Fortress of Old Royal Treasures
Work on what would become the massive Karlšejn castle complex began in 1348 at the orders of Charles IV, Czech king and Roman Emperor. From the very beginning, the structure was intended primarily as a place of safe keeping for the king’s collection of relics and treasures; the castle also served as a home for the Czech crown jewels for a period of approximately 200 years from the outbreak of the Hussite wars.
Construction of the massive three tiered castle was completed in 1365; at the lowest level is the Imperial palace with the Marian tower at the second level and the Great tower standing well above the other two. The three levels reflect their relative importance to each other in the structure. That the Imperial palace occupies the lowest tier clearly indicates that Karlštejn did not have royal residency as its top priority. While Charles IV did use it as a summer home, it was a stronghold and protective structure first and foremost.
Like many castles and Chateaus, Karlštejn has seen its share of stylistic reconstructions over the centuries. The castle saw late Gothic reconstruction in the late 1400s, Renaissance remodeling in the late 16th century and it’s current neo-Gothic styling from a reconstruction in the late 19th century.
Below the castle is the pleasant village which shares the castle’s name, the town has several souvenir shops, small museums and restaurants to occupy a variety of interests. One must pass through the village before proceeding to the castle, so plan for the day and give time to both.
Plan Before You Go
Karlštejn is one of the Czech Republic’s most famous and visited attractions; as such, some planning is required of anyone who wishes to get the most from a visit. Anyone who tries going there on the spur of the moment will likely come away a bit disappointed.
Three tours are available of the castle, but their individual availability is variable.
Tour route 1 consists of the Imperial palace and the lower floors of the Marian tower in which you can see several royal chambers and halls.
Tour duration: 50 – 60 minutes
Tour route 2 includes the upper floors of the Marian tower and the Great tower which includes the Chapel of the Holy Cross. The Holy Cross Chapel, with its lavish interiors, is the castle’s star attraction; as such, anyone wishing to go on this tour route is required to reserve a place in advance.
Tour duration: 100 – 110 minutes
Tour route 3 is the upper floors of the Great tower without the Holy Cross Chapel. this tour will afford you a tremendous view of the village below and the beautiful countryside surrounding the castle.
In some aspects, the castle’s exteriors outshine the interiors and I heartily recommend taking in the exteriors. There is an uphill walk to the castle from the village that will give you several opportunities to admire and photograph the structure. There are also several trekking and walking paths in the woods that surround the castle that will give you other views.
Plan a full day trip for Karlštejn if your itinerary allows. The castle, village and countryside together will make it worth the time.
Owing to its popularity and close proximity to Prague, Karlštejn is very easy to access from the capital. Several trains per day run from Prague’s main station and make a stop at Karlštejn en route to Beroun. The ride is about 20 – 30 minutes and passes through some very scenic areas.
One can also drive to Karlštejn, though I’m told parking can be a problem.
With regards to the uphill walk to the castle from the village, I would recommend you be of at least moderate physical fitness to try it. It’s a bit steep and requires strong legs and a good pair of walking shoes to manage well. If you feel you may not be up to the climb, you can take a taxi or horse carriage up to the castle.
For more information on the castle, tour availability, prices and reservations; the castle’s multilingual website can be found here: