Rick Steves: Czech Republic town, castle take visitors back in time

Visiting the cobbled charms of Cesky Krumlov in
BY RICK STEVES Published: May 13, 2012

McDonald's tried three times to get a spot here but was turned away each time. The Puppet Museum features more than 200 movable creations and a model stage, where children of any age can try their hand at pulling the strings on their favorite fairy tale.

The Vltava River beckons to those with an adventurous spirit. One of my favorite activities here is to rent a canoe and go for a three-hour float down the dreamy river, through Bohemian forests and villages, past cafes and pubs happy to welcome paddlers for a break.

The destination? A 13th-century abbey. From here, the rafting company shuttles you back to town or provides you with a bicycle to pedal back along a bike path. Those with less time can still hit the water by taking a half-hour float around the city's peninsula.

While Cesky Krumlov can be done as a day trip from Prague, evenings here are wonderfully atmospheric. One of the liveliest places in town is the Gypsy Pub. Unlike other cities in Eastern Europe, where Romas (Gypsies) tend to live in segregated ghettos, Cesky Krumlov boasts a proud community of about 1,000. The easiest way for a traveler to experience the traditional Roma culture is through its lively music — always crowd pleasing and fiery.

Several big summertime festivals bring the city to life. At the Celebration of the Rose in June, locals celebrate their medieval roots (and drink oceans of beer) as blacksmiths mint ancient coins, jugglers swallow fire, mead flows generously and pigs are roasted on open fires. The summer also brings a top-notch international jazz and alternative music festival to town, performed in pubs, cafes, and the castle gardens.

Once you see Cesky Krumlov, it's not hard to understand why this is the Czech Republic's second-biggest tourist magnet. With its simple beauty and wonderfully medieval feel, Cesky Krumlov is the quaint, small-town Europe that many people dream of experiencing.

Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at rick@ricksteves.com and follow his blog on Facebook.