Skip to Content

Taking the Waters in Karlovy Vary

Karlovy Vary, an easy day trip from Prague or eastern Germany, is a stunning town in the Czech Republic. It’s known for its healing waters, and people go there to “take the waters.” It’s a great weekend trip to pamper yourself. Click here to find out how to enjoy this amazing spa town!

If you are at all like me, you would have grown up reading novels of exotic faraway places, larger than life characters, spice bazaars, ancient battles, conquerors. I would read anything that would take me away to some other place and time. Often I would come across some princess or nobleman going away to “take the waters.”

It was implied that this was a way to relax, to get away from the daily stress of the palace or manor house, but I never really understood it. That is until I was able to visit the Czech Republic on a frequent basis and heard of the beautiful town of Karlovy Vary! Here you can not only understand the phrase, but imbibe!

Clouds of steam from the hot springs in front of the St Mary Magdalene's Church in Karlovy Vary.

Karlovy Vary Water and Its Benefits

Sure, I’ve been to spa hotels, places with thermal pools, hamams, Roman baths. But is this what they meant? I think I came closest in Budapest when some friends took me to a steaming well and ordered a cup of boiling, noxious-smelling water for me to drink. They said it was going to “clean” me out!

Exterior view of Spring number 8, Prince Wenceslas in Karlovy Vary.

Then we went to the spa town, Karlovy Vary, in the Czech Republic. Only a short drive from our new home, we just had to cross the border and take the river road; we were able to leave after work and arrive before dinner. As we entered this town full of colorful baroque buildings, we knew right away we were in for a treat.

Fountain in front of the Hotel Romance, Karlovy Vary.

The King of Bohemia, and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV founded Karlovy Vary. His capital city was Prague, only 120 kilometers away. So, he would take his men hunting near the confluence of the two rivers, the Ohře and Teplá, where he and his men discovered the steaming waters. The town immediately started receiving tourists and people who wanted to heal their ills. Many famous people have spent time taking the waters here to include: Beethoven, Chopin, Ataturk, and Goethe to name a few.

The stunning Chateau Colonnade with its historic spring.

So how does one “take the waters?”

First, there are a surprising number of springs, taps, and wells to locate. You can grab a map of suggested routes from the Tourist Information Center as well as many of the hotels, or you can just wander around and discover them on your own as we did.

Different souvenir sipping cups at a Karlovy Vary shop.

Next, and this is a very important step, you need to have your own drinking vessel. You can bring a cup, but because of the hot temperatures it is better to buy one in a kiosk special made for taking the waters. The porcelain drinking mugs are thoughtfully fitted with a built-in straw, or spout, to sip the waters from so it is harder to burn your lips and mouth. You still need to be very careful as the water comes out of the ground at varying temperatures, some scalding.

A woman takes the waters at a Karlovy Vary hot spring.

Once you have obtained your drinking vessel, you are ready to hit the trail. There are a number of places in town where you can fill up your cup and drink. The waters purportedly heal a number of chronic illnesses such as anything to do with your gastro-instestinal tract, muscles, or nerves, and even some gum disease.

However, you should follow a doctor’s prescriptive formula to get the most out of your visit if this is your intent. If you are just there to feel better for a weekend, it is best to take the waters before a meal. Each well is signed to tell you what minerals are contained in the water and how hot it is.

Two men take the waters at a Karlovy Vary hot spring.

The beautiful surroundings, the quiet paths, the more hectic town center along with the spa hotels, great meals, and an overall peaceful feeling all lend itself to your having a calming, relaxing weekend. If you’re looking for other ways to take the water in the Czech Republic, or if a visit to the hot springs at Karlovy Vary isn’t you’re thing, you might try a trip to Plzen where taking the waters means a visit to the world famous Pilsner Urquell Brewery, or a luxury spa day at the Purkmistr Beer Baths.

Karlovy Vary pedestrian advisory sign - no smoking, no dogs, no cycling, no skating or ball playing.
Karlovy Vary pedestrian zone advisory sign - no feeding the pigeons, no biking, stay off the flowers, no dogs.

It is important that you take being calm and peaceful very seriously, and not interfere with the other patients or water-takers. There are signs all over the place to remind you how to act and not to act. Some of them were rather funny. My favorites are: “No men in hats smoking cigars, no boxers, and no beach balls.”

A man sipping from the special water vessel in Karlovy Vary.

Practical Information:

On our trip we stayed at the Hotel Romance Pushkin. This is a comfortable, affordable hotel only a few steps away from the river and all of the wells and springs. Karlovy Vary hotels range in level from budget to top-end. We drove into town from Germany and were able to drive to the hotel which offered parking. You can also take a bus or train from Prague in a little over 2 hours. See the official website for more information:

Have you ever “taken the waters” before?  Where?  What did you think?

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.


Thursday 26th of February 2015

I've heard of drinking these waters in Budapest but I never actually tried it. There were drinking fountains available in the bath houses I visited too. What did they taste like? I'd assume slightly different due to the different minerals in it?

Corinne Vail

Friday 27th of February 2015

Adelina, Some were very metallic and some just not so good.


Wednesday 25th of February 2015

What a genius tourist trap! But I'd still go :)

Corinne Vail

Thursday 26th of February 2015

SJ, ...and it was one of the first! People have been coming for a couple hundred years as tourists! Wild, isn't it?


Tuesday 24th of February 2015

Hi Corrine. I loved Karlovy Vary! I took the bus from Prague, and it was a very easy and comfortable ride. I found it fascinating just watching people "take the waters". Did you go on the underground tour of the thermal springs? Thanks for linking up this week. Sorry I have not been around for your Saturday linkup. Now that I am back at home base I will definitely be back! #TPThursday

Corinne Vail

Wednesday 25th of February 2015

Nancie, I did not take the underground tour, but it's only an hour from where I live so maybe I'll do it this summer. Thanks for the tip!

Amy @ Amy and the Great World

Monday 23rd of February 2015

Ooh yes I need to get to Karlovy Vary and try the water...although I'm not sure I'll enjoy the taste :)

Corinne Vail

Wednesday 25th of February 2015

Amy, You definitely do not do it for the taste!


Monday 23rd of February 2015

That was a fascinating story and I loved the pictures. I was really intrigued to see the interiors of the spas, will that be a new post I hope?

Corinne Vail

Monday 23rd of February 2015

Noel, They are a bit XXX! I'm not sure the world is ready for them!