A man dressed as a monk asleep in the corner; children practicing archery; traditional craftsmen offering their wares—close your eyes in Křivoklát's strangely atmospheric courtyard and you can easily imagine the scene with hunters clattering back atop their horses. Because the castle is a little farther from Prague, it's much less crowded and more authentic, so you can let your imagination run wild as you wander the walls and gaze out on the surrounding forest and the Berounka River winding lazily by below. The evocative name helps as well, even if it's a little hard to pronounce (it means "twisted branches" in Czech). There also aren't many signs, which helps with the feeling that you are having an adventure. You'll meet a lot of locals, rather than tourists, enjoying the castle, mainly because it's a national favorite thanks to its many romantic references in Czech literature. The river area is also popular with hikers and cyclists.
Křivoklát began life as a humble hunting
lodge back in the 12th century. Greater things were to come, thanks to King Wenceslas I, who commissioned the first castle here. Future inhabitants expanded and beautified the place, including Charles IV and his son, Wenceslas IV. A number of fires significantly damaged the buildings, and toward the end of the 16th century it lost its importance and fell into disrepair. Following the Thirty Years' War, the Schwarzenbergs took over and revived it. It's been in state hands since 1929.
A walk around the castle walls is one of the most enjoyable reasons to visit. Take a tour and you'll pass through the Great Hall (one of the largest Gothic halls in Central Europe, second only to one in Prague Castle) plus another hall, both loaded with Gothic paintings and sculpture; a beautiful chapel (another highlight of the interior tour), the castle library, a castle prison complete with torture instruments, and lots of hunting trophies. It's truly one of the more interesting castle tours around. One-hour tours are offered regularly in Czech, and tours in English must be requested in advance. If you didn't plan ahead, sitting in the courtyard and nursing a beer from the hilltop pub is also enjoyable.