Visiting Hradec Kralove Region in Czechia

Hradec Králové, or as the Czechs themselves say, Hradec, is the 8th largest city in Czech Republic with around93 thousand inhabitants, and is the largest city in Hradec Králové region, which is the 9th largest in the country. It also happens to be the area closest to our home country Latvia, just near the border with Poland!

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Practical Tips

Getting there: Hradec Králové can be reached by person car, driving, if you live anywehre in central Europe,. Alternatively, you can fly to Prague, rent a car there and proceed to drive ~130km til Hradec Králové!

Money: Remember that Czechia is not part of eurozone and uses Czech koruna (1 koruna is roughly 4 eurocents). In the smaller cities you will definitely need cash for cafes and parking.

Best time for a visit: we visited in summer, but you can definitely come in winter too, for example, to ski!

Cita informācija: Visit Czech Repulbic website has a lot of information to plan your trip, so be sure to check it out!

We consulted Reopen website dor the latest information on entry conditions. At the time of our visit, it was necessary to fill in the passanger location form (we are vaccinated). While noone asked to show us anything arriving in Prague airport, one of the hotels did request the certificate. During our trip FFP2 respirators were mandatory indoors.

Day 1 – arriving to Hradec Králové

After 518 days of not flying, it was such an overwhelming feeling of happiness to finally fly someplace! We took a connecting LOT flight through Warsaw, so even got an additional flight segment out of this experience! I must say, I have never appreciated in flight announcements, water and snacks this much before, and, of course, I have full phone of pictures with clouds!

I’d be lying if I’d said I wasn’t worried, it was almost like flying for the first time – so much information to read, all the stories from other travelers, but it turned out to be much easier than I expected! I was only asked about paperwork when checking in at the Riga airport, and noone checked anything on arrival, however I was told that random checks are sometimes done for arrivals.

Having arrived in Prague, we went to our car and after 1.5h on the road, we were in the city of Hradec Králové! It was the middle of the week, and you can find bars open, but not really cafes or restaurants at that hour, so we ate a quick snack in the hotel from the way, and went outside to soak in the first impressions!

Bílá věž  tower

The old town of Hradec Králové is well preserved and historically important. During the evening hours it seemed unusually quiet but also very charming! No people to be seen anywhere! For our trip we unfortunately didn’t have much time in the city itself, as we mostly travelled around, but definitely will be worth to come back! But what we did see was the stunning Holy Spirit Cathedral and Bílá věž tower, which was built in 1574 and is 72 m tall. We also went to the river Elbe (it meets Orlicke river within city limits), walked in the empty streets observing the brightly lit buildings, including the East Bohemian Museum,  and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

Hotel for the night: Hotel Vacek Pod Věží at the very city center with a view to the main square

Day 2 – Josefov Fortress, Hospital Kuks, Safari Parks, Nové Město Nad Metují castle

The next morning was an early one, with a quick breakfast on the terrace, observing the magnificent Bílá věž tower. The breakfast bufet was the same as usually in the hotels and there did not seem to be any restrictions.

Josefov Fortress

Our first stop of the day was the Josefov Fortress, which was built at the end of the 18th century. 20 thousand workers had labored to complete it, and they used around 250 million bricks in the process! It was built to protect against the Prussians, but has never seen any action. Nowadays the fortress is well know as the location of the metal festival  Brutal Assault. Thanks to this festival, the fortress is getting renovated, so metalheads are the true patrons of it!

Josefov fortress

Hospital Kuks Baroque Museum

When we stop at Hospital Kuks, i get confused and start looking in my notes what exactly was this place? The name suggests a hospital, but looks like a castle?! Turns out, it was a hospital, veteran home and a monastery, and is one of the most impressive baroque complexes in Cezchia. On the other side of the river there also used to be a spa.

best sightseeing places in Czech Republic Hospital Kuks

The story of this place started in 1684, when count Franz Anton von Sporck obtained this land. Kuks was well know for it’s medicinal springs, and the count wanted to build a world-renowned spa, which he succeeded to do! It was even more impressive than the one in Karlsbad! Unfortunately, nothing remains of the spa, as it was destroyed in a flood, but the hospital is still standing and since 1946 is a baroque museum.

