Lisa Owen

If I asked you where you thought the Bohemian Switzerland National Park is located, you probably would say Switzerland. But the national park is located hundreds of kilometres from Switzerland in the far north west corner of the Czech Republic, and very few people know of this park’s existence.

It’s not like Switzerland at all – there’s no snow capped mountains or meadows, but there are lots of woods, river views and unique rock vistas. You can go hiking, rock climbing or cycling through the national park – joining the locals as they enjoy the great outdoors.

I discovered this hidden gem looking for things to do in the Czech Republic outside of Prague. What I didn’t find was how you visit this park – and the adjoining Saxon Switzerland National Park in Germany - without an expensive tour or a car. In true adventurous spirit, I set out to find out how achievable it is to visit the park by public transport and my own two feet – and now I can tell you how I did it.

Czech Republic rock formations

When To Go

The time of year you visit the national parks of Saxon Switzerland and Bohemian Switzerland depends on the type of landscapes you want to see and what you want to do.

Spring and autumn are ideal times of year to come as you will be able to do lots of hiking, cycling and rock climbing. I visited in spring, but judging by the photos I saw, autumn also looks particularly pretty as the leaves change colour and you’ll see a landscape highlighted with red, orange and yellow.

Winter is also a pretty time of year to come, but your outdoor activities will be limited due to snow making for potentially slippery conditions on trails. Boat rides on the gorges in Bohemian Switzerland National Park are also closed during the winter months. But winter will be a good time to visit if all you’re after is to see some nice landscapes underneath a layer of snow.

Where To Stay

There’s a lot of accommodation options to visit the parks. As public transport is available between Germany and Czech Republic, it’s possible to stay on either side.

The Czech Republic side however is cheaper, and sees far less tourists than the German side. I opted to stay in the town of Czech town of Decin, which is approximately a half hour bus ride (15km) from Hrensko, the gateway town to Bohemian Switzerland National Park.

However, you can also stay in Hrensko, and towns inside the national park area including Mezna and Mezni Louka.

On the German side, you can stay in guesthouses in Kurort Rathen, Rathen or Bad Schandau.

It’s recommended to stay in or near the park at least for a night rather than just come on a day trip from Prague especially if you’re visiting by public transport.

czech republic views

Getting There

The best way to reach the towns near the national parks is via Prague. Trains depart at least once every hour from Prague’s main station to Decin and take about 90 minutes. The ticket costs 186 Czech Korunas (£6.55).

From Decin, you can change trains to take you to the German side or hop on a bus to Hrensko or Mezna. It’s also possible to reach the German side from Dresden by train.

Recommended Itinerary

If you choose to see both the Czech Republic and German sides, this is my recommended itinerary from Decin. It’s possible to do all the main sites in one day if you start by 7am and are a fast walker and hiker.

If you want to go at a slower pace, simply do the German side one day and the Czech Republic side the following day. Or if you’re staying in Decin, I recommend heading to the German side first.

czech republic river view

Exploring the German side

To reach Saxon Switzerland National Park, you first need to take a train from Decin’s main train station to Bad Schandau train station in Germany. Trains leave at least every two hours starting at 6.41am and the trip takes about 25 minutes. Tickets cost 60 Czech Korunas (£2.11).

From Bad Schandau, you can choose to walk the 7km track to the iconic Bastei Bridge through small German villages and on quiet hiking trails, or change trains and take the train in the direction of Pirna to Kurort Rathen station. You’ll need the Maps.me mobile app to find the quickest route if you’re on foot.

The Kurort Rathen train station is on the other side of the river from where you want to be and because there’s no bridge, you’ll then need to take the ferry across to the Rathen village on the other side. The ferry costs €1.20 (£1.09) and the trip takes less than two minutes!

Once on the Rathen side of the river, follow the signs pointing to the Bastei bridge. It will take you about 25-30 minutes to hike up there but there’s a few lookout points along the way for beautiful views of the unique rock formations and the river, as it meanders past the quaint villages.

czech republic bastei bridge

Walk along the bridge (it’s free!) and see the bridge from a few different angles at the various lookouts. You can opt to pay €2 (£1.81) to visit the ruins of the Neurathen rock castle.

