Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad)

"It's a cake convention!" That's how Le Corbusier described Karlovy Vary. Indeed, the colorful houses along the Tepla river's banks and the lace colonnades remind one of whipped cream and figures on a cake. And of all Czech towns, Karlovy Vary is the least "Czech." Here you inevitably recall the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Karlovy Vary or Carlsbad is the most famous and popular Czech spa town. Before the pandemic, thousands of guests from all over the world came here to improve their health with the help of local thermal springs. And even more tourists came to Vary for a day or two to admire the magnificent architecture and beautiful scenery.

In this article, we will tell you how to get to Karlovy Vary from Prague, what to see in the town and which gifts to buy there.

Vridlo fontaine in Karlovy Vary.

How to Get to Karlovy Vary from Prague


The easiest way to get to Vary from Prague is by bus. The trip takes a little over two hours, and the approximate cost of a round-trip ticket is 17 euros. The largest bus carriers in the Czech Republic are RegioJet and FlixBus. RegioJet buses depart to Karlovy Vary from Prague's central bus station Florenc (metro station Florenc). As for FlixBus, some buses depart from Florenc and others from Hradčanská metro station. Be sure to read the information on your ticket carefully. You can compare all offers for the specific day and buy your ticket at omio.com.


If you prefer trains, you can take a direct one from Prague to Karlovy Vary. But be prepared that the trip takes more than 3 hours. Trains depart from the Main Railway Station (metro station Hlavní Nádráží) every two hours.

Photo of the Market colonnade in Karlovy Vary.


A journey by car lasts about an hour and forty minutes. And if you are interested in beer production, you can make a stop in Krusovice brewery. It will be on your route. You just have to get off the highway for a while. The local brewery offers guided tours and tastings. And you can book your entry at their website. Or, visit a JK Classics Museum if you travel in the summer month and cars interest you more than beer. It is not far from the highway as well. Their collection of Cadillacs, Buicks, Lincolns, and Chryslers is truly stunning. This hidden place is actually one of the best European museums of old American cars. Opening hours and the address is here.

Keep in mind that the SPA center of Carlsbad is a pedestrian zone. You can park your car at the Thermal Hotel's parking lot. It is very close to all the main attractions.

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Another option is to book a private tour from Prague to Karlovy Vary or join the group trip. You can explore available offers and make your reservation via GetYouGuide.com.

History of Karlovy Vary

Some sources say that Karlovy Vary was founded in 1350. Others state that it happened in 1358. But all of them agree on one thing: it was the Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV who founded it.

Photo of the relief depicting the legend of the foundation of Karlovy Vary in the Market Colannade.

According to the legend, the king was hunting deer. At one point, the animal jumped from a rock to escape hunters. The king's favorite dog followed him, landed straight in the small pond, and howled. As it turned out, the water there was hot. The king was a very educated man and knew that this water would have healing properties. So, he ordered to build a town around the springs and named it Vary - "boiling water."

Initially, people used thermal water only for bathing. The primary treatment was called Hautfresser - "skin eater." Patients had to stay in baths for ten or more hours until their skin became chapped. They believed that diseases left the body through such chaps.

The approach changed in the 16th century. In 1522, Dr. Vaclav Payer published a book about Karlovy Vary hot springs. In his book, he also recommended drinking 3-5 cups of mineral water a day for best results. And this put a foundation to modern treatment methods.

Photo of the Park Colonnade in Karlovy Vary.

The Vary's fame was growing. More and more famous guests came here. The town was especially popular among the Saxon and Russian monarchy circles. And even the great fire of 1759, when two-thirds of all houses burnt down, could not stop the rapid development of Karlovy Vary. It was soon rebuilt in the Baroque style.

Photo of the Elizabeth Baths in Karlovy Vary.

At the same time, new therapeutic approaches appeared. For example, Dr. David Becher emphasized the healing power of the local air. He recommended drinking water while walking from spring to spring. And his ideas completely changed the look of the town. Because of them, new parks, walking paths, and colonnades were built in Karlovy Vary.

It isn't easy to list all the famous visitors of the town — Beethoven, Paganini, Chopin, Twain, King of England Edward VII, tsar Peter I of Russia, Gogol, Turgenev, Freud, and many others. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe stayed in Vary 13 times.

During the communists' era in Czechoslovakia, Karlovy Vary was visited mainly by patients from the Soviet Bloc. Concrete buildings of Thermal Hotel and Hot Spring Colonnade rose in the center. But, luckily, other than that, the town's appearance has not changed much since the 19th century. After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Carlsbad started to regain its former glory. And in 2021, West Bohemian spa triangle - Karlovy Vary, Frantiskovy Lazne, and Marianske Lazne - was awarded UNESCO heritage status.

Aerial photo of the Imperial hotel in Karlovy Vary.

What To See in Karlovy Vary?

The spa center of Karlovy Vary lies on the Tepla banks. So, walk along the river from Thermal to Grand Pupp Hotel, and you will see the main attractions: hot springs, beautiful colonnades, and historical buildings.

Thermal Spa Hotel

Thermal — the main venue of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival - was built in 1967-1976. Apparently, the architects Vera and Vladimir Machonin decided that adding a big concrete building to Vary's "cake gathering" was a lovely idea. Several buildings from the 19th century had to disappear to free up space for Thermal. And today, we have this example of Czech brutalist architecture instead. There were some talks about demolishing Thermal at the end of the 20th century, but the building still stands. Moreover, the hotel has recently undergone massive reconstruction.

