Karlštejn Castle – The Jewel of the Holy Roman Empire (History & Travel Tips)

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Karlštejn Castle stands tall and proud as one of the most powerful remnants from the era of King Charles IV. Its imposing structure and cultural heritage have been preserved in all its beautiful glory. Brimming with a wealth of elegance and charisma, this castle is one of the most exquisite destinations near Prague. A whopping 250,000 tourists visit each year, making it one of the most frequently visited places outside the capital. Here’s everything that you should know about it:

Karlštejn Castle is home to one of the largest portrait galleries that feature all the kings of Bohemia. 

A worm's eye view of Karlštejn Castle.
A worm’s eye view of Karlštejn Castle. Karlštejn flickr photo by decafinata shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Frequently Asked Questions

FOR HISTORY | BEAUTIFUL IMAGES | INTERESTING FACTS | TRAVEL TIPS

Early History

From the Mastermind: Charles (Karel) IV

Karlštejn Castle was built when Charles IV inaugurated the New Town and Charles University in Prague. The entire construction process and interior design were supervised by Charles himself, it took twenty years to complete.

The architecture resembled a fortress, as the castle was meant to be a stronghold for the Czech coronation jewels and all royal treasures. The layout was especially noteworthy: everything, from the outside settlements to the 30-foot thick walls, was ingeniously crafted to provide the best protection to the insiders. 

An image of King Charles IV of Bohemia.
An image of King Charles IV of Bohemia.

The well inside Karlštejn Castle is around 200 feet deep; the highest tower soars up to a height of 175 feet. The sturdy fortifications ensured that this castle never fully fell into the enemy’s hands, even after several sieges. 

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is the very core of the treasury, located in the Great Tower. This is where all the valuables were kept and is still one of the most coveted places for tourists to visit.

The Hussite Sieges (1419-1434)

The Hussite Revolution featured a series of Bohemian Wars between the followers of Bohemian reformer Jan Hus (known as the Hussites) and the Catholic forces of the Holy Roman Empire. During these wars, the regalia of the emperor was removed from the Karlštejn Castle. The castle held firm throughout the various sieges, one of which even lasted seven months. After they were over, the regalia was brought back to be stored at Karlštejn Castle for 200 years.

Far view image of Karlštejn Castle from 1917.
An image of Karlštejn Castle from 1917.

Destruction & Reconstruction

Karlštejn Castle saw many makeovers over the course of its existence. It donned its Gothic demeanor in 1480, staying like that until its second Renaissance-style refurbishment in the sixteenth century.

A scaled model of Karlštejn Castle and a closer look at its mountainous geography.
A scaled model of Karlštejn Castle and a closer look at its mountainous geography. Richard Mortel from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Thirty Years’ War saw the imperial jewels being transferred from the castle once again. Karlštejn was handed over to Roman Emperor Ferdinand II in 1620. It was besieged by the Swedes and fell into their hands in 1648, after which it fell in a state of disrepair.

Current Times

Karlštejn Castle has always been ruled by a monarchy and has never been privately owned. Even now, it belongs to the State. The last reconstruction of the castle was carried out by architect Josef Mocker at the very end of the 19th century (1887-1899). Mocker took inspiration from the purist style and diluted the elevation to its very core form. This remains the present appearance of the castle with the blue rooftop and the warm white walls.

A magical view of the Karlštejn Castle and its green surroundings.
A magical view of the Karlštejn Castle and its surroundings. Lukáš Kalista, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are quite a few architectural elements that remain untouched to this day. They include the original staircase arrangement that runs through each individual castle building. Today, Karlštejn Castle is one of the Czech Republic’s most visited sites and its picturesque, fairy-tale setting has become a symbol of cultural romance.

Interesting Karlštejn Castle Facts

  • Karlštejn Castle is home to one of the largest portrait galleries that feature all the kings of Bohemia. 
  • The very first foundation stone of Karlštejn Castle was put down by Archbishop Arnošt.
  • Throughout its 670 years, Karlštejn Castle has never been fully conquered. It even stayed true and strong through a seven-month siege during the Hussite Wars in the fifteenth century.
  • The Well Tower was one of the first structures to be built when construction for Karlštejn started, but even after digging down 200 feet, no water was found. This is why they had to dig an underground channel to funnel in water from a stream nearby. It was stored in a reservoir that lasted a few months and had to be manually refilled at least two times a year.
  • The Chapel of the Holy Cross took 20 years to renovate. The process began in 1981 and finished in 2000.
  • Master Theodoric’s beautiful paintings in the Chapel will make you pause in wonder. He was Charles IV’s favorite Gothic painter and a total of 129 of his paintings still reside at Karlštejn Castle.
  • Charles’ devout Catholicism was well-known and his private chapel features an accumulation of exotic jewels, amazing paints that showcased great saints, along with gold and silver.
  • One of the most popular attractions at the Karlštejn Castle are the comedy play nights by Jaroslav Vrchlický, the famous Czech poet.

