The Czech Republic (now officially also known as "Czechia") is a magical place, full of all the history, beauty, and natural wonder of Europe, but at lower prices. With the exception of Prague and a few other popular destinations, it's also a lot less touristy. If you have the time, you can find places where you'll be the only tourist.
Prague and Cesky Krumlov burst with hostels. Many of the major cities also have one or more hostels. Some hostels in more out-of-the-way places function more like pensions, with private rooms and not much social interaction. If you decide to go somewhere without a hostel, you can often still find reasonably priced accommodations.
The food is a little heavy, in the vein of other Central European cuisine: a lot of potatoes, cabbage, and meat. But it's tasty and filling, and the soups are especially delicious. Beer is also very cheap, with many Czech breweries. Weekday lunch specials at restaurants are a good deal.
The people are helpful and friendly, and overall quite active, so the country's well set up for sport: bike trails, a vast network of well-marked hiking trails, skiing slopes, groomed cross-country tracks in winter, plenty of swimming pools, etc. You can rent equipment from sports shops and rental places, and sometimes even from hostels.
If you go to the Czech Republic, schedule enough time for more than just Prague and Cesky Krumlov. The country is divided into two regions: Bohemia (also called simply Czech) in the west and Moravia in the east. Here are some of the most interesting places within each region.
Bohemia—Places of Interest
Prague. This city is popular for a reason. The many-spired historic center and the banks of the Vltava river are beautiful, with new delights around every corner. You can visit many unique or very specialized museums, along with historical sights and good nightlife. If you shop around, you can get some really good deals on hostels and use Prague as a base for visiting some of the other attractions of the surroundings, like the impressive castles of Karlstejn, Konopiste, and Krivoklat (among others), Terezin concentration camp and former fortress, or Kutna Hora, a town rich in history and boasting the morbidly beautiful bone chapel.
Cesky Krumlov. This little town is a fairy tale, like a pastel movie set nestled in the bend of a gentle river. You half expect princesses and knights to come strolling down the pretty streets. When not enjoying the various sights and sheer cuteness of the town, you can float the river, hike to the summit of Klet, or visit the sprawling ruins of nearby Divci Kamen castle. You can reach it in about three hours from Prague by either bus or train. Book your hostel early in the summer, as the hostels can fill up.
Tabor. Halfway between Prague and Cesky Krumlov, this small city has a fantastic center with narrow alleyways, winding streets, great architecture, remains of the old town wall, free GPS treasure hunts from the tourist office, and a lot of Hussite history, all overlooking a peaceful reservoir. In addition to the attractions of the city itself, it makes a good base for exploring nearby points of interest like the spa town of Bechyne, caves and castle ruins, and good hiking.
"Rock Towns" and other rocky landscapes. North Bohemia is famous for its "rock towns," clusters of explorable rocks that rise out of the forest and form narrow canyons and towering figures which an imaginative eye can turn into animals and people. Perhaps the most impressive and easily accessible are the twin towns of Adrspach-Teplice, northeast of Hradec Kralove. You can also visit the Prachov rock town in Czech Paradise (Cesky Raj), the Pravcicka brana natural bridge near Decin, and the rocky Kokorinsko Protected Landscape not far north of Prague.
Many other interesting destinations await you in Bohemia. In Plzen, home of the iconic Pilsner Urquell beer, you can take a brewery tour with beer-tasting. Karlovy Vary, Marianske Lazne, and other west Bohemian spa towns give you a glimpse into spa life where, even if you're on a tight budget, you can still enjoy the architecture and drink the healing waters. Loket, near Karlovy Vary, is the less-touristy cousin of Cesky Krumlov, castle-topped and river-encircled and charming, if not as well kept up.
Moravia—Places of Interest
Olomouc. If short-term travelers go to Moravia, it's often to Brno, a nice city on the way to places like Vienna and Budapest, with attractions that include desiccated monks in the Capuchin monastery. But more pleasant is Olomouc, a historic university town with a beautiful center, an impressive cathedral, the biggest plague column you'll probably ever see, a cold war bunker, and parks around the old city walls. Its fascinating astronomical clock doubles as an insight into communism.
Wallachia. This small region in east Moravia has a rural, off-the-beaten track feel and a strong tradition of folk customs, festivals, and folk dancing. And don't forget slivovice, the local plum brandy. The biggest towns are Vsetin, Valasske Mezirici, and Roznov pod Radhostem, but the hills and villages around are generally the bigger draw. Plan your trip around one of the typical folk festivals. The region is also full of hilly hikes with pastoral views.
Znojmo. Often overlooked, Znojmo is a lovely, quiet town near the border of Austria, perched above the bluish-green Dyje river. Under the various historic and architectural attractions hide the Znojmo catacombs, a network of medieval cellars and tunnels which you can explore on various tours, some of which are rather extreme. The town is surrounded by good walking nature and within striking distance of a couple of great castles, especially the sumptuous Vranov chateau.
You'll find many other attractions in Moravia. Gawk at the pastel facades of Telc's main square. Stroll Kromeriz's UNESCO formal flower gardens. Go biking and wine-tasting in South Moravia's wine country. Hike to a view tower or castle ruin you've never heard of before. See the iconic "Ride of the King" in May, especially impressive in the tiny village of Vlcnov. Take in the caves of the Moravian Karst around Brno. Some of these out-of-the-way, off-the-beaten-track attractions take careful planning on the sometimes infrequent public transportation, but they're worth the reward.
A Great Country to Visit
The Czech Republic is more than just Prague. You can lose yourself here for weeks, and leave feeling that you haven't touched the surface. If you like the outdoors or want a very European experience on a budget, the Czech Republic is for you.
Handwritten by local expert for Czech Republic hostels Melinda Brasher