This November, Colin and I visited Cesky Krumlov, an adorable medieval town just a few hours south of Prague. This town gets swarmed by tourists in the summer. But in the off-season? No crowds! Which is why you should visit Cesky Krumlov in winter.
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Why visit Cesky Krumlov in winter?
The biggest reason to visit Cesky Krumlov in the winter is to avoid the summer crowds. Our walking tour guide told us the town receives two million visitors each year, the majority of whom visit in the summer. This might not sound like a lot when you compare it to nearby Prague, which sees eight million, or Paris, which receives 18 million visitors, but it is a ton when you remember that Cesky Krumlov is teeny tiny! This medieval town is only 22.16 km², whereas Prague is 496 km². So that’s a lot of people crammed into some very small streets.
In fact, even in winter, Cesky Krumlov can feel a bit crowded if you get stuck behind a tour group or find yourself squeezing past cars on a narrow road. I can’t even imagine visiting in the height of summer!
Private walking tour, anyone?
Of course, the best part of smaller crowds is having more of the town to yourself. And that was certainly the case when we showed up to our free walking tour. Colin and I have been on quite a few free walking tours, in places like Prague, Vienna and Munich, and have really enjoyed them. It’s a great way to get your bearings in a city, learn about the culture and history, and do it all on the cheap. The downside? You’re usually straining to hear your guide over the crowd of 40+ people on the same free walking tour as you.
But that wasn’t the case in Cesky Krumlov. We met our guide in the square and, much to our surprise, we were the only ones there! So we got a free private walking tour throughout the streets of Cesky Krumlov and the castle. It was amazing! Our guide, Kyle, was super knowledgeable and we were able to ask questions and personalize the tour. He even offered to hold Ellie while we went inside a church!
Of course, I can’t promise that you’ll get to go on a private walking if you visit Cesky Krumlov in the off-season but I can assure you that it will never happen in the summer!
While we didn’t get any snow when we were in Cesky Krumlov in November, it was still a pretty picture perfect time of year to be there. I loved seeing the changing leaves and the stillness of the water. There was a crisp chill in the air that made the whole town seem refreshed and awake.
I’ve seen some photos of Cesky Krumlov blanketed in snow, and it looks even more magical! So if you visit in the winter, you might get to take in the fairytale views of a medieval town covered in white.
Plus, nothing ruins a good photo more than a ton of people holding up selfie sticks and blocking the view. We often had entire viewpoints all to ourselves when we walked the town in November.
Cute cafe culture
Adding to the charm of Cesky Krumlov is the super cute cafe culture. No matter how long you dedicate to this town (more on that below!), you’ll likely have time for at least one coffee and pastry break. Turn off the main square and you’ll find a number of cute cafes where you can enjoy a great drink and pastry. It’s the perfect way to warm up on a wintery day!
Our favourites were Cafe in Vivo and Drunken Coffee. Cafe in Vivo has the cutest doorway, delicious teas and very sweet staff who were so excited about a new map they had just put up on the wall. Drunken Coffee served us really great cakes and they had board games you could play. Plus, both cafes were dog friendly!
Bonus: Christmas Market
We visited Cesky Krumlov in early November, before the Christmas Market was set up, but if you’re visiting later in the season, you should stop by. From photos I’ve seen and posts I’ve read, it sounds like a super cute market that takes over the main square. The best way to make a charming medieval town even cuter is to throw some holiday festivities on top!
Tips for visiting Cesky Krumlov in winter
Cash is king
Despite almost never needing cash in Prague, we found we did need to use cash quite often in Cesky Krumlov. A few of the sights we visited, like the Torture Museum, and some restaurants were cash only. You’ll also need cash for your walking tour, and likely for any souvenirs or small purchases. There are a few ATMs throughout the town, so you can get your koruna (aka Czech crowns) from those. Always choose a bank-owned ATM and not EuroNet (they rip you off!).
Stay at a pension in or near the old town
If you’ve done any travelling in this part of Europe, you’ve probably heard of pensions before (no, not the retirement plans). A pension is like a bed and breakfast. They’re usually small, with no more than 10 rooms, privately owned and breakfast is often included. And they’re usually cheap! Cesky Krumlov has a pension on every block, and it’s the best option for where to stay in Cesky Krumlov.
You’ll also want to be sure to choose a pension right in the old town or right outside of it. The area around the old town is very hilly, and you could be walking up some steep slopes if you stay at a pension outside of town.
We stayed at Penzion Kapr and it was perfect! It’s right on the other side of the water from the old town, meaning we had a nice view out of our window and could be in town in less than five minutes on foot. Our host, Monica, was very sweet. She waited up for us to check in late at 11:00 PM (though, full disclosure, there was a late check-in fee), was always friendly anytime we saw her, and served a very nice breakfast every morning.
You still need dinner reservations
Even though Cesky Krumlov is a lot quieter in the winter, and it’s even more quiet at night, as the day trippers and group tours have left, restaurants still fill up! I think this is because there are only so many dinner restaurants and most seem to have very small dining areas. So if you have your heart set on a specific restaurant, call ahead and make a reservation. On our first night, we struck out three times before finding a pub that had room for us.
