Our Czech Republic road trip was one of the highlights of my most recent stay in Europe. We had about a week to spend in Prague, and wanted to see more than just the city itself. After a few days in one place, we were ready to hit the open road. As part of our itinerary, we planned on renting a car and driving to Hallstatt, Austria. Although it can be somewhat inconvenient at times, traveling by car is a great way to see a different side of the country and get a glimpse into the lesser known and lesser traveled areas. Despite our advanced planning, we still ran into some complications along the way. All in all, we had a blast.
Road Trip Highlights
Arriving in Cesky Krumlov – For our route, I decided that we’d break up the time in the car by stopping in the town of Cesky Krumlov. The village is insanely picturesque and almost doesn’t feel real. It was almost like walking through a theme park. When you park and walk in, you enter through steep archways, reminiscent of Roman architecture. We joked, that this would be a filming location for the next season of Game of Thrones.
Hill top Hiking – From the bottom, the steep hill in Cesky Krumlov looks daunting. But once you see the view from the top, you’ll realize why so many people flock to this UNESCO world heritage site. We got to one of the viewing platforms right before the sun started to set and it made for perfect lighting. If we had more time, we would’ve explored more of the high perched towers.
Christmas Markets and Street Food – We arrived in town on a Friday afternoon, just as the Christmas Market was setting up. Although it technically didn’t kick off til Saturday, tons of families were out enjoying the festivities in the square. It was substantially smaller than many of the other ones that we visited, but felt more authentic. Czech food is really interesting and remarkably heavy. For the just $10 USD, we got two orders of curly-fried potato chips, one sausage, one potato pancake, a pound of sweets, and two pretzel tubes.
Unique Souvenirs – I always struggle at deciding what to buy when I’m over seas. Do I want something that’s authentic and will remind me of the place that I’ve been? Of course. But it’s rare that I find something affordable that doesn’t fall into the knick knack category. In Prague, there are tons and tons of random, mass-produced items to choose from: fake garnet jewelry, faberge eggs, marianettes, and tee shirts. I’m not certain that any of these items actually originate in Prague, or have anything to do with the Czech Republic for that matter. In Cesky Krumlov we found a really awesome store that was filled with old prints, books, and post cards. I ended up getting a print from 1946 for $15 USD.
Creepy Castles, Detours, and Wildlife – My GPS decided to take us on an extremely scenic route after we left Cesky Krumlov for Austria. Since it was already dark, and we couldn’t figure out how to put our manual car into reverse, things got interesting rather quickly. The road we were supposed to be on was actually closed, and we were taken onto a tiny back road completely covered in snow. After seeing herds of deer and foxes, we decided it was time to turn around. We actually had to get out twice to push our tiny car. Once our car got on a reasonably safe road, the landscape became increasingly more inviting. Shortly after our correction, we passed a romantically creepy castle, illuminated and high perched in the dense forest. Our detour was annoying and frightening at first, but now we regard it as an interesting addition to our itinerary.
Getting to the Boarder – Arriving at the Austrian boarder was a milestone for our group. It was like landing safely on a runway after your flight lost a pilot and an engine. Suddenly roads were well lit, signs were easier to read, and lanes were clearly marked. The Czech Republic has come a long way in the last two decades, but there’s still a lot of work left in regards to infrastructure.
Waking up in Hallstatt – We got to Hallstatt a lot later than we ordiginally planned. In the morning, we woke up in front of a glacial lake, surrounded by snow-capped peaks. The views in Hallstatt were well worth the anxiety and stress in getting there. Pictures struggle to give a glimpse of it’s beauty. I did a rather lowsy job capturing the village, because I was too busy enjoying every second of it.
Costs and Logistics
- Transportation – If you want to plan a similar trip, you’re going to have to choose between renting a car, or taking the bus. We decided on the car, because splitting the cost 3 ways saved us a lot of money compared to the cost of 3 roundtrip bus tickets. There are shuttles that take you from Prague to Hallstatt, with a Cesky Krumlov stop, but you can expect to pay about $180 for a roundtrip ticket. This was close to what we paid for 3 days with a rental car. (TIP: We actually took a cab back to the airport when it was time to rent our car. We did this because it was a lot easier to find, slightly cheaper, and allowed us to avoid driving in the busiest parts of town.)
- Accommodations – Hallstatt was the most expensive town that we stayed in during our Recent trip. We payed about $120/night for a tiny apartment with one bed and a sleeper sofa. If you want to save money, consider spending the night in Cesky Krumlov, and making Hallstatt a day trip rather than an over night destination. I booked our apartment through booking.com, and we ended up having to pay an extra $20/night for having a third person. I was also extremely annoyed that our host only accepted cash, because we got charged a hefty fee to pull out morer cash at the ATM. If I had it to do over again, I would look for an airbnb close by.
- Gas Stations – If you’re planning to drive, you’ll love how convenient most of the gas stations are. Unlike in the United States, a great majority are built along the highway, so you don’t even have to get off at an exit. While we were there, fuel costs were higher than in the U.S., but reasonable. (TIP: Keep coins on hand if you plan to use the restroom. Bathrooms aren’t free and typically cost .50 cents or more.)
- Food and Groceries – We stopped at a store outside of Hallstatt and stocked up on groceries for breakfast and lunch. The town is known for it’s beauty, not for it’s food. For the most part, you’ll find that the food isn’t that extraordinary and rarely worth the price. It’s also important to note that grocery stores within the village keep odd hours. The larger store in town actually closed at noon on a Saturday and didn’t open at all on Sunday. Prices were more reasonable in Cesky Krumlov, and the street food was particularly awesome. I was pretty surprised by how many fast food options that we passed during our road trip. I will admit, I ordered food from a McDonalds for the first time in almost 2 years. I guess sometimes you just want something that’s predictable.
Miscellaneous Info – Czech Republic Road Trip
- Both Cesky Krumlov and Hallstatt have been growing in popularity due to social media trends. We were pretty surprised by the buses full of tourists, especially considering that we were visiting during off season. Recently, I’ve been reading more and more posts by people who were dissappointed by these towns. Sometimes reality doesn’t live up to expectations, and everyone’s opinion may vary. Travel should be for everyone, but sadly it can actually hurt certain destinations. Both of these areas are thriving, but if current trends continue, they could easily lose their authentic charm. I suppose that only time will tell.
- Hallstatt was enjoyable, but we didn’t feel an extremely warm welcome. We loved the scenic beauty, but it seemed that locals were frustrated by tourism.
- If you visit the Hallstatt region during the peak season, there are a lot more activities to choose from. There are salt mines, crystal caves, and high perched hiking trails. With this accessibility, you can expect to pay more for accommodations.