If you’ve got some extra time to spare in Prague and you’re looking to get out of the city, but don’t want to go as far as Pilsen or Cesky Krumlov (which are also reachable in a day if you get an early start), Karlstejn Castle is probably where you’ll end up. Most of my research indicated this would be the most interesting day trip if I didn’t want to spend most of my time on the train, so my only real reservation was whether or not I’d be surrounded by the same hordes of tourists that pack the Charles Bridge every day.
Getting to Karlstejn from Prague is cheap and easy. Trains run pretty much every hour from Hlavni Nadrazi, the main station in central Prague, and cost me around $5 USD. Because the line isn’t named “Karlstejn,” and the people manning the ticket counter spoke no English, the biggest challenge for me was identifying which train I needed a ticket for. The strategy I employed was looking up the train schedule online before departing, and identifying the appropriate train by its four digit number.
Most of the train lines had names beginning with Os followed by the four digit number, followed by some additional digits (Os 8808 1.2., or Os 8812 1.2, etc.). Anyway, I found that the easiest way to identify the trains was to simply look for the four digit number and not worry about the Os, the destination names, or the additional digits. This could be ill advised, perhaps the Os and the additional digits indicated something important, I don’t really have any idea, but because all the trains I saw had these characters in common, it was easiest for me to just disregard them.
Despite the train I happened to catch being at least two thirds full, not all that many people got off at Karlstejn, and there definitely weren’t any real crowds to speak of. To get to the castle, you must walk through the village and up the hill. It’s not that long of a walk, maybe 20 minutes, but there are some horse drawn carriages if you’re lazy and don’t want the exercise.
You should keep in mind that you can’t get inside the castle unless you purchase a ticket and go on one of the tours they offer. There are three different kinds of tours of that access different parts of the castle, and range in length and price, and are offered in English. I opted for the one in the middle of the range, which got me in to the two main wings of the castle, but did not come with access to the top, where the best views could be had. That was available with the longer tour, but because the castle sits on the top of a somewhat steep hill, you’ll get some great views even from the lowest part of the grounds, and although the highest tower likely offers slightly better views, the castle itself really is the best part of the scenery.
Even if you opt for the longest of the tours, you really won’t need more than a few hours to see the castle. You can definitely kill some more time on the way to and from the castle in the village that lies between it and the train station, but it’s mostly cafes and souvenir shops catering to tourists. I spent an hour or so enjoying some local beverages in the village, but even including the 40 minute train rides each way, I’d still say I only spent around half my day. You can definitely be back in the city with daylight to spare if you get any kind of reasonable start.
The castle is a great way to kill some time outside of Prague, and was pretty quiet and devoid of tourists compared to a lot of the popular spots in the city. Definitely check the website though, as hours and closing days vary depending on the time of year.