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Czech Republic> The Jewels of the Czech Republic Prague and Cesky Krumlov

Czech Republic

A Karen Brown Recommended Itinerary

The Jewels of the Czech Republic
Prague and Cesky Krumlov

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and other Places to Stay along this Itinerary

EXCURSION INTO THE CZECH REPUBLIC: ČESKÝ KRUMLOV

The following recommendation for exploring the Czech Republic was created as a continuation from travels in Austria.  We highly recommend this side trip to romantic Bohemia that will take you into the Czech Republic to visit Český Krumlov, one of the most charming villages in Europe (and, only a couple of hours from the Austrian border) and on to Prague, one of Europe's most enchanting cities.

If you are infact  traveling in Austria, this excursion works in quite conveniently since one of the main roads into the Czech Republic is from Linz, which is roughly midway between Salzburg and Dürnstein. If you are traveling by public transportation, it is possible to train to Prague or Český Krumlov from Linz, Salzburg or Vienna but, it would difficult to also include our other suggested excursions from Český Krumlov without a car.

The Czech Republic is a country of astounding natural beauty. The scenery in the southwest corner is particularly glorious with gentle rolling hills, forests, green meadows, idyllic rivers, and charming villages. One of these, Český Krumlov, is (in our opinion) one of the most stunning towns in all of Europe, and easily accessible-only about a two-hour drive north of Linz. If you can squeeze in time for a visit, we heartily recommend doing so. Note: Český Krumlov is so chock full of tourists in July and August that, if this is your time for travel, you might want to delay this excursion for another trip.

Pacing: We recommend a minimum of four nights for this side trip in order to give you two full days in Český Krumlov and another day for sightseeing in the countryside.

Entry into the Czech Republic: It used to be that the majority of tourists visiting the Czech Republic took a train from Vienna (Austria) or Weimar (Germany) since few agencies would rent a car going into any country that previously was a part of the Eastern Bloc. However, that has now changed. Auto Europe (whom we highly recommend for car rentals: 800-223-5555) tells us that entering the country by car is no longer a problem. However, you need to mention to whatever car rental company you choose that you plan to go into the Czech Republic, since a few restrictions still apply, such as you might not be able to rent a specific make of a car. In addition, there is usually an additional premium for any car going into a country that used to be a part of the Eastern Bloc.

Beginning your adventure: Linz, which is about midway between Salzburg and your next destination, Dürnstein, makes the perfect place to begin your side trip. When you reach Linz, exit the A1 and go north on the A7. Travel through the city and continue approximately 15 kilometers to where the four-lane highway ends. At that point, continue north on road 125 to Freistadt, a very attractive medieval town complete with stone walls, towers, and even a moat. If it is lunchtime, head into the colorful central square where you will find an assortment of restaurants.

From Freistadt it is only 18 kilometers to the border of the Czech Republic. Have your passport and car documents available. The customs formality is simple; however, you will need to purchase a motorway toll sticker for the window of your car. It is not excessively expensive-the price varies depending upon how long you will be in the country. Stickers are available for 15 days, 2 months, or a year.

Continue north for about 10 kilometers. When you come to Kaplice, turn west on a road that weaves through a gorgeous, pristine countryside, going by the towns of Omlenička, Zahrádka, and Přídolí before arriving in Český Krumlov.

Český Krumlov is quite tricky to drive into and many of the alley-like roads are so narrow you can almost stretch out your arms and touch the walls on either side of your car. When you arrive, follow signs to the town center. Although it is a pedestrian area, you can cautiously maneuver your car through the narrow streets for the brief time needed to unload your luggage before parking. If you prefer to park and find your hotel on foot, as you arrive into town look for signs to Parking #3, which has overnight parking and is the most convenient choice for hotels that are located within the historic center. From the parking lot, it is about a 10-minute walk along a delightful path that traces the river's edge. To your right, St. Vitus Church looms high on the bluffs overlooking the river, and to your left is a pretty park. When you reach the bridge, cross over it and you are in the heart of the village. All of the hotels are nearby.