One could spend hours here! We take a quick tour with a local guide who shows us the most impressive places – church hall, where we get a chance to listen to a performance with historic musical instruments, we learn a bit about the counts family and visit his crypt, walk in the beautiful herb garden, but most importantly, visit the spectacular baroque pharmacy!

baroque pharmacies in europe Czechia

It is the second oldest in Central Europe, and you can see quite unusual medicines there, for example, powdered mummy! Old bells were used to mix the medicines, and at the entrance there is a narwhal tooth, that also used to be mixed in for treatments. This pharmacy makes me think about the mysticism around it, and also the current discussions and trust (or lack of it) in the evidence based medicine.

Safari park Dvůr Králové

Next we are headed to one of the most well know and most visited places in Czechia! It is not a castle, it is not a museum, but a safari park Dvůr Králové! But first, one must eat! There is an African style café just at the entrance, with various enticing dishes, such as an ostrich ragout, Namibian steak and one can also purchase locally brewed beer (of course, this is Czechia!) that is not only tasty, but also benefits protection of the endangered species of rhinos! No safari park animals are harmed in the kitchen of this restaurant!

This is the second largest zoo in Czechia, and it is the largest African animal collection in Europe, specializing in exhibiting and protecting African species. However, you can come across some animals from other continents from the previous zoo times, such as Borneo orangutans, whom cannot be transported without risk to the animals, so it was decided to keep them in this zoo.

driving in Safari park Dvůr Králové in europe

Seeing animals, of course, is interesting, but the best part is the safari drive! You can either choose a bus or a tractor with two trailers, we opt for the tractor this time. Both are covered in nets. There are many people interested in taking a ride, so we must jump in and choose our seats – which is better, left or right? Later we realize that actually it depends more on where the animals are on this day. We stay on the right side and get superb view to the giraffes! There is even a small traffic jam next to it, as not only park buses and tractors can drive here, but one can come in their personal car too!

giraffe safari at Safari park Dvůr Králové largest zoos of europe

Time for lions! Before entering the lion territory, the attendant fixes all the nets in place. As soon as we go in, we understand why the ranger pick up is parked in a specific place – it is indicating where the lions are! We stop for a little while next to lions. The animals are sleeping. this time around better visibility is on the left, but you can see by the marks in grass that just a short while back they were sleeping elsewhere, so there is no one better seat!

Later we ask our zoo guide – the animals in the safari area, do they rotate them somehow between regular pens and the safari side? Turns out that no, the same animals are there all the time. For example, there are same two giraffe males. For other animals, there is a specifically configured herd so the animals would compete and fight with each other. Of course, lions live it a different safari park area, separated from the other animals. While the habitat is as close to original one as possible, it is not the same as it would be in the wild. In the winter the animals get moved indoors.

safari trucks at lion safari Dvůr Králové

We walk in the zoo, observing the underwater exhibits, Seychellois turtles, the famous rhinos and birds. We also learn that nowadays in bird exhibits just a few feathers get cut out from one wing to prevent the exotic birds from flying away. In the old days their wings would be damaged much more. However, it does sometimes happen that some birds try to escape, but most of the time they can just circle because of the missing feathers. Some of the bird exhibits are also under large nets. One can have different opinions about the zoo, but the more I visit them, the more I learn about the conservation efforts done by these establishments, also to offer genetic diversity and repopulation of the endangered species.

zebras at Safari park Dvůr Králové zoo

Nové Město Nad Metují castle

with so many impressions from the zoo, we head to the last sightseeing location of the day, Nové Město Nad Metují castle. We observe a similar sight like in Hradec Králové – the main square is used as a parking lot! Nothing to do! We head to the castle that becomes one of the most unusual places we see during the entire trip. At first one might think – what can be so unusual about a 16th century castle! The design!

