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March 11, 2019

Czech Republic: Český Krumlov

Český Krumlov with its castle in the background

I posit Český Krumlov is one of those places that are commonly “unknown” except by travelers who completely know about them. If you ask a random person to name places in the Czech Republic they are likely to say Prague. And Prague is the most popular destination in the Czech Republic by the numbers. But if you ask a traveler there’s a good chance that Český Krumlov will come up as a want-to-see destination. It is one of the Czech Republic’s top attractions, and for good reason.

Český Krumlov is located in Southern Bohemia, perhaps 30 miles to the east of the triple point between Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic. It is within range of Prague so many visitors based near the Czech Republic’s capital make the trip south to see it. Indeed some visit Krumlov on an abusively long day trip from Prague, which gets past the challenge of finding a hotel room in a town with permanent population of around 13,000.

We never managed to be in the right place at the right time to get the best light to do Český Krumlov full justice in photos.

An artist’s rendering of Český Krumlov

No matter how you get to Český Krumlov or where you stay, it is worth visiting.

Spilling down from the Krumlov’s castle is the warren of streets of the city’s historic medieval quarter town. Český Krumlov is located at a horseshoe bend of the Vltava River. According to local legend, the town’s name derives from Middle High German “krumbe ouwe”, translating roughly as “crooked meadow”. The loop of the small flowing river defines both Krumlov’s location and street plan. Today the combination of narrow winding streets and a pretty stretch of river give the town a special atmosphere.

Český Krumlov’s historical rise came with the ascent of the Rosenberg family, important players in Bohemian politics. Economically the town benefited as the Rosenbergs promotion of trade and crafts within the town walls. The economy was further bolstered by the late 15th century discovery of gold nearby. With time Krumlov grew to become the seat of power for the Rosenbergs and the epicenter southern Bohemian cultural and political life.

With the Rosenberg’s prosperity Krumlov’s castle was modified and improved. In the 16th Century William of Rosenberg, the High Treasurer and High Burgrave of Bohemia, had the castle rebuilt in a Renaissance style. Elements of William of Rosenberg’s changes can be seen today.

In the park near the castle.

Gigi finds a chance to practice her agility.

At the beginning of the 17th Century the Rosenberg’s fortunes waned and the family line died out. Krumlov was sold to the Habsburg emperor Rudolf II. Eventually the castle and its lands were transferred to the Austrian noble House of Eggenberg.

The family base of the Eggenbergs was in Styria, roughly 150 mile to the south. The noble house benefited from good relationships with the Catholic court of the Habsburgs. The positive relationship with the Habsburgs allowed their power and influence to grow. Along the way the Eggenbergs acquired considerable land holdings in Central Europe including Krumlov.

During the time of the Eggenburgs, Johann Christian I von Eggenberg expanded Krumlov’s castle. He was responsible for the Baroque renovations that add to the mix of architectural styles that can be seen.

The Eggenberg line also died out and in 1719 their heirs the Schwarzenbergs, another prominent European noble family with extensive property holdings, took control of Krumlov. Krumlov thrived at first under the Schwarzenbergs but eventually diminished in importance. The Schwarzenbergs retained ownership of Krumlov’s castle until Communist rule began after World War II. At this time the castle became property of the Czechoslovak State.

The tower of Český Krumlov’s castle: For a modest fee tourists can climb to the top to get an excellent view of the town.

Through its history Český Krumlov has managed to largely avoid the ravages of war. The fighting and bombing of both World War I and World War II mostly bypassed the commune. This good fortune left Krumlov’s medieval core largely intact.

Modern Krumlov also benefited from neglect during the Communist era. During Communist times the commune was forgotten and not modernized. Krumlov was saved from the rough hand of Soviet-era urban renewal. Consequentially the commune kept its historic core largely intact, which is a great benefit today.

After the Velvet Revolution ended Communism, Czechoslovakia was open again to visitors from the west. For the backpackers who are often at the front lines of tourism, Český Krumlov became a popular destination. Over time Krumlov evolved as a frontline European tourist destination. In the process the old town has been restored. With the renovations came an improvement in the tourist infrastructure and creature comforts. But is modern day Krumlov better than the Krumlov that the backpackers rediscovered? It is hard to say. There are benefits of both times.

Český Krumlov’s castle viewed from the river.

Here and elsewhere the rise of tourism has generated its own set of problems. Nevertheless, Krumlov has absorbed the influx of visitors better than some places. We are often put off by the intensity of the tourist crowds. But somehow Český Krumlov’s appeal manages to transcend the crush of humanity that comes in waves by bus and train each day. It is a remarkable place to visit even if you have to share the streets with tens of thousands of tourists.


Český Krumlov’s historic center, centered near its castle, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

We visited Český Krumlov in September of 2018 and stayed for a couple of nights in the center of town. Staying in Krumlov let us enjoy the medieval streets in the evening after the bulk of the tourists had departed.


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