Karlstejn Castle Image of Karlstejn Castle Bohemia Czech Republic

Karlštejn Castle

One of the Greatest Castles in Europe

Karlštejn Castle is one of the best places to visit in the Czech Republic, and one of the easiest day trips from Prague. It’s also one of the mightiest castles you’ll ever see – discover more in our guide here.

From wherever you see it, Karlštejn Castle is a fearsome, forbidding sight. It does exactly what any decent medieval Castle should do, frightening the wits out of anyone who dared approach. It’s one of the greatest castles in Europe  and its proximity to Prague makes it one of the most popular Czech castles to visit.

Our Karlštejn Castle guide shows you everything you need to know before you visit, with details on tour content, how to get there from Prague, and other things to see in pretty Karlštejn village below the ramparts. We’ll also guide you to what is possibly the best viewpoint of Karlštejn Castle, from the forests above the village.

Karlštejn Castle – An Introduction

Image of Karlštejn Castle Czechia
Karlštejn Castle

Karlstejn Castle was begun by Bohemian King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (Karel IV in Czech) in 1348 – he was also responsible for the famous Charles Bridge in Prague

It’s of great significance to Czechs as it’s where Charles decided to store the Bohemian Crown Jewels

Karlštejn Castle is only 30 km (19 miles) from Prague, making it one of the easiest Prague day trips

Along with Křivoklat and Konopiště, Karlstejn is one of the three principal Bohemian castles near Prague 

It is also known by its German name, Karlstein Castle

The pronunciation of Karlštejn in Czech differs considerably from the German (‘Karl-stine’). the ‘a’ is sounded the same as in the word ‘flat’, the ‘r’ is rolled with the front of the tongue and the letter ‘š’ is sounded as ‘sh’. So it’s pronounced ‘Karrl-shtain’.

Karlštejn Castle History

Karlštejn Castle was founded by Charles IV in 1348, initially as a residence for himself and later as the depository for the Bohemian Crown Jewels. It took 17 years to complete, and this included digging out a (state secret) water supply which originated from a nearby stream.

Charles IV died in 1378, but the Crown Jewels remained in situ for much of the next few centuries, and were only removed when the castle was considered to be in danger. The first time this happened was in 1421, in advance of a prolonged siege by Hussite forces. During this siege the Hussites resorted to launching dead bodies – both human and animal – and copious amounts of dung and excrement at and into the mighty Karlštejn Castle, but to no avail.

Karlštejn Castle was partly rebuilt in late Gothic style towards the end of the 15th century, and further changes were made in the 16th century Renaissance period.

Swedish forces fared considerably better than the Hussites in 1648, entering the Castle but, finding precious few treasures to pillage, left the Castle without bothering to take the Great Tower. 

The most recent restoration was at the end of the 19th century, when architect Josef Mocker sought to return Karlštejn to something approaching its original Gothic appearance. 

Karlštejn Castle Tours

Image of Karlštejn Castle in the Czech Republic

There are three tours of Karlštejn Castle, all of which are guided.

Tour 1 takes you around the Imperial Residence of Charles IV, including the Imperial Palace and the adjacent Marian tower. The chambers that you visit have an austere grandeur about them, all very impressive in size and scale. Some of them are decorated with beautiful medieval wall paintings – worth the admission price alone – while others are lined with a series of portraits, mainly of noblemen, some of which date from after the Middle Ages. 

Tour 2 is the highlight of any Karlštejn Castle visit, and to give you some idea of its prestige and prominence among castles in the Czech Republic, admission costs more than for the entire Prague Castle complex. This tour covers the extraordinary Karlštejn Castle Chapels, including the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, St Catherine’s Chapel and the famous Holy Cross Chapel in the Great Tower, where the Crown Jewels were kept.

This tour is exclusive, and as they state on their website, they prefer to take bookings by phone (+420 311 681 617). It’s a long tour, clocking in at 1 hour 40 minutes, and at 520 CZK (US $24) is one of the highest prices you’ll pay for a tour in the Czech Republic.  But it’s worth every koruna, as you get to see some of the greatest Gothic ecclesiastical art of the Middle Ages.

Tour 3 is the shortest of the three Karlštejn tours, and probably the best one for kids. this one takes you to the viewing gallery at the top of the Great Tower. My 7-year-old son and I stood at the base of the massive tower, some of whose walls are an astonishing 7 metres thick, looking up at the formidable, awe-inspiring building above us. “So we’re climbing that?” he asked.  I answered that we were, and he couldn´t wait to start the climb.

The first part of the climb is the hardest, up a steep set of deep stone stairs. Our Little Man left us all trailing as he stomped his way up past a series of original 14th century murals to two halls, before the brief final climb to the wooden gallery. You can open the windows to admire the amazing views down onto the rest of the Castle and the village.  It’s a 289-step climb in all, but it gets easier the higher you go.

Karlštejn Castle Tours From Prague

Image of Karlštejn Castle and village
Karlštejn Castle towering above the village

It’s also well worth considering a Karlštejn Castle tour from Prague, especially as something else is often included in the package.

