The grand Karlštejn Castle is located some 30 kilometers away from Prague. With all of our personal aversion to organized tours, this is one trip that is better attempted with a group. The main reason for it is time: The visit to the castle will be over in slightly more than an hour, but if you go there on your own, you’ll spend close to a whole day getting there and back.
Could be appealing to some, for all I know. We did enjoy the train ride and the freedom of making the long trek from the station to the castle at our own pace. But trains run only once every 30 minutes, take roughly 35 minutes, and you need to account for time between your hotel and the central train station in Prague at the both ends of the trip. That may add up to three hours, depending on how much time you end up waiting for the next scheduled train. Walking up the hill to the castle may easily take an hour for the less athletic, but will definitely take at least 40 minutes. Walking down the hill after visiting the castle – another 40 minutes. The castle may be visited only with one of the groups departing at specific intervals, so there could be some additional wait here… All in all, the entire endeavor will likely take 6-7 hours, of which only a small portion will be the actual sightseeing.
Conversely, an organized tour will pick you up at your hotel and deposit you back in roughly 4 hours. (You will still have to endure the same 40-minute climb, though.)
Is it worth it in the end? Not unequivocally. You will visit six or seven halls in the castle ♥ and hear some interesting commentary, but not much of the interior is going to bowl you over. The views from the ramparts are quite nice, but some of the higher points of the castle are off limits for the visitors. If you are a true aficionado of the Middle Ages history you might find this place quite enchanting. The average visitor might be disappointed.
The village spread out along the road up to the castle is full of souvenir shops and eateries, but also has a couple of nice art galleries.
We had lunch Pod Hradekom, with a very minimal damage of CZK 410 (~$20) for five different plates plus drinks. Last visit: Spring 2010.