Nové Město Nad Metují castle entrance

Throughout the years the castle has had many owners, it has also seen communist rule (later we hear the same story many times in other castles – used to be private property til the communists, then was nationalized, the owners run away to USA or Australia or someplace in Western Europe only to come back in the 90-ties to find the property in dire state needing massive investment). In this castle every owner it had, wanted to change it to fit the fashion of the time, and the result is really very strange. One room can have original wall paintings from the 15th century with modern carpet sporting astrology signs, a massive wooden table and Czech glass chandeliers. Art deco kitchen.

most unusual castles in the world Nové Město Nad Metují castle

Greek mythology scenes but drawn with mistakes, such as Minotaurus has three legs and a human face. Or the bedroom is facing four murals, each depicting legendary… suicide. At the present time one cannot spend the night in this particular room, but some of the other rooms in the castle are available for rent! And, of course, the castle is very grand – massive coats of arms (but the new ones by recent owners added to the old, original ones), and a beautiful view tower. In the museum you can also see such things as family pictures of the owners, the local blue blood, which does seem a bit odd. Overall, the tour is extremely interesting, but at time one does have to wonder about megalomania and a strange understanding of what is stylish. But at least no two rooms are the same, and seeing a few weird ones, you cannot wait to see what eccentricities await you in the next!

view from Nové Město Nad Metují castle

The Town of Nachod

After visiting the castle we head to our next hotel, in the town of Nachod, just 2km from the Polish border. This is the only place where we are asked to show our QR codes, and very soon we are in the room! Time to eat, and after the African cuisine we are really in the mood for something local! Soon we are at the hotel restaurant, ordering the local variety of dumpling with duck. It is called a dumpling, but not the kind we are used to! So when the dish arrives, we are a bit surprised, and also impressed by the sheer size! The price is just 9 euros, but two could easily eat and be full from one plate! We do make an interesting observation here though, the main dishes rarely have any kind of salad. Some slices of radish might be used for decorum, but not more than that. One of our friends says – this would be the perfect food for a day skiing on the mountain!

Nachod Czechia

After the meal we go for a small walk, wanting to buy some lemonade for the room, but turns out that everything is closed, but the smaller kebab places only take cash. The entire city seems to be at a rock concert tonight, as we hear the sound echoing through the city. Good thing we remember about the beautiful invention that is a gas station! Of course, there is a shop there, they take cards and plenty of choice as well!

Hotel for the night: Hotel U Beránka Náchod hotel is located at the main square.

Day 3 – Dobrošov Fortress, Orlické Mountains, Bellfounders Workshop, Skiing Track , Hike, Picnic, Church Neratov and Brewery

Dobrošov Fortress

The following day is the mountain day! On the way there, we stop at the Dobrošov fortress, that is about to open its doors to the visitors, and cannot stop appreciating the beautiful green scenery around. It is the middle of the summer, but the grass remains bright green!  I also realize that other than at the zoo, I am yet to see a single fly, and also mosquitoes are nowhere to be seen! How come? I am told it is because we are at the mountain!

Dobrošov Fortress Czechia

Orlické Mountains, Bellfounder’s and Ceramic Workshops

Orlické mountains are really very near the Polish border and span about 50 km, with the highest peak being Velká Deštná at 1115m. Our first stop is the town Deštné v Orlických horách, to visit the bellfounders and ceramic workshop Ateliér Zvonaře a Hrnčířky.

Jan Seda Ateliér Zvonaře a Hrnčířky

The owner of the workshop, Jan, speaks to us in Czech language and his son translates for us in English. He shares that when he decided to learn more about the craft of making bells, he realized that those are trade secrets kept in the family, passed on generation to generation. He spent his time at the library, researching the topic, tried himself, until he cracked all the mysteries! Now he has his own workshop. He used to sell bells at the trade fairs, but soon realized that the schedule was simply unsustainable, working the entire workweek making the bells, and then spending the weekend selling them, so now he has created a workshop of his own and tourists come to him! He also shows us the process of gluing two parts of a jingle bell together, and it turns out that the inner part, making the sound, is not a ball, but actually a hexagonal nut!

Ateliér Zvonaře a Hrnčířky store

He has worked with the local municipality to promote tourism to the area, created a fairy trail where one can collect stamps at each of the locations visited and even get some prizes, when all are complete. His wife Barbora also works in the workshop, making ceramic creations – functional cups and plates, and also decorative items. I was surprised to see that the workshop store takes credit cards, as the previous places we saw, didn’t!

