Earth : Europe : Central Europe : Czech Republic : East Bohemia : Hradec Králové
Hradec Králové  is a city located in East Bohemia in the Czech Republic. The eighth largest city in the republic, with a population of nearly 100,000 inhabitants, Hradec Králové stands as the capital of the Hradec Králové Region. The city is also a major center for higher education, business and transportation for much of East Bohemia. Due to their close proximity, Hradec Králové shares a deep-seated rivalry with neighboring Pardubice. Often overshadowed by popular destinations like Prague, Český Krumlov and Karlovy Vary, Hradec Králové remains largely undiscovered by foreign tourists.
Hradec Králové lies at the confluence of the Elbe and Orlice rivers. With the exception of the city's Old Town (Staré město), Hradec Králové is largely flat. Located nearly 50 km from the Czech-Polish border, the city stands in close proximity to the Table Mountains (Stolové hory), the Giant Mountains (Krkonoše) and the Bohemian Paradise (Český Ráj).
The area around the modern city has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Archaeological discoveries located just outside of the city, near Plotiště nad Labem, have yielded evidence of settlements ranging from the prehistoric era to Roman times. By the 10th century, a strong Slavic presence was established by the Slavník family, with a busy marketplace commandeering the trade route between Kraków and Prague in place. After the unification of the Slavic tribes under the Přemyslid dynasty in 995, Hradec became the seat of the Bohemian prince, making it the administrative center for a vast swath of northeastern Bohemia.
Under the reign of Ottokar I in 1225, the town, known as Hradec (Castle) became a free royal city. During the same century, a new Gothic royal castle was constructed, becoming one of the residences of Ottokar I, Wenceslaus I, Ottokar II, and Wenceslaus II. During the 14th century, Hradec became a royal dowry town for queens of the Bohemian monarchy, permanently affixing Králové (of the Queen) to the settlement's name. In particular, Queen Elizabeth Richeza of Poland, widowed to both Wenceslaus II and Rudolf I, left an indelible legacy for the city, initiating the foundation of the modern Holy Spirit Cathedral (Katedrála svatého Ducha). Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, the city's trade and strategic location led it to grow extensively, becoming one of the most prominent population centers in Bohemia outside of Prague. At the same time, extensive fortifications were constructed around the contemporary Old Town.
During the Hussite Wars, Hradec Králové openly sided with Jan Žižka and his forces. After the wars' conclusion, George of Poděbrady (Jiří z Poděbrad) sought to royally invest in the city, confirming the city's royal rights, while also commissioning a large fountain in the city's square; the fountain remained until its demolition in 1782. George's legacy endures to the present day, with the letter "G" being held by the Bohemian royal lion within the city's coat of arms.
Throughout the Renaissance, the city faced extensive reconstruction and expansion, with additional fortifications, schools, gates and municipal buildings being built, including the White Tower (Bílá věž) constructed next to the Holy Spirit Cathedral. The Thirty Years' War brought disaster to Hradec Králové. The combined arrival of the Jesuits, a forced conversion to Catholicism, and a brutal Swedish occupation, left the city devastated, forcing much of the Old Town to be rebuilt in baroque architecture. A further disaster struck in 1762 during the Seven Years' War, when a fire started by Prussian forces destroyed half of the city. Due to this, as well as a hostile Prussian border only 50 km from the city, Austrian Emperor Joseph II ordered a refortification of Hradec Králové with an extensive Austrian garrison, becoming part of a network of military outposts strung along the Austro-Prussian border. The construction of the extensive fortifications lasted from 1766 to 1789, displacing a large number of the city's residents. Due to this, suburbs were established outside of the city walls, becoming the modern-day areas of Nový Hradec Králové and Kukleny. Several remaining portions of the Austrian fortifications exist today.
Industrialization in the 19th century continued to alter the city. The railroad reached Hradec Králové in 1857, bringing with it new investments in sugar factories, gasworks, machine shops and banks. Businessman Václav František Červený founded the V. F. Červený company in Hradec Králové in 1842, with his factory producing brass musical instruments. Additionally, piano maker Antonín Petrof also made the city the base of the Petrof firm's operations in 1864, becoming one of the leading grand piano manufacturers in the Austrian Empire and in Europe. Both companies remain in operation to the present day. The short 1866 Austro-Prussian War, whose decisive action took place at the Battle of Königgrätz (Bitva u Hradce Králové), fought less than 10 km from the city in the village of Chlum, forced Austrian authorities to rethink the city's fortifications, now rendered useless by contemporary weaponry. By the 1890s, the land for much of the city's fortifications and bunkers had been sold and dismantled, opening the city for urban expansion. Under the active encouragement of Dr. František Ulrich, the city's mayor from 1895 to 1929, municipal authorities invited emerging Czech architects, including Jan Kotěra, to use freed space as fertile ground for modernist architecture.
