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How to Spa in Karlovy Vary
Like a bouquet of spring flowers, the pastel-coloured spa town of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic (Czechia) is almost too pretty to be believed.
It’s one of the top destinations in the Czech Republic (Czechia) after Prague and one of the most famous spa towns in Europe. Yet many travellers are unsure exactly how to spa in Karlovy Vary.
Help is at hand.
Here’s a rundown of my most recent trip there. Use it as a guide to discover the best Karlovy Vary spas, what type of treatments to get and what kind of spa-related activities you can do.
Check out more things to do in Karlovy Vary.
A Historic Spa Town
A lush blend of Neo-Baroque, Art Nouveau, and Neo-Renaissance architecture, the town’s historic spa quarter is brimming with grand facades adorned with intricate stucco work, ornate balconies, and statuesque columns.
As I strolled with my husband down the pedestrian promenade that hugs the cheerful Tepla River, I kept nudging his arm. “How can it be so elegant? Look at that villa. Do you see the gold trim?”
I’ve been to Karlovy Vary many times, but this was my husband’s first trip, and I was curious (and nervous) about his reaction.
Is Karlovy Vary Worth a Visit?
A lot was riding on this spa vacation.
I’d booked a week-long spa package at the Luxury Olympic Palace Hotel plus two nights at the glamorous Grand Hotel Pupp – and it’s not every man’s dream to spend their entire vacation on a spa trip.
Would he be bored? Would he insist that next trip we go to Sweden for the Junior World Hockey Championships?
He didn’t say much then but later I heard him on the phone with his Czech sister-in-law, telling her Karlovy Vary was the most beautiful town he’d ever seen.
(Ha. Score one for the spa trip!)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
If a spa trip to Karlovy Vary can win over my husband, it might win you over, too. As a long time spa reviewer with a focus on European spas, I was sold on it years ago.
But don’t take my word for it. Take UNESCO’s. They’ve listed Karlovy Vary as one of the UNESCO Great Spa Towns of Europe – one of only 11 historic spa towns to be given the designation.
Known as Carlsbad in German, Karlovy Vary has been a haven for relaxation and rejuvenation for centuries.
It dates back to 1350 when the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (as the story goes) discovered the hot springs while on a hunting trip, and soothed his sore legs in the healing waters.
Why Spa in Karlovy Vary?
Karlovy Vary was founded as a spa, and is still geared towards the spa industry, so sliding into wellness is easy.
You’ll find elegant spa hotels, thick forests to meander through, filigreed drinking pavilions and high end shops.
Most important, however, are the hot springs.
The core of any Karlovy Vary spa cure lies in drinking the mineral-rich water, which is loaded with beneficial elements such as calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Most tourists whip into Karlovy Vary on a day tour from Prague – and if that’s all the time you have I highly recommend it – but its true strength lies in its roots as a healing destination.
Can You Spa in Karlovy Vary on a Day Trip?
You bet. Whether you’re here for a day or a week it’s easy to spa in Karlovy Vary, and I’m going to tell you all the ways to do it.
First, Taste the Healing Waters
There are at least 12 thermal springs you can drink from. They’re said to help with everything from liver problems to stomach disorders – depending on which spring you drink from.
While you won’t experience any real benefits with a few sips of mineral water, tasting the various springs is the easiest way to sample a Karlovy Vary spa experience.
Granted the salty warm water is an acquired taste, but, hey, it’s healthier than beer.
Start by buying a traditional porcelain cup with a spout at one of the many stalls or souvenir shops. Then, head down the pedestrian promenade, stopping at some of the many fountains.
Springs Not to Miss
One of the most popular fountains is the Snake Spring, with its decorative snake head spout.
Also, you can’t miss the Mill Colonnade, an imposing Neo-Renaissance structure lined with classical columns and home to five fountains.
Our favourite haunt was the dainty white Market Colonnade, built in 1883.
The Real Drinking Cure
If you’re doing a traditional spa package, your spa doctor will tell you which springs to drink from, and when to drink. Typically, you’re meant to ‘take the waters’ before breakfast, lunch and dinner.
But don’t overdo it – the water can have, er, cleansing effects. (But not as much as in Montecatini, the famous Italian spa town.)
Another Free Way to Spa – Breathe the Mist at the Vřídlo Geyser
If you walk down the pedestrian spa zone, you’ll come to the Hot Spring Colonnade.
Built in the socialist-era Functionalist style of the 70s, this stern-looking concrete building is a key landmark in town.
Why? It’s home to the much-loved Geyser of Vřídlo, which shoots up some 12 metres towards its glass ceiling.
While not a prescribed treatment, you’ll generally see a handful of wellness seekers quietly breathing in the vapour towards the back of the room.
I am inordinately fond of Vřídlo, and went there for a spot of breathing everyday.
(To no one’s surprise, Mark was less enthusiastic about standing Zombie-like in front of a geyser and inhaling mist, but what does he know about having fun?)
