The ancient silver mining town of Kutna Hora is one of the Czech Republic’s most popular destinations. Only an hour from Prague, it makes a great day trip and an even better destination in its own right.
When we mapped out our 21-day grand Czech Republic road trip, Kutna Hora became our first stop.
Worth it? Most definitely.
One day in Kutna Hora
While it may appear to be a rather unassuming town, Kutná Hora is a favorite on the tourist radar, to a great degree because of the famous “bone church” in the nearby village of Sedlec. Sadly, some rush in to see that one place and move on, never knowing what they might have missed.
What we learned during our visit was that Sedlec Ossuary pales in comparison to many other nearby places. For our part, we thought Kutná Hora’s historical town center and the Church of St Barbara were even more remarkable than the ossuary, which we covered in a separate article.
Anyway, Kutna Hora has a fascinating history. Watch this fun cartoon to learn all about it:
The history of Kutna Hora in a nutshell
It all began in 1142, when the first Cistercian monastery in the Czech lands was established in the nearby village of Sedlec. Any peace and quiet the poor monks might have enjoyed was short lived though, because silver was discovered in the area in the 1200s. This made the king so happy that he established the royal mint there in 1300, making Kutna Hora not merely a wealthy royal city, but the second most important town in the Kingdom of Bohemia.
Thanks to all the money rolling into town, the magnificent Church of St. Barbara and the Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec were built not long after. Still standing, UNESCO thought these two sites were impressive enough to be awarded world heritage status.
Before I go further, I should explain that our plane had arrived in Prague at 9:00 a.m. that morning, so we got a late start. The drive itself only takes an hour.
I would also like to give a shout out to Czech Tourism, the country's official tourist bureau, who had arranged for a representative from the Kutna Hora Tourist Information Centre to guide us from place to place and be available for any questions we might have. Their assistance was priceless.
10:30 – Hrádek
Since it all began with silver, it made sense to begin our sightseeing at the Hrádek, an impressive, 700-year-old building that was once a patrician residence. Thanks to the Information Center, we were able to take a private tour so we could get better photos and ask all the questions we wanted, without concern.
The Hradek now houses the fascinating Czech Museum of Silver and offers two informative tours:
- Silver City – geology, archeology, development of Kutná Hora, the history of Hrádek, the life of the “silver nobility“, numismatics (1 hour)
- The Journey of Silver – medieval mine, horse gin, medieval silver ore extraction and processing technology, minting, miners' settlement (1½ hours)
We took the second tour.
Our guide began by explaining how raw silver was mined and processed, then brought us to the original “donkey gin,” an animal-powered mining machine. After donning the required cover-up and headlamp, we descended 40 meters into the Swiss cheese-like passages under Kutna Hora.
Soon we were walking through a section of the original medieval mine, grateful for our shoes’ good traction because some of the walkway was damp and slippery.
The passage still shows scars along the walls from the miners’ hammer-and-chisel work, the pattern broken here and there with niches that once had held the miners’ candles. I shuddered at the mental image of working in such meager light underground, hoping my lamp wouldn’t go out while I completed my daily labor.
Tip: The mine is not suitable for large people, nor anyone with mobility issues or fear of enclosed or dark places. Be sure to wear good shoes.
Once above ground again, we were guided to the Hrádek’s colorful garden, which houses wooden structures like those that would have been in a miners' settlement, as well as a replica of a hearth furnace with bellows, a period smelter complete with its devices and tools, and costumed mannequins of mining workers in the midst of their labors.
12:00 – Lunch at Restaurant Dačický
Hidden in the corner of a narrow, crooked lane, 400-year-old Restaurant Dacicky has still managed to snag the top spot on TripAdvisor Restaurant as much for its historic ambiance as its delicious food. The 700-year-old building was reconstructed in the 1500s and was the birthplace of the chronicler Mikuláš Dačický of Heslov in the mid-16th century, a legendary lover of wine, beer and women. Hence the name.
Even though this town landmark serves busloads of tourists, the restaurant was quiet when we arrived so we had our pick of where to sit. Daylight is a tried-and-true jet lag remedy so we sat on the patio … though its colorful medieval dining room and bar was far more inviting. I would imagine that the long, heavy wooden tables there have heard plenty of interesting conversations. They certainly looked old enough.
As is expected in Czech culture, we seated ourselves. Soon afterward we were savoring the restaurant’s own microbrew and looking forward to our first taste of Czech food. Yeah. Czechs never rush their cooking.
Tip: In pubs, beer is served in half-liter mugs. If you’re not that thirsty, order a “malé pivo,” which is a third of a liter. It will be served in the same size mug and topped with a large head of foam.
1:30 – Italian Court
Had it not been for the Tourist Information Centre, we may never have ever heard of the Italian Court. Not by that name, at least.