Following the independence of Czechoslovakia from the disintegrating Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, the city emerged as a symbol of the First Republic's ingenuity and confidence. With an increasing population and a burgeoning commercial industry after independence, celebrated Czech modernist architect Josef Gočár was tasked by municipal authorities to redesign vast portions of the city to be suitable for growing traffic and population demands. Beginning in 1926 and lasting for nearly a decade, Gočár executed a number of new squares, parks, apartment buildings and roads, which fundamentally altered the city's layout, particularly within the expanding New Town. Citizens were so impressed by Gočár's and his other fellow architects' improvements to the city that Hradec Králové quickly became known as the "Salon of the Republic" (Salón republiky), a nickname still widely used.
Urban development came to a halt with the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and World War II, though the city survived the conflict largely unscratched. Due to a population boom in the communist era, large apartment buildings were constructed to meet demand, particularly in the southeast and eastern portions of the city. The end of communism in 1989, along with the Czech Republic's inclusion into the European Union in 2004, has again made the city one of the commercial centers of the nation. Today, Hradec Králové is often cited by surveys as having one of the highest quality of life ratings in the entire Czech Republic. The city is also now well known for its vibrant student population, due in part to the local University of Hradec Králové, Charles University's Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, and the University of Defence, the Czech Republic's military academy. Architecturally, the city offers a highly eclectic panorama of historical buildings, ranging from Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Socialist.
Hradec Králové is connected to the D11 motorway, allowing a 70 minute drive to and from Prague. From Pardubice, the city is connected by expressway R37, and is nearly a 15 minute drive. Poděbrady is a 40 minute drive from the city, also connected by the D11 motorway. Travelers driving from Poland, coming from the direction of Kudowa-Zdrój, Kłodzko or Wrocław, can access the city by road 33, with a 50 minute drive from the Czech-Polish border. From Olomouc, the city is connected by road 35, with an average two hour driving time between both cities.
There is currently no commercial service to the city's small airport, Letiště Hradec Králové (ICAO: LKHK). There are limited flights to Pardubice, though any travelers arriving by air will likely arrive in Prague at Prague Václav Havel Airport.
Pardubice Airport (PED)
Pardubice Airport, (IATA: PED) - small airport 20 km away. New airport terminal was opened December 2017. There is a train station, Pardubice hlavní nádraží from where you can go to Hradec Králové, see Getting to by train section. Flights:
Hradec Králové is connected to the national rail network by Czech Railways (České dráhy) , with the city serving as a hub for East Bohemia (along with Pardubice). Most travelers by train arrive at the Art Deco Hradec Králové hlavní nádraží (Hradec Králové hl.n) near the entrance of the city's New Town.
The city's sleek and modern bus station, Terminál HD (Terminál hromadné dopravy) also serves as a major stopping point and gateway to the region's highly integrated bus network, and is located a 3 minute walk away from the train station behind the ČEZ building. Multiple connections to Prague are readily available, with buses arriving and departing nearly every thirty minutes. The average bus connection time between the two cities is usually 90 minutes to two hours, depending on the route or flow of traffic. From Hradec Králové, more connections to East Bohemia's cities and towns, as well as to other cities within the Czech Republic, are possible.
The city's mass transportation system is run by Dopravní podnik města Hradce Králové  (DP). DP buses are easily distinguished from others by being colored after the city's white, yellow and red flag, with its fleet consisting of motor and trolley buses. Most buses depart from Terminál HD or at the foot of the train station. DP offers extensive service across all parts of the city and suburbs. Fares within zones I or II are 20 CZK (a paper ticket bought before boarding the bus at the newsagent) or 25 CZK (ticket bought when boarding the bus). A 24-hour ticket is 80 CZK. Tickets can be purchased when boarding the bus or at the newsagent. The ticket bought by the newsagent must be validated when boarding the bus.
