for its porcelain factories and today the castle displays a porcelain collection of exceptional quality, including Art Deco vases and rare spa cups used when taking the waters at neighboring Karlovy Vary. Other exhibitions dotted around its maze of rooms, cellars and dungeons include archaeological finds from the area and fine, faded pastoral frescoes in the first-floor galleries. A small armory occupies sections of the Romanesque tower, where according to legend a friendly dragon has lurked for centuries.
The Czech town of Ceske Budejovice in South Bohemia may be best known for the beer that has been brewed there since the 13th century. Even if you aren't a beer lover, this charming provincial capital it is well worth a visit thanks to its vast main square, winding lanes, and role as a good base for exploring the region.
An hour north of Prague stands the Terezín Memorial, used by the Nazis in World War II as a transit point for Jews being transported to Auschwitz and other death camps in Eastern Europe. It was built a garrison town in 1780 by Emperor Franz Josef and, two centuries later, was transformed into a fortified work camp and ghetto by the Gestapo. From 1940 onwards, more than 30,000 inmates died of disease and starvation in the Magdeburg Barracks, whose gates bear the infamous slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ — ‘work makes you free’.
The memorial is open for guided tours encompassing the Gestapo prison, the barracks, the Jewish cemetery overlooked by a massive Star of David, the crematorium, morgue and the Ghetto Museum, which opened in 1991 in the camp’s Baroque former school. Among the thought-provoking exhibits are paintings by children who were imprisoned in Terezín and two highly emotional documentaries with eyewitness accounts by survivors plus temporary exhibitions highlighting the tragedy of life in the ghetto and Terezín’s role as a Nazi transit center for Jews from across Europe. There is a star-shaped memorial to the children who died at the camp in the courtyard behind the school.
Offering interactive education and entertainment in Liberec, the modern science center iQLANDIA has a 3D planetarium and hundreds of original exhibits relating to science and technology. It is even home to the first—and only—humanoid robot in the Czech Republic.
The ornate Baroque town of Karlovy Vary in Western Bohemia is famous for its spas, crystal ware and Becherovka, a herbal liqueur that was first concocted in 1807 by pharmacist Jan Becher using the pure water that made the town famous. Today Becherovka is still distilled to the same secret recipe – known only to two people at any one time – using a mixture of natural ingredients including sugar, cinnamon, herbs and spices. It is one of the Czech Republic’s favorite tipples and is also exported to more than 35 countries worldwide. The Jan Becher Museum (Jan Becher Muzeum) opened in 2009 in the distillery’s original premises when production moved into larger premises. Guided tours take in the original subterranean cellars, where Becherovka was stored for two months in vast oak barrels, and showcase the history of the liqueur in a short movie before tracing each stage of its production. The museum is filled with portraits of six generations of the Becher family, two centuries’ worth of advertising posters and examples of the porcelain cups from which Becherovka was traditionally drunk.
After visiting the museum, Becherovka is available to sample straight or in a variety of cocktails in the tasting room, the Terrace Bar and the Esplanade; it can also be bought in personalized versions of its distinctively flat, green bottle to be taken home as a souvenir.
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