When King Vaclav II implemented his monetary reform in 1300, he summoned experts from Florence to oversee it. As part of the reform, these Italian bankers created a central mint and standardized the silver coins, replacing the scattered mints around the country, as well as their various coins. The silver Prague groschen became one of Europe’s strongest currencies at the time.
The building that housed the mint was nicknamed the Italian Court, thanks to the Florentine consultants and the fact that it was a favorite residence of King Wenceslas IV. Many important royal matters were handled there, most notably the Decree of Kutná Hora.
The Italian Court is still a government building and serves as Kutna Hora’s City Hall. It also houses a museum that is one of Kutná Hora's most visited tourist sites.
3:00 – The streets of Kutna Hora
When it was time to bid goodbye to our tour guide, she walked back to our car by way of a few charming little cobblestone streets. Seeing the official sights is nice, but it's best not to overlook the historic town they are in.
Kutna Hora’s city center has some particularly fine private dwellings.
4:00 – Sedlec Ossuary
As previously mentioned, Kutna Hora’s nearby neighbor, Sedlec, is home to a sensational chapel decorated with bones. It is so popular with day-trippers from Prague and so unique in its own right that it has earned its own article. (Read about the macabre bone church here.)
4:30 – Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist
The monastery’s beautiful cathedral is part of the official UNESCO World Heritage site because “it was restored in line with early 18th-century Baroque taste and influenced the architecture of central Europe.” Built around 1300 in the shape of a Latin cross, it was the first French Gothic church on Czech lands and the largest religious building in Bohemia.
The Hussites burned the cathedral in the 1400s. When the interior was redone in the early 18th century, it was designed to the then-popular Baroque taste. Well, all but its presbytery, main nave and transept; they still retain their original appearance.
Visitors can borrow a helpful English-language handout and use it to tour the cathedral. Be sure to see the treasury room, which holds a masterpiece from the church’s gothic beginnings: the Monstrance of Sedlec. It is one of only ten gothic monstrances in existence and the oldest gothic monstrance in the world. (Monstrances are Roman Catholic ritual items.)
My greatest regret from our day in Kutna Hora was that we didn’t take the time to see and photograph the cathedral. It was growing late and we were more afraid of missing the chance to visit Saint Barbara’s Cathedral, which had enchanted us on our drive into town. The last admission to the church is 30 minutes before it closes. As it turns out, we could have spent 20-30 minutes here and still had time to see St. Barbara’s.
4:45 – St. Barbara’s Cathedral
The ornate St. Barbara’s Cathedral rightly deserves to be Kutna Hora’s pride and joy. It is named for the patron saint of miners who on various occasions, it is said, helped miners escape seemingly hopeless situations: She opened a hard rock, she enlightened the mine when a lamp went out, or she just showed the right way out of a mine collapse.
True or not, UNESCO considers the church a jewel of the late Gothic period, and it is. What’s surprising is that though it was begun at roughly the same time as Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral, they seem so different. Although they both have buttresses, St. Barbara’s has the tented roof typical in Late Gothic architecture and seems much brighter inside.
5:45 – Gothic Stone House & Gothic stone fountain
The completely reconstructed Gothic Stone House (which conveniently was within a few blocks of our hotel) is covered in exquisite stone carvings. Inside are displays about the daily life of the townspeople in the medieval mining town, local church activity and more about the economic base of the town. It is considered the most important civic house in Kutna Hora, because it is a testimony to how people lived and thought in its day. Inside, Unfortunately, the gates were already locked for the day. Apparently it had already closed for the day, which just goes to prove that you really can’t see all of Kutna Hora in one day.
Well, at least we got to see the outside!
A block away we found a huge 12-sided, obviously Gothic structure sitting in the middle of a square that had several picturesque and historic houses. Peeking through a hole in the doorway we discovered that it is now home to a number of sculptures, which look to have been created by local artists.
The fountain hasn't always been an art gallery, of course. During the Middle Ages, it was covered by a hexagonal roof; wooden pipes channeled water into it from a well four kilometers away. It was built in 1493 by the same architect who worked on the Church of St. Barbara and Prague's Powder Tower. He had originally designed the fountain with a hexagonal roof and it was so well-built that it continued to supply water to the town until 1890.
Photographers: the ancient fountain is lit up beautifully after dark.
6:00 – Day's End
With so much to do in Kutna Hora, it might seem odd to end a day so early, but our first day in the Czech Republic had begun the day before with an overnight flight from the U.S. After almost the entire day on our feet, we felt exhausted and ready to grab a bite at the hotel before heading upstairs to bed. Still, we couldn't resist the temptation to cap off our day at a vinoteca on our way back to our hotel to sample the local wines.
Inspired to visit?
- For opening times and admission prices, see Sedlec Ossuary's website.
- You can see more shots of Sedlec Ossuary’s bone art and more in our Kutna Hora Photo Gallery.
- For more information about what to see around Kutna Hora, visit the official Czech Tourism website and the Kutna Hora Tourist Information Centre.
- We stayed at the comfortable and centrally-located Hotel Opat.
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