Visit the castle
To be honest, there’s not a ton to do in Cesky Krumlov. The big attractions are walking around the old town and visiting the castle. You’ll definitely want to check out the castle, but note that many of the inside areas are closed in the winter. But there’s still lots to discover!
A lot of our walking tour was spent wandering through the different outer courtyards of the castle. We admired the colourfully painted tower (which you can pay to enter and climb), learned about the facades and what buildings used to be used for, and checked out the view from the bridge. We also saw the bears! Yes, you read that right, Cesky Krumlov Castle is home to bears!
Here’s the story on the bears: The Rosenberg family, who built the Cesky Krumlov Castle in the 13th Century (before having to sell it in 1601 as they were going bankrupt), wanted everyone to know they were related to the famous Orsini family of Italy. Orsini, coming from the word Orso, means bear. So the Rosenbergs decided to keep bears at the castle! And not in cages but roaming the castle grounds. These days, there are still bears at the castle. They’re not in cages, but they are in a confined area under the bridge. Our guide told us the current bears were rescued from a Russian smuggler, but something tells me animal welfare is not the top priority.
We also strolled through the castle gardens, which were really beautiful. I certainly didn’t feel like we missed out by visiting in the winter, as we saw a lot of the castle. But if you have your heart set on discovering a specific section, check online to see what will be open.
How to get to Cesky Krumlov from Prague
From Prague, you can drive, train or bus to Cesky Krumlov. You can also go on a guided day trip, if you don’t want to worry about any of the logistics.
Driving to Cesky Krumlov
If you’re driving, it is about two hours each way. Note that parking is quite limited in Cesky Krumlov and, even if you are able to get a spot (some pensions have parking included), the roads are very narrow. When I was walking Ellie one morning, I watched a tourist drive his very fancy rental car down the street at a snail’s pace. He stopped many times to stick his head out the window to make sure he wasn’t scratching the paint. It took him like 10 minutes to drive the length of a block!
Taking the bus to Cesky Krumlov
The cheapest way to get from Prague to Cesky Krumlov is by bus. Many companies, like FlixBus or RegioJet, offer bus services. The bus takes apx three hours and costs between 5 and 7 euro ($7-10 CAD) per person, per way. The bus is direct, so you won’t have to transfer. Pay special attention to ensure you’re choosing the right departure station in Prague – some leave from the main rail station but not all. There also seem to be a few arrival stops in Cesky Krumlov, all about a 10-15 minute walk from the main old town.
Taking the train to Cesky Krumlov
Whenever possible, we opt for the train. It’s our favourite way to travel as it’s fast, comfortable, dog-friendly, affordable and you never have to worry about traffic. The train from Prague to Cesky Krumlov is slightly more expensive than the bus, about $10-15 CAD per person, per way. But the big downside? There’s only one direct train to/from Cesky Krumlov every day. Which is wild, considering how popular this place is! Currently, the train leaves Prague at 8:01AM and arrives in Cesky Krumlov at 10:55AM. The return train leaves Cesky Krumlov at 2:07PM and gets into Prague at 4:57PM.
Another downside? The main train station in Prague is a bit of a hike from the old town. It’s about a 20-30 minute walk or 10 minute drive. And there are hills! So if you’re not prepared to walk, make sure you call a taxi well ahead of time. Remember, it’s a small town with narrow roads, so there are only so many taxis around. And if you miss that direct train, that’s it!
Check here for updated train times and prices!
How we got to Cesky Krumlov from Prague
So, unfortunately, we weren’t able to catch the 8AM train. We actually weren’t able to leave until the evening. So we took a train from Prague to Ceske Budejovice at 7:30PM, arriving at 9:50PM, and costing us $10 CAD each. From there, we transferred onto a bus. The bus was about 30-40 minutes and only cost us a couple of dollars. We could have taken this bus from Prague, but wanted to spend the majority of our journey in a more comfortable train.
On the way back, we were able to take the 2:07PM direct train to Prague. Monica at our pension called a cab for us in the morning so we wouldn’t miss the train (or have to lug our bags and Ellie uphill in the rain!).
How long do you need to stay in Cesky Krumlov?
A lot of people visit Cesky Krumlov on a day trip from Prague. They take the direct train out in the morning, spend three hours in the town, and then head right back out. But I would not recommend this.
First of all, why would you want to spend six hours in transit for only three hours in Cesky Krumlov? That’s not worth it. You shouldn’t spend longer getting to and from a place than you do in the place itself. Secondly, the busiest time of day is those three hours. That’s when all of the day trippers get off the train or bus, and all of the guided tours show up. Even in winter, you’ll find crowds wandering through Cesky Krumlov around lunch hour.
So I would not suggest a day trip – too little time and too many people.
I would strongly suggest you stay overnight. The best part of our trip to Cesky Krumlov was wandering around the town in the early morning. We pretty much had the whole place to ourselves! And in a town this cute, it really feels like you’re walking through a fairytale.
But I wouldn’t stay too much longer than that. We stayed three nights, and that felt like too much. By our last day, we had run out of things to do and just bounced from coffee shop to coffee shop killing time before our train left (at least the coffee shops are cute!).
All right, have I convinced you? Will you be visiting Cesky Krumlov in winter? Or if you have been to this cute Czech town, let me know what you thought of it!
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