Medieval Splendor in the Czech Republic’s Bohemian Capital, Kutna Hora

Heard of Kutna Hora? Bohemian culture, medieval magnificence, and frosty pilsners await in this Czech Republic hidden gem.Read More

Extraordinary Gothic architecture awaits in Kutna Hora. (Source: Shutterstock / graphia)

With a history as rich as the silver ore that built it, the small town of Kutna Hora is a hidden gem tucked within the verdant valleys of central Bohemia. Well-preserved medieval streets and jaw-dropping Gothic and Baroque architecture hint at the city’s medieval heyday, and make for a culture-rich getaway beyond the usual Prague circuit. Warm pensions, frosty pilsners, and authentic Bohemian culture add to its many charms. On your next central European adventure, consider making time for the delights of the Czech Republic’s Kutna Hora.

A brief history of Kutna Hora

Kutna Hora’s origins can be found, in part, in the Sedlec Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery established in Bohemia in 1142 CE. At the time, it was rumored that the abbey’s environs within the Vrchovina highlands were veined with rich silver deposits. Waves of prospectors soon moved in, including from German-speaking regions, followed by silver-hungry miners who quickly set up local settlements known together as Kutna Hora.

By 1300, the growing wealth of the region caught the attention of Bohemian King Wenceslas II, who established the area’s first mining regulations and set up residence to partake of the town’s growing prosperity. For the next 250 years, Kutna Hora grew in cultural, political, and economic strength, eventually becoming Bohemia’s treasury capital – and the region’s most important city behind Prague.

Eventually, however, things started to decline. Political wrangling and warring put the region in the hands of Austria’s Habsburg Dynasty by 1526; and deeper mines (needed to access the now depleting silver stores) regularly resulted in flooding and ruin. Repeated ravages by the plague, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), and a devastating fire in 1770 further diminished Kutna Hora’s profile.

Though the city later recovered some of its earlier glory, it was never able to keep pace with advancing industrial change, and instead, focused on recovering its relevance through its historic past. Significant restoration took hold during the 19th century, preserving notable structures like St. Barbara’s Cathedral, initially built in 1388; and the Italian Court, both a palace and the royal mint during the late 13th century and beyond.

After the collapse of Austria-Hungary and close of WWI, Bohemia became part of the newly created Czechoslovakia — a short-lived independence due to the region’s annexation as part of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia by Nazi Germany 20 years later.

After WWII, Kutna Hora was once again restored to Czechoslovakia and later became part of the Czech Republic after the 1993 dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Kutna Hora’s town center remains a totem of the region’s historical significance and includes a handful of extraordinary attractions from the medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque eras.

How to get to Kutna Hora/how to get around

Once in town, enjoy meandering through Kutna Hora's historic cobblestone lanes on foot. (Source: Shutterstock / Thomas Dekiere)
Once in town, enjoy meandering through Kutna Hora’s historic cobblestone lanes on foot. (Source: Shutterstock / Thomas Dekiere)

Your best bet for getting to Kutna Hora is by train from Prague’s main train station. The trip is only about an hour and includes some Insta-worthy views of central Bohemia’s rich woodlands and rolling hills. Kutna Hora’s main train station is about 2-1/2 miles from the town center, so you’ll need to transfer to a local train for a 6-minute shuttle in. When purchasing train tickets in Prague, be sure to buy one for Kutna Hora město (town center) rather than Kutna Hora hl.n. (the main train station on the city’s outskirts). A one-way ticket costs about 100 Kč ($4.50) and trains run frequently throughout the day. See here for additional details.

If you miss the local train, there is also a local bus (Bus no. 1) available outside the main train station which will take you into town for 12 Kč ($0.54). Both the local train and bus have intermediate stops at the Ossuary at Sedlec and the Cathedral of the Assumption (more on these below) on your way to town.

Once in town, Kutna Hora is easily explored by foot, with most attractions, hotels, and eateries within a 20-minute walk from the town center.

Where to stay in Kutna Hora

Accommodation options in Kutna Hora generally consist of pensions (traditional guest houses that typically include breakfast) and restored historic properties with luxe décor and more extensive amenities.

On the pension side of the range, we like the Barbora Restaurant & Penzion on Kremnicka Street. In addition to its central location — featuring breathtaking views of the Church of St. Barbara — the Barbora offers comfortable rooms with light, modern interiors, free WiFi, and a balcony or front garden. The onsite restaurant includes traditional Czech fare as well as international options, and rooms start at a 2,100 Kč ($94) per night including breakfast. Pro tip: South facing rooms will include the best views of the church.