Soak in the Hot Springs at Saunia
If you’re visiting Karlovy Vary, bring your bathing suit.
When it comes to healing therapies, soaking in an outdoor hot springs pool is about the most fun thing you can do.
It’s also a fairly new way to spa in Karlovy Vary as Saunia, the town’s thermal water and sauna complex opened on a cliffside perch in 2022.
The jewel in Saunia’s crown is the outdoor thermal pool. Open year round, it overlooks the city and is a toasty 38C.
Also onsite is a large outdoor swimming pool, a casual restaurant and a sauna world with eight different saunas. You can reach Saunia by elevator through the Hotel Thermal.
Where to Get Karlovy Vary Spa Treatments
Most Karlovy Vary spas are located in hotels. If you’re not staying at a spa hotel but want to delve into Czech spa culture, there is a large public spa called Lazne 5 (Bath 5 or Spa 5) where you can book treatments.
Also known as the Elizabeth Baths (clearly it has many names), this historic building dates back to 1906. It was named for the Hapsburg Empress Elizabeth, affectionately known as Sisi, who visited Karlovy Vary in 1892.
Located at the beginning of the spa promenade (the closest end to the train and bus station), and fronted by lovely gardens, Spa 5 looks like a French-chateau from the outside, though it has more of a clinical feel on the inside.
Spa 5 offers a huge variety of treatments, from traditional therapies like mineral baths and peat (mud) packs to more indulgent wellness options like Cinnamon Pack Anti Cellulite Wraps and ‘Champagne’ Face Masks.
Karlovy Vary Massage
While thermal water is my big love, it’s hard to go wrong with a good massage, and it’s probably the most popular spa treatment for visitors.
At Spa 5 you can opt for a Classical Massage or something with a bit more flair like an Underwater Massage or a Hot Stone Massage.
How to Get to Karlovy Vary From Prague
Bus vs Train
Take a Day Tour
Sometimes a day tour is your easiest option. The only tour I’ve found that includes some spa time is this full day Prague: Day Trip to Karlovy Vary with Spa House Visit.
Check prices and availability for this Karlovy Vary Tour.
Best Hotel For a Luxury Spa Weekend
Check Into the Grandhotel Pupp
For a serious splurge, stay at the Grandhotel Pupp. A Neo-Baroque beauty, its roots go back to the 1700s and it’s one of the finest hotels in the Czech Republic.
From the lobby bar to the ornate dining room, the hotel interior is a frothy mix of lacy white columns, sophisticated blues and beiges, crystal chandeliers and sweeping drapery.
I’m not sure if James Bond had any spa treatments at the Grandhotel Pupp, but a scene from Casino Royale was filmed here.
A Modern Hotel Spa
Spa treatments at the Grandhotel Pupp are more modern than curative. There are some fun options like a Peat Bath with Colloidal Gold Face Mask, or an Anti Fatigue Back Therapy that combines a mud pack with massage. Of course you can do a good old Swedish massage here, too.
The hotel’s wellness centre has a fitness room, an indoor swimming pool with jets, a whirlpool and sauna.
If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, the Hotel Pupp is a top choice for an opulent weekend – and if you get a mental boost from being in glorious surroundings like I do, it’s an excellent place to recharge.
The Grand Hotel Pupp has a prime position at the quiet end of the Spa Zone, and backs on to the Slavkov Forest, which has wonderful walks.
Check Prices and Availability for the Grandhotel Pupp here.
Karlovy Vary Hotels With Spa Packages
Here’s where the real excitement is for me.
Many hotels in this Bohemian spa town offer comprehensive spa packages that start with a quick visit to the hotel spa doctor. The doctor works with you to figure out the treatments best suited to your needs.
Personally I like to focus on building up my respiratory and intestinal health while Mark’s treatments were geared towards joint and muscular issues.
Usually for a traditional spa cure you need a minimum of a one-week stay while three weeks is recommended.
What Are Czech Spa Stays Like?
If you don’t mind your treatments being more matter-of-fact than pampering, a traditional spa package is a renewing way to experience European spa culture.
I’ve read reviews where people think therapists in some spas in Germany and Central Europe are brusque.
The therapists might not make small talk, and your body might not always be strategically hidden behind draped towels as you climb ungracefully into a tub.
Personally, I like that these types of medical spa packages are more geared to long-term results rather than feel-good-in-the-moment experiences.
Spa Tip: Treatments in the ‘wellness’ category tend to be more North American styled than those labelled ‘medical.’
Short Spa Breaks
Shorter packages are available at most spa hotels and are great for a romantic weekend away or a midweek break.
Short spa packages aren’t so medically oriented and you probably won’t see the doctor, which means that not all treatments will be available.
On the plus side, they’re a great blend of relaxation, cuisine and enjoyable spa treatments – an ideal way to spend a spa vacation.