The city's ring road, encircling both the Old and New towns, consists of roads 11, 21 and 35. The route greatly eases traffic congestion in the city, though parking in the New Town can be, at times, difficult. Many of the cobblestone streets in the Old Town are one-way and narrow, and it is advised for drivers to proceed slowly. In the New Town, several streets are blocked to traffic and are considered as pedestrian zones except for local businesses, especially around the vicinity of Masaryk (Masarykovo náměstí) and Baťkovo (Baťkovo náměstí) squares. Several of the city's main thoroughfares, including Gočárova třída, třída Karla IV, and Pospíšilova, can be especially busy during commute times.
Due to the city's compact nature and marked walking paths, Hradec Králové is best accessed by foot. Walking through both the Old and New Town areas easily allows visitors to view the architectural charms and history of the city.
Thanks to the combination of the city's flat geography and its abundance of marked routes, Hradec Králové is an ideal location for bicyclists. Many shops and hotels offer bicycle rentals to visitors. The municipality's website offers a listing of bicycle rental locations here: .
With most areas of interest lying within the Old and New Towns, most sites can be easily accessed by foot. As the city is largely unknown to foreign tourists, most areas are relatively free of waiting lines or large crowds.
Old Town (Staré město)
New Town (Nové město)
Aside from the standard tourist fare of historical sights, Hradec Králové boasts a number of cultural events throughout the year, fit for all ages, genres of music, and interests with Czech culture.
The Hradec Králové Grand Prix is the city's largest bicycle race, attracting foreign and domestic racing teams as competitors race through the city's streets. More unconventional and amusing, the city hosts the European Pedal Go-Cart Championship  in mid-July.
A number of music festivals have set up shop both within and just outside of the city. Held in early July, Rock for People , one of the largest music festivals in the Czech Republic, has attracted some of the biggest names in alternative music since its inception in 1994, and has since 2007 been hosted at Věkoše Airport, located just outside of the city. Beginning in 2004, Hip Hop Kemp  has steadily become one of the largest European hip hop festivals, taking place every year in August also at Věkoše Airport. Another festival, Jazz Goes to Town , is held every October, attracting a large number of jazz enthusiasts.
The Queen Eliška Festival , celebrating the arrival of Polish queen consort Elizabeth Richeza in Hradec Králové in the 14th century, is celebrated at the end of August and the beginning of September. The Great Square transforms back to the medieval era, with jousting knights, jugglers, theatrical performances, fairs and fireworks.
The International Embankment of Lovers of Steam Engines  meets in the city in August, as steam engine enthusiasts gather to showcase their collections, including steam boats traversing up the Orlice and Elbe rivers.
As one of the principal cities of the Czech Republic, the city is home to several sports teams.
With the city's abundance of small shops, selling everything from antiques, books, furniture and clothing, there is no shortage of purchasing options in Hradec Králové. Despite not processing the number of enormous shopping malls found in Prague or Brno, Hradec Králové does contain several large consumer options.
Thanks to its high concentration of university students, Hradec Králové is not short of entertaining cafes, bars and pubs to slip into during most hours of the day.
Despite being a relatively unknown foreign tourist destination, the city's municipal website  offers information and guides to visitors. Hotels will often offer guides to the city.
Hradec Králové is often considered one of the most safe cities in the republic with a low crime rate. However, visitors should be advised to continue to keep their wits. At the often crowded hlavní nádraží and Terminál HD, it is advisable to always keep your bags close. Also, do not give unknown persons money. There have been reported incidents of individuals, many of them Romani (Gypsy), scamming people near the Terminál HD or around the New Town near currency exchange offices, politely asking for a little money to help their families, then proceeding to aggressively demand more money upon discovering that the victim is either a foreigner or has extra cash to give. Most locals completely ignore these individuals, and it is advisable that tourists should do the same if confronted in such a situation.
Like many places in the Czech Republic, tensions between Czechs and Romani are highly visible. The Romani bitterly complain of social injustice and outright racism towards their population, while many Czechs believe the Romanis chronic unemployment, high birth rates, and unwillingness to integrate, are burdens to the state. It is not uncommon for Czechs to glare disapprovingly at large and loud Romani families in squares or markets, as well as to tell travelers privately their bitterness towards the Romani. In recent years, Czech right-wing extremists have capitalized on this discontent, and have made ideological inroads with their views. It is advisable for tourists to remain neutral, as this is a deeply sensitive and highly complex issue for both parties.
There are frequent buses and trains out of the city to neighboring locations.