For something a little more luxurious, Palace Kutna Hora (around the corner to the right on Sultysova) is our top choice. Originally a 15th-century manor house, the property has been renovated several times, with its current Baroque façade designed in the late 18th century. Period features include the original lion’s head gate, wrought-iron lattice balconies, and signature elements of famous 17th-century Czech-Italian architect Jan Santini Aichel.

There are four suites available for travelers that include high ceilings, oak floors, gilding, rich oriental rugs, period furniture, and a host of modern amenities. Prices start at 4,000 Kč ($179) per night and include breakfast.

For a fuller listing of lodgings and reviews in the area, visit this hotel roundup.

What to see/do in Kutna Hora

Nothing really prepares you for a chandelier made from human skulls and bones. (Source: Shutterstock / Mikhail Markovskiy)
Nothing really prepares you for a chandelier made from human skulls and bones. (Source: Shutterstock / Mikhail Markovskiy)

While relatively small, Kutna Hora houses more attractions than we can name here. Still, we thought these should make a shortlist for at least your first visit.

For a ghoulishly unique experience, head to the Sedlec Ossuary, the underground chapel of the Gothic Church of All Saints and part of the original Sedlec Abbey complex. The chapel contains the bones of over 40,000 victims of the 14th-century plague and early 15th-century Hussite Wars. Originally buried in the church cemetery, the bones were exhumed at the end of the 15th century and stacked in piles in the chapel.

But wait, there’s more: Four hundred years later, woodcarver František Rint was commissioned to arrange the chapel bones and skulls in ornate designs and décor — including as bells, a coat-of-arms, and a chandelier, which left us pretty close to speechless.

Catch your breath, only to lose it again at the nearby Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. Also part of the monastery complex, the massive cathedral was built between 1290 and 1320 in the early French Gothic style and renovated later to incorporate Baroque elements. Be sure to check out the vast vault of the main nave, presbytery, and arms of the transept, among other impressive features.

Oh yeah, and before you return to town, stop into Souvenirs from Kutna Hora on Zamecka (just outside the Ossuary) for a large selection of souvenirs. You’ll have to hunt a bit through the key chains, magnets, and skull-themed stuff for authentic finds, but they’re here — including wooden marionettes and a nice selection of Czech glass.

The heart and soul of Kutna Hora, St. Barbara's Cathedral (Source: Shutterstock / Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH)
The heart and soul of Kutna Hora, St. Barbara’s Cathedral (Source: Shutterstock / Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH)

Back in the town center on Batborská, a visit to the exquisite St. Barbara’s Cathedral is an absolute must. With its flying buttresses, medieval frescoes, and tented roof, the cathedral is a late Gothic masterpiece worthy of any bucket list. Built for the patron saint of miners, the cathedral is said to have helped miners throughout its history: Miraculous tales of opening hard rock, providing light when mining lamps went out, and showing a path out of a mine collapse are remembered as signs of providential protection.

For those interested in the specifics of Kutna Hora’s silver mining heritage, there is the Czech Museum of Silver — complete with a replica medieval mine. Then there’s the Italian Court, which carries the story of Kutna Hora silver a few steps further. Named for the Florentine bankers who devised King Wenceslas II’s monetary reform in 1300, the court includes the royal mint as well as the king’s residence (used while he was in town counting all his silver). Both attractions are located in the town center.

Just want to bask in the town’s glorious Gothic architecture? Stop by Kutna Hora’s famous 15th-century stone house on Václavské Náměstí for one of Bohemia’s best-preserved Gothic structures. Check out its steep triangle gable, Gothic windows and pinnacles, ornate sculpture, and double gate.

Where to eat in Kutna Hora

For traditional Bohemian favorites like goulash or schnitzel, try Restaurant Dačický on Rakova. We particularly love their take on the other national specialty: Roasted Duck with red cabbage and potato wedges washed down with a cold Pilsner lager. Oh yeah, and be sure and leave room for the Pancakes Stuffed with Nut Filling and Sour Cream.

A 3-minute walk east to Dačického Náměstí gets you to the more upscale, gastropub-like Restaurant V Ruthardce. Housed in a shady garden courtyard, the eatery includes (in addition to its rustic indoor setup) a handful of long picnic tables for seasonal, al fresco, family-style dining. Specialties here include honey pork ribs, steak tartare, and specially crafted, single-batch beers.

Finally, if you’re pining for fresh pasta, salad, or maybe a crispy Neapolitan pizza, head over to the modern Factory Bistro on Česká at Vnitřní Město. A tasty selection of local and European wines, not to mention a full bar menu, is also available.

For more information visit Kutna Hora’s tourism website.