What to do in Karlovy Vary? Famous Czech spa town.

If you’re in Czech Republic, strongly recommend going to Karlovy Vary, a small town in North-Western Bohemia. Karlovy Vary was established as a spa venue in the Middle Ages. In 1370, King Charles IV, Czech King and Roman Emperor, granted Karlovy Vary royal town privileges. The received perks were conditional on the obligation of citizens of Karlovy Vary to take care of spa visitors. In 1508, the town received a public bath license and at the end of the 17th century Karlovy Vary began to prosper and it became well-known all along Europe. The Golden Age of the city is the period 1870-1914 when it gained international recognition.

So why exactly Karlovy Vary is so famous?

First patients and visitors were coming to enjoy the curative water since end of 15th century. The water has a beneficial effects on the human body, especially on liver, stomach, bowls, pancreas and also on mental health and have been drinking certain amount of it 1x-3x a day.

Nowadays, you will spot many people walking around the town with small special cups, slowly sipping curative water taken from little taps concentrated in the historical center.

You will find plenty of places to get your traditional cup to drink the curative water from.

The town attracted wealthy people from all around Europe. Long stays for curative purposes imposed high demands on services and accommodation which us a result encouraged to develop grand and architecturally sophisticated centre.

It’s still worth coming to Karlovy Vary to enjoy its architecture, thermal baths and trying the springs just for one day, but if you would like to really have some quality time for yourself and take care of your body, then it’s best to come to the region for around 2-3 weeks. Since the water has curative properties and contains high concentration of minerals, it’s best to consult first with doctor which springs you should drink and in which quantities. In Karlovy Vary you will find many specialists with whom you can schedule your appointment and based on your body’s needs establish your curative routine. Note that if you plan to have such treatment for 2 weeks on more it’s really important that systematic intake of the water is controlled so it really brings beneficial effects to your body.

Cheers!

Fun fact: Karlovy Vary can boast the biggest concentration of curative mineral springs in the world. There are almost a hundred of them on a relatively small area. The water from 12 of the springs is collected and used in treatment.  The Becherovka liquor is called the 13th spring and some people claim that it was invented to wash down the bad taste which mineral water leaves in the mouth.

You will find Becherovka in practically every grocery store in Karlovy Vary. You can go for some tasting to determine your favourite flavour.

The springs rise and bubble up from the ground, some of them under controlled pressure, they are so hot that they need to be cooled down. The mineral water which is used in drinking cure comes from the several springs which differ in temperature, the hottest one are the Sprudel Spring, Charles IV Spring, the Market Spring and the Nymph Spring with their temperature reaching 60 C degrees. There is a rule that the colder the water is, the more carbon dioxide it contains.

Apart from mineral waters, Karlovy Vary also has deposits of peloids – pets and muds – which can be applied in the form of wraps, poultices or baths.

Being located under the mountains, Karlovy Vary has also excellent climate conditions. There are a lot of forests and beautiful countryside all around and it all creates perfect conditions to relax and regenerate.

I have spent in Karlovy Vary only one day but I treat it more like a check if I want to come for more. The place is so enchanting and beautiful that for sure I’d like to visit the area for 1-2 weeks and enjoy some thermal swimming pools, spa treatments, drink the curative waters and enjoy the nature during scenic hikes.

However, even during one day you can still see and do a lot and below I give you a list of places where it’s worth stopping by.