Photo of the Thermal Hotel.

The hotel complex also includes two open-air swimming pools. In addition to relaxation in thermal water, both offer breathtaking views of Karlovy Vary. You can find all information about opening hours and tickets' prices here.

Photo of the Park Colonnade

Colonnades and Springs

The cast-iron Sadova kolonada (Park Colonnade) in Dvorak gardens was designed by Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer and built in 1881. Here you can taste the water from the Snake Spring - the youngest, coldest, and the richest in CO2.

The stone Mlynska kolonada (Mill Colonnade) is the largest in Karlovy Vary. Its length is 132 meters, width 13 meters, and 124 columns support the arches. The colonnade was built in 1871-1881 according to the project of Josef Zitek (the author of the National Theatre in Prague).

Photo of the Mill Colonnade.

Photo of the Market Colonnade.

The wooden Trzni kolonada (Market Colonnade) was built in 1883 by Fellner and Helmer as a temporary solution. It was supposed that as soon as the town had enough money for a more durable material, it would be torn down. But it never came to this. At the end of the 20th century, Karlovy Vary replaced the tumbledown structure with a replica. The relief above the Charles IV Spring depicts the legend of the foundation of Karlovy Vary.

The glass and concrete Vridelni kolonada (Hot Spring Colonnade) is from the 70s of the 20th century. Inside, you can find the most famous spring of Karlovy Vary - Vridlo or Hot Spring. It is also the hottest one - its temperature is 73 degrees Celsius. Vridlo gushes with a power of 2,000 liters per minute and reaches the height of 12 meters. Its water is used for baths, mineral salt production, and cosmetics. From May to October, you can take a tour to sprint underground. Tickets are sold in the tourist information booth in the colonnade.

Photo of the Hot Spring Colonnade.

Photo of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene.

Church of Saint Mary Magdalene

This Baroque church was built in 1732-1736 by the architect Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer. Inside there are preserved Gothic Madonna's sculptures, Baroque plastics, and valuable altars from the 18th century.

Orthodox Church of St. Peter and Paul.

The gilded domes of the Orthodox Church of St. Peter and Paul are an essential part of the city's panorama. This temple was built in 1893-1898 with donations from Serbian and Russian nobles.

Photo of Westend quarter with the domes of the Orthodox church in Karlovy Vary.

Photo of the building of the Carlsbad City Theater.

City Theater

Karlovy Vary Municipal Theatre was built by the architects Fellner and Helmer. Viennese artists Gustav and Ernest Klimt and Franz Matsch created the interior paintings. The premiere performance took place in 1886, and it was Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro."

Stara Louka

The name of this street - Stara Louka - means "old meadow." A long time ago, there was a real meadow here. But at the end of the 17th century, people built houses in this area, and it became the most popular place in town. Almost every building on this street has a memorial plaque saying that someone famous stayed here. At the end of the street, there is a Grand Hotel Pupp, where some scenes "James Bond: Casino Royale" were filmed.

Photo of the Stara Louka Street and Grand Hotel Pupp.

Photo of the view from the Diana Tower in Karlovy Vary.

Diana Tower

Behind the Grand Hotel Pupp, you can find a funicular station that takes you up to the Diana Tower. The views of the spa center from this tower are stunning.

The Best Gifts from Karlovy Vary

Many products are produced in the town and surroundings: cosmetics, sweets, alcohol, porcelain, and glass. So, if you are wondering what to bring as a gift from Karlovy Vary, check out these ideas on the best souvenirs.


A box of local thin round wafers called "oplatki" is the most obvious option. You can choose among various flavors: nougat, nuts, cinnamon, chocolate, etc. And do not forget to taste warm "oplatka" while you are in Vary.

Photo of a woman eating a warm oplatka in Karlovy Vary.


Walking around the spa center, you will surely notice that almost every stall sells strange cups with a long spout. These are special cups for drinking mineral water. And guests often take them away as a souvenir.

Photo of Manufaktura bath salt.


Another popular gift from Karlovy Vary is cosmetics with thermal water. The local company Vřídlo produces bath salts, massage emulsions, face and body creams, and shampoos. Manufaktura brand uses Carlsbad mineral salt as well.


The next tip is souvenirs of aragonite. An object, usually a paper rose, is put in thermal water. And after a few days, it is entirely covered with what looks like rust. You can learn more about the production process during a tour in Hot Spring Colonnade undergrounds.


A strong herbal liqueur Becherovka is also produced in Karlovy Vary. Besides the classic version, there are also Lemond, KV14, and Cordial liqueurs. By the way, you can learn more about the history of this drink in the Becherovka Museum.

Photo of Becherovka bottles.


Czech porcelain is another perfect gift from Karlovy Vary. For example, Thun porcelain is produced in Nova Role, a town not far from Vary.

Photo of a Glassmaker at the Moser glasswork.

Moser Crystal

And if you are looking for something extraordinary, Moser crystal is your best option. Their products decorate tables of the Vatican. Royal families of Spain, Denmark, and Britain use them. It is in Moser glasses that they serve drinks at Prague Castle. And even if you are not going to buy anything, I highly recommend visiting Moser glasswork. They have guided tours, where you will see with your own eyes how glassmakers work. Visit their website for more information on admission fees and opening hours.

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