Situated about a hundred kilometers west of Prague along the river Teplá, Karlovy Vary, locally known as Karlsbad, is the oldest spa town of Bohemia. The city was founded in 1358 by Charles IV and was the favorite spa destination of many European rulers and famous artists between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that represented Karlovy Vary’s golden age. Now this charming town appeals to tourists because of the twelve healthy mineral springs it is home to, but also because of its imposing architecture and peaceful atmosphere.
Best Karlovy Vary Attractions – the Springs and Colonnades
Legend has it that the Emperor Charles IV himself discovered the first of the twelve Karlovy Vary springs while deer hunting. But the medical benefits of Karlovy Vary’s mineral waters were scientifically proven only in 1522, following Dr. Václav Payer’s and Dr. David Becher’s research. This attracted many celebrities and royalty figures to the area, among whom Tolstoy, Chateaubriand, Beethoven and Goethe. The latter returned to Karlovy Vary thirteen times.
Today the mineral springs of Karlovy Vary attract patients seeking natural treatment options for health issues like gastrointestinal diseases, metabolic disorders, diabetes, gout, obesity, periodontitis, but also liver, pancreas, gallbladder and biliary tract conditions. The hot springs also fascinate the tourists who come to admire their beautiful pageantry as they rise, in or near five colonnades. The most prestigious of them is the Mill Colonnade (Colonnade Mlynská) with its Renaissance architectural style. It contains five sources and has a booth in which musicians play. You can also visit the Hot Spring Colonnade (Colonnade Vřídelní), home to the hottest spring (73 ° C) or the Market Colonnade (Colonnade Trini), home to two springs, including the one discovered by Charles IV.
The Park Colonnade
Karlovy Vary owes the cast iron Park Colonnade to the Austrian architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer. At the end of the 19th century, it was a shopping mall belonging to the Blanenský pavilion that was later demolished.
The Park Colonnade is home to three hot water springs – Snake Spring (30 °C) opened in 2001, whose water contains large amounts of CO2, Park Spring (47,4 °C) accessible between 6:00 AM and 6:30 PM, and Freedom Spring (60 °C) formerly known as the Spa Spring.
The Mill Colonnade
Josef Zítek, who designed the Mill Colonnade between the years 1871 and 1881 had a different vision over this Neo-Renaissance gem located in the heart of Karlovy Vary spa town.
The intentions of the famous architect (who also designed Prague’s National Theatre) referred to a two-storey edifice that would look even more splendid than the 132 meters structure standing on 124 Corinthian columns and adorned by allegorical sculptures that we can admire today. When visiting the Mill Colonnade, take a closer look at the rooftop terraces’ balustrades. They are decorated with 12 statues, each of them standing for a calendar month.
One of the most popular Karlovy Vary attractions, the Mill Colonnade is home to 6 thermal spring: Rock Spring (53 °C), which was once rising from the river Teplá, but was moved to its current location in 1845, Libuše Spring (62 °C) made by gathering together four small springs, Prince Wenceslas I (65 °C) and II (58 °C), whose water is used to extract the famous Karlovy Vary medicinal salt, Mill Spring (56 °C) discovered as early as the 16th century and whose water has been used for bathing since then, and Rusalka Spring (60 °C).
Home to the most impressive geyser in town, Pramen Vřídlo and one of the best Karlovy Vary attractions, the Hot Spring Colonnade is an incongruous edifice designed by Prof. J. Votruba between the years 1969 and 1975.
Along the centuries, the geyser belching 12 meters into the air was covered by different types of structures – a cast-iron or a wooden colonnade, a Baroque edifice, then a colonnade belonging to the Classicist architectural style.
The Castle Colonnade
Located right above the Market Colonnade, the Castle Colonnade was designed by the Viennese architect Friedrich Ohmann around 1913. It is made up of two sections: the Upper Spring Colonnade open to the general public and the Lower Spring Colonnade accessible only to the clients of the Castle Spa. The latter is home to a relief of iron sandstone depicting the Springs Ghost.
Designed in 1883 by the same architects as the Park Colonnade, this charming Swiss style white wood structure building was originally intended to offer the springs a temporary roof, but after over a century, the local authorities decided to renovate and preserve it.
Adorned by lace motifs, the Colonnade is home to an interesting relief depicting the legend of the town’s discovery.
This elegant edifice is home to two springs – the Market Spring (62 °C) and the Charles IV Spring (64 °C).
