At the end of November, I spent four magical days in Prague. Technically, I spent a few more nights in the city, arriving in Prague late at night and leaving at sunrise. However, there was another reason for spending a few extra nights there. One day in Karlovy Vary was all it took for me to fall in love with this fairytale hill town. When I first planned out this day trip, I wasn’t expecting any snow. So imagine my delight when I walked into a Wes Anderson winter wonderland!

wes anderson hotel under snow in karlovy vary

In all seriousness, Wes Anderson visited Karlovy Vary and the many villas and hotels in Karlovy Vary inevitably inspired his movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. Under a blanket of snow, these distinctive buildings looked even more magical. What’s more, the famous Deer Jump viewpoint in Karlovy Vary is a prominent aspect of the film, overlooking the hotel. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photographs of the lookout because I didn’t dare hike in the snow in my vintage riding boots. No matter though, I feel like life will lead me back to this enchanting spa city!

park colonnade in karlovy vary

Speaking of the obvious parallel with Wes Anderson and his most famous movie yet, I wonder why no one mentions Karlovy Vary more often. The city is spellbinding and looks sooner like something out of storybooks rather than real life. It’s part of the West Bohemian Spa Triangle, an area of three famous spa towns in Czechia. The other two are Marianske Lazne and Frantiskovy Lazne. Together they have more than 200 mineral springs that defined the evolution of these cities a long time ago.

grandhotel pupp in karlovy vary

Another characteristic of this city is its unique colonnades, situated right next to hot springs. While the Market Colonnade is undeniably beautiful with wooden carvings, my personal favorite is the Park Colonnade. The intricate cast-iron structure is in fact what remains of the Blanensky pavilion. Seemingly buried under snow the day I visited, it looked utterly magical. So many sights in Karlovy Vary that day left me with a huge smile that didn’t leave my face. It was all just too beautiful for words and I couldn’t believe my luck in witnessing this dreamy winter landscape. It was as if I was inside an antique snow globe!

market colonnade in karlovy vary
park colonnade karlovy vary

Furthermore, the Mill Colonnade is another striking structure in a neo-Renaissance style. It’s the largest colonnade in the city that stands out with its architectural style. It contains several hot springs, whose temperatures range from 30 to 75°. The same temperatures apply to other springs and the thermal mineral waters have long been known for their beneficial effect on health. Being one of the great spa towns of Europe, Karlovy Vary is also famous for hosting the leading film festival in Central Europe.

view of karlovy vary

Art Nouveau in Karlovy Vary

And now, let’s talk about what always wins me over no matter what the city, Art Nouveau architecture! Karlovy Vary abounds with villas dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. The most splendid examples are gracing the hills of the city and giving it a fairytale-like atmosphere. At the same time, there are plenty of impressive buildings scattered throughout the city center too. Whether it’s alongside the river, on the main street, or hidden away in random side streets. You’ll be craning your neck up a lot when in Karlovy Vary!

For the perfect Art Nouveau walk, I would recommend starting with my favorite street in Karlovy Vary, Krále Jiřího (King George) Street. Stupendous architecture gracing both sides of the street, the long road will lead you back to the heart of the city. I can’t omit the marvelous Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church. As if it wasn’t grand enough as it is, the gold-plated cupolas peeking out of the snowy landscape were simply too adorable.

hotel bristol palace in karlovy vary

The fact that Karlovy Vary has always hosted people from all over Europe influenced the architecture. The Westend neighborhood is brimming with villas that look like someone plucked them from various European cities. Dutch, French, and Italian styles reflect the guests that visited throughout history. This beguiling mix of buildings results in you wondering how any of this can even be real! I can’t stress enough how divine and otherworldly this city feels.

The unexpected snowfall during my visit meant that I was not equipped to walk outside all day long. Naturally, that didn’t stop me because risking a cold was a small price to pay for wanting to explore every corner of Karlovy Vary. So much so that my only stop during the day was for a hot chocolate at Café Pupp. You’ll find it next to Grandhotel Pupp, a resplendent hotel that was the initial inspiration for The Grand Budapest Hotel. I was ecstatic upon being granted permission to peek into the dazzling hotel bar which was closed at such an early hour.

grandhotel pupp interior karlovy vary

The street leading you to this grand hotel is called Stara Louka. This iconic street in Karlovy Vary follows the winding river lined with gorgeous houses. And best of all, it’s pedestrian-friendly which during my visit meant that I was wading through huge piles of snow. In essence, a childhood dream come true that always makes me happy!

imperial baths cisarske lazne in karlovy vary

During my one day in Karlovy Vary, I had to try the famous karlovarske oplatky. Also known as spa wafers, these crispy thin wafers with different fillings have a long history intertwined with Czech spas. Walking under the stunning colonnades with a hot wafer in hand was the thing to do back then. Right before catching my bus back to Prague, I grabbed two wafers from a shop on Masaryk Street. One with chocolate and cinnamon filling, I loved both of them!

Looking back on it, one day in Karlovy Vary isn’t enough to see all the architectural marvels this city offers. The downside of visiting during winter is shorter days which meant I was scurrying around for most of the day. There are still streets and buildings that eluded me, as well as viewpoints. If I could do it all over again, I would spend the night and enjoy the city covered in snow. In my defense, I didn’t know about the snow, otherwise, I would’ve gladly prolonged my stay.

All things considered, Karlovy Vary was an absolute dream and I would recommend it to everyone. I will add that you should try to catch it when it snows because I feel that’s the cherry on the cake. Whatever time of the year you find yourself in Karlovy Vary, I’m sure its charm will affect you as well. One of the most cinematic and picturesque places that made me feel like I had stepped back in time, I know I will be back for more!

karlovy vary covered in snow
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Brigita Soldo

Travel Photographer · Creative Content Creator · Vintage & Sustainable Fashion Advocate

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