Welcome to the Czech Republic! A land of fairy tales, with its medieval towns and villages, stately hilltop castles and beautiful countryside. And, of course, there’s Prague, a city known to have many nicknames. The ‘city of a hundred spires’, ‘the magic city’, ‘the mother of cities, ‘the city with 100 bell towers’, ‘the golden city; and the ‘heart of Europe’.
Travel to the Czech Republic and you will feel you have stepped back in time. That protection and preservation are why this country has 14 places designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Places recognized for their natural, historic and cultural significance, selected by representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a way to preserve and protect for future generations. So, let’s learn more about some of the best ones to visit while in the Czech Republic.
Best UNESCO Sites in the Czech Republic
Historic centre of Cesky Krumlov
Contributed by Allan Wilson of It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor
Set beneath the backdrop of a 13th-century medieval castle, and over the Vltava River in the region of South Bohemia, the Historic Centre of Český Krumlov is an unforgettable destination seemingly set in its Bohemian past. And while it is part of a wider more modern city, the historic centre feels worlds apart.
Originally inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1992 as ‘an excellent example of an old Central European town’ the architecture of the historic centre shares a fascinating mix of elements including Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Thankfully vehicles are off-limits within citadel walls, as the area is typically accessed by crossing rivers and bridges, then within it is all cobbled streets, rustic taverns, and enchanting Bohemian charm. As a destination, it is expectedly busy during the tourist months, second only to Prague, but it is almost empty during winter in Cesky Krumlov, and the old quarter is just breathtaking in snow.
If you love to seek out those picturesque fairy tale towns when in Europe, then Český Krumlov is a must-visit. Learn even more about this charming town, and visit in the springtime when the town awakens from its slumber.
Historic Centre of Kunta Hora
The historic town centre of Kutna Hora, with the Church of St Barbara and the Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. Once a town of silver miners in the late 13th century, this old town centre is full of stunning buildings.
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On one end of town sits the church of Santa Barbara featuring the stunning Gothic architecture from the 18th century. Take a picturesque walk to Barborska Street to arrive at the town’s centre. Here you will find the colourful and opulent buildings scattered amongst the small side streets connected to the town’s main square.
At the other end of town is the Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec. It is also known as the bone church. This 18th century Baroque style of architecture is decorated with human bones. The neatness with which bones have been arranged is truly spectacular. At some point it becomes art and the goriness is left behind.
Historic Village of Holašovice
Holašovice is a tiny historic village that has successfully preserved its typical vernacular architecture. Most of its houses were built during the 18th and 19th centuries in the “South Bohemian Folk” or “Rural Baroque” style. However, the village is even older, dating back to the 13th century and the newer buildings followed the same ground plan as the ones from the Middle Ages.
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Holašovice was deserted twice in its history. The first time, in the 16th century, the plague killed almost all the population. The village was soon occupied by Bavarian and Austrian settlers that built the structures in the unique style it is now famous for. At the end of World War II, the German population was expelled leaving the village empty. 40 years later, Czechs slowly moved in and the village was reborn.
The small chapel and the system of houses and grain stores were inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998 for their outstanding cultural value. It can be visited on a day trip from Prague, and Cesky Krumlov is just 25 km away.
Historic Centre of Prague
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992, Prague’s historic centre is like stepping back in time. This area includes Old Town, Lesser Town (or Little Quarter), New Town, and the Castle district. Walking through these areas, all remarkably well preserved makes it easy to imagine life in medieval times.
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As you explore this beautiful city, you’ll find yourself surrounded by wonderful examples of Gothic, High Baroque and Modernist architecture. There are many wonderful monuments worth visiting while in Prague. Start with Prague Castle, the Cathedral of St Vitus, the Valdštejn Palace on the left bank of the Vltava River and the famous Gothic Charles Bridge. The different architectural styles and influences embody the stories of Prague’s past. Yet they manage to fit perfectly together, somehow combining old and modern and everything in between.
