Often known as Carlsbad, Karlovy Vary has attracted famous people throughout history. This includes names like Mozart, Beethoven, Freud, Casanova.
Even big movie stars today escape here during their annual film festival. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in the Czech Republic to unwind and rejuvinate – especially if you’ve just been to one of the more adventurous areas like Bohemian Switzerland or Bohemian Paradise like we did before our visit!
However, you do not have to be a celebrity to enjoy or experience the glamour and healing characteristics of this enchanting city. Anyone can visit and enjoy its curative powers.
After all, taking a vacation is good for your health and reduces stress! Why not double down and take your next vacation to a world-renowned spa town? We highly recommend including this place on your Czech Republic itinerary.
Here are all the best things to do in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic to really enjoy yourself!
What to Do in Karlovy Vary
Unwind at the Karlovy Vary Spa
Undoubtedly, one of the best things to do in Karlovy Vary is enjoy their world-class spas they are famous for. The Czech Republic is actually famous for their spa towns, which is why we think its one of the world’s best wellness getaways and Karlovy Vary is easily the most famous of them all.
Charles IV discovered the Karlovy Vary hot springs during a hunting expedition. Since then, they have become famous and drawn crowds for the springs healing properties.
There are 79 hot springs discovered in Karlovy Vary and 13 can be visited by strolling through each of the colonnades in town (more below as another great pick for what to do in Karlovy Vary).
The springs located inside the colonnades are used today for internal and external healing and therapy by locals and visitors. They each vary in temperature.
Of course one of the more luxury things to do in Karlovy Vary is to visit one of the many spas and wellness centers within the city for treatments. Some even have outdoor swimming pools with excellent views.
The different treatments offered vary from spa to spa. The most common are:
- Muscle relaxation with the baths
- Baths infused with carbon dioxide for strengthening the immune system, blood circulation, and calming the muscles.
- Body wraps with carbon dioxide to increase oxygen in the bloodstream as well as improve circulation.
- Massages and hydrotherapy sessions
Most hotels include a spa for their guests, we stayed at the Quisisana Palace which had a private spa for us to enjoy! Or you can book one of the more intensive spa treatments that last up to a week.
The spa treatment package needs to be arranged in advance and typically includes your stay and a therapy regimen during the time of your treatment.
If you’re just visiting on a shorter time like we were you can experience the spas still either at your hotel or you can go to one of the most famous spas in town at Alzbetiny Lázne-Lázne V or Sanatorium Baths III for their treatments as an ‘outpatient’ service.
There are all kinds of different services to choose from at these spas, our hotel spa was more of a relaxation room we had to book a time where we could soak in the curative waters and just sit under a heat lamp. You can find any spa services you want here from just soaking in a warm bath to a full one-week treatment.
This is definitely what to do in Karlovy Vary if you’re looking for the ultimate pamper yourself and wellness retreat.
Try the Mineral Water
The next best thing to do in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic that you really can’t miss trying is the mineral water from the various springs throughout town.
Walking through Karlovy Vary you’ll notice people carrying around a small porcelain cup with a spout and handle. You will want to purchase one of these at many of the gift shops or even your hotel! This way you can sample some water from the natural mineral springs to get some healing internally.
The design of this interesting and unique cup is to give the water a chance to cool down in the long spout before reaching your mouth! It takes some practice to get used to, but it becomes a really great souvenir to take home too!
Each spring is said to have its own healing properties and vary in temperature. People have been using this treatment since the 16th century.
They have sipped on the mineral springs to help their digestion, metabolism, and even musculoskeletal system to name a few. The cooler temperature waters are said to have more of a laxative effect while the warmer temperatures have a calming effect.
Be ready though, the mineral water has a strong salty taste. It’s meant to be consumed in small portions. Do not overdo it as you could work against yourself and get sick!
Locals who have been using these curative mineral water’s powers for years can consume up to 1-4 liters per day. However, if this is your first time take it easy and just try a few sips from each spring and pace yourself.
We were told that if you consume too much, you can give yourself diarrhea or even worse breakout in hives. We were fine, but we did sip in moderation.