Historic Spas in Karlovy Vary
A spa town founded in 1370, Karlovy Vary is has a long wellness and health treatments that attracted along the centuries lots of tourists, including some royal, aristocratic and bohemian figures. The historic spas are some of the best Karlovy Vary attractions.
Grand Hotel Pupp whose construction process lasted more than 100 years (1781-1893) is one of the town’s symbol and a top of the range standard when it comes to spa centers and luxury hotels. Along the years, Grand Hotel Pupp was the host of many celebrities as well as a film location for the Bond movie Casino Royal.
Located in Smetana Park, Elisabeth Spa, whose origins go back to 1906 was named after the Empress Elizabeth (Sissi), the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The largest wellness center in the whole country, this historic spa is housed by a Neo-Baroque structure with an impressive Art Nouveau façade.
Dating from 1805, the Imperial Spa located right opposite Grand Hotel Pupp is an impressive Renaissance style building featuring exquisite stucco and sculptural decorations. This majestic edifice designed by the Vinnese architectural duo Fellner and Helmer was once home to one of the most luxurious and modern spa centers in Europe. After being neglected for many years, the historic Imperial Spa was renovated completely and turned into a cultural center that serves as concerts, exhibitions and conventions hall.
Housed by a Neo-Classical building erected in 1927 on the place where Schönbrun Café was once standing, Parkhotel Richmond is located in a large park dotter with statues and memorials dedicated to different personalities like Beethoven or Mickiewicz. Still functioning as a spa center, Parkhotel Richmond is one of the wellness attractions in Karlovy Vary.
Museums in Karlovy Vary
Among Karlovy Vary attractions, there are a few museums and art galleries focusing on the local history and craftsmanship. Karlovy Vary museum focuses on the history of the town and surrounding area. Its exhibits often emphasize the role played by Karlovy Vary and its hot springs within the development of balneology.
Another Karlovy Vary attraction, Jan Becher Museum focuses on the story of Becherovka. A tour of the museum means visiting the original factory cellars located in a historic edifice right in the heart of the town, learning interesting bits about the manufacturing process and storage of the famous Czech liqueur, and tasting the actual drink.
The whole country is famous for the Bohemia crystals and decorative glass objects. One of the traditional Czech glass producers has opened in Karlovy Vary the Moser Visitor Centre. A tour of this glass museum will provides you with a deeper insight into over a century and a half of glass factory history.
Observation towers and lookouts in Karlovy Vary
Located in a valley, Karlovy Vary is surrounded by the wooden Bohemian hills, on top of which you can often find an observation tower. Some of these lookout points have, along the years, turned into interesting Karlovy Vary attractions because of the great panoramic views you can get from there.
Diana Lookout Tower
The most popular of them is Diana Lookout Tower built in 1914 atop Friendship Hill that rises above the Grandhotel Pupp. There are two ways of reaching the tower – either by hiking uphill through the forest or by the rail funicular that goes every quarter of an hour.
While the walk can take you up to two hours, the funicular ride will take you to the top of the hill in 3 minutes.
Here you will find the 25 meters high Diana lookout tower.Get on the elevator (free of charge) or climb the stairs (150 steps) to get some great views over Karlovy Vary and its surroundings. Next to the tower, there is a traditional Czech restaurant with a nice rustic terrace where you can enjoy a meal or a drink.
Another Karlovy Vary attractions designed by the architects Fellner and Helmer in 1889, the 34 meters high Goethe’s Lookout can be reached by climbing 165 steps. Unlike Diana Tower, Goethe’s Lookout is not equipped with an elevator, but nearby the tower you can find a restaurant. Not located in the central area, Goethe’s Lookout can be reached by taking the bus no. 8 and getting off the bus at Hůrky stop. From there, you can hike to the tower on the path known as Gogol’s trail or bike. There is also a car road. If you decide to hike, Gogol’s trail will also take you to the Three Crosses. The legends says they symbolize the death of three brothers.
Charles IV Lookout
A Pseudo-Gothic structure, Charles IV Lookout dating back to 1877 is accessible by a spiral staircase of 79 steps. The tower is located in the same area as Diana Tower. You can take the railway funicular and stop at Deer Leap. Just follow the yellow signs and you will reach it. In the same area, you will find another observation point with great views over Karlovy Vary – Deer Leap Lookout, marked by the statue of a mountain goat perched atop a rock.