One way to experience it is to join a small guided bike tour to Karlštejn Castle, following a predominantly flat route through the bucolic Bohemian countryside, travelling back to Prague by train.

A quicker option is a half-day tour from Prague to Karlštejn, which includes pick-up and drop-off. This includes tour 1 of the Castle – see the section above for more information on that.

If you want to try something a little different, this tour departs Prague in the morning and as well as Karlštejn Castle takes you to the nearby Koněprusy Caves and Velka Amerika quarry (see below).

Karlštejn Castle Opening Times

Image of Karlštejn Castle near Prague Czech Republic
Looking up at the intimidating Karlštejn Castle

Unlike many castles in Czech Republic, Karlštejn Castle remains partly open in autumn and winter. From November through to the end of April, the Castle is open from 1000 to 1500, Tuesdays to Sundays in November and Fridays to Sundays in December and January, and tour 1 is the only one running – the Royal Chapels tour is only available between May and October.

During spring and summer the Castle is open from 0930 to 1730. Check the Castle opening hours web page for specific information.

The Famous View of Karlštejn Castle    

Image of a famous view of Karlstejn Castle Czech Republic
The most famous view of Karlstejn Castle

A short, popular Karlštejn Castle hike leads high above the village to give a superb view of the Castle, surrounded by mountains and forests. At the junction in the village, just below the Pod Hradem restaurant, turn right up the hill and continue along the shaded path until you reach an open field, with more woodland on your right.

Walk across the field and turn around and you’ll get the spectacular view of the Castle. The first time I walked up there, I met a couple from India seeking out the same spot, where a scene from the Bollywood movie Rockstar was shot. 

It is very close to a statue of the Crucifixion of Christ, and Google Maps currently mark a ‘Vyhlidka na Karlštejn’ very close to this spot. Click on this link and you won’t go wrong – you can also reach it by climbing the hill through the residential part of Karlštejn. 

Getting to Karlštejn Castle From Prague

Image of the approach to Karlstejn railway station
Next stop Karlštejn

Travelling from Prague to Karlštejn Castle is straightforward, with hourly trains (21 minutes past the hour at the time of writing) making the 40-minute journey from Prague Main train station (Praha hlavni nádraži). The train also calls at Prague-Smichov station (Praha Smichovske nádraži) seven minutes later – the final destination is always Beroun.

Once you arrive in Karlštejn, most visitors walk up from the station to the Castle. It’s roughly 25 minutes between the two – head right out of the station, then left towards (and then over) the bridge. Then turn right, continuing 200 metres to the entrance to the village, where no cars are allowed.  So if you’re driving, this is where you’ll need to park.

The walk up to the imposing Castle continues through the village, which is full of souvenir shops, a couple of quirky exhibitions and a few hotels, cafes and restaurants. The latter part of the walk is steep, and on a hot summer day if you’re not fairly fit you could be in for a struggle. The road swings left, passing the Pod Hradem restaurant on the right. Within 50 metres or so, level with the Adamu restaurant, a wide, paved footpath branches left off the road. this path takes you very close to the Castle – from the top, it’s only around 150 metres to go.  The ticket office is in the courtyard, a short walk along the walls.

As for getting back from Karlštejn Castle to Prague, trains leave from the far platform, which you can only access via the subway. They tend to leave every 30 minutes – at 27 and 57 past the hour at the time of writing (September 2021). Check the Czech Railways – Ceske drahy – site for up-to-date information.

Other Things To Do in Karlštejn

Karlštejn is a very touristy, chocolate box village (think  Betws-y-Coed in Wales, or Rudesheim in the Rhine Valley) which largely owes is existence to the mighty Castle looming above it.

In the shadow of the Castle, there is a small Wax Museum which delves into Bohemian history, with figures of Charles IV, his four wives and figures from the legendary Golem to the last Habsburg Emperor, Franz Josef I. The same people also run the Wax Museum in Cesky Krumlov.

Down in the village, the Bethlehem Museum (http://www.muzeumbetlemu.cz/) has the largest collection of Nativity scenes in the country, with the added attraction of alchemists at work. The Museum is open every day in July, August and December, and on weekends the rest of the year.

Across the river from the Castle, Zoopark Karlstejn is open through spring and summer, and is home to a white lion, two white tigers, several other big cats, camels, bison and many more.

Many who visit Karlštejn Castle also seek out the nearby Velka Amerika (Big America), an abandoned quarry sometimes referred to as the Czech Grand Canyon. We are yet to visit it, and according to the Czech tourism website access to the quarry is banned, but you can see it from close to the car park. Nonetheless many decide to descend, completely ignoring the warnings. We’d just get our shot from the top and go.

Other Czech Republic Castles to Visit

Vysehrad Prague

Troja Castle Prague

Křivoklat Castle

Blatna Castle

Ctenice Castle Prague

And While You’re in Prague…

17 Prague Streets Not to Miss

18 Most Beautiful Churches In Prague

Vltava River In Prague – Everything to See And Do Along the River

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David Angel
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing Europe for over 25 years.  His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.