Karlovy Vary, or Carlsbad, is a spa town situated in western Bohemia, Czech Republic, approximately 130 km (81 mi) west of Prague. It is the most visited spa town in the Czech Republic.

We travelled to Karlovy Vary from Prague on the excellent Student Agency Bus service. We stayed at the Grandhotel Pupp.

The entire town is ridiculously picturesque and only spoiled by a large communist-era tower hotel, halfway between the bus station and the Hotel Pupp. The town has become a second home for large numbers of noveau-riche Russians. The Russian money means that virtually every building has been restored to its original grandeur. But it also means that everything is more expensive. Now that the Rouble has lost so much value, it remains to be seen how Karlovy Vary will fare in future.

Karlovy Vary is also famous as:

  • The host of an International Film Festival held in July each year.
  • The origin of the Czech liqueur Becherovka.
  • The origin of the Czech glass Mosel.

There are constantly running taps, dispensing various variations and temperatures of the spa waters. Visitors wander from tap to tap, with ornate drinking cups, taking the waters. I personally didn’t enjoy the warm, sometimes hot, mineral-rich water but I drank some in case there was some health benefit.

We saw some particularly nice features, such as the almost Victorian looking colonnades and a geyser that constantly spouted hot water.

We also took the Diana funicular railway, just a few steps from the Hotel Pupp, to the top of a hill with an observation tower and restaurant, also named Diana. The tower has an elevator to take you to the top and provides some good views of Karlovy Vary and the land beyond.

We ate some typical Czech food and drank Krušovice beer in the Diana restaurant. I haven’t written a separate review about that as it was neither good nor bad – just standard Czech fare at slightly higher prices than you would find in a Prague equivalent. The Diana restaurant also advertises a small zoo, which was actually a few goats, pigs, horse and two peacocks – but it was free and the animals seemed happy enough.

We took the funicular down to the halfway point and followed a trail to Stag’s Leap (jeleni skok). This is the cliff where, according to the old legend, Charles IV’s hunting dog chanced upon the steaming mineral water springs. For some reason there is a statue of a stag on a rocky peak and I’m not sure what the connection is supposed to be as I would have thought a dog would have been more appropriate to the story. Maybe the dog also chased a stag off the cliff. There was also another restaurant along the trail – it looked open but empty.

View from the halfway viewpoint


View from the halfway viewpoint

Being off-season and with the Rouble value low, the town was very quiet. During the evening, the streets were almost deserted – as you can see in the pictures below.

I’d recommend a visit to Karlovy Vary, but only for a few nights unless you are an avid walker or spa enthusiast.