Český Krumlov (designated a UNESCO monument) is truly an exquisite jewel. There are many picturesque places in Europe, but none can surpass this one. The setting is extraordinary and you will love it. The village is almost totally wrapped by the Vltava River, which loops around the town forming an island-with only a thread of land connecting it to the "mainland." To further the enchantment, there are no modern buildings or jarring architecture to dim the delight of this untainted medieval beauty. Most of the houses are now brightly painted and have been restored and brought back to life. Only a few buildings have not yet been renovated, providing a gentle reminder of how poorly maintained most of the Czech Republic was during the time it was a part of the Eastern Bloc.

Sightseeing in town: Just strolling through the maze of small cobblestone lanes of Český Krumlov is a joy. Before beginning any formal sightseeing, wander at random through the town to get a feeling of its many treasures. Be sure to stop at the picturesque Svornosti Square, where you will find the tourist office. Here you can get a map and will find all the information on special events taking place, location of museums, and tours. You can book tours here and buy tickets for any concerts or special events. There is so much to see and do in the town that it will take a minimum of two days. Following are some suggestions on what to see and do.

Old Town Tour: We highly recommend to first take this walking tour, which is an excellent introduction to the colorful history of Český Krumlov. As you stroll through the labyrinth of its cobbled medieval streets, your guide will tell romantic tales of yesteryear, take you to hidden nooks you might not find on your own, and point out the location of museums and other places you will later want to explore on your own. (April through October, English-speaking tour leaves 2:00 pm from the tourist office, duration 90 minutes.)

Brewing History Tour: Český Krumlov has always been an important beer-producing town, and still has its own local brewery. This walking tour gives a hint of what life was like for both nobility and ordinary people in medieval times and why beer was so popular. (April through October, English-speaking tour leaves 12:30 pm from the tourist office, duration 60 minutes.)

Night Tour: This walking tour explores the legends, ghosts, mysteries and love stories of Český Krumlov. It includes a visit to an ancient gothic house and admission to an exhibit of marionettes from the National Museum of Prague. (May through October, English-speaking tour begins 8:30 pm in front of the Fairy Tale House on Radiční Street, duration 90 minutes.)

Eggenberg Brewery: For beer enthusiasts, a tour of the Eggenberg Brewery, which produces dark lagers plus a yeasty, unfiltered beer, is well worthwhile and, best of all, beer sampling is included. (Tours begin at the brewery at 11:00 am, duration 45 minutes.)

Raft Tour: On the banks of the Vltava River, just below the town, you can board a wooden raft crafted in the ancient style for a boat tour. As the raft loops around the city it provides many beautiful views from a different perspective. To add to the fun, your guide will entertain you with tales of days of yore. (May through October, information and tickets available at the tourist office, duration 60 minutes.)

Graphite Mine: The Český Krumlov Graphite Mine is located on the outskirts of town. This tour is especially fun for children (and adults who are still a child inside). You don special clothing (including shoes) and a helmet with miner's lamp attached before descending to the bowels of the earth with your guide to learn about how the graphite has been mined here since the 18th century. (July & August: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; April, June, September & October: tours by arrangement; tel: (380) 711.199, website: www.grafitovydul.cz, email: grafitovydul@quick.cz.

Marionette Museum: Housed in the former church of St. Jošt, the Marionette Museum features an exhibit of antique marionettes and a replica of the Baroque Theater in the Český Krumlov Castle.

The Fairy Tale House: Here you will find an awesome exhibit with hundreds of precious puppets in all sizes and shapes from the National Museum in Prague. The display is very inclusive with all kinds of puppets from peasants to warriors. Also of interest is a fantastic mechanical puppet theater (it even has a miniature ferris wheel) brought here from the Cačina Castle. If you are lucky, there might be a puppet show in the courtyard. (May through October: 10 am to 10 pm.)

Museum of Torture: Located on the square near the tourist office, the Museum of Torture is a must of you are traveling with little boys-they will relish the gruesome displays of medieval instruments of torture. It is all a bit contrived, but certainly interesting. (Open all year, 9 am to 8 pm.)

Wax Museum: Located in one of Český Krumlov's pic-turesque old houses, the wax museum depicts skillfully crafted wax figures that are cleverly displayed in various scenes appropriate to the featured personalities. Dimly lit staircases lead up and down through the house, adding to the drama. Not only figures from the Czech past are shown, but also other cultural personalities such as Louis Armstrong and Charlie Chaplin. (Open all year, 9 am to 8 pm.)