Check out the Beautiful Colonnades
One of our favorite things to do in Karlovy Vary was to visit any or all of the five major colonnades. This is where you can find most of the springs to sip mineral water from as well!
The colonnades themselves are magnificent to look at! Enjoy the beautiful architecture with your mineral water.
The Mill Colonnade
The Mill Colonnade or Mlynska is the most impressive and easily recognizable colonnades and what to do in Karlovy Vary if you’re looking for a great photography location.
Its architecture is Pseudo-Renaissance, and it contains the most springs of any of the other colonnades at 5 total. The inside and outside are incredibly picturesque. We especially loved the nave with the clocks.
This colonnade was designed by Josef Zitek, a famous Czech architect between the years of 1871 and 1881.
Be sure to also notice the details here, there are 12 allegorical statues that represent the 12 months of the year in the colonnade attic gable.
The five mineral springs are the Mill Spring, the Rusalka Spring, the Prince Wenceslas Spring, the Libuse Spring, and the Rock Spring.
The Park Colonnade or Sadova is another impressive and intricate architectural structure made up of cast iron dating back to 1881. This colonnade is home to three different springs including the popular snake spring.
This beautiful structure is the last remaining piece of the concert and restaurant hall that used to be here known as Blanensky Pavilion.
The Market Colonnade or Trzni is a beautiful Swiss-style structure made of wood dating back to 1883. It was under restoration and construction during our visit, but you could still see some of the beautiful details in the woodwork.
There are three springs inside including the Charles IV Spring, the Market Spring, and the Lower Castle Spring.
The Castle Colonnade or Chateau is made up of stone in Art Noveau style dating back to 1912. The entire colonnade is not accessible and only contains two springs, the upper and lower springs.
We sadly missed this colonnade during our visit to Karlovy Vary as it wasn’t open to the public during our visit, only to guests of the Castle Spa or Zámecké lázně.
The Castle Colonnade was converted into the Zámecké lázně, one of the wellness centers where you can get a local signature spa treatment. You can book as little as a 3-hour treatment to a 3-day treatment in one of the most historic locations in the city!
Hot Spring Colonnade
One of the best hot springs to visit and things to do in Karlovy Vary is go to the Hot Spring Colonnade or Vridelni is a modern structure built between 1969-1975 in the Functionalistic style of architecture.
The spring here pumps out the most mineral water at once at a rate of 2,000 liters per minute. The indoor complex has 5 different areas where you can try the different hot springs and is a good place to purchase your drinking up and one of the local spa wafers.
You can recognize the Hot Spring Colonnade not only by its modern look but also by the steam and hot spring fountain spurting water outside. There are also plenty of places to take a rest and sit for a bit as you sip on your mineral water here as well.
This is actually the third hot spring structure built on this site!
Try a Famous Karlovy Vary Wafer
This is what to do in Karlovy Vary if you love trying new sweets! Known as spa wafers, you might actually see these for sale in popular tourist souvenir spots in Prague because of their popularity!
The popular snack is a must when planning for all the different things to do in Karlovy Vary.
However, today’s spa wafer is very different from the orginal. The original was a wafer with a light dusting of sugar on them made for spa guests.
What you’ll try today is more like a giant, flat layered wafer with fillings like chocolate, hazelnut, or vanilla inside!
What makes these wafers impossible to replicate anywhere else is their key ingredient, the local Karlovy Vary spring water which has a distinct salt from the local waters in it.
Because of their popularity, a wafer bakery opened in the late 19th century and since then they have become even more popular and a local staple. This is also a really great gift to bring home too!
You’ll see people walking around eating their giant Karlovy Vary wafers, be sure to try a few of the different flavors too!
Admire the Gorgeous Architecture by Foot
Besides the beautiful colonnades, the entire city is full of opulent and extravagant architecture from every spa, hotel, and building present. One of our favorite things to do in Karlovy Vary was just to walk around and admiring all the different styles of buildings.
The exquisite buildings are a blend of Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Classicism, Neo-Baroque, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau styles are as eye-appealing on the inside as the outside. Easily one of the nicest things to do in Karlovy Vary.