Prague Guides to the Historic Quarters
Prague used to be known as the ‘Five Towns’, although it is divided into 10 separate districts. Most visitors tend to concentrate on the five historic towns. Check out these five guides breaking down everything you must see in each of them.
- Castle district (or Hradčany)
- Old Town (or Staré Město)
- Little Quarter (or Malá Strana)
- New Town (or Nové Město)
- Jewish Quarter (or Josefov)
The historic centre of Telc
Telč is one of the most romantic places to visit in the Czech Republic. This small fairytale town sits in the heavily forested region of Vysočina. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992 to recognize and protect its mid-14th-century architecture. The colourful historic houses with their high gables and arcades were built in a Renaissance and Baroque style. Today, they are filled with lovely cafés, galleries and unique shops.
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Visit the 17th-century chateau with an English-style park, one of the gems of Moravian Renaissance architecture. The original Gothic castle was rebuilt by Zachariáš of Hradec in 1533, and it‘s inspired by the Italian Renaissance style. Not only the Chateau‘s façade is decorated with beautiful sgraffito, but you can find sgraffito decoration even on other houses in the town. Telč has also city walls built of stone, originally built for its strategic security.
A place that is not yet on the UNESCO World Heritage site list but should be is the picturesque spa town of Karlovy Vary. This beautiful town, surrounded by wooded hills, features a kaleidoscope of pastel-coloured Art Nouveau buildings overlooking the rivers Ohře and Teplá. It’s situated about 130 km northwest of Prague and sits very close to the German border.
Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc
The Holy Trinity Column, located in the beautiful city of Olomouc, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. It represents the religious devotion of locals in the late 18th century, after a period of a plague that lasted two years. Plague columns were built all over Europe, but never one of such monstrous dimensions – it’s 32 metres tall and a diameter of 17 metres. It even has a small chapel at the base of the structure where about three to five people can fit.
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The Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc is richly adorned with Baroque statues – they cover the whole surface of it. Namely, these are 18 sculptures of saints, 12 light-bearer figures and 12 relief busts of the apostles, with a large sculptural group of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the main Holy Trinity sculpture on the very top. This unique landmark has the highest number of Baroque statues in Central Europe.
Trebic – Jewish Quarter & St Procopius Basilica
Trebic, located in the southern part of the Czech Republic near Brno, is home to not one, but two UNESCO World Heritage Sites! And they couldn’t be any more different from each other. The Jewish quarter, with its impressive Jewish cemetery, and St Procopius’ Basilica are great examples of how the Jewish and Christian cultures coexisted from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Although technically the Jewish population wasn’t allowed to live alongside Christians hence they built their own quarter.
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The Jewish quarter in Trebic is the best-preserved Jewish neighbourhood in Europe with the beautiful Baroque synagogue from the 17th century being its center. This is in fact the only Jewish-related place on the UNESCO list outside of Israel. St Procopius’ Basilica, built in the 13th century, is a unique example of the Western European architectural influences in the region and a perfect combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles. Both UNESCO sites are located near each other so visiting them is really easy.
Tugendhat Villa in Brno
Villa Tugendhat, in Brno, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. In 1930, the Tugendhats, a Jewish couple, had a villa designed by the famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It is an excellent example of modern Functionalism. The modern clean lines with open spaces feature massive windows and doors overlooking a beautiful park. The Tugendhat’s fled the country just before the second world war. The villa was confiscated and occupied by the Gestapo. In 1967, Greta Tugendhat returned to Brno and the estate. The villa was added to the list of National Cultural Heritage sites in 1969 and opened for public tours in 1994.
Contributed by Claudia Tavani of My Adventures Across The World
UNESCO World Heritage Sites by Country
If you found this interesting and would like to continue reading about other designated sites by country, here are the other destinations.
As a holidaymaker…
When visiting a new country and wondering what should be added to your list of places to go, why not choose the designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. These places are carefully selected for their historic and cultural significance, and always are worth visiting.