St. Vitus church: The spire of beautiful St. Vitus church (which dates back to the 15th century) stretches into the sky, making it easy to spot from anywhere in town. There are no tours, but you can visit the church on your own.

Krumlov Castle: If you see nothing else in Český Krumlov, you must visit the amazing Krumlov Castle (the second largest in the Czech Republic). There is no way you can miss it since the castle, which consists of an endless row of attached buildings, stretches across a lofty ridge overlooking the town from across the river. It is huge, stretching over a kilometer along the bluff. Dominating the scene is a dramatic bell tower that rises in a series of whimsically painted tiers, the final one being an ornate, open-air viewing arcade under a steeple topped by a jaunty flag.

Buy your tickets as soon as possible upon arriving in Český Krumlov since Krumlov Castle is a highlight. Tickets are necessary since you cannot tour independently but need to take a guided tour. Also, the number of English-speaking tours is limited and space is sometimes sold out. (April, May, September, October: 9 am to 5 pm; June July & August: 9 am to 6 pm, closed on Mondays.)

Krumlov castle is so vast that the tours are broken down into the following:

Tour 1: This tour is a very good overview of the castle, visiting the Renaissance Chambers, the incredible Golden Carriage (which was only used once), and the Masquerade Hall. (Tour originates in the third courtyard, duration 60 minutes.)

Tour 2: This tour includes a visit to the Schwarzenbergs' 19th-century Chambers. (Tour originates in the third courtyard, duration 60 minutes.)

Baroque Theater Tour: This fabulous tour is a favorite and sells out very quickly. The boundless wealth of the nobility who lived in Krumlov Castle in the 17th century is obvious when you see this opulent theater. The only comparable one in the world is the Baroque Theater at Drottningholm Castle, on an island just outside of Stockholm. (Tour originates in the fifth courtyard, duration 45 minutes.)

Castle Tower & Castle Gardens: You can visit the Castle Tower (located in the second courtyard) and the beautiful Castle Gardens (located at the far end of the castle) on your own, without tickets or reservations.

Excursions from Český Krumlov: In addition to the sights to see in the town, there are wonderful excursions into the countryside. Shown below, is a selection of highlights.

Holašovice (45 km north of Český Krumlov): If you enjoy visiting picturesque villages, Holašovice will enchant you. Here you find, tucked in the tranquil countryside, a tiny town where time seems to have stood still. This cluster of 19th-century peasant homes is a fine example of the charming, whimsical style of architecture characteristic of many of the villages in the southern part of Bohemia, where baroque features such as gables, white stucco ornamentation, and articulated rooflines enhance the farm houses. Holašovice is so special that UNESCO has chosen it as a protected town under the World Cultural Heritage.

Zlatá Koruna Monastery (8 km northeast of Český Krumlov): Conveniently close to Český Krumlov, Zlatá Koruna Monastery was built by King Přemysl Otakear in 1263 in gratitude to God for victory in a battle against the Hungarians. It remains today as one of the best-preserved monasteries in the Czech Republic. The guided tours are not in English, but an explanatory text is available. In 1995 the monastery was proclaimed a National Cultural Heritage site. (Open April through October: 9 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 4 pm, closed Monday.)

Rožmberk Castle (25 km south of Český Krumlov): Built on a rocky promontory above the Vltava River, Rožmberk Castle is one of the oldest castles in Bohemia, dating back to the 13th century. Throughout the centuries, it has been renovated and expanded many times. You can visit the art gallery featuring many baroque paintings and beautiful ceramic pieces, and a superb armory. Like many castles, this one too has its own ghost. Rožmberk Castle's ghost is a lovely lady who wanders through the castle at night. (Open April through October: 9 am to 4 pm, closed Sunday.)

Vyšší Brod Monastery (33 km south of Český Krumlov): Located on the outskirts of Vyšší Brod above the Vltava River, the Vyšší Brod Monastery dates back to 1259. The fortified complex contains the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, various farm buildings, an abbey, and a monastery. Guided tours visit the beautiful church, an extensive picture gallery with over 100 paintings by baroque masters, and a stunning baroque cloister library. (Open May through September, Tuesday-Saturday: 9 am to 11:30 and 1 pm to 4 pm, Sunday: 1 pm to 4 pm, closed Monday.)