After you’ve seen the bridge you can go back to the train station or do a few of the walks near Rathen. The trails are well signposted and you can easily see the trails on the Maps.me mobile app.

You can also take the train back to Bad Schandau or Krippen station and walk over to the popular trails around the Schrammstein rock peak.

Exploring the Czech Republic side

To reach the Czech Republic side from Germany, take the train to Schona station, hop on the ferry and cross to Hrensko. You’re now in Czech Republic. The ferry costs €1.50 (£1.36) one way.

From Hrensko, follow the signs to Pravcicka Brana – Europe’s biggest rock arch. From the carpark, the arch is a 5km walk. It’s fairly easy going with a gentle slope.

czech republic rock arch

If you want to go on the trail directly underneath the arch and see it from higher vantage points, you need to fork out €3 (£2.72).

You can opt to return back the way you came, or take the 6km walk to Mezni Louka. From Mezni Louka, follow the signs to the Kamenice Gorge – it’s about a 2km walk to Mezna, then you go down some steep stairs into the gorge. The gorge is only open from April to October.

Once in the gorge, you can go left to walk down the Edmund’s Gorge section or go right to walk down Wild Gorge – or do both. Edmund’s Gorge is the longer gorge.

You can also take a boat down a short section of the gorge where there’s no trail. You can go towards Hrensko or back to Mezni Louka. I recommend heading down to Hrensko. The boat ride down Edmund’s Gorge costs 80 Czech Korunas (£2.82) and takes about 20 minutes.

czech republic gorge walk

A local boat man will paddle the boat with a long stick and point out points of interest – but only speaks in Czech. One bizarre attraction is the waterfall produced by pulling on a rope. I assume they pull a bucket of water over to make a temporary waterfall!

After the boat ride, you’ll have a 2km walk back to Hrensko and then you can take bus #434 back to Decin. The bus runs at least once an hour in the afternoons usually around quarter past the hour and the last bus is at 7.16pm.

czech republic tisa rocks view

Tisa Labyrinth

While not in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park, the rock labyrinth of Tisa is located nearby and is worth a visit from Decin.

Legend has it that a Frenchman buried treasure in the labyrinth. When he went back to find it, local dwarves put ‘lost dust’ in his pockets so he could never find the treasure. It’s said that the dwarves did this to all visitors looking for the treasure and it was never found.

The rock labyrinth features 60 metres walls towering above the small town of Tisa. There’s two paths in the labyrinth – the Small Walls (green trail), which winds along the base of the rock walls, and the Large Walls (red trail), which takes you along the top of the walls for sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.

To get there, take bus #432 to Lobevice. You can then change buses to head up to Tisa or simply take the 45 minute walk to the Tisa Walls.

Things You Should Know

  • You’ll need two different currencies to do this itinerary. Germany takes Euros and also card is accepted almost everywhere, including train stations. The Czech Republic currency is called Korunas (CZK) and cash is best.
  • Most explanation signage is written in Czech or German only. English speakers are uncommon in northern Czech Republic.
  • Bus and ferry tickets can be bought on board. Train tickets can be bought in Czech Republic from the ticket office, and from ticket machines in the train stations in Germany.
  • The Tourist Information Office inside the Decin train station has a wealth of information about the Bohemian Switzerland and Saxon Switzerland National Parks. If you have any questions about public transport in the area, visit this information centre before you go.
  • Make sure you have the Maps.me mobile app on your phone and a fully charged phone before you go. I found this app particularly handy to locate the trails.
  • If you plan to ditch the public transport for this itinerary and hire a car, you’ll need to hire the car in Prague. Be aware that you’ll need to pay for parking at each attraction, usually around €5 (£4.53) for the day, and some hiking will still be required.

 

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 70 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.

 

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