10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Karlovy Vary
Still commonly referred to by its German name, Karlsbad (or Carlsbad), the town of Karlovy Vary is rich with history and well worth taking the time to explore. Founded in 1358, the town has welcomed such illustrious visitors as Peter the Great, Beethoven, Chopin, Schiller, Karl Marx, and Goethe. The main attraction is Karlovy Vary's superb hot springs, which literally burst into the Tepla River as it flows through the city, with tremendous jets of water shooting to heights of up to 14 meters, shrouding the riverbanks in a seemingly constant cloud of steam. All told, the city boasts 13 main springs (and up to 300 smaller ones), with numerous opportunities for visitors to steam, soak, and drink the waters for its many curative attributes. The city's spa-influenced architecture is another big draw, with many beautiful examples of Neoclassical and Art Nouveau styles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It's also a cultural hotspot boasting a performing arts center, art galleries, and a number of museums, and is famous for the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, one of the longest running such events in Europe.
See also: Where to Stay in Karlovy Vary
1 Editor's Pick Hot Springs and Colonnades
References to Karlovy Vary's stature as a leading European spa destination are everywhere. The connection to the town's copious hot springs is especially apparent in its many splendid colonnades. One of the most attractive is the Mill Colonnade, built in 1881, measuring 132 meters in length and boasting 124 Corinthian columns supporting a roof under which are five springs and numerous sculptures, including 12 along the rooftop balustrades representing the months of the year (there's even an orchestra pit). Other colonnades of note are the Hot Spring Colonnade, a modern structure built in the 1960s housing a geyser that shoots some 2,000 liters of mineral water into the air every minute. The beautiful white wooden Market Colonnade, built in 1883 in Swiss style, is decorated with intricate lace motifs, and the Castle Colonnade consists of the Upper and Lower Spring Colonnades, the latter with a splendid relief of the famous "springs ghost."
2 The Moser Visitor Centre
Karlovy Vary has, for more than 150 years, been one of eastern Europe's most important glassmaking towns, and the craftsmanship and skills of local glassmakers are celebrated in the excellent Moser Visitor Centre, part of the Moser glassworks established in 1857. Highlights of a visit include a look at the history of the company's glass factory, a Glass Museum with more than 2,000 fine examples of the craftsmanship that led to the company's worldwide reputation, as well as tours of the factory to see the glassblowers at work. English language guided tours are available, as is the opportunity to purchase these exquisite creations for yourself.
Address: Kpt. Jarose 46/19, 360 06 Karlovy Vary
3 The Church of St. Mary Magdalene
Considered one of the most important Baroque structures in the Czech Republic, the lovely Church of St. Mary Magdalene was built in 1737 to serve the city's Roman Catholic population and visitors. In the heart of the city's spa area, it's easy to find thanks to its twin onion-shaped spires and is well worth visiting for its splendid interior. Highlights include a fine altarpiece, a variety of exquisite Baroque Eucharist sculptures, and a Gothic statue of the Madonna, along with a number of important religious artifacts. Other features of note include fine paintings of biblical scenes and a superb crypt with a funeral chapel containing the remains of locals once buried in the long-gone church cemetery.
4 The Diana Lookout Tower
High above the old town, the 35-meter-tall Diana Lookout Tower was built in 1914 and provides fantastic views from Friendship Hill over Karlovy Vary and its surroundings (on a clear day the views extend up to 70 kilometers). If you're up to it, take the well-marked trails from the town center to the base of the tower, a 30-minute walk that's well worth it, as you'll pass numerous historical buildings. Alternatively, a short funicular railway ride will deposit you at the base of the tower, from where there's a five-story, 150-step climb to the top (there's also an elevator that goes as high as the 25-meter observation deck). Highlights here include a terraced restaurant, a mini-zoo for the kids, and a number of great walks with stops at quaint pavilions along the way. Other observation towers worth visiting for their interesting architecture and great views are the Goethe Tower, built in 1889, the Charles IV Lookout from 1877, and Deer Leap Lookout with its fun sculpture of a mountain goat overlooking the town.