When it is time to leave Český Krumlov, retrace your route south to Linz, and rejoin the "Highlights of Austria" itinerary that follows or consider a longer excursion into the Czech Republic and continue on to one of the world's most beautiful cities, Prague.

CONTINUING ON TO PRAGUE IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC

Note: if you do opt to venture on to Prague and you are traveling by car, rather than treat Holašovice (45 km north of Český Krumlov) as an excursion from Český Krumlov, visit it en route.

Extremely popular with tourists, streets are always a bit crowded in Prague, with April to June and September and October the height of the travel season. As is often the case with crowded scenarios, be attentive of your valuables and carry the minimum with you as you walk the streets. Prague has a reputation for a high percentage of pickpocket instances. Although part of the EU, the Euro is not always accepted so you definitely will want to have some Czech crowns (koruny). Also, if traveling by train, do not make the mistake we made; there is more than one train station in Prague, and do not assume that you will arrive and depart from the same one!

Prague is a truly beautiful city. Everywhere you look, everywhere you walk, are magnificent buildings, scenic walkways, lovely parks, beautiful monuments. Consider all you have ever heard about the city and know that it is even more spectacular and will exceed expectations. Transected by a wide sweep of the Vltava River, there are two distinct areas of Prague. Again, although it is possible with a city tour to get an overview of Prague in one day, we would recommend a minimum of three nights and two full days in Prague-devoting one day to each side of the river.

There are many ways to explore the city: bus tours (some allow on and off access), smaller, more personalized mini-van tours, via an electric trolley, by horse-drawn carriage, in a classic convertible, by bike taxi and by foot. Note: because of narrow, steep, cobbled, and pedestrian-only streets, some forms of transportation have limited access. There are many places where you can purchase tours-at the many tourist offices, often from the vendors directly, or through your hotel concierge. Given the luxury of time and energy, we recommend donning a comfortable pair of shoes and covering the cobbled miles on foot. For the purposes of an introduction to this wonderful city, we offer the following narrative that follows the path of an assumed walking tour, which means being able to explore Prague at your own pace and preference.

In subtle ways reminiscent of Paris' right and left banks, the districts of Prague on either side of the river each have their own personality. The Hradčany or Castle District and the Malá Strana or Lesser Quarter which share the west bank, are distinguished by the crowning Palace and seem a bit more residential, with a little less activity, pedestrian traffic, and a little more quiet. By contrast the east bank, which includes the Staré Mĕsto or Old Town, the Josefov or Jewish Quarter, and the Nové Mĕsto or New Town, seems busier and has a higher concentration of hotels and restaurants. Spanning the river, the historic, pedestrian-onlyCharles Bridge serves as an excellent and convenient starting point for exploration of either side.

For the purposes of this walking tour narrative, we are going to assume the luxury of two full days and begin day one on the west side of Charles Bridge.

DAY ONE: PRAGUE

The Karlův Most, or Charles Bridge, is understandably one of the most famous bridges in the world. Commissioned in the 14th century by King Charles IV, it replaced the previous Judith Bridge, which was destroyed in a flood. On the west side are two towers. The Judith Tower is the only architectural survivor of the original bridge and the Lesser Quarter Bridge Tower that was erected as a gateway to the town. On the eastern side is the Old Town Bridge Tower that one can climb for spectacular panoramic views. Especially appealing with fewer crowds in the soft morning or evening light, the bridge is fun to walk. Numerous artisans, magicians, and performers settle in from early morning to evening and the bridge becomes their stage. The parade of Baroque statues lining either side of the bridge is a more recent addition, sculpted in the 18th century. The one exception is that of St. John of Nepomuk, who was thrown into the Vltava by King Wenceslas IV and drowned. It is said that the spirit of the saint was seen rising from the waters below the bridge. The statue was erected in 1683. This statue is easy to spot, as its bronze relief shines from the natural polish it receives as people rub it for good luck.

