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Ride of the Kings Vlcnov

The Ride of the Kings of Vlcnov is an ancient folk festival that is now only found in a few towns of the Czech Republic. Traditional clothing and dancing fill the festival.

Colorful costumes, brightly decorated horses, and angry-seeming young men yelling greeted us as we walked into the center of Vlcnov, a small town in Slovacko, Czech Republic. Right away, we were accosted by a colorful man riding a horse decorated in streamers and ribbons. Red-faced, he bellowed out some Czech phrases which we could not understand. Later we found out this was some traditional Czechian poetry.

The victim, or selected audience, is then required to pay the horseman. He had a wooden change box near his boot just for this purpose. Most of the festival goers were Czech, and they gamely put in the required penance.

Ride of the Kings Vlčnov Czech Republic

A few minutes earlier, we had left the main highway and upon reaching the border of the town were stopped to pay our 150 Czech Koruna (crowns). As we hiked downhill into town, we passed a couple houses where they were decorating the horses and had already started having a good time.

A Colorful and Cultural Czech Festival

Colorful decorations adorn the horse of a Kings guard during the Ride of the Kings in Czechia.

The Ride of the Kings dates back to at least the early 1800s when not long after Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, the Hungarian king had to escape. Matthias Corvinus dressed up as a woman, and held a rose in his mouth so that his voice wouldn’t betray him to his father-in-law, the King of Bohemia. He escaped with nothing and relied on his serfs to feed him.

Young Czech women in folk costume perform on stage during the Ride of the King festival.

Nowadays, this scene is portrayed with a ten year old boy playing the king. He is dressed in women’s traditional clothing and still keeps a rose in his mouth. While accompanied by many horsemen cum poets, his horse is the only one that is white. He arrives at the end of the parade through the towns main street.

The kings guards are mounting their steeds for the Ride of the Kings in Vlčnov, Czech Republic.
The young camouflaged king sits high atop a colorfully decorated horst at the Ride of the Kings in Czechia.

The Ride of the Kings used to be reenacted all over the country until World War II, and now only a handful of villages still uphold the tradition. UNESCO inscribed it on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2011, and the reenactment of the ride takes place the last Sunday in May.

Girls marching in traditional folk dress in Czechia.

However, the town of Vlcnov hosts the festival for the entire weekend. There is a traditional handicrafts fair where handmade items such as embroidery and wooden toys are sold, and of course there are vendors selling food as well.

Two women in traditional Czech dress play the violin for folk dancers at Ride of the Kings in Vlčnov.
Folk dancers in blue costumes at the Ride of the Kings, Vlčnov.

For most of the day, starting at 11:00 the outdoor amphitheater hosts a folk music and dancing program. Groups from the surrounding villages perform well-known songs and dances. Each one was a little different, but all were colorful and energetic. Many of the dances started with a broom or the broom played a role. It was used to sweep, beat the intruder, or just as a dance partner.

Children in traditional Czech costume pulling a decorated wagon at the Ride of the Kings in Vlčnov.

Many of the dances were contests between men, seeing who could kick the and jump the highest or perform a number of intricate steps. One of my favorite performances had the men lifting and twirling their partners, even carrying them on their shoulders as they danced. Since the majority of the audience was from the area, there were plenty of people murmuring the words to the songs along with the performers.

Young men in traditional Czech outfits and leather boots perform a folk dance.

At 2:00 in the afternoon, the King rides one last time through the town accompanied by his guards (still shouting out their well rehearsed lines of poetry) and several hundred richly dressed people from surrounding villages, all showing off their traditional costumes. The costumes are beautifully crafted and amazingly intricate.

Czech folk dancers on the stage during the Ride of the Kings  in Czechia.

The village has been recognized by the Guinness World Book of Records for having the most people in traditional dress. For the best seat in the house, find a spot in the shade at the amphitheater; all of the groups will parade through the town and end up with one last performance on stage. The king, of course, will be last to arrive, ushered in and well protected by his colorful guardsmen and knights.

Young couple in trtaditioanl Czech attire begin a folk dance.

This was one of the most enjoyable small festivals we’ve been to in some time. It was so different and colorful. The Ride of the Kings festival is held each year around the last weekend in May, with the main Ride and folk dancing on Sunday. Check with the official website for exact dates. If you are going, I would stay in Brno which is about one hour drive from the fest. Read our post on Brno here for suggestions of things to do and places to stay.

Smiling Czech girl wearing traditional head dress with flowers, beads, and embroidery.
Woman in traditional Czech red and black dress with emroidered flowers.

Where is a festival that you recommend?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.


Saturday 23rd of April 2016

You are so lucky to be able to attend all these colorful European festivals, Corinne. One of my dreams is to photograph the colorful national costumes of all the European countries.

Corinne Vail

Sunday 24th of April 2016

Anda, Wow! That would be quite a project. I love all the costumes, dances, and folklore of the various regions. This festival was made for people like you and me.


Thursday 25th of June 2015

Those costumes are amazing, and I love how they've decorated the horses. As you probably know, Korea has a lot of festivals. I think my favorite is the Andong Mask Festival. Thanks for linking up. #TPThursday

Corinne Vail

Thursday 25th of June 2015

Nancie, I really loved the Andong Mask festival as well. Have a great weekend.


Monday 22nd of June 2015

I love your pictures Corinne. So beautiful costumes, so much color! You've caught the atmosphere so well.

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 23rd of June 2015

Anda, Thank you. It was very easy to get good photos at this festival, because everyone was willing to pose!


Monday 22nd of June 2015

I can't help but think how much work it would be to keep those costumes clean and pressed perfectly! Whew...

We saw something similar when we were walking the Camino. We were in Astorga on May 1, which is a big holiday in Spain. We were so fortunate to have front row standing view of a traditional folk dance. The dancers had beautiful costumes and they danced with castanets. We just loved it!

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 23rd of June 2015

Patti, Those are the moments you will remember forever. How lucky!

samiya selim

Sunday 21st of June 2015

What an amzing, colourful and vibrant event! Your images captured the essence, the colours, and vibes of the festival really well...thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard

Corinne Vail

Sunday 21st of June 2015

Samiya, It is a great festival. Everyone should try to get there once. We loved it.