  • Emperor’s Spa Building. This facility is known as the first fitness center. The building is beautiful facility with a neo-Renaissance interior used to be the pride of Karlovy Vary. Enthusiastic supporters of remedial exercise could be found in the spas as early as in the late 19th 55 mechanical exercise machines were bought in 1893 and they were put in the big hall in the Emperor’s Spa Building. The first patients started exercising here two years later. Unfortunately, during our visit Emperor’s Spa Building was temporarily closed so we didn’t manage to see its interiors.
  • Elizabeth Bath is a spa and treatment center located in a beautiful historical park in the center of historical town.
    The facility  is one of the most beautiful architectonical historical buildings in Karlovy Vary. The Elizabeth Baths were established in 1906 and named after the Empress Elizabeth, known as Sissi. This magnificent building served to spa purposes from the very beginning and  it  still serves its purpose with its vast offer of treatments. The spa is a public facility and it’s open for all visitors which is often not the case in Karlovy Vary. Normally,  to be able to use spa facilities you need to be a guest of the hotel which owns the spa.  Elizabeth Bath uses natural curative sources of the Carlsbad region. It offers a range of rehabilitation treatments and, at present very popular relax, beauty and wellness treatments.  You can also take advantage of outpatient rehabilitation procedures, get examined by spa physician to schedule your curative water drinking control program, or just enjoy the swimming pool. Elizabeth Baths is the biggest consumer of the hot mineral water in the town (20% of the total quantity). You can preorder on their website some of the procedures in advance, we didn’t schedule anything but also arrived outside of high season when the spa was pretty empty and there was no queues to the procedure. I decided to have 2 treatments, a half an hour herbal bath with bubbles and 45 minute session in the salt chamber.
    Elizabeth Bath interiors and salt chamber.
    Running for my treatments
  • The Colonnades are an absolute must see in Karlovy Vary, you will find the impressive column structures in the strict historical center and they’re the place where you will find taps with curative waters. I recommend to see the most beautiful and historical ones, they’re conveniently located along most representative streets of Karlovy Vary, and going from one to the other makes it a very pleasant relaxing promenade. I especially recommend seeing the Mill Colonnade which was constructed in 1811 around the New Spring. The three-tract layout based on the use if the Corinthian order carries an upper terrace with a distinct baluster attic and a receding upper pavilion. The balustrade is adorned with twelve allegoric statues representing each month of the year. This is one of the most elegant column colonnades in the Czech Republic and Europe.
    The Mill Colonnade
    A short walk from the Mill Colonnade leads to the Market Colonnade which architectural beauty made it one of the symbols of the town. The gables are adorned with carved lions, a motif taken from the coat of arms of Karlovy Vary. Inside the colonnade you will find three mineral springs. The characteristic feature of the colonnade is a beautiful wooden lace adorning the façade.
    The Market Colonnade
    Going closer to the concert hall, you will reach the Park Colonnade , the structure consists of a 50 m long verandah covered with a decorative cast-iron Neo-Renaissance structure carried on Corinthian columns. The colonnade is a great example of light French galleries.
    Park Colonnade
  • Peter and Paul Orthodox Church was erected in the years 1894-1897 in the west side of the Westend luxury residential district. The interior features a remarkable wooden iconostas from 1866 which is adorned with rich carving and painted icons. Decorations represent the typical features of Russian Classicist architecture and abound with a variety of bossage, stars and semi-circular zakomaras.
  • The Westend Residential District. The road to the orthodox church leads through the beautiful residential Westend neigborhood which is also the oldest in Karlovy Vary. The district has many has many impressive villas which were designed to enhance the aesthetic effects of the world-renowned spa and intentionally copied the development taking place in its European spa counterparts such as Biaritz or Baden-Baden. Until 1920’s, the villas were used as rental properties. From the architectonic point of view, the main point was to create an illusory world so the guests can travel in space and time without having to leave the place of their abode – the guests could walk in old England for a while and then pass through France or the Orient. In the district you can find Italian, Palladian and Antique-style villas, the colossal Neo-Baroque palaces or hotels reminding of French castles. Nowadays, in the neigborhood you will find luxurious hotels and villas with private spas and facilities available uniquely for their guests.
    Impressive grand villas in Westend district.
    The nature surrounding the Westend District is particularly beautiful, you can admire scenic landscapes from the hills on which the villas stand, you can also climb to many viewpoints or enjoy the hike in the forest easily accessible from the residences. Short walk downhill brings you to the centre of Karlovy Vary with its colonnades to take advantage of the beneficial effects of the curative waters.

Apart of the mentioned landmarks, Karlovy Vary has many excellent restaurants, shops where you can buy cosmetics containing local minerals, you will also find many hiking trails leading through the forests and hills. In the town you can simply walk around the historical center and admire the stunning architecture, you will also  find public  thermal pool. The city often hosts also many cultural events like concerts and festivals. The area is perfect for families, couples and solo travellers.

I firmly state that the coolest thing to do apart of spas and hikes is admiring the town’s stunning architecture.
I loved the slow walk when sipping my water and putting head up to catch all the details of the grand buildings.

If you come to the region for more days, it’s worth visiting lesser known but equally charming towns of Marianske Lazne and Frantiskovy Lazne  which are less touristy but also amaze visitors with their spa landscapes, vast forests and hills around and relaxing quiet atmosphere which enhance regeneration and regaining forces.

Practical information:

  • You can easily reach Karlovy Vary by local transportation from Prague, there is a direct train every day and (faster and more budget friendly option) a bus, you can search for Yellow Bus company, they have many departures during day from Prague to Karlovy Vary.
  • If you visit in high season it is better to book some of the treatments in advance of the spa facility.
  • If you plan to come for more days and drink the curative water in systematic way, it’s better to visit a doctor to give you a program of controlled curative water drinking.
  • The town is touristy and in most of the facilities the spa speaks English.
  • For more budget friendly options for accommodation, you may check Marianske Lazne and Frantiskovy Lazne for their hotels and rental villas.
Can’t wait to revisit!

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