The core of the east bank is the Old Town and it is wonderful to explore, with its intriguing architectural mélange of Medieval to Baroque buildings that line the maze of cobbled streets. Because of its strategic location, Prague was an important commercial center along the ancient trading routes, and the Old Town Square was the central marketplace. Still very much the pulse of the district, within a few blocks of the square you will experience the wealth and diversity of Prague: the Old Town Hall (which you can climb for yet another panoramic view), its magnificent astronomical clock (be sure to be present on the hour to watch the animation), the Church of St. Nicholas, the Kinský Palace, as well as sidewalk cafes, picnic tables, and the colorful and diverse array of transportation offered for exploring the city-buses, trolleys, horse drawn carriages, and even classic motor cars! This is also the departure point for many of the arranged tours. Leading up to the New Town (Nové Mĕsto) and the impressive National Museum, the wide tree-lined boulevard referred to as Wenceslas Square is reminiscent of the Champs Elysées and is crowned by a statue of the saint himself on horseback. It is interesting to note that the Na Příkopĕ, which divides the old and new town, follows the path of the old moat. Try to imagine the Royal procession as they journeyed down this boulevard from the Powder Gate, across the bridge, and up to the palace.

However, before returning to the Charles Bridge, venture north of the old town to a district with its own special ambiance and character: the Jewish Quarter or Josefov. Still an important and active community, in addition to some wonderful shops, you will discover Europe's oldest synagogue, the Old-New Synagogue,Klausen Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue, the Jewish Town Hall, and cemetery. Then as one circles back along the river to the Charles Bridge, it is impossible not to admire the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Rudolfinum, home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and St. Agnes Conventwhich today houses a Medieval art collection.

Note: If you are fortunate to have the luxury of more time, you will most definitely want to spend another day exploring the Old Town as this one-day recommended introduction features only a few of the highlights in terms of the multitude of churches, squares and monuments.

DAY TWO: PRAGUE

Once again, we will use the Charles Bridge as the starting point for exploration of the Lesser QuarterandCastle District. From the bridge's western edge, rather than cross the span, step down to the streets that meander in its shadow and cross over to the small Kampa Island, banded by canals that add to its own quiet ambiance, and a scenic old water wheel. A narrow bridge crosses back over to the Lesser Quarter. This exclusive residential district is home to a number of quaint streets and embassies; here you will also find the well-known mural of John Lennon surrounded by graffiti. This side of the river enjoys a wealth of parkland as well as shopping streets that climb to the castle and the numerous palaces that call Prague home. With the parameters of just one day to explore this side of the river, this suggested exploration will focus on the crowning palace which impressively stretches along the skyline and overlooks the city and river valley. Strategically located, it is the largest medieval fortress in Europe, the ancient seat of the Czech kings, and has maintained a prominent role since its origin over 1,000 years ago. The reality is that Prague Castle is a collection of impressive buildings in various architectural styles; embraced within its walls are the Royal PalaceThe Old Royal PalaceSt. George's Basilica, the Convent of St. George, the remarkable St. Vitus Cathedral, and a charming residential district referred to as Golden Lane. The intriguing mix of architectural styles each reflect the various stages when it was rebuilt after suffering the ravages of wars, fires, or simply at the request of the person in power.

There are three entrances to Prague Castle, the principal one being the Ceremonial Gate located on the west side. This entrance faces the regal and lovely Hradčany Square which is bordered by a multitude of impressive residences that desired an address in close proximity to the seat of power: Schwarzenberg Palace, The Tuscan PalaceThe Martinic PalaceThe Archbishop's PalaceThe SternbergPalace(which houses the National Gallery of European Art), The Černín Palace, and The Loreto. (Note: Once again, given the luxury of time, one could spend days going from one palace to the other, but for the purposes of this two-day introduction to Prague we are going to recommend focusing your visit within the walls of the castle.) The other objective in selecting the Ceremonial Gate as your starting point is to coordinate your visit with the traditional Changing of the Guards. The fanfare takes place every day on the hour from 0500 to 2300 and the ceremony is enhanced at the noon hour with all the pomp and circumstance of an entire regiment and banner exchange.

Enter the castle through the Ceremonial Gate dominated by the imposing and impressive heroic statues, and pass through to the first courtyard that was an 18th-century addition. From here continue on through the 17th-century Matthias Gate into a second courtyard, which is the location of the Holy Cross Chapel; housed in the stables that once sheltered the horses is the Picture Gallery of Prague Castle. From here, a narrow passage leads to the third and principal courtyard of the castle and the immediate and towering presence of the spectacular St. Vitus Cathedral.

