Aerial view of Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

A view of Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Cesky Krumlov

Tucked into a bend of the Vltava River about three hours by car from Prague, Český Krumlov ranks among the Czech Republic's prettiest towns and the country's second most popular tourist destination. Because many visitors come for the day, making the restored medieval town quite crowded, it's wise to stay overnight so that your family may enjoy the fairy tale-like setting in the evening when the flocks of tourists thin.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Český Krumlov dates back to the 13th century; its Baroque- and Renaissance-period homes line the cobblestone streets, where winding paths lead to hidden squares and passageways. The town's jewel, the hilltop Český Krumlov Castle, or hrad in Czech, contains 300 rooms, making it the second largest castle in the Czech Republic (Prague Castle is the largest).

The lower part of the castle was built in 1302 by the Rožmberk family who held the castle for 300 years. On a tour, ask children to look for the family's crest, a five-petal red rose. By the 16th century, the lower castle area contained the brewery, barracks, and stables. One way to access the castle includes crossing a stone bridge, above a moat where real bears lounge around, usually sleeping. Legend has it that the Rožmberks bred bears to keep by the moat, symbolizing the family's connection (mostly fictional) to northern Italian noble clans whose crests depicted bears. A bear festival is held annually on Christmas Eve, a fun event for children.

Climb the Zámecká věž (tower) for a panoramic view of the town. More highlights include the marble chapel, the Renaissance-era ballroom decorated with trompe l'oeil murals, the dining room adorned with tapestries, and the Zámecké divaldo (Baroque theater) with its original stage lighting rack, scene-changing machinery, props, and costumes. In July and August, the castle's open-air theater in the garden hosts opera, ballet, and other performances.

Český Krumlov's main square, Náměstí Svornosti, contains over 300 historic buildings including a Gothic town hall and the 15th-century church of Saint Vitus. If your kids haven't had enough of historic buildings, enjoy the picture-book setting by meandering through the streets browsing for souvenirs. Kids find the usual T-shirts and adults can browse shops with Czech crystal and Bohemian garnet jewelry.

An easy hike in the surrounding hills will give you a sense of the countryside. Pass by whitewashed farmhouses and follow sparkling streams through pine and linden forests. Check with the tourist office for outfitters offering rafting and canoeing on the Vltava.

Hungry? Pivni Katakomby, a restaurant carved out of a cave, features steamy garlic soup served in thick bread bowls and goulash (tell picky eaters it's "beef stew"). And if the kids insist, Český Krumlov also has a wax museum and an exhibit on torture.

Tip: Consider an evening castle tour. The lights add atmosphere and the crowds are lighter than during the day.

For more information: www.ckrumlov.cz; www.czechtourism.com

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Nikki rates Cesky Krumlov
I love the gardens and the people, and will be getting married here
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