The Enchanting Spa Town of Karlovy Vary
Karlovy Vary, the enchanting spa town, is a beautiful, chic and relaxing destination spot to add to your Czech Republic itinerary. Here’s everything you need to know about this beautiful little spa town and the best things to do in Karlovy Vary – also known as Carlsbad. (Updated in December 2022)
How to Get to Karlovy Vary
As one of the best places to visit in the Czech Republic, most travellers will reach Karlovy Vary from the city of Prague. Travelling overseas is exciting, but those first couple of days of fighting jet lag take a toll. That’s why I always try to plan our first stop to be somewhere quiet, charming and a bit more relaxing to ease into your holiday. And, the spa town of Karlovy Vary is just the place! A 90-minute drive to Karlovy Vary, or 3.5-hour train ride, or a 2-hour-long bus ride, whichever mode of transportation suits you best.
Karlovy Vary also sits very close to the German border with both Dresden and Leipzig about a 2.5-hour drive.
Best Guided Tours From Prague to Karlovy Vary
If you want to visit Karlovy Vary for a day trip, here are the most popular and highly recommended tours.
- Karlovy Vary Full-Day Tour from Prague. Explore the popular and historic Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary on a 9.5-hour day trip from Prague. Admire the modern Hot Spring Colonnade and taste the healthful spa waters from the local springs.
- Karlovy Vary & Marianske Lazne Tour from Prague with Lunch. Discover two famous spas on this 10-hour tour to Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne. Visit the Moser Glass Shop, the Factory Museum & the Thun Porcelain Shop before exploring Marianske Lazne, home to the famous Cross Spring.
Related Reading: Visitng Prague’s historical quarters
The Best Time to Visit Karlovy Vary
No matter the season, Karlovy Vary is a beautiful destination to visit all year long. If you are strictly going for the spa treatments- the official spa season opens in late May with an annual celebration. I visited in late April, and there were many spas that were already open. Another exciting time to visit is the first week in July for the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Known as the oldest and most luxurious film festivals in the world, this would require booking well in advance to secure both accommodations and tickets.
This spa town is surrounded by wooded hills and another pretty time of year to visit is in autumn to see the full display of fall foliage. Lastly, winter under a blanket of snow would be pretty and you can take advantage of lower prices due to the lack of tourists.
The Spa Town Origins
Karlovy Vary was named after its founder, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, in 1370. The hot springs were believed to have healing powers. As such, the town developed into a famous spa resort during the 19th century, welcoming such greats as, Goethe, Chopin, Bach and Beethoven. Even today, there are 13 main springs, about 300 smaller springs and the warm water of the Teplá River. The mineral water is formed 2,500 meters below the ground level. Drinking it is said to have a positive effect on your digestive system – that is if you can stomach the taste!
Best Things to Do in Karlovy Vary
No visit to Karlovy Vary is complete without visiting the Colonnades. Colonnades can be found all throughout the town. Each with its own unique design and mineral water at different temperatures.
Visit the Colannades
The Mill Colonnade is the most impressive one in Karlovy Vary. The architecture is the neo-Renaissance and was built in 1881. It’s also the largest as it holds five different springs, all at varying temperatures. At the centre of the Colonnade, there are rooftop statues, each depicting the months of the year.
The Park Colonnade features an intricate wrought-iron structure dating back to 1880. Surrounding this Colonnade is a lovely park which is full of magnolia blooms in springtime.
The Market Colonnade is the only one to be crafted entirely of wood. This neo-classical structure dates from the 1880s. It is a long colonnade that is located next to shops, hence the name ‘market.’
Hot Springs Colonnade
The Hot Spring Colonnade is located in a more modern concrete-and-glass structure built in 1975, and it houses an impressive geyser which spurts water 12 meters into the air.
The Becher Drinking Cure
Take part in the local tradition. The Becher Drinking Cure refers to the centuries-old practice of drinking mineral water which is believed to hold medicinal properties from a small porcelain cup. Little kiosks sell these drinking cups, shaped like small teapots, for you to fill and sip as you wander throughout the town. The Becher Drinking Cure recommends walking during and after to take advantage of the full digestive treatment. Warning, this is not a pleasant taste, but worth a try and it makes a great souvenir to take home with you.
Book a Relaxing Spa Treatment
One of the most popular things to do in Karlovy Vary is to treat yourself to a spa treatment. You can’t visit the largest spa town in the Czech Republic and not at least try one. There are so many options, at all budget levels, that you can choose from. From traditional spa treatments to intensive wellness programs, there is even a beer spa experience. Whether you book at one of the wellness retreats, or the hotel you’re staying at, these superior spa treatments are unlike any others you may have experienced in the past.