Although the first church to occupy this site was built in the 10th century by Prince Wenceslas, the cathedral you see today was commissioned by Charles IV, begun in 1344, and inspired by the great cathedrals in France. Magnificent in structure and overwhelming in proportion, St. Vitus Cathedral is awe-inspiring. Its walls embrace eighteen ornate chapels and are segmented by gorgeous stained glass windows that soar to the vaulted ceiling and illuminate the interior with warm, colored rays. The most visited chapel (which also guards the coronation jewels) is dedicated to Saint Wenceslas, who is more familiarly referred to as The Good King Wenceslas from the chant in the ever-popular Christmas song. Although you will enter the cathedral through the west entrance, be sure to visit what was the entry in the 19th century, on the south side. The Golden Door displays the ornate mosaic of the Last Judgment. Many Czech kings are buried in St. Vitus Cathedral, and it is possible to descend to the crypt where, most notably, the remains of Charles IV are entombed. It is also easy to spot the ornate silver tomb that protects the remains of St. John Nepomuk, who became a martyred saint when he was thrown from the Charles Bridge by the anti-clerical King Wenceslas IV in 1393. It is also possible to climb the literally hundreds of stone steps that wind up a narrow circular stairwell to the church spire, and although the effort is more than rewarded by some spectacular panoramic views, please note that it takes time and requires good stamina and strength.

Within the walls of the castle, sharing this third courtyard is The Old Royal Palace. With a surprisingly modest façade, this palace was home to the original rulers of the land. Most remarkable about its structure is the incredible Vladislav Hall that in its history has been host to large gatherings and meetings, as well as 17th-century royal tournaments. As one stands on the wide old plank floors under the expanse of high-vaulted ceilings, one can almost envision the tournament extravaganza and hear the echo of thundering hooves and applause. Remarkably, the ceiling is said to be the largest expanse of unsupported vaulted ceiling in the world. Off the grand hall you can also visit two side chambers: the Bohemian Chancellery and the Diet Hallwhich hosted the medieval parliament. Before leaving the palace, in a side room there is an interesting film-continuous with different language versions scheduled and posted-of the castle, that offers a wonderful excuse to rest one's legs.

From the Royal Palace walk round to yet another square, St. George's Square, where on the corner is the entrance to the St. George's Basilica and the convent of St. George. Reputed to be the oldest church in Prague, the intimate Basilica was founded in the 9th century. Neighboring the Basilica, the Convent of St. George embraces its own central courtyard; once a religious sanctuary, it now houses the National Gallery's collection of Baroque and Mannerist Art.

Banded by the eastern walls of the castle is an intimate little quarter referred to as the Golden Lane that has a character all its own. A row of colorful little cottages runs the length of the cobbled street and once provided accommodation to the archers who defended the castle; later craftsmen, goldsmiths (who gave the residential alley its name), and alchemists. In the 20th century it sheltered the poor and was home to Prague's favorite son and author, Franz Kafka. (A museum dedicated to the memory of this Prague native and one of the greatest literary figures of the 20th century is located near the river's edge below the castle, to the north of Charles Bridge; Franz Kafka Museumwww.kafkamuseum.cz.) Today the charming houses boast boutiques selling local crafts as well as the Národní Museum (History of Bohemia to the revolution of 1848). Walk the 15th-century hallway of the Black Tower, adorned with a wonderful display of defense and armor to the end cap, Dalibor Tower, which was used as a torture chamber and named for its first prisoner. Leading to the east gate and a convenient exit, Golden Lane serves as a wonderful conclusion to your explorations of the castle. From here you can easily enter one of the many lush gardens surrounding the castle or descend the road that transitions to a public street and leads back down to the river.

Once you have finished your explorations and stay in Prague in the Czech Republic, return south by train or car to the Austrian border and on to Linz in order to rejoin our Highlights of Austria by Train & Boat-or Car. Note: There are also convenient train connections from Prague to other key cities in Europe.


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Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic, Czech Republic
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[ icon ] Dürnstein
Lower Austria, Austria
[ icon ] Holašovice
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Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia
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Czech Republic, Czech Republic

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Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic, Czech Republic
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