I notice some unusual syrups in the shelves, and now realize where does the “herbal lemonade” come from in cafes! For example, calendula, dandelion, linden, and also more typical made of berries. We try the calendula one in the Kozí chlívek cafe nearby, and it is served using a natural straw from the field! I had seen plastic and pasta ones, but never natural ones!

natural straw

I am always eager to try the local cuisine when travelling, and while the dumplings I tried the day before where a bit much, when I heard about the curd dumpling variety with apricot jam and ginger cake topping, I was curious! It sounds like a dessert but actually is the main course, and turned out to me the tastiest dish I tried during the entire trip! The cafe was nice as well, a true ski chalet, so I imagine winters must be spectacular here as well!

Kozí chlívek cafe cottage cheese traditional dumplings

Ski Track, Chair Lift, Hike and Picnic

The ski track is the next place we visit! The chair lifts work during the summer as well, and we meet the owner there, who tells us that unfortunately last winter due to the global situation they couldn’t work, but usually the season is from the end of December to the beginning of March and they have high hopes for the upcoming up! He also hosts jumping competition here, which is part of FIS world cup.

skiing in Orlické Mountains

Although we just had lunch, we pick up the previously arranged picnic baskets and head up. The grass is even brighter here, dark forests below and a watchtower in the distance. The chair lift ride is short and sweet and soon we head to the St Matthew church, which is about 2km away from the chair lift. The views there are just out of this world! I take off my sunglasses with polarization effect a few times just to check if it really is that beautiful and bright. It is! No flies or other bugs here either!

picnic at Orlické Mountains

After the lovely meal we head back down to the ski center, where our car is parked, and head next, driving on a road that is following the border with Poland.

Orlické Mountains hikes

Church Neratov and Holy Beer

Our next stop is the Neratov church, the the only one in Czechia that has glass roof! The origins of this church take us back to the 14th century, and the current building was built at the start of the 18th century. During communist time the church was burned down, but as there wasn’t enough money to demolish it, it stayed untouched until now the glass roof was installed. During our visit there is a service, so we quietly peek in and then head upstairs to the tower, to see views from above, and then head to the German cemetery next to the church.

Neratov church glass roof

The locals are laughing that this church has fantastic marketing – when families visit, women head to see the church, but men go to the brewery next door. This brewery is unique because it uses holy water for making the beer! It is so popular that they barely manage to produce enough! While we take the refreshing lemon and hops non alcoholic beverage, a few cars stop to purchase the beer, even though the place is already closed for the day.

Neratov holy water hops drink

The border with Poland is just near us, and you can easily walk in, as in 2019 the historic bridge was finally restored, connecting the two countries and reinstating the old pilgrimage route again. The last year showed that the borders we are used to consider non-existing, can return again. A year ago a piece of string was put here indicating that the border was closed. Not that anyone wouldn’t be able to cross it, if they wanted to! Of course, no border guards or checks are done. We quickly enter Poland to breath in a bit of foreign air and come back right away!

Orlické river hiking trails

On the way to the hotel we quickly stop at an abandoned church where swallows are the masters, and at a beautiful hiking trail and stone bridge over Orlické river. I wish we had some time to hike it, but the trail is 5 km and it is already getting dark!

Hotel for the night: Hotel Studanka spa hotel surrounded by forest

Day 4 –  Chateux Doudleby, Kostelec nad Orlicí, Častolovice Chateux, Mechanical Nativity Scene, Open Air Museum Podorlický skanzen Krňovice, return to Hradec Králové

Chateux Doudleby

Our last full day in Czechia is a castle day, we have three castles or chateux ahead of us! All three are at the river Orlické, as the locals say – French chateux but in Czechia! The first stop is the chateux Doudleby, built in the 16th century. The story of this castle is similar to the ones I mentioned before, almost destroyed during communist rule and now owners are fighting to renovate the place.

We notice that the castle looks a bit different than the other ones we have seen before, it looks like someone had covered it in lace! Originally built as a hunting house used in the summer, it has seen a fair share of transformations throughout the years and now baroque exhibit is seen there. The owner, Mr Buben is the one who tells us the story of his castle. Interestingly, he basically has to tell us the story of his family, who did what, married whom, and the pictures on the wall are his and his mothers!

To make the visit more interesting for the whole family, the owner has a minizoo next to the castle and a small museum with an impressive collection of bugs, butterflies and local animals. Unfortunately, all information is in Czech language. I most enjoyed the walking sticks exhibit, especially, their Czech name strašilka! In Russian this name means a scary story told to children, so I find it very fitting next to a bug the size of my palm!

