Český Krumlov a beautiful city in South Bohemia, feels like a fairy tale from the Middle Ages. Quaint houses, a grand castle, a meandering river.
But, as we all know, there’s always a little cruelty in the fairy tales from those days. It’s no exception here and I’m shocked when I see the dark side of Český Krumlov.
It comes just as I’m about to go through the arches into the entrance to the castle courtyard. There’s a small bridge over a deep moat and I see tourists standing on either edge, peering down.
I stop to see what they’re looking at and, down below, I can see bears.
That’s right – real brown bears, walking slowly and sadly around their enclosure, like an exhibit in a depressing zoo.
The bears at Český Krumlov castle
Like much of Český Krumlov, this is an homage to history. As early as the 16th century, the owners of the castle used bears as part of their coat of arms. In line with this symbolism, they kept bears in the castle somewhere.
This started a tradition that some of the subsequent owners continued (with certain breaks throughout history).
The first records of bears being kept in the moat is from 1707. There were no bears kept at the castle in the first half of the 19th century, for example, but there were two in the moat between 1857 and 1887, and then another two that were brought to the castle from 1907.
I feel bad taking a couple of photos, in case it looks as though I am somehow supporting their captivity, but I want some images to show you to go along with what I write.
I don’t stay long, though, and head into the castle courtyard and start to explore a bit.
Český Krumlov Castle
I go into the museum which is relatively simple but has some decent displays about life in the castle. If you are particularly interested in the history of the castle, it may be worth having a look, but I am not convinced it is worth the 100CZK (US$4.90).
I also climb up the tower to get views out across the city (admission also costs 100CZK (US$4.90) for the tower).
It really is a beautiful place, the mix of historic buildings nestled amongst the greenery and the glittering river that winds through them all.
From up here, you get the best view of how it all fits together so delightfully.
I try not to think anymore about the bears, putting it in that basket in my mind where I store other things that probably have some justification because of heritage and tradition.
I look around the castle instead, an incredible building that dominates the city. By area, it is the second largest in the Czech Republic after Prague Castle.
You can only see the interior with guided tours and there are a couple of options. Photos aren’t allowed so I can’t show you the inside – but trust me that you won’t be disappointed if you take one of the tours of Český Krumlov Castle.
From November - March, they are open 09:00 - 16:00 and closed on Mondays.
In April and May, they are open every day from 09:00 - 17:00.
From June - August, are open every day from 09:00 - 18:00.
In September and October, they are open every day from 09:00 - 17:00.
The interior of the castle is closed from November - March and there are no guided tours.
In April and May, tours are run from 09:00 - 17:00 and closed Mondays.
In June - August, tours are run from 09:00 - 18:00 and closed Mondays.
In September and October, tours are run from 09:00 - 17:00 and closed Mondays.
For the second route, it costs 240CZK (US$11.60) for a regular ticket and 170CZK (US$8.20) for a concession.
It's worth noting that it's almost half the price to do the tour with Czech commentary.
Things to see in Český Krumlov
After the castle, I start focusing more on the city and the rest of the history here in Český Krumlov. I start at the castle’s gardens, a large area built in 1745 with the gorgeous Neptune Fountain at its centre.
From here I find a path that takes me down to the historic centre of town. This is one of those places where, although there are plenty of museums to visit, I feel just walking through the streets is like visiting a museum.
Most streets are closed to cars and every building seems to have something interesting about it. Tourists are everywhere, unfortunately, but it doesn’t take away from the magic of the place.
Although I don’t think you need to, if you want to visit any of the museums, you could choose from the following:
You also can’t avoid the river. As I explore the town, I cross over it several times and find myself walking alongside it at points.
It’s quite a wide river and has a decent flow today. Perfect for those who are on the water, rafting and kayaking, laughing and chatting as they float along.
It looks like a lot of fun and I make a mental note to do something like that if I ever come back.
Rather than just popping in for the day, as I have, it might be more fun to stay for a night or two and spend a day going down the river.
In most ways, my time in Český Krumlov leaves me in good spirits. There’s no denying the city is one of the most stunning places in the Czech Republic and I’m charmed by the artistic impressions it presented to me at almost every turn.
But the memory of the bears does leave a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
After I visit, I do some research and read that there are plans to improve their living conditions and find a more suitable environment for them.
Perhaps, like most fairy tales, this one will have a happy ending.
How do you get to Český Krumlov?
If you’re coming from Prague, I would definitely recommend getting the express buses to Český Krumlov. They leave every hour, take three hours and cost 200CZK (US$8). The best option is to book in advance through Student Agency.
Note: there are two bus stops on either side of the city. I would suggest getting off at the first one, and then getting on the return bus at the other one.
The other option is to get the train. You’ll need to change and it will take slightly longer than the bus, but the cost is about the same. You can see the timetable here.
Are there tours to Český Krumlov?
Yes, there are, and they are a great way to visit Český Krumlov from Prague if you are short of time.
It’s a popular day trip from Prague so you’ll find quite a few options. These are the ones I would recommend:
Accommodation in Český Krumlov
You might also want to consider staying overnight. Not only will it mean that your visit won’t be too rushed, you’ll also get to enjoy this magical city when all the tour groups leave by the evening.
For a very affordable and comfortable hotel, Penzion Na Podlesí ve Zlaté Koruně is a great place.
For modern luxuries and design in a historic building, try the cool Pension Athanor.
And for something unique and special, you can stay inside a historic tower at Krumlov Tower!