Karlštejn Castle (also called the Hrad Karlštejn) is a stunning citadel located about 30 kms southwest of Prague. The construction of this impressive piece of Gothic architecture started under the reign of Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1348. A hideaway for the royal treasures, holy relics, imperial insignia, and the crown jewels, this castle evoked much fanfare and fascination from the beginning.
It has a history of repeated renovations after its primary completion in 1365. From its initial Gothic architecture, it evolved to Renaissance style in the 16th century, and eventually to its current neo-Gothic style since the 18th century. Karlštejn Castle is one of the most exceptional castles and hence is one of the most visited castles in the Czech Republic. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this castle attracts huge crowds to admire its monumental layout, interiors, and its exterior facade, which is built over levels of rocky ridge.
Karlštejn Castle Tickets
Guided Tour of Karlštejn Castle with Lunch
- Enjoy a comfortable trip to the Karlštejn Castle with a complimentary pick up from your hotel
- Take a tour of the castle with an expert guide who will take you back in time and show you the life of the monarchy of the Kingdom of Bohemia
- Explore the 1st and 2nd floors of the Imperial Palace and the Marian Tower
- At the Castle Treasury, admire a copy of the St. Wenceslas Crown
- Cap off your hour-long tour with a scrumptious lunch that includes some local delicacies
Why Visit Karlštejn Castle
One of the most frequently visited top tourist attractions near Prague, Karlstejn Castle should be an imperative part of every tourist’s itinerary. It is an extensively fortified, stately, majestic castle which served as a royal treasury of rare artefacts and relics including the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, the Bohemian Crown Jewels, and other holy relics and royal archives. Built over various rocky terraces in a unique stair format, the castle captivates millions of visitors with its rich history, Neo-Gothic and Renaissance architecture, picturesque landscaping and peaceful surrounding.
The centrepiece of the castle is the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Adorned with semi-precious stones and gildings the walls of this chapel have a total of 129 panel paintings of popes, bishops, knights, and mentors of the Czech Republic. The royal treasure includes the St. Wenceslas Crown made of pure gold and decorated with numerous emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls. The impressive replica of this crown is on display in the castle, while the original is locked away at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. The lowest floor of the castle has the interesting Water well tower, which isn’t actually a well, but an 80 meters deep pit connected to a nearby stream!
Karlštejn Castle: Architecture
Karlštejn Castle is unique, mainly because of the reason of its construction - to serve as a safe repository for royal jewels and other precious relics. Thus, its architectural composition as well as artistic decorations had to commensurate its importance. The castle was built between 1348-57 on a spur extending from a rocky ridge in a picturesque, hilly landscape.
The core of the castle is spread over a gradation of three rocky terraces. On the lowest terrace are the settlements outside the castle walls, with the Burgrave’s Palace and its originally designed well. The well is 80 metres deep, and back in the day, the raising and lowering of the well buckets was accomplished by a wheel which used to be trodden on by people. The two-storey Imperial Palace spreads above this with the royal residences. Above it is the Marian Tower with its famous chapels. The Great Tower stands the tallest, safeguarding the Czech royal treasures.
Your Karlštejn Castle Experience
The Imperial Palace, designed in Bohemian style, is spread over three floors. The ground floor contains a hall, which is now used as an exhibition space. The second floor was reserved for the private apartments of the king - and was divided into four rooms - the bedrooms, an audience room, and the stateroom for formal meetings and dinners. This floor also has the majestic Knights’ Hall with a series of life-size portraits of the ancestors of Charles IV. Finally, the third floor was reserved for the queen and her female retinue. The palace also houses the small chapel of St. Nicholas, and a cellar.
Above the Imperial Palace lies the Marian Tower. This has the famous Church of the Virgin and St Catherine's Chapel, which is well known for its beautiful craftsmanship and architecture. Clad with polished precious stones, gold relief work, and artistically done frescoes, the interiors of this area are stunning.
The crowning feature of the castle is the huge, rectangular, three-storey Great Tower on the highest terrace. This has the most sacred room of all in Karlštejn, the Chapel of the Holy Cross. which became the repository of the imperial crown jewels. This monumental repository, forming the very foundation of this castle, was extensively fortified and designed. The two bays of rib vaulting are divided by a high, gilded screen inset with precious stones.
The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary has an enthralling presence. The 14th century frescoes showing the Apocalypse, though partially destroyed in the Renaissance renovation of the castle, are a sight worth admiring. One of the most prominent frescoes that invoke fascination is one of Virgin Mary holding Christ as the sun’s rays envelop them after they have been chased by a dragon. Many frescoes of Charles IV’s lifetime, like the emperor putting pieces of the True Cross into a golden reliquary cross sporting yellow and white robes, always pulls the attention of visitors. Famous German architect Peter Parler’s sculpture of Our Lady has often been compared with Charles IV’s third wife, Anna, holding her son, Wenceslas IV.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
The Chapel of the Holy Cross, located in the Great Tower at the highest terrace, has enjoyed much esteem and importance. The chapel was used as a repository for the crown jewels and held Charles’ collection of the remains of saints. As a sign of humility and respect, Charles IV entered it barefoot and had it fortified with three iron doors and nine locks.
Inspired by the description of Heavenly Jerusalem in the biblical book of Revelations, the interiors are beautifully adorned with frescoes depicting the life of Christ. It also has 129 unique panels depicting the saints, popes, bishops, the Knights of the Theban League, holy rulers, and church teachers - all painted by Master Theodoric, “the Royal Court painter” of Karel IV. The Chapel has four windows, partially glazed with precious stones, and cross vaults with profiled ribs. The lower parts of the chapel walls and the deep window recesses from the skirting to the vault are predominantly covered in red precious stones. The vault is covered in gilded stucco, with round glass insets.
Hall of Knights: On the first floor of the Imperial palace where the Emperor lived, the largest room is the Hall of Knights. With an ancient wooden ceiling and decorated furniture, this hall is adorned with the coats-of-arms and names of knight-vassals.
Chapel of St. Nicholas: The Imperial palace has the small Gothic style chapel of St. Nicholas at the end. This lavishly decorated chapel has been one of the major points of interest with the visitors, given its elaborate decor and intricate work.
Karlštejn Castle Castle Practical Information
The timings vary, and can be found here.
As the Karlštejn Castle is ancient, it is very difficult for those with disabilities to explore the castle without the help of another person (who can carry the wheelchair up and down).
If you do not have assistance, it is only possible for you to visit the main courtyard of the castle.
- Karlštejn’s beauty lies more in its facade and environs. The 20- to 30-minute walk up the hill with an amazing fairytale view of the castle makes the trip spectacular. Therefore you must wear some comfortable walking shoes to make this an excursion well worth.
- Stock up on some water as the long walk can make you thirsty and even a water bottle is priced steep here.
- It may not be a bad idea to carry some food along or book a lunch inclusive tour as the village below the castle has very expensive restaurants.
- The castle is closed on Monday so make your plans accordingly.
- Entry to the castle is free, but to visit the inside of the castle, one has to buy a guided tour.
Karlštejn Castle Reviews
We loved this place and the staff who run the tour in the castle were good but spoke a bit fast to get groups through the rooms. Definitely worth a trip out of Prague to see the countryside and this breathtaking place with so many views. We felt we should have been given more time to eat and browse the shops in the pretty town. Basically frogmarched back to bus! Worth asking about that before booking.
Give yourself a full day, it's worth it. We bought a ticket that lets you into all main buildings but not exhibitions which suited us. We would not recommend a seperate visit to the church up the hill, expensive and boring
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