If you’re planning on travelling around central Europe it’s likely that both Prague and Vienna will feature on your travel itinerary. With seven direct modern RailJet trains departing every two hours throughout the day, the journey between these two capitals takes around four hours and costs as little as €19 each way (see Seat 61 website for further details).
Whilst I would never advise against visiting either of these cities, they have become somewhat saturated with tourists and travellers. If you’re looking for something a little more authentic or relaxing, consider breaking the journey at one of the places mentioned below.
Note – Some of these suggestions require a short onward journey from the train station however the integrated public transport system throughout Czechia is efficient, convenient and inexpensive (see the IDOS website for connection details). Perhaps more importantly, all of these stations have left luggage facilities, so you can safely deposit your luggage while you explore (further details here).
1. Kutná Hora
I’ve already written about Kutná Hora, as it’s an excellent day trip from Prague. 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 Czechia 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. Whilst there are a few direct trains from Prague to Kutná Hora, it’s not may be better to change in Kolín as there is no left luggage facility at Kutná Hora.
It was only recently that I ventured to Pardubice, despite passing through on the train many times. Famous for the Great Pardubice Steeplechase, gingerbread, and the home of Semtex plastic explosives, this small industrial city is situated on the Labe River, approximately 100 km east of Prague. The centre is around 25 minutes walk from the main train station (alternatively, you can take a trolleybus). There are several historical buildings of early gothic architecture in the vicinity of Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky); the most notable is Zelená Brána, a tower gate which leads to Pernštejn Square (Pernštýnské náměstí), where you find the impressive neo-renaissance city hall. Pardubice château and fortress is situated nearby, and houses an East Bohemian museum within the complex.
Although I’ve not been to Litomyšl, it’s been on my ‘to visit’ list for a while as the Renaissance château in the town centre, which dates from the 16th century, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’ll no doubt get here at some point! Like many towns in Czechia, there is an impressive square featuring a variety of Renaissance, gothic and baroque buildings. To reach Litomyšl, alight at Česká Třebová, and take the service bus to Litomyšl (30 minutes) – you may need an additional change in Brno or Pardubice, which are both covered in this post.
Czechia’s second largest city has been largely neglected as a tourist destination, as the majority of visitors head straight for Prague. However this is gradually changing, and people are slowly beginning to discover this cultural hub of South Moravia. Enhanced by it’s gothic-style architecture, the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul assumes an imposing position over the city, and is considered a national cultural monument. Slightly to the west of the centre is Špilberk Castle; once a former prison of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it is now part of the city museum. Several other notable buildings in the centre, including the town hall, and an underground labyrinth of tunnels beneath the vegetable market square makes for interesting few days exploration. Brno does not boast the medieval charm of Prague, so try your best to avoid making that comparison.
Whilst the majority of visitors perceive Czechia as a beer producing country, the climate of Southern Moravia provides ideal conditions for growing grapes. Consequently, a number of towns and villages in the region, including Mikulov, are scattered with vinyards and small independent wineries. Why people skip this picturesque wine producing town south of Brno is beyond me, and after visiting, it’s apparent as to why this region draws comparisons with Tuscany. Although Mikulov is fairly small, the town centre is beautiful, and wandering along the narrow cobbled streets you’ll have no problems finding a cafe, restaurant or wine shop. For the more active travellers, you can make the 20 minute hike to Svatý kopeček (Holy hill) for stunning panoramic views over the town and surrounding landscape, or even explore the nearby Pálava Hills. The train journey from Břeclav takes 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can take a direct bus from Brno (or Vienna).
6. Valtice and Lednice
Connected by a 7 km lime tree avenue, these two South Moravian towns form The Lednice–Valtice Cultural Landscape; a 200 km² area inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1996. With an impressive number of Châteaux and cultural monuments, there is plenty to keep you occupied for at least a couple of days. Like Mikulov, it’s situated in a stunning part of Czechia, particularly suited to those who like cycling and walking. Obviously the local wine should not be missed either! Both towns are easily accesible from Břeclav (only 10-20 minutes by train or bus).