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Visit Karlovy Vary – where is it?

A Russian enclave in the western part of Bohemia, not far from the German border, Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad in German, Vary for the Czechs) is a charming little town famous for its sulphurous water, a strong herbal liqueur and thin crunchy wafers.

In the 17th century, Russian Tsar Peter the Great came here to rip the therapeutic effects of Karlovy Vary’s hot springs. The name Karlovy Vary comes from Charles IV, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Bohemia, who founded the town in 1370.

Arriving in Karlovy Vary

The easiest way to get here from Prague is by RegioJet, a bus company run by Student Agency. It serves many cities around Europe and offers comfortable rides with refreshments and on-board entertainment.

Visit Karlovy Vary – thermal water

The warm-water Teplá River cuts through the town supplying the many fountains – there are 15 of these – with the  sulphurous curative liquid. The water comes out at different temperatures, ranging between 40°C to 70°C.

It only makes sense to start your tour from the grand 19th-century colonnades (kolonády) that house the many fountains. There are four main colonnades, which are open and free to visit:

  • the wrought-iron Park Colonnade, or Garden Colonnade dating from 1880. 
  • the imposing Mill Colonnade (Mlýnská kolonáda), a neo-Renaissance structure built between 1871 and 1881. Opposite the colonnade, across the river, it’s the spot where the Russian tsar allegedly stayed in 1711.
  • the Market Colonnade (Tržní kolonáda) with its intricate woodwork.
  • the Hot Spring Colonnade (Vřídelní kolonáda), the oldest in town, is now a concrete-and-glass structure built in 1975 and once dedicated to astronaut Yuri Gagarin. Both inside and outside the building there are two geysers spraying water and warm vapour up into the air. Check the opening times here.

Geyser in Karlovy Vary

Before starting your tour, arm yourself with a lázeňský pohárek, a tiny porcelain cup used to collect and sip the sulphurous water. Prices  vary between CZK 50 (£1.70/$2.20) to CZK 160 (£5.70/$7.40).

An image of the lázeňský pohárek, a porcelain cup used in Karlovy Vary to collect and sip the sulphurous water of its springs

As you stroll around the town, you may notice that there are many shops selling round thin wafers: these are called oplatky and can be sold freshly-made individually or in boxes in a great variety of flavours. The wafers are meant to add some sweetness to the unpleasant taste of the spring water.

Oplatky in Karlovy Vary

Right next to the Hot Spring Colonnade is St Mary Magdalene’s Church (Kostel Maří Magdalény),  a Baroque building dating back to 1730 by architect Kilian Dientzenhofer who also designed St. Nicholas church in Prague’s Malá Strana. 

If you’re interested about visiting Prague, click here.

A picture of St Mary Magdalene's Church in Karlovy Vary

A few minutes away on foot a sumptuous building stands tall against the backdrop of the surrounding hills: it’s Grandhotel Pupp, an elegant 18th-century edifice featured in the James Bond film Casino Royale and in Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.

Grandhotel Pupp

Just behind the hotel there is a funicular railway that takes you up to Diana observation tower from which you can glance down at Karlovy Vary and the surrounding green Bohemian landscape. 

An aerial picure of Karlovy Vary from Diana observation tower

The full price for a return ticket to use the funicular service costs CZK 90 (£3.00/US $ 3.80). It operates every 15 minutes and the ascent only lasts three minutes. 

We’ve only paid a one-way ticket (CZK 60) because we’ve decided to walk our way down on the large paved trail among the woods. 

It’s just a 20-minute easy, descending stroll to the Orthodox Church of Saints Peter and Paul. The bright azure roof, gilded onion domes and art-nouveau murals give the church almost a fairy-tale appearance.

Visit Karlovy Vary – the becherovka

Follow Krále Jiřího northbound until it becomes Dr. Davida Bechera, from the name of the Becherovka Museum located right at the end of the street.  

The becherovka is a herb liqueur invented by Josef Vitus Becher in 1807. Josef’s son, Jan, officially founded the company building a new factory and asking his brother-in-law to design a new bottle for the bitter concoction said to cure stomach illness.

Dinner in Karlovy Vary

End your day eating hearty Czech specialties at Pivovar Karel IV. Located inside a building called Becherplatz, where restaurants and shops face a charming indoor square.

Pivovar Karel IV is both a brewery, serving delicious craft beers, and a restaurant with an extensive menu.

We’ve ordered the half grilled duck with two kinds of cabbage and a selection of dumplings, spicy beef goulash with bacon dumplings and venison ragout with rose-hip sauce and Carlsbad dumplings 

Hope you had fun exploring Karlovy Vary. If you have an extra day, you could book a spa treatment at one of the many luxurious hotels. Here’s a useful list.

If you visit in summer, be ready to find the town a little more crowded than usual as Karlovy Vary hosts an International Film Festival. Find information about passes and tickets here.