An hour or so outside of Prague, in the North of the Czech Republic and still (perhaps mercifully) largely unknown to tourists, there lies a national park and hiking area known as Český Ráj.
The name translates as ‘Bohemian Paradise’, and it’s a name well earned. With dense forests, winding hiking trails, and majestic rock formations that look like they’ve come straight out of Jurassic Park, this place epitomises the Czech wilderness
After hearing many glowing reviews from my Czech friends, I decided to take a trip out of the city this weekend to see what all the hype was about.
How Do You Get There?
Český Ráj is pretty huge, and there are a few different towns dotted about the region that you can use as a base for exploring. If you have access to a car, it may be possible to stay somewhere more remote, but otherwise there are two realistic options:
Turnov – this is the most practical location, as it’s situated right in the centre of the park, although it’s fairly small. Buses run frequently from Cerny Most (at the end of the metro B line), taking around 1 hour 20. If you prefer to take the train, these depart Hlavni Nadrazi train station every two hours but take a little longer.
Jičín – this is where I stayed, and the remainder of the post will focus mostly on this little town. It’s slightly further away from the park than Turnov, but still within walking distance, and a charming place with enough entertainment to keep you busy for a few days. It can be reached from Cerny Most using the RegioJet buses, which depart twice a day and take about 1 hour 30 (I took this route and it was just fine). There is the also the option to take a train from Hlavni Nadrazi, although this will take significantly longer. Of course, the most convenient method by far is to drive.
Where Can You Stay?
Our base for the weekend was Jičín, and it was relatively easy (and cheap) to find a place to stay using AirBnb beforehand (this is also an option for Turnov).
Other accommodation options include the usual hotels and hostels, such as the luxurious Grand Praha Hotel. While Jičín is fairly small, there’s still a reasonable amount of choice when it comes to accommodation, and you can expect to pay somewhere in the region of 1000CZK (about 40EUR) per night if you look in the right places.
Although it’s the biggest town in the region, Jičín is still small– and I really do mean that. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by choice when it comes to restaurants and bars; while the food is great and the atmosphere welcoming, there are very few places to hang out in the evenings.
Zamecka Restaurant, which is located on the main square, was a personal favourite and combines delicious food with a friendly vibe.
There are a handful of bars and pubs in the town, although most close relatively early. Nobody really comes to Jičín in search of a wild party, though, so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a small town, not many people in Jičín speak perfect English. However, the people I encountered there were extremely friendly and more than happy to tolerate my abysmal Czech.
You’ll probably be able to get by (just about) using English; however it’s always a good idea to have some basic Czech knowledge, if only to show the locals that you care enough about their language to learn a few words of it.
The main attraction of Český Ráj is the gorgeous natural scenery and the opportunity to get out of the city and spend some time in nature. One of the most famous parts of the region, and the ‘poster child’ of Český Ráj, is the Prachov Rocks area.
Known as Prachovské skály in Czech, these mind blowing geological formations can be seen from miles around and are a protected site. They’re around 5km away from Jičín, and there are a number of ways to get there:
- By Car – Easily the best way to reach the rocks. From Jičín you can get pretty much anywhere in Český Ráj in a matter of minutes by car, and most of the larger tourist sites offer parking for a small fee (around 70CZK).
- Taxi – Taxis run from Jičín and other towns to various parts of the park, and fares are reported to be around 200CZK (I didn’t try this method). It’s an expensive option if you plan on making more than one trip outside of the town, and just like everywhere else in the world taxis will charge more if they think you’re a tourist.
- Bicycle – this is probably the best way to get around Český Ráj if you don’t have a car. You can rent bikes in Jičín for around 300CZK per day, and the surrounding countryside is cyclist-friendly.
- By Bus – Buses run from the main towns in the area to the rocks, but the intervals are infrequent and the buses are often late. On paper this seems like the quickest and most cost-effective way to get around, but be wary of its unreliability.
- On Foot – This is the method I chose, and I’d hesitate to recommend it. The 5km from Jičín to Prachov is almost all uphill, and in 25 degree heat it was uncomfortable to say the least. What’s more, after a day of hiking around the forest, the last thing you’ll want to do is embark on a 1 hour+ journey back home.
At the rocks, there is a small entry fee (70CZK for adults, 30CZK for students and senior citizens, and 170CZK for a family). Once inside, you can enjoy several hiking trails of varying difficulty, some truly splendid views, and swathes of unspoilt and lush woodland. There are a number of small stop-off points at the end of each trail where you can replenish your energy reserves with food and beer.
If you’re into rock climbing, many of the rock formations here present a great opportunity to test your skills and experience the scenery from a unique perspective.
Overall, Český Ráj makes for a great weekend away. A few days here is all you really need to enjoy some of the gorgeous Czech scenery, reconnect with nature, and escape the city.
It’s affordable, accessible, and great fun, so get out there!
- Be aware of early closing times – in Jičín almost all kitchens close at 21:30, and most large supermarkets finish up even earlier than that. If you’re scheduled to arrive after this time, or won’t have time to find a place to eat, it’s definitely a good idea to stock up on some snacks beforehand.
- Don’t forget sunscreen in summer – summer is definitely the best time to visit this region, but it comes with risks. You’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors, so make sure to pack some sunscreen to avoid getting burned.
- Bring suitable footwear – if you intend to go hiking (which, in Český Ráj, you definitely should!) then make sure you bring appropriate shoes or boots. High heels or leather brogues aren’t going to cut it in the Czech countryside.