Do you only have a few days but want to explore more than just the city? Escape the City is my practical series of guides, which shows there is always time to explore the great outdoors.
A velvet blanket of emerald green pine forest as far as they eye can see, mystical sandstone rock formations and peaceful rivers. Welcome to Bohemian Switzerland National Park on the border of Czech Republic and Germany.
Just over 120km north of Prague, this 80km2 park is famous for Europe’s largest natural sandstone bridge and it’s well-maintained trails make it easy for even novice hikers to explore.
Less than two hours from Prague, you can do it in a day, but I suggest spending a night or two in nearby Děčín to make the most of your time. Personally, I spent Friday exploring Prague, then jumped on a train late Friday afternoon. Saturday was spent exploring the national park, before heading back to the city on Sunday.
Here’s how to do it.
Head to Prague’s main train station, Praha Hlavni Nadrazi. If you’re coming from the airport there is a direct shuttle bus. Go straight to the domestic ticket desk (for the trains, not the metro) and ask for a return to Děčín. It costs 180 krona each way (around £11 total) and the trains run regularly and take approximately 1hr 30mins.
Leave the train at Děčín and walk across the road, slightly to the right and check into Hostel Děčín. Although not a ‘traditional’ hostel with dorm rooms and communal spaces, this was ideal for me. I was travelling alone and wanted somewhere I could get a good night’s sleep and also do a bit of work. I had a private room, own bathroom, mini kitchen and breakfast all for 1,200 krona for two nights (around £36).
The next morning, rise bright and early and walk across the street to the bus stop right outside the train station. You need bus number 434, and you’ll need a ticket to Hřensko. On a Saturday, there are buses at 6.06am, 8.06am and 8.46am and the cost is less than £1!
Get off the bus at the first stop in Hřensko, right outside the Tourist Information Office. It takes around 20 minutes to arrive here. Check in with the tourist information office for information on routes and to buy a map if you want to (although the free one worked fine for me).
I decided to hike a six-hour loop with a boat ride thrown in for good measure (I love a boat ride!). There is a really good network of cheap, easy to understand, and punctual buses across the area which means that – if you don’t fancy a really long hike – you can take a bus to the start of various trail heads instead.
To do the route I did (which is highly recommended as you get to experience a huge amount of the park’s terrains in one go), follow the river and the main road behind the Tourist Information Centre and pick up the red markers behind Restaurant Klepáč.
Follow these red markers for around 45 minutes, which takes you up to the sandstone gate Pravčická brána, the icon of the park. It costs 75 krona (around £2) to enter. Try and get here as early as possible as it gets busy, especially the viewing points.
Spend an hour here exploring the area, climbing the staircases, taking pictures and admiring the phenomenal views. There’s also a coffee shop and restaurant if you need to refuel. I arrived at just after 10am and the locals were already drinking ice-cold beers! Take a toilet break too – you’ll not encounter another loo for a long while.
Head back down and continue following the red markers until you reach the tiny village of Mezní Louka. Here, you swap to green markers, which can be found on the road to the right of the big car park.
The green markers take you along a road and through another village, Mezná, where you’ll pick up signs for the boat trip. There is a MASSIVE flight of stairs to contend with, which take you down to the riverbed. These are located right next to a children’s play area on the left behind a restaurant.
At the bottom of the steps you cross over the bridge and take a right, swapping to the yellow markers and following the winding path alongside the river, through tunnels carved from the rock formations.
This whole trail from start to finish is never short of places to eat and drink and before long you’ll come across a decking area where you can order a snack and even grill your own sausages over a BBQ pit. Yum!
200m farther up is where you buy your boat tickets. Again, it’s less than £1. The boat trip is ‘punting style’ and takes around 20 minutes. It’s truly mystical with swirling water and cliff faces 40m high on either side.
Unfortunately, the German and Czech commentary were lost on me, but everyone around me found it amusing! I was happy just admiring the view.
After the boat trip, you continue to follow the yellow trail markers, which take you right back to where you started the trail six hours ago – Restaurant Klepáč.
Although a little tired (it was now 3.15pm) I knew that I wasn’t ready for the day to be over. The Tourist Information Centre had mentioned a viewing point, which was ‘The Best Viewing Point in the Czech Republic’. I didn’t need any more persuasion.
Unfortunately, I’ve since found out that I went to the wrong viewing point…but the one I ended up at was pretty spectacular anyway!
Board a bus from Hřensko to Jetřichovice (I asked the driver to let me know when we were there). Leave the bus and follow the yellow trail markers up the sweeping gravel path past the fields and farmhouse on the left.
This takes you into the woods, where the yellow markers are joined by red. Follow the red markers and you’ll reach the viewing point. To get to the top, you’ll have to contend with ladders like this:
It’s well worth it though. The view from the top takes your breath away. If I’d have been more prepared this is where I’d have sat with a picnic and watched the sun go down (you can steal that idea from me…).
Once you’ve had time to relax and take in the view, head back the way you came and pick up a bus back into Hřensko or direct to Děčín depending on your preference.
I’d struggled on the first night in Děčín to find anywhere decent to eat, so I decided to get off the bus in Hřensko for a well-deserved steak, chips, pint and apple strudel.
The next day, jump on a train back to Prague. So, there you have it…a true escape from the city, all in less than 48 hours.
- Transport: Train from Prague, then local buses
- Cost: £47 train and accommodation, plus an additional £6 on buses during the day, with food on top
- Useful websites: This site gives accurate timings for trains and buses http://jizdnirady.idnes.cz/vlakyautobusy/spojeni/?lng=E
- Tips: Carry change for the toilet and don’t forget sun block, it gets hot!