Visiting Konopiště Castle with a Small Dog
One day we woke up and could see that Mother Nature was uncertain as to what she was going to wear that day. Was it going to be blue skies and warm rays of sunshine? Or maybe cool grey with a hint of late summer breeze, something more melodramatic, complete with rain and menacing clouds? Who knew? In case of the latter, our first instinct was to stay in Prague, but then we thought … Why not! Let us go see Konopiště Castle. In the worst case scenario, we would turn back. So off we went!
Konopiště Castle is an hour away by train from Prague’s main train station, where you can buy your tickets to Benešov u Prahy and back for what was less than $10 Canadian per biped. TIP: Inform the ticket agent that you are travelling with your dog. If you forget your small dogs carrier, or they don’t accept the sling as a “carrier” – as happened for us that day, you will need a ticket. Otherwise, if you have a sling or bag, small dogs travel for free.
When you get off the train at Benešov u Prahy, do not expect to see the castle. You’ve got a bit of a ways to go yet —— not enormous distances like for Kutna Hora, but it’s not just a skip away either.
We chose to walk to the castle (a 25 minute walk) and save the really cute, “mini train” for our trek back. Walking and the little train are your two easiest options for travelling the distance between the main train station and the castle. Although I was also told you can take the local bus. But it wasn’t raining and so walking was choice #1! And it was easy enough. The interesting weaving and rather scenic route is marked by painted stripes. (Thanks, Rick Steves, for that tip in your guide book, and thank you, Airbnb hosts, for having the book!)
White—yellow—white painted horizontally! And they are on everything, from crosswalk signs to people’s fences to trees! But they certainly ensure you find your way!
Eventually, you will end up entering the huge wooded area of the castle’s parklands. It’s absolutely beautiful. Even with an unpleasant damp chill in the air, we couldn’t help but be in awe of the 555 acres before us. We knew we would only see a small section but we were so glad we had given ourselves time to really enjoy it.
Statues everywhere … a lake … a terraced garden … a deer park and, Mom’s favourite (even off season), the rose garden.
Personally, I was a fan of meeting a peacock face to face for the first time. Well, HELLO!
Eventually the paths led us to the castle proper. It sort of appears in a rather sudden and majestic manner.
The castle is really popular so we recommend you go early. We messed up and went a bit later in the day. As such, we had fewer options for the English guided tours. We ended up not going inside for that reason, and because the interior isn’t pet friendly so we would have had to do a hand-off.
Should you be interested, however, note that the castle tours are split into three: the south wing with its saloons, period furniture, and paintings and porcelain; the north wing, which is the oldest part of the castle with gothic and renaissance architecture; and the private rooms of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (yup, that Ferdinand).
You can pay to visit each area separately or buy a combined ticket, which allows you into all three parts and gives you entry into the St. George Museum and the shooting range (which is not where that Ferdinand was shot). They also have self-guided headphones as an option, too. If you can do a handoff with your dog, then go for that. One person can enjoy the massive gardens while the other goes inside, and then switch!
In our case, as it was now past noon, we were a bit cold and hungry. So we decided to skip the inside of the big baroque-style castle and settled, instead, in the local traditional Czech restaurant called Stará Myslivna, which is … yep, right there, INSIDE the castle. We figured that would do just fine! We walked past the old elevator shaft that was installed by Archduke Ferdinand and found the restaurant. They didn’t mind me in my bag, so we settled and enjoyed a really good meal!
About the Archduke … Some of you may know him as the man whose assassination led to the First World War. To those at the castle, he was known mostly for his hunting. The palace has over 300,000 hunting trophies. Something my vegetarian’ish bipeds sort of didn’t want to see, to be honest.
The Archduke was also obsessed with weapons and armour, so he also collected those. There is an impressive collection of the best that Europe had to offer throughout history and during the Archduke’s time, if that is your thing. Personally, I think the poor man was just sort of … well, unhappy.
He bought Konopiště Castle as a refuge, you see. Criticized openly for marrying the woman he loved, a Bohemian noblewoman by the name of Sophie Chotek, the man felt the need to leave the Viennese court and find refuge in his castle from the hostilities. He lived there until he and his wife were murdered by an assassin in Sarajevo. I will never understand why humans will not just let each other love who they will. sigh
Anyway, after our delicious meal, we wondered down past the bear in his bear pit (that is something we just can’t condone) and enjoyed the lush greenery all around us.
Mom took a look at the rose garden for a bit and then the lake where there was a bit of a children’s fair going on, complete with cotton candy and singers and puppets!
We could have walked for hours and hours on the pet friendly grounds. Even just around the lake would have taken a good 45 minutes. But the skies were growing really dark and menacing at this point and without umbrellas, we decided it may be best to head back to the train station for the next available train back (TIP: Get the schedule of returning trains when you first arrive so you know when to get back and avoid wasting time at the train station!)
We were about to ask the man who drives the little tourist train if dogs are welcome on board when a lady with a BIG dog, who had obviously been enjoying the grounds, got on without so much as a “by your leave,” so on we hopped as well after Dad got our tickets.
That little trip was fun! And before we knew it, we were back on the BIG train to Prague —— warm and looking forward to finding a nice place for dinner. We wish the weather had held up so we could have visited the town of Benešov proper. But given the storm that came in that evening I think we made the right call. I would love to go back and see it all under the sun.
In review: Visiting Konopiště castle with a small dog – or any size dog really – is a great idea! The castle has gorgeous and extensive pet friendly grounds to visit. Once further away from the castle proper and the tourists, we found paths that made us feel alone in the woods ——almost like in old bohemian fairy tales. I even got to run off leash, but do be cautious about that: the castle is home to a large number of birds of prey, some domesticated and trained, some not. So look UP first!