Travelller’s Tip: Book your Spa Treatmens in advance. Many spa and wellness centres do not accept walk-in and availaibility is limited.
What to Do in Karlovy Vary (Beyond the Spas)
Once you’ve tried the Becher Drinking Cure, strolled the Colonnades and experienced a relaxing spa treatment (or two) there’s still much more to do in Karlovy Vary.
Diana Observation Tower
One of the top things to do in Karlovy Vary is to visit the Diana Lookout Tower. You can reach this popular lookout point by hiking about 30 minutes to the top or by taking the Diana Funicular Railway, which climbs 166 meters to the top. The Observation deck is another 150 steps to reach the top. This hilltop Diana lookout tower affords some spectacular views across Karlovy Vary and the surrounding forested hills.
Once here, you can walk 5 minutes to the Deer Jump Lookout, which has a legendary tale. The story goes that while chasing a stag the hunting party’s dog fell into a deep hole. The dog howled because the hole was actually a hot spring and that’s how they were discovered.
If you took the funicular up, why not venture down on foot? Simply follow the easily marked trails through the forest, allowing you glimpses of the village as you descend.
Admire the Art Nouveau Architecture
Karlovy Vary is a town meant for going for long leisurely strolls. Wide sweeping boulevards with tiny foot bridges bring you from one side to the other all while you gaze upon the pretty pastel-coloured architecture of the Art Nouveau buildings.
Walk down Stara Louka
One of the most popular streets in Karlovy Vary is Stara Louka. Lining the street are hotels, cafes, restaurants and luxury shops. The street starts at the corner of the famous Grandhotel Pupp and ends at the junction of Divadelni Namesti and Trziste street. Look out for street vendors selling Carlsbad Wafers and no visit to this spa town is complete without trying some. Choose flavours from lemon, vanilla, hazelnut or cinnamon.
Eat Cake at Cafe Pupp
Not a guest of the most famous hotel in Karlovy Vary, Grandhotel Pupp, and still want to see the inside? Here’s a way you can. Enjoy a tea or coffee along with their famous chocolate cake with apricot caviar and replay the movie location of Queen Latifah’s Last Holiday and Casino Royale. A little indulgent? Oh yes, but it’s a memory you’ll have forever.
Go to a Museum
The Czech Republic is famous for its glass. Learn more about one of the country’s largest export at the Moser Museum which maps out the centuries-old history with more than 1,000 pieces on display. You can watch the entire process of blowing, shaping, and creating the colour of these professional glassmakers.
Visit the Jan Becher museum to learn more about the herbal liqueur from Karlovy Vary. This museum traces its roots back 200 years and you can have a chance to taste the liqueur or even bring back a small bottle with you.
Visit a Church
The 14th-century church of Saint Mary Magdalene sits next to the Hot Spring Colonnade in the town’s centre where you can book a tour to visit an underground crypt. Or visit the impressive Orthodox Church of St. Peter & Paul resembles an old Russian church with gold domes.
How Many Days Do you Need for Visiting Karlovy Vary
Karlovy Vary is a small town. It can easily be seen in a day. That’s why it makes for a popular day trip to Karlovy Vary from Prague where there is just enough time to see the town’s top attractions. Yet, what you won’t be able to do is the number one reason to come to Karlovy Vary in the first place – relax. That’s why I recommend staying at least one night, if not two. For us, we stayed 2-nights, and thought it was the perfect length of time to stay in Karlovy Vary.
Where to Stay in Karlovy Vary
Here are the highly rated and recommended hotels:
- Grandhotel Pupp – stay in Karlovy Vary’s most famous hotel, the 5-star grand hotel dating back to 1701
- Ferdinandhof Apart-Hotel – apartments near Mill Colonnade with living space and kitchen
- Golden Key Boutique Hotel – a stylish 4-star hotel close to the Colonnades
- Hotel Romance – a 4-star hotel in an Art Nouveau building from 1899
- Or, do your own search here
As a holidaymaker…
Karlovy Vary features the highest concentration of hot healing springs. This relaxing spa town is a luxury holiday destination – from spa treatments to the hotels to the restaurants and to high-end shopping. It’s a pretty small town that is a must see when in the Czech Republic with ample things to do perfect for a couple night’s stay.