Visiting Karlštejn Castle With a Dog
Writing this blog and keeping our promise to you, dear Reader, to report on pet friendliness we find in the world, keeps me focused when I sit down and pull my thoughts into something coherent to share with you. When I started thinking about my time in the Czech Republic, I was tempted to start big with my first instalment on Prague, but re-thought that approach and decided to start with my favourite castle instead. Why? Well, it turns out the Czech Republic has the most castles within a country in all of Europe, AND, importantly, this one also allowed me INSIDE to tour! So I just had to start with Karlštejn Castle!
It took only about an hour to get there by train, for a fare of about $8.00 per person return from Prague. Trains in the Czech Republic are pet friendly, so no worries there. Just let them know when you purchase your ticket. Small dogs IN a bag go for free but any dog–even small ones that can fit in a bag but are not in it–have to pay. It’s a small fee and you can pay it on the train directly. So it’s really not something to worry about.
When you arrive in Karlštejn, you have a few options as you leave the train station. You can’t see the castle from the station, but it is within walking distance. About 25 minute walk. Or you can take a cab. Honestly, the fee for the cab was so low (about 54 Czech Koruna; with the exchange rate it was $3 Canadian per person and free for me) that we decided to cab it to the castle, saving us some time to enjoy a much slower hike back. So off we went!
Cars can’t drive through the historical town and have to completely circumvent the entire pedestrian area. But the roundabout route is a beautiful drive in the countryside and woods. We just sat back and enjoyed the view. We were dropped off just a few feet away from where the pedestrian road meets the only road to the castle. Finally, from there we could spot the large looming towers of the castle.
But by now it was nearly lunch and so we stopped for a little something to eat. We enjoyed the warm sun and delicious food. I was allowed to join in without any trouble. They even brought me a big bowl of water and then laughed when I took advantage of a moment of inattention from the bipeds to let myself into the restaurant and kitchen. I was returned to the bipeds in the arms of our lovely waitress, who giggled and tried to explain that the cook had given me some goulash. YUM!
So with full belies and a happy heart, we walked the few feet to the castle’s main entrance.
At the Castle
Wow. That view. It took a moment to soak it all in. It was just so beautiful. It helped that we happened to be enjoying some seriously good weather. The sun was out and, although well into September, it was t-shirt and shorts for the bipeds.
Dad went to the ticket desk to see if a handoff was going to be needed. To our utter delight, he was informed that so long as I stayed in my sling bag … I was most welcome to join my bipeds on the next available English tour. YAY! Done and done! Dad bought the tickets, then with about 20 minutes to wait until our tour started, we visited the parts of the castle walls that are free to roam. I did this on my leash, happy as can be!
We started with the Well Tower. Key to the success of the castle was its own water supply within its walls. The old wooden treadwheel used for hauling water (a two person job) sits boldly in the middle of the gift shop. It’s a hoot!
Note: Touring the interior of the castle is done in two parts. If you want to see the Grand Tower, St. Mary’s Tower, or the Holy Rood Chapel, famous for the more than 2,000 precious and semiprecious inlaid gems adorning its walls, you MUST make a reservation. That tour (Tour 2) fills up way in advance; you will not be able to get in if you just show up. Please keep this in mind to avoid disappointment. (You can buy tickets and make reservations online.) Tour 1 usually has some room. It includes the Imperial Palace, the Royal Bedroom, and the Hall of Knights (or Vassals’ Hall).
Karlštejn (or Karlstein) is an imposing Gothic castle, and because it’s so close to Prague, it’s one of the most visited castle in the Czech Republic. Built in 1348 for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (who was also confusingly the king of Bohemia and more — the dude had like four crowns!), the castle was designed as a residence not just as a fort.
The castle was also a treasury, where the royal insignia, crowns, and jewels were to be stored. There were also lots of documents, works of art, and relics. All of it was defensible from pretty much any angle, including the Grand Tower where everything could be kept and where the last bridge could be destroyed to keep invaders out. The castle was, by the way, never – not once – starved out. It survived every siege.
The first floor of the Grand Tower has two rooms that were turned into a museum in the 19th century. More interesting is the Imperial Palace above, which was used by courtiers, with the second floor used by the emperor himself. The Holy Cross Chapel is stellar with a large collection of 129 portraits of saints and monarchs.
St. Mary’s Tower with its St. Catherine’s Chapel is unique. It was used as a quiet room and a place for contemplation by Charles the IV. The chapel is tiny but the walls are richly decorated with semi-precious stones, including a lot of amber, imbedded into the wall.
However, what I enjoyed the most was the tour of the actual Imperial Palace. There was something fascinating about the Vassals’ Hall, where the knights would sleep on the floor with their gear. Each had their own cabinet, though, to store their personal things.
And I enjoyed the first floor with it’s really beautiful ceilings, which was used by the courtiers.
And then there were the emperor’s private chambers and his bed …
And the statue of the Madonna in the bedchamber, guarding the door that lead to the queen’s room. It was interesting, not so much because of the statue itself, but because the door has an interesting feature: it can’t be opened from the other side. In other words, the king could go to the queen at any time, but she could not enter his room without having to knock at the door. Hmm …
And then there were the little mind games, like putting the throne between two windows to create an effect that basically blinded anyone looking at the throne and thus masking the king’s face. Talk about a poker face trick!
After we had a nature break and gazed out at the view for a bit longer, we headed back toward the train station. We walked down the mostly pedestrian street. Little shops dot each side. It was late in the tourist season so all was really quiet, but I have heard that it can be shoulder to shoulder in the summer months.
I was glad to have a chance to see the castle crowd free, giving me the opportunity to notice small details, like the little bridges over little moats separating the houses from the main street. And really lovely art.
Then the street ended. We turned left toward the train station, and since we had about 25 minutes until the next train, we stopped at the restaurant across the street. Dad ordered a coffee and Mom some sparkling water. Then, quietly, with about 5 minutes to go, we walked over, crossed to the second platform and hopped on our train back to Prague.
In review: Karlštejn castle is a must see with your dog. Small dogs are even allowed inside! The only thing that you really must be cautious about is ensuring you order your tickets for the Grand Tower and St. Mary’s Tower in advance.
And while you are at it, ask if the crown jewels are actually going to be there. When we visited, we got replicas! The real ones were touring the country. Grr. But the castle is still absolutely worth the visit!
Visiting Karlštejn Castle with a dog is an amazing way to spend a day in the Czech Republic! Just go!