As a significant cultural hub, the Czech Republic is famous for its arts, folk music, and traditional crafts, such as blowing glass, making marionettes, carving wooden toys and cutting crystal by hand. Its beautiful capital city of Prague has picture-perfect scenery that thousands flock to witness first hand each summer.
Ornate castles are a big thing; in fact this country holds the title for a higher density of castles than anywhere else in the world. With multiple castles and ruins, the Czech Republic has a wealth of history dating back centuries. Another first place title held is the amount of beer consumed per person; also the highest in the world. Famous Czechs include the neurologist Sigmund Freud, tennis player Martina Navratilova, and writer Milan Kundera. We also have this country to thank for Skoda cars and Otto Wichterle’s invention of soft contact lenses. Ice hockey is a loved sport here, with the men’s national team being one of the best globally. Geographically positioned in the centre of Europe, the Czech Republic serves as a convenient springboard for easy travel to Budapest, Munich, Milan, Vienna, Berlin and Krakow.
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Given its reputation for incredible castles, a visit to Prague has to include seeing Prague Castle, which takes up a larger area than any other castle in the world. Noted as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this immense complex has a history spanning 1,000 years. Similarly, St Vitus Cathedral, arguably the most significant temple in Prague, is also a sight to behold. The origins of this almighty place of worship date back to the 10th century. Within it, a number of key religious ceremonies, coronations and burials of patron saints, noblemen and archbishops have taken place.
Strolling around the Jewish Quarter and Museum is an ideal way of exploring culturally-rich exhibitions and architecture that has had a colourful history. If you’d rather connect with nature as opposed to man-made structures, a multitude of conservation areas can be explored. Bohemian Paradise, the UNESCO Geopark, is one such idyllic environment that has certainly been suitably named, featuring enormous sandstone rock formations that have been weathered into magnificent shapes, pine forest expanses, and curious hiking trails.
Breakfast in the Czech Republic is likely to be an assortment of breads, eaten with meat, cheese, eggs or jam. At lunchtime, it is common for Czechs to dine out on soup (polévka) and two further courses, as the food is so reasonably priced. Many different kinds of soup are considered traditional, such as potato, onion, goulash, tripe. vegetable, and beef broth. Main meals are predominantly meat-orientated and rather heavy, as they will generally be covered with delicious rich sauces and accompanied by dumplings, rice or potatoes.
Depending on the area you are in, each region will have its own specialities: freshwater fish in South Bohemia, ham in Prague, and local curd cheese within Moravia. Pork features frequently in Czech dishes, such as pork schnitzel, Vepřoknedlozelo (pork covered in dumplings and sauerkraut), white pudding, black pudding and brawn. Like the mains, desserts are also hugely calorific owing to the liberal use of butter and whipped cream but they are not too sweet in taste. Dort (cake), dumplings and crepes filled with jam or fruit, apple strudel, and trdelník (grilled dough coated with sugar and cinnamon) regularly feature on Czech dessert menus.
The Czechs have been brewing beer for hundreds of years so it will come as no surprise that some of their varieties are popular worldwide, with Pilsner Urquell, Budwieser-Budvar, Kozel, Staropramen and Lobkowucz being among the favourites. The good news is that it’s often cheaper than soft drinks like soda and fruit juice.
Moravia is a region known to the locals for its vineyards and boutique wines. Czech wines are generally not exported so trying them for yourself needs to happen while vacationing here. Moravian Muscat, Pálava, Hibernal and Solaris are white wines worth trying, and if you’re a red drinker, Neronet and Cabernet Moravia will no doubt be to your liking.
If you fancy a liquor, Becherovka has all-natural ingredients, where spring water, ethanol and natural sugar are blended with a fine mix of spices and herbs. Slivovitz is a well-liked plum brandy that will satisfy spirit-drinkers and if you’d rather stick to soft drinks, try a traditional Kofolah – the Czechs’ answer to coke, originating in the 60s.
Landscape and wildlife
Landlocked by Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland, two main areas constitute the Czech Republic and both have contrasting landscapes. Bohemia, in the west of the country, has a river basin, forested mountains, and also the highest point – the Sněžka. Meanwhile Moravia in the east is split into a further four regions (Mikulov the largest). Moravia is somewhat hilly and rolls into the Ostrava and Opava flat basins.
The country has many protected natural areas, including four national parks – Krkonoše, Podyjí, Šumava and České Švýcarsko - where the landscapes feature mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, caves and rock towns. Such a variety of habitats naturally brings with it an extensive range of wildlife. Beavers, squirrels, marmots, martens, polecats, foxes, wolves, badgers, brown bears, wild boars and more than 20 varieties of bat are just some of the creatures that inhabit the Czech Republic.