The picturesque Elbe Sandstone Mountains spread along the border between Czechia and Germany nowadays unite the region and form two connected National Parks of Bohemian & Saxon Switzerland. Stunning boulders, arches, and sandstone canyons define the area. It’s worth a visit even for a day, although hiking enthusiasts might need a couple of weeks to explore the whole region.
We summed up some tips for a weekend trip to the sandstone peaks along the Saxon – Czech border.
Saturday in Bohemian Switzerland
Start your day at Hřensko. The border town between Czechia and Germany is the entry point to several destinations in the area. One of the most popular activities in Hřensko is taking a small one-man-power-driven boat through the nearby gorges of Kamenice River, such as Edmund Gorge (Endmundova Soutěska).
The raftsman keeps his guests entertained with legends about the area and shows them several peculiar rock formations along the way. The surrounding forest and the reflection on the Kamenice river create a mystic atmosphere where you’d expect to meet at least a hobbit if not a beautiful elf.
The boat ride ends after about 1 kilometer (3 300 feet) close to a small bridge (Mezní můstek), where you can choose between another boat-ride or a hike up the gorge to the settlement of Mezná.
Tip: In the morning, the sun shines towards the boat, providing impressive light conditions in the gorge. The earlier boat you can catch, the better. For departure times and prices, check the Hřensko’s website.
From Mezní můstek bridge, we continued on foot to Mezná and then back to Hřensko. It is an easy 60 to 90-minute walk through the woods until the crossing between Hřensko and Pravčická brána.
Afternoon hike to Pravčická brána (Pravčice gate)
After lunch, we headed to the iconic landmark of Bohemian Switzerland, Pravčická brána, the largest sandstone natural arch in Europe. At the end of a steep, but reasonably easy one hour hike, visitors are rewarded with spectacular views over the boulder landscape.
Right next to the arch, you can enjoy a pint of Czech beer in a beautiful, former, 18th-century hotel, Sokolí hnízdo (Falcon’s Nest). There are several accessible viewpoints in the area, so you shouldn’t stay only below the arch.
Think of the environment: On weekends and school holidays, the sight gets crowded. Besides the restaurant, directly under the arch, there’s also a buffet that serves drinks and snacks. It might save you some waiting time at the restaurant. However, everything you get there is served in plastic. Consider waiting for your beer in the restaurant and enjoy your drink from a glass cup.
There’s an entrance fee to the viewpoints and the gate area (3€ as of Summer of 2019). For opening times and prices, check the Pravčice gate website. The hike to the gate starts on the main road about 1 km (3300 feet) away from the center of Hřensko town. When we visited in 2019, parking was not allowed there. To save your feet, you can use the hiking bus to U Třech pramenů bus stop and continue from there.
All hikes in the region are very well marked. Marked parking areas in Hřensko tend to fill up throughout the day. If you’re not staying in a hotel with private parking in town, try to get there as soon as possible.
Golden hour around ponds and windmills
Our home for the weekend was Děčín, a charming town outside the national park. It allowed us to take a small detour through the Elbe Sandstone Mountains Conservation Area, a protected region adjacent to the national park. When the golden hour stroke on our way back to the hotel, nature took in the reddish tones of the evening sun.
The region around Děčín is historically known for its windmills and ponds. The streams that flow there are too small to support waterpower, so people built windmills and collected water in ponds. Some of them serve as guesthouses toady. We stumbled upon such structures in the settlements of Janov and Růžová. The background for an almost kitschy golden hour picture was perfect.
Practical tips: Even in 2019, car remains the most convenient mean of transport through Germany. If you are driving from Bavaria towards Bohemian Switzerland, make sure to take a break and stop for a meal in Karlovy Vary.
The famous Czech spa town was founded in the 14th century by Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor. While walking through the town’s charming streets, you can enjoy countless hot springs to fill up a spa drinking cup. Be sure to check the temperature of the spring before taking a big healing sip. Otherwise, you might burn your tongue. Besides spas, Karlovy Vary is also famous for its international film festival, the Central and Eastern Europe’s leading film event. Moreover, the town’s 300 years old Grandhotel Pupp was the backdrop for the 007 and Vesper arrival scene in Montenegro in the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale.
While in Germany, there’s no motorway toll, drivers in Czechia need to purchase a vignette. The shortest vignette period is 10 days. You can buy one at gas stations.