The Best Karlovy Vary Spa Hotel – Luxury Olympic Palace
I’ve been to Karlovy Vary several times but had never heard of the Luxury Olympic Palace until I booked it on a whim.
I plucked it from the Internet, drawn by its good Trip Advisor reviews and its comprehensive spa package that included breakfast and dinner (half board) as well as 18 treatments over the course of six days.
While it’s not as in-your-face glam as the Hotel Pupp (then again, few hotels are), the Luxury Olympic Palace’s subtle elegance, Art Nouveau decor, excellent service and imaginative cuisine won us over.
Our 7-Night Spa Package
While 18 spa treatments sounds like a lot, they’re usually short, averaging about 20 minutes.
Our treatments included things like partial massages, jet baths with mineral water, time in the salt cave and even oxygen therapy.
I was bitingly jealous of Mark’s thermotherapy treatments, which turned out to be hot mud packs placed on specific areas of the body like the knees, but you can’t do everything.
As it was, I ended up buying extra treatments!
Check out the spa package we booked here.
The Wellness Center at the Hotel
Between treatments Mark and I lounged in the wellness centre, which had a pool, jacuzzi, steam, sauna and aromatherapy room.
(Actually Mark spent more time there than I did – he got quite panicky when I planned activities that cut into his sauna time.)
About the Luxury Olympic Palace
The meticulously-restored lobby in this heritage building is a replica of how it looked in the early 1900s – even the Art Nouveau glass elevator is a perfect copy.
What we liked were the little extras that made us feel welcome.
One night there was a concert in the lounge with mulled wine. We also signed up for a free ‘healing water’ tour of the colonnades in town.
And on National Bread Day, which the hotel manager seemed quite excited about, we sampled different types of Czech bread.
Check out Luxury Spa Hotel Olympic Palace prices and availability.
Luxury Olympic Palace Location
One thing to note is that while this 5-star spa hotel is central – near the Market Colonnade – it’s part way up a hill, so you’ll be doing some huffing and puffing.
There is a public elevator that can take you part way up from the spa promenade. Look for the Great Spas of Europe Exhibit Sign not far from the Market Colonnade, take the elevator to the top floor, then exit out the back.
(And while you’re at it, stop in and learn more about the Great Spas of Europe.)
I took the elevator once, then went back to walking up. After all, gentle exercise is part of the health cure.
Mark would like you to know he never cheated by using the elevator. I would like you to know that I hiked up through the forest to find the Leaping Deer sculpture while he lolled about in the sauna.
We would both like you to know that we climbed up to the Diana Lookout Tower instead of taking the funicular.
Other Popular Spa Hotels in Karlovy Vary
Carlsbad Plaza Hotel
The spa hotel that probably most closely rivals the Luxury Olympic Palace is the Carlsbad Plaza Hotel.
It has a large wellness and pool area, and its spa offers more than 250 different treatments.
Opened in 2005, this 151-room hotel is a 5-star superior, and is set in a group of historic buildings at the tranquil end of the spa zone.
The Neo-Baroque style is ornate, but I found the decor a bit heavy-handed. Overall, I preferred the intimate look of the Luxury Olympic Palace.
Check Carlsbad Plaza Medical Spa & Wellness Hotel prices here.
With a lofty position overlooking town, the Imperial Hotel looks like a castle and was built to impress.
Opened in 1912, the Imperial once hosted elites like the Rothschilds, Mary Pickford and Strauss. It then became a state sanitorium when all spa facilities in the country were nationalized.
Today, it’s a luxury spa hotel. It’s a vast hotel and therefore might seem impersonal, but if you want panoramic views you’ll get them here, and it has a fully comprehensive spa.
The hotel offers a number of spa packages, from short romantic packages with a few wellness treatments to full on traditional spa cures that include a doctor’s visit.
If you want to stay central right on the promenade, it wouldn’t be for you, but there is a funicular that can whisk you up every 20 minutes.
Check prices and availability on Booking.com.
The socialist-era Thermal Hotel is no looker, but it has a terrific location in the centre of the spa promenade and is surrounded by parkland.
Another benefit is that it’s connected to the Saunia thermal pool complex, and with most bookings you get complimentary access. They also have their own wellness centre with an indoor pool, sauna and steam.
I spent a week here once and it covered all the bases. Overall, it’s more basic than luxe, but that means it can be more affordable than some of the other hotels.
A wide variety of spa packages are available, from weekend visits to more intensive medical packages.
For more info read my full Spa Hotel Thermal review.
Look at Prices and Availability on Booking.com
Karlovy Vary Spas Make a Unique Vacation
While these types of spa vacations aren’t for everyone, they’re one of my favourite ways to tour Europe.
Popular spa towns like Karlovy Vary have romantic architecture, peace-restoring nature walks and organic spa traditions that have been going strong for centuries.
If you want a chance to slow down and focus on yourself as well as historic sights, one of the Karlovy Vary spas might just be for you.