Address: Vrch přátelství 5/1 , 360 01 Karlovy Vary
5 Spa Town: Grand Resorts and Hotels
For those seeking a longer spa experience, Karlovy Vary is home to a number of first-rate facilities, the largest being the Neo-Baroque Elizabeth Spa. Built in 1906 to meet the huge demand for treatments, the resort was named after the much-adored Austrian Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) and remains the largest spa facility in the country (if you're looking for just a quick visit to this historic resort, its pools are open to the public). Perhaps the best known of Karlovy Vary's spas, however, is the wonderful Grandhotel Pupp, built in 1781 and famous for its starring role in the James Bond movie, Casino Royale. Also worth a visit is the Neo-Gothic Spa III, built in 1867 on the banks of the River Teplá and notable as a venue for cultural events and concerts. Equally impressive is the massive Hotel Imperial, perched high above the old town and regularly voted one of the best spa resorts in the Czech Republic.
6 The Orthodox Church of St. Peter and Paul
Built in 1898, the lovely Orthodox Church of St. Peter and Paul is well worth a visit. Despite being in an area of Karlovy Vary known for its beautiful Art Nouveau villas, this splendid old church manages to stand out thanks to its tall golden domes and rich blue roof. Based on the design of a Byzantine church in Moscow and built with funds provided by wealthy Russians visiting the spas, the church's interior - laid out in the shape of a Greek cross - is as attractive as its façade and includes such notable features as a relief of Czar Peter the Great, numerous murals, and a large wooden wall of icons and paintings.
7 The Karlovy Vary Museum and Art Gallery
A good place to learn more about the history of the town and the region is the Karlovy Vary Museum. Highlights of the museum's permanent collection include an in-depth look at the region's rise as an important spa town, as well as the waters themselves and their many therapeutic uses and qualities, including their mineral compositions. The facility also houses an important library with many books related not just to balneology (the study of spa waters), but also to the history of art, along with lectures and educational workshops. Also worth visiting is the Karlovy Vary Art Gallery with its collection of fine paintings and statues by leading Czech artists, along with regular concerts and theatrical performances.
Address: Pod Jelením skokem 30, Karlovy Vary
8 Loket Castle
Just 13 kilometers from the center of Karlovy Vary is the quaint riverside community of Loket nad Ohri where the prime tourist attraction is the splendid old castle perched high above the village. Built in the 12th century, Loket Castle is remarkably well preserved and has endured with few alterations. Used as a prison from the 18th to the 20th centuries, the castle's thick stone walls earned it a reputation as the most impregnable fortress in Bohemia. Guided tours of the interior are available, and if possible, try to time your visit to coincide with the annual opera festival held each July when the castle plays a starring role by providing a stunning backdrop as the Czech National Opera plays in the town's outdoor amphitheater.
Address: Zámecká 67, 357 33 Loket
9 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Running almost continuously since 1946, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is one of the most important stops on the world's film festival circuit today. Attracting stars and crowds from far and wide, the town swells in population by upwards of 130,000 filmgoers each year, who come here to watch (or promote) some 200 or more films. The five-day festival is a good time to visit if you're able to get tickets, or even if you're simply interested in doing a little stargazing alongside your spa going (accommodation books up early, so plan accordingly).
10 Historical Motorcycle Museum of Karlovy Vary
A fun diversion for fans of motorbikes, the Historical Motorcycle Museum is just a short drive from Karlovy Vary in the small village of Bečov nad Teplou. Highlights of a visit include more than 40 well-preserved machines and numerous related artifacts, including engines and motorbike paraphernalia, all housed in an old 13th-century building. Also of interest is a small toy museum featuring examples from across Bohemia, as well as exhibits of cutlery and weaponry. Afterwards, be sure to wander the streets of this quiet little village, home to a number of fine old buildings (including a castle) as well as pleasant river walks.
Address: nám 5 května 2, 364 64 Bečov nad Teplou
Where to Stay in Karlovy Vary for Sightseeing
We recommend these highly-rated hotels in Karlovy Vary near the city's top cultural attractions and famous hot springs:
- Grandhotel Pupp: historic luxury, neo-Baroque building, elegant decor, illuminated indoor pool, wellness center with saunas.
- Hotel Romance Puskin: mid-range pricing, helpful staff, traditional decor, lovely terrace restaurant.
- Revelton Suites: affordable apartment hotel, central location, bright decor, homey feel, fully-equipped kitchens.
- Hotel Boston: budget hotel, family rooms, breakfast included, airport shuttles.