Kostelec nad Orlicí Castle

Our next stop is the chateux Kostelec nad Orlicí, where we were supposed to meet the owner count Kinsky. Unfortunately, the charismatic count isn’t feeling well, so we get a tour from a local guide, a young girl working here for the summer. I am positively impressed by her fantastic level of knowledge of the place! I even thought that she might be related to the family as she knows this much, but turns out she simply has learned all of it for the tour!

Tour at Kostelec nad Orlicí Castle

Častolovice Castle

Finally, the last castle of the day is the Častolovice pils, that again looks very different than the others, with an impressive garden and inner yard, and beautiful wall paintings! The owner is an interior designer, so she has worked very hard to restore the original look and feel of the place. As the money was short and the walls looked dire, she covered the walls with fabric, that looks spectacular, a motif of fruits looks especially exquisite! Turns out that the fabric was locally produced, was the cheapest variety used for men’s pajamas! Turns out that sometimes you don’t need to pay a lot of money for something to look beautiful!

most beautiful castles of Czechia Častolovice Castle

This castle also has a mini zoo next to it, and quite big one, with many varieties of local and not so local animals. You can also buy special cookies for the animals to feed them. What I especially like here is the unkept grass – only the place near the trail is mowed, but everything around is a fantastic habitat for butterflies and other insects!

We walk the vast garden, see the beautiful roses and then stop at the palace café to have a cold drink and something sweet. I sample a cake that looks a lot like the “wind cakes” we have in Latvia, but what catches my eye is the špicka cake that is German in origin, but considered a local dish here as well. This phallic cake with eggnog filling seems to be of a very particular shape for this to be a coincidence! Unfortunately, either the locals were shy or they didn’t know, but noone was able to tell me what is the story there!

Častolovice Castle rose garden

Mechanical Nativity Scene and Open Air Museum

After visiting the third castle we feel really tired, but the day is not done yet! Our next stop is the Mechanical Nativity Scene in the museum in the town of Třebechovice pod Orebem. The most impressive exhibit is the moving 2000 piece wooden carved nativity scene. It was made over 40 years, and has even been shown at the Montreal World Expo of 1967, where 8 million people saw it!

wooden Mechanical Nativity Scene

Finally, we head to our last place of interest during the trip, the open air museum Podorlický skanzen Krňovice. Here an Czech history enthusiast has collected several original and replicated buildings like they were in the 16th-18th century.

Czech traditional buildings at Podorlický skanzen Krňovice

Back to Hradec Králové

After the open air museum we head back to Hradec Králové, to wander the old town streets again and catch a few shots at the blue hour. This time around the city is more alive, it is Saturday night and many are out and about! Coincidentally, the same band that was performing in Nachod the other day, now is here!

Hotel for the night: Hotel Vacek Pod Věží same place as on the first night!

Last Day – Heading Home!

We ask for the hotel to serve breakfast a bit earlier to us, as we have a special plan – see the city from the top from the Bílá věž  tower! It is the first day that it is cloudy and soon starts raining, but the views are spectacular nevertheless and it truly allows us to see the whole city and places we visited last night! A definite must see when in Hradec!

Hradec Kralove from Bílá věž  tower

Then it is the time to head back home. We drive back to Prague airport, where everyone needs to present at the check in gate for the document check, show the QR code for vaccination and Latvian Covidpass, and soon we are airside! The security, that used to be the bottle neck at every airport, now is super smooth and in few minutes we are already having lunch at a restaurant next to the gate. That is how our first big trip abroad after such a long time concludes! Full of adventure, so many impressions and so much no information!

The article was made possible with the support from Visit Czech Republic.  All opinions are our own.

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  1. I see a lot of fantastic historical sites to visit here which is amazing! This is for sure going on my list for the new year. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hradec Králové looks like such a beautiful region! I had no idea there were so many stunning castles! They look so majestic! I want to visit them all! I’d love to visit the ceramics workshop too, I love meeting local artisans and finding unique, handmade souvenirs to bring home. Thanks for the great guide!

    1. Thank you, Hannah! I think it is important that we support local artists, as getting another “made somewhere else” magnet doesn’t help the locals at all. But this way, there is a family that gets to do what they love and make a living! So I am so happy that you picked up on this point in my story 🙂

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