It’s understandable as to why the majority of people who visit the Czech Republic spend most of their time in central Prague. The medieval architecture and cobblestone streets have been well preserved, there are stunning views from Petřín hill, and you’ll not go hungry or thirsty given the abundance of bars and restaurants (with cheaper prices than western Europe). Unfortunately, the popularity of this area has driven prices up and standards down, in comparison to the rest of the country. If you make the effort to travel to other parts of the Czech Republic, or at least explore other areas of Prague, you’ll find higher quality food and drink, in addition to cheaper prices.
Having spent several years in the Czech Republic I’ve come to appreciate the excellent public transport network which is both reasonably priced and generally reliable. The IDOS website provides information on transport links for trains and buses throughout the Czech Republic, as well local transport in towns and cities. There is an app available (Czech language only) for both apple and android devices. The majority of trains are operated by České dráhy, and there are fantastic discounts if you’re traveling in a group of two or more. Student Agency operates a number of domestic services between the major cities, as well as selected international routes. Regio Jet, their subsidiary company, operates trains between Praha and Slovakia (via Olomouc, Ostrava and Havířov). Electronic tickets are available if using the ‘Můj vlak’ (České dráhy) or ‘Jízdenky’ (Student Agency) apps.
All of the places listed below can be done in one day from Prague (see google map), although some of them certainly benefit from a night or two.
The main attraction in this small city is Sedlec Ossuary, a Roman Catholic Chapel with a macabre atmosphere. Referred to as the Chapel of Bones, the various displays comprise of bones from an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 people, although the most impressive is the chandelier made with every bone in the human body. It’s not the largest attraction so doesn’t take much of your time, yet is one of the most popular in Czech Republic and is thus worth a visit. The city centre is also very pleasant, with several impressive churches and cathedrals (it’s a UNESCO world heritage site). Essentially it’s similar to Prague, but without the hordes of tourists. There are a few different ways to get here; a direct train from Praha hlavní nádraží (Prague main station) to Kolín, and then a local bus from outside the train station. Alternatively, take the train to Kutná Hora město, changing at Kutná Hora hlavní nádraží (and maybe Kolín too); 110 Czk (1 hour) – these connections are relatively smooth so you wouldn’t be left waiting for too long.
Karlštejn is a small village to the south-west of Prague with a picturesque castle (involving a moderate hike up a paved path). There are various tours of the castle if you’re interested, although you can wander round some of the castle exterior for free. The main street is very touristy with numerous souvenir shops, yet there are plenty of reasonably priced restaurants. Hourly trains depart the Praha hlavní nádraží (direction Beroun); 54 Czk each way (40 minutes). Trains also stop at Praha Smíchov station.
Terezín (and Litoměřice)
A trip to Terezín, a small town and former Jewish ghetto, is an educational experience similar to that of visiting Auschwitz. The town is around 40 km north of Prague on the way to Litoměřice, and also contains a fortress which was used as a prison for many years. Notable prisoners included those involved in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo. During, and prior to WWII, Terezín was used as a holding camp before transport to extermination camps such as Auschwitz. It’s probably best experienced in the winter when there are fewer tourists and the weather is relatively bleak – all adds to the atmosphere. The entrance ticket, which covers the small fortress, the permanent exhibition at the small fortress, and the Ghetto museum in the town centre, costs 215 Czk. The exhibitions and museums are fairly extensive, and if you want to see everything then allow at least five hours (information is in Czech, German, and English). You can travel from Praha Holešovice to Terezín by bus (direction Litoměřice); 85 Czk each way (50 minutes). A few kilometers north of Terezín is the town of Litoměřice; frequent buses for 15 Czk (10 minutes). I’ve been here a couple of times during the winter months to watch hockey, although unfortunately haven’t had much time to explore during the hours of daylight. I get the impression that it’s best experienced in during the summer months, and as it’s within the Bohemia wine region, you’ll be able to find some locally produced wines that aren’t exported. There are a few interesting sights (St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the main square), in addition to a few decent bars, cafes and restaurants (all devoid of tourists). You can return to Prague by train for 132 Czk (1 hour 15 minutes; change Lovosice) or direct bus to Praha Holešovice for 100 Czk (1 hour).
Plzeň was the European Capital of Culture in 2015 and whilst it’s a decent shout for a day trip, it’s better to stay a night (or two). There are fewer tourists, a pleasant old town square, some great restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife, with the added bonus of being a very compact city. The town is famous for being the home of Pilsner Urquell, definitely one of the best mass produced beers in the Czech Republic. The brewery has a ‘Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory’ feel to it, and it’s possible to take tours of both the brewery and some of the 14th century underground tunnels that were built below the old city. There are numerous pubs and restaurants on site although some are closed in low season. You can take the train to Plzeň from Praha hlavní nádraží for around 105 Czk (90 minutes) or the bus from Praha Zličín (end of metro line B, near the airport) for 100 Czk (1 hour).
Karlovy Vary, a city in north-west Bohemia, was built in an area of hot mineral springs and has been a popular spa destination for hundreds of years. It’s probably the only place in the country that doesn’t really have a Czech feel to it; the architecture reminiscent of Vienna, and the numbers of Russian speaking tourists seems to dilute the native Czech population (there are many signs and notices in Cyrillic). It’s a fairly expensive destination with accommodation and restaurants prices similar, or more expensive, than those found in central Prague. If you’re interested in spa treatments, then it’s apparently best to book in advance; however, the 13 different mineral waters (at various temperatures) can be freely sampled from the numerous fountains throughout the city (bring an empty bottle). it’s not the nicest tasting stuff! The city is also famous for Karlovarské oplatky (spa wafers), Becherovka (herbal liqueur) and an annual International Film Festival. All aspects considered, this is an interesting place to visit. The best way there is to take the Student Agency bus from Praha Florenc for 160 Czk (2 hours 15 mins)
This is really pushing the limits of a day trip given how long it takes to get here, but it’s certainly worth the effort; especially if you stay over. The old town, with its cobbled streets, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992, and is almost completely surrounded by the Vltava River. It’s probably the only place in the Czech Republic that is nicer than Prague. If you head up to the castle area there are stunning views over the town with its red-tiled roofs. Unfortunately it’s generally very busy all year round, although can be quite pleasant once the day trippers have returned to Prague (or before they arrive). Whilst accommodation and restaurants tend to be on the pricey side (similar to central Prague), it’s a little more reasonable during the off season. There several Student Agency buses from Prague throughout the day for 200 czk (3 hours); a train from Praha hlavní nádraží is also possible, although involves a change in České Budějovice, takes longer, and is more expensive.
Dresden is situated roughly half way between Prague and Berlin. It’s fairly easy to do this as a day trip, or breaking the journey if traveling from Berlin, however the city and surrounding area deserve at least a couple of days – otherwise it’s not really worth it. The centre is relatively compact, much of which was painstakingly rebuilt after it was almost completely destroyed in a single night of bombing towards the end of WWII; this includes the iconic Frauenkirche, the Hofkirche cathedral, the baroque Zwinger Palace museum complex, and the Semper Opera house. An excursion to the Saxon Switzerland national park by paddle steamer (or train) deserves its own day trip; and I’ve heard that Meißen is also worth a visit. The train journey between Prague and Dresden takes 2.5 hours and is particularly scenic as it follows the course of the Elbe (Labe) River through Czech Switzerland and the Saxon Switzerland national park (delays are quite common on this route). There are multiple ticketing options available including single tickets or a Czech-German border ticket. Alternatively, FlixBus operate comfortable coaches between Prague and Berlin (via Dresden), although the journey by road is not so interesting (2 hours; 12€ each way).