The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men:Or How our Family Vacation Went Awry
No matter how well you research family travel destinations, there is something that can always come as a surprise. Since Lee and I have been to Prague numerous times, including last winter when we traveled to Prague with the baby, this year I wanted to go someplace new. In my research I came across Karlštejn Castle as a great family vacation spot that is close to Prague. However, once we got there I quickly realized that there were a few things that my research didn't prepare me for.
Karlštejn Castle is an easy day trip from Prague and one of the Czech Republic's most visited castles. All of the reviews listed the town as a peaceful mountain village good for family hikes and picturesque castle views. Sounds idyllic, right? Well, what my research failed to turn up is that the tourist season for this town is during the summer. IE in December, when we traveled to Karlštejn, the place was a ghost town.
To put it into perspective, food was done being served in the restaurants in Karlštejn by 16:00 and the rest of the night you'd be lucky to find anything open. None of the restaurants, bars, or shops at Karlštejn list hours of operation because there really don't seem to be set hours. Karlštejn Castle during December is open for tours from 10:00 - 15:00 and since that is the main attraction in the city, it's also the hours that the few places that were open tend to have their businesses open as well.
When traveling with a child, always bring extra food and water.
Being Flexible with Travel Plans
The extremely limited hours of the businesses in town meant that I had to be open to exploring whatever was actually open. While throwing your plans out the window can seem daunting, sometimes it works out just fine. How else would you go see things that you may never have done otherwise, right? At least, that's what I told myself when visiting places such as the wax and nativity museums.
Food in Karlštejn
A buffet breakfast was served at our hotel every morning, thank goodness. For lunch, we did a late lunch at different restaurants around town. Most of the restaurants in Karlštejn had high chairs and were kid friendly. Dinner wasn't an option since nothing was open past 16:00 so we stopped by the local bakery and grocery store to pick up things for the hotel room.
Traveling during the off season to a tourist destination may leave you with nothing to do
Wax Museum Karlštejn
Something I wouldn't normally visit but it turned out to be a fun way to spend 30 minutes. Karlštejn wax museum starts with this super cheesy kaleidoscope movie featuring the castle and the surrounding area. Then you walk through different scenes including a dungeon, a pub, the castle, and other famous figures. I found it a bit pricey for the experience but it's something warm to do during a foggy, freezing December day.
Museum Betlemu is a nativity museum in Karlštejn. Never having been to a nativity museum before, I wasn't sure what to expect. The entrance to this place is a bit confusing. When you first walk in, you'll need to go to the door to the right, not the wooden door in front of you to begin the tour. Interesting array of different nativity scenes with an animated nativity show upstairs (in Czech). Outside of the museum if you go to the barn looking building and put 10czk in the museum, you'll see an animated look inside an alchemist's lab, complete with flying dragon.
Be prepared for a hike to get up to the castle. Once at the castle, there are a few stairs to take but nothing strenuous. During the winter time, hours for castle tours are very limited. Karlštejn Castle has tours in English and Czech. In the high season, there are three tours to choose from but in the winter most of the castle is off limits leaving you with only one option for the tour.
All ages appropriate, this tour is guided and takes you through various rooms of the castle. Dress warmly because the temperature during the tour isn't much warmer than outside. Also, if traveling with a stroller to the castle, you'll have to leave it behind once you start the tour.
As far as family travel destinations go, Karlštejn Castle falls short on my list. This is probably due to going in December. I loved how safe the town was for kids. We were able to leave the stroller parked outside of restaurants while we ate and didn't have to worry about it getting stolen. People didn't mind children playing during mealtime. Plus, the town center is off limits to cars making it a very walkable city. However, with everything closing by 16:00 it made the timing of meals less than ideal. My advice if you really want to visit, either do the castle as a day trip or go in the summer.