Like any good protective fortress, the castle is visible from a distance, but you may wonder how to get there. From the main square, take Radniční Street across the river and head up the staircase on your left from Latrán Street. (Alternatively, you can continue on Latrán and enter via the main gateway; also on your left.) You'll first come across the oldest part of the castle, a round 13th-century tower renovated in the 16th century to look something like a
minaret, with its delicately arcaded Renaissance balcony. Part of the old border fortifications, the tower guarded Bohemian frontiers from the threat of Austrian incursion. It's now repainted with an educated guess of its Renaissance appearance, since the original designs have long been lost. From dungeon to bells, its inner secrets can be seen climbing the interior staircase. Go ahead and climb to the top, you'll be rewarded with a view of the castle grounds and across the countryside.
Next up is the moat, fearlessly protected by a pair of brown bears—truthfully not really much help in defending the castle; their moods range from playful to lethargic. But bears have been residents of this moat since 1707. In season, the castle rooms are open to the public. Crossing the bridge, you enter the second courtyard, which contains the ticket office. The Route 1 tour will parade you past the castle chapel, baroque suite, and Renaissance rooms. The highlights here are the 18th-century frescoes in the delightful Maškarní Sál (Masquerade Hall). Route 2 takes you through the portrait gallery and the seigneurial apartments of the Schwarzenbergs, who owned the castle until the Gestapo seized it in 1940. (The castle became state property in 1947.) In summer you can visit the Lapidarium, which includes statues removed from the castle for protection, and the dungeon.
A succession of owners all had the same thing in mind—upgrade the castle a bit more opulently than before. Vilém von Rožmberk oversaw a major refurbishment of the castle, adding buildings, heightening the tower, and adding rich decorations—generally making the place suitable for one of the grandest Bohemians of the day. The castle passed out of the Rožmberks' hands, however, when Vilém's brother and last of the line, the dissolute Petr Vok, sold both castle and town to Emperor Rudolf II in 1602 to pay off his debts. Under the succeeding Eggenbergs and Schwarzenbergs the castle continued to be transformed into an opulent palace. The Eggenbergs' prime addition was a theater, which was begun in the 1680s and completed in 1766 by Josef Adam of Schwarzenberg. Much of the theater and its accoutrements—sets, props, costumes, stage machinery—survive intact as a rare working display of period stagecraft. Theater buffs will appreciate a tour, and tickets should be reserved in advance.
Continuing along outside, the third courtyard bears some beautiful Renaissance frescoes, while the fourth contains the Upper Castle, whose rooms can be visited on the tours. From here you'll arrive at a wonderfully romantic elevated passageway with spectacular views of the huddled houses of the Old Town. The Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele often stayed in Český Krumlov in the early 1900s, and liked to paint this particular view over the river; he titled his Krumlov series Dead City. The middle level here is the most Na plášti (Cloaked Bridge), a massive construction spanning a deep ravine. Below the passageway are three levels of high arches, looking like a particularly elaborate Roman viaduct. At the end of the passageway you come to the theater, then to the nicely appointed castle garden dating from the 17th century. A cascade fountain, groomed walking paths, flowerbeds, and manicured lawns are a restful delight. The famed open-air Revolving Theater is here, as is the Musical Pavilion. If you continue walking away from the castle, the park grows a bit wilder and quieter. Unlike the castle, the courtyards and passageways are open to the public year-round.
Zámek 59, Český Krumlov, Bohemia, 381 01, Czech Republic