Visiting Karlštejn Castle – Tips and Tricks

Karlštejn is one of the Czech Republic’s most visited castles. History buffs would certainly appreciate discovering the well-documented treasures and nuggets hidden all through it. Other than that, its beautiful blue roof and stark white walls provide a cool visual front that just calls to your soul for a visit. If you’re as intrigued and fascinated by this castle as us, then here are some tips that will help you plan a visit:

The small town below Karlštejn Castle with the residence people.
The small town below Karlštejn Castle. Karlstejn Castle, Czech Republic (Aug 10) flickr photo by P Gonzales shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

How to get to Karlštejn Castle?

Karlštejn Castle is tucked into a beautiful site near Prague surrounded by thick forests. There are a number of ways to reach it. If you’re arriving by train, costing €1-€2 ($2-$3 USD) and taking an hour and thirty minutes, then prepare yourself for an uphill trek of about 40 minutes to the castle.

Alternatively, you can also take a bus from Prague. You’ll be able to get there in almost two and a half hours at the cost of €3-€4 ($3-$5 USD). If you’re arriving by car, then driving yourself will cost you €3-€4 ($3-$5 USD) while taking a taxi will rack the bill up to €43-€52 ($50-$60 USD). 

Furthermore, cars have to be parked in the lower half of the town and you’ll be facing an uphill trek again. However, if you’re not up for it, then you can either take a taxi or an actual carriage (yes, horse-drawn) all the way to the top of the hill. It will cost you €4-€6 ($3-$5 USD) per person.

Ticket Prices, Visiting Hours & Travel Tips

Figuring out the opening hours of Karlštejn Castle can prove to be a challenge as different buildings open to the public at different times. It’s always best to consult the official website before planning a visit. However, as a general rule: Karlštejn is open only at the weekends in November, December, and February. You can visit it between 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. In January, you can plan a visit from the 1st to the 11th only. However, from April to October, the castle is open every day (excluding Mondays) when you can visit between 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Note that you can only take guided tours. As for the ticket prices, you can avail of three tours (outlined below). Ticket prices range between 90-520 Czeck Korunas ($4-$24 USD). Tickets for Tour 1 range from 170 CZK ($8 USD) for adults, ages 25-65; 140 CZK ($7 USD) for seniors (65+), youth (18-25), and disabled people with valid ID. For kids (6-18), it’s 90 CZK ($4 USD). For Tour 2, the three ticket prices (same categories) are adults at 220 CZK ($10 USD); seniors, youth, and disabled at 180 CZK ($8 USD); and children at 110 CZK ($5 USD). Tour 3 is priced at 520 CZK ($24 USD) for adults; 420 CZK ($20 USD) for seniors, youth, and disabled; and 260 CZK ($12 USD) for children. Tour 3 alone requires a child’s paid ticket for children under 6. Every tour is free to a person accompanying a disabled visitor and the first two are free for kids under the age of 6.

An aerial view of the Karlštejn Castle that highlights its significant geographical position, the road that leads to it, and the town at its base.
An aerial view of the Karlštejn Castle that highlights its significant geographical position, the road that leads to it, and the town at its base.

How Long Will It Take to Tour Around?

You can avail yourself of any one of three tour choices at the Karlštejn Castle. The basic one is 50 minutes long, covering a general overview of the castle’s history and allowing you to enjoy the view from the Great Tower.

The second one is another basic tour that takes around 45 minutes and covers the Imperial Palace.

The third one needs an advance reservation and covers the entire history of the castle. It’s almost 100 minutes long, only 16 people can take it at a time. You can take a closer and in-depth look at the frescoes, statues, and paintings while visiting the Chapel of the Holy Cross, the Imperial Palace, the Marian Tower, and the Great Tower.

Some words of advice and tips: 

  • If you’re walking up to the castle, then keep your wallet handy because you’ll certainly be distracted by the cute shops and restaurants on the way.
  • The availability of the tours is very limited, so always make a reservation; especially if you want the exclusive guided tour.
  • Note that you can’t use the European Euro currency at the castle, only the Czech Koruna.
  • You cannot take strollers along on the tour, so if you’re with a little one, plan accordingly.

Quick Video Tour of The Main Karlštejn Castle Areas

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