Visit an underground power plant, the largest mining museum, or ride the steepest railway in the Czech Republic. Sitting in the centre of Europe, with Germany to the west, Poland to the north, Slovakia to the east and Austria to the south, the Czech Republic has one foot in Western Europe, and one in the Slavic East. Everyone who visits the Czech Republic starts with Prague, the cradle of Czech culture and one of Europe’s most fascinating capitals. Prague offers a near-intact medieval core of Gothic architecture that can transport you back 500 years – the 14th-century Charles Bridge, connecting two historic neighbourhoods across the Vltava River, with the castle ramparts and the spires of St Vitus Cathedral rising above, is one of the classic sights of world travel.
But the city is not just about history. It is a vital urban centre with a rich array of cultural offerings and a newly emerging foodie scene. The Czech Republic’s location at the heart of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire has seen a long history of raiding tribes, conquering armies and triumphant dynasties. This turbulent past has left a legacy of hundreds of castles and chateaux – everywhere you look there seems to be a many-turreted fortress perched above a town, or a romantic summer palace lazing peacefully amid manicured parkland. The number and variety of Czech castles is simply awe-inspiring – everything from grim Gothic ruins clinging to a dizzy pinnacle of rock, to majestic, baroque mansions filled with the finest furniture that Europe’s artisans could provide.
The best beer in the world just got better. Since the invention of Pilsner Urquell in 1842, the Czechs have been famous for producing some of the world’s finest brews. But the internationally famous brand names – Urquell, Staropramen and Budvar – have been equalled, and even surpassed, by a bunch of regional Czech beers and microbreweries that are catering to a renewed interest in traditional brewing. Never before have Czech pubs offered such a wide range of ales – names you’ll now have to get your head around include Kout na Šumavě, Svijanský Rytíř and Velkopopovický Kozel.