You feel as if the entire town was built only for noblemen and the wealthy just by appearance. You can’t help but be in awe by the beauty and elegance of the entire city.
Shopping in Karlovy Vary
This is what to do in Karlovy Vary if you’re a big fan of shopping! Luxury and designer shopping goes hand in hand with a city full of extravagant architecture and lavish spas, so make sure to check out the boutiques in Karlovy Vary.
The streets lining the Tepla River are full of shops containing designer apparel, fur jackets, leather shops, and anything frilly you can think of.
You can also find plenty of locally run cosmetic and skincare stores featuring everything from beer infused skincare to Karlovy Vary mineral salt skincare products.
For those not able to afford the designer labels there are other options for shopping at a shopping mall near the city center with brands like H&M.
James Bond Filming Locations
One of the fun things to do in Karlovy Vary is to check out where some famous films were shot! If you’re anything like us, discovering that we are visiting famous shooting locations for some of our favorite movies is super exciting.
Two popular US Blockbuster movies filmed here, which include Casino Royale featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond and The Last Holiday with Queen Latifah.
We were most intrigued with 007 being here in Karlovy Vary because they also did some filming in Loket nearby, another one of our picks for best things to do in Karlovy Vary.
They filmed scenes from Casino Royale here in Karlovy Vary. However, Karlovy Vary is actually the setting for Montenegro in the film.
One filming location was the Grand Pupp Hotel and the former Kaiserbad Spa just next door. You can also spot the city in some smaller scenes.
We ended up splurging for a date night and enjoying a dinner in the same restaurant and almost the same table location as James Bond in the Grand Pupp Hotel. This is a fun experience if you’re a Bond fan!
Visit the Medieval Town of Loket
Another one of the best things to do in Karlovy Vary is visit the nearby storybook village of Loket. This medieval town is really fun to explore by foot and is only about a 25-minute drive away from Karlovy Vary.
We recommend planning a morning or afternoon to enjoy this beautiful town’s center and the really amazing old stone castle, one of the oldest stone castles in the Czech Republic.
We were reminded a bit of the storybook and enchanting village of Cesky Krumlov in South Bohemia as the Ohre River wraps around the city in a similar way.
Even though we visited on a rainy day it was still breathtaking! We love all the colorful buildings.
You can self-guide your way through Loket Castle by weaving your way through the chambers, rooms, dungeon, and ramparts.
There are interesting artifacts inside and the torture chamber section will give you the chills. As you’re walking around the castle perimeter you can visit the Black Tower for free and take a peek at the goats that live along the outside of the castle walls.
While visiting the town center you can witness the spot where James Bond famously parked his Aston Martin. The restaurant next door Goethe is where Bond and Vesper met Matthis.
Be sure to enjoy a delicious lunch at St. Florian Brewery before heading back to Karlovy Vary.
Try the Local Spirit
Another must-try item and quintessential thing to in Karlovy Vary is try the local spirit, Becherovka. This herbal spirit originates here and is used not only as an alcoholic drink but as a digestion aid.
It’s also said to be better for you than cough syrup if you’re worried you’re about to get sick! We haven’t tried this yet but I think we should.
You can find this for sale all over Karlovy Vary and it’s an easy to find spirit to order at any bar or restaurant in the Czech Republic.
Becherovka is surprisingly easy to drink and has a unique gingery cinnamon flavor. We ended up loving it so much we bought ourselves a bottle at duty-free!
We will be sure to get a bottle next time one of us has a cold.
Where to Stay in Karlovy Vary
Our room had an incredible balcony overlooking the river and the famous scenes where Casino Royale was filmed!
The rooms were luxurious complete with a fireplace and chandeliers. We didn’t want to leave.
The best perk to staying at Quisisana Palace would be their private spa you can reserve for up to two hours while staying at their hotel. The spa is prepared with a temperature controlled tub with spring water, steam room, sauna, shower, lounge chairs, citrus water, and tea for the ultimate private relaxation experience.
For more places to stay in Karlovy Vary, check the map below:
Have you been to Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic? What did you think of its healing properties?
If you need help planning your trip, don’t miss our Czech Republic travel guide covering everything from transportation, accommodation, food, money, and more!
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