Pro tips for attending the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this weekend

One of Europe's oldest and most renowned film festivals is a short trip from Prague, and a great excursion even if you're not a film fan.

The Prague Reporter

Written by The Prague Reporter Published on 05.06.2022 15:23:00 (updated on 01.07.2022) Reading time: 5 minutes

The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is one of the oldest and most prestigious film festivals in Europe, and after two years of limitations due to the pandemic it's back in full swing for 2022. This year's festival kicks off from July 1-9, and organizers expect crowds to return in full after two years of limited numbers.

The film festival isn't just a film festival: the entire city of Karlovy Vary comes to vibrant life every year during the first week in July, with concerts, parties, theater performances, art exhibitions, and other cultural attractions. Taking place during the July 5-6 national holidays, the fest is an annual pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of Czechs.

If you're new to the festival, no worries: we've got you covered with some tips on how to best experience Karlovy Vary from someone who's attended the festival each year for the past two decades.

How to get there

Karlovy Vary is a quick two-hour drive west of Prague, and unlike heading towards Brno in the opposite direction, traffic complications aren't typically a problem. Parking can be more of an adventure, but the city features a handful of parking garages in the city center.

Buses from Prague to Karlovy Vary take off frequently from Prague's Florenc bus station (more than one an hour at peak times) and run around 200 crowns per trip. Try to book early: during the festival, some times can sell out far in advance. And when coming back to Prague, note that the last bus takes off from Karlovy Vary at around 9:00 p.m. if only staying for the day.

RegioJet and FlixBus both operate buses between Prague and Karlovy Vary. You can also get there by train through Czech Railways, but the journey will take at least an hour longer and at a higher price.

Where to stay

One of the Czech Republic's renowned spa cities, Karlovy Vary has no shortage of excellent hotels to choose from. But you'll need to book early: most will fill up during festival dates many months in advance.

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Even with enough advance time, Grandhotel Pupp, which served as a shooting location for the James Bond movie Casino Royale as well as inspiration for Wes Anderson's titular Grandhotel Budapest, will be reserved for high-profile guests.

Where to get a drink For those who don't manage to stay at the Grandhotel Pupp, you can still visit this majestic Karlovy Vary landmark: during the festival, a lounge will be set up right in front of the Grandhotel Pupp, where visitors can enjoy drinks prepared by the bartenders of Becher's Bar and light bites from Prague's renowned Asian restaurants Gao Den and Taro. The Public Interest bar will also serve champagne and cocktails in the Casino Pupp.

Festival headquarters Hotel Thermal may have a room available, but unless you plan on partying into the early hours of the morning, you can avoid it. Try Booking.com or TripAdvisor for other available options on your dates.

If you're travelling without much advance notice, you'll still have options. The Facebook group Accommodation for the KVIFF Film Fest features offers from locals with available space, and the festival itself offers last-minute options in unfilled rooms that had been reserved for festival guests.

And last but certainly not least: pack a sleeping bag and tent and stay in the tent city on the outskirts of Karlovy Vary for the true festival experience. Prices run about 150 crowns per person per night, no reservation necessary.

How to get around

During the festival, the city of Karlovy Vary will operate three special bus lines (F1, F2, and F3) through areas of the center that visitors can use free of charge, and are especially useful for guests staying outside of main festival area. The timetable for the special bus lines can be found here.

Festival bus routes. Image: KVIFF
Festival bus routes. Image: KVIFF

Visitors can also make use of bicycles to easily get around the city center during the festival. Bikes can be rented with a festival pass and valid ID, and can be borrowed and returned from Hotel Thermal, Hotel Pupp, and the tent city. The first hour is free, and each additional hour runs 100 crowns.

How to get tickets

Tickets can be purchased for individual films for 100 crowns from the festival box offices at Hotel Thermal and other locations, but most films will sell out within minutes after they are made available (from 7:00 a.m. the day before the screening).

Your best best to see something in Karlovy Vary is to pick up a festival pass at the box office upon arrival, which runs 350 crowns for a single day, 800 crowns for three days, and 1500 crowns for the whole festival.

With a festival pass, you can reserve up to three tickets per day through the official festival app (on the App Store and Google Play) from 7:00 a.m. the day before the screening if you're fast enough.

If attending screenings, the festival app is a must-have for its ease of browsing the cinema schedule and locations, replacing the printed guide from past years. It also features a handy rundown of each day's special events.

Festival pass holders can also pick up available tickets through the box offices and last-minute ticket window at Hotel Thermal, where unsold and returned tickets end up fifteen minutes before the screening.

As a festival pass holder, you can also queue up for any film screenings without a ticket. Unfilled seats will be given to pass holders without a ticket five minutes before the movie starts; show up far enough ahead of the screening (around an hour) and you'll have a good shot of getting into even a high-profile event.

Where to see the stars

Last year's festival brought acting superstars Johnny Depp, Ethan Hawke, and Michael Caine to Karlovy Vary, and every year's festival has included famous names, some of whom are announced at the last minute. Other guests at recent editions of the festival have included Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, and John Travolta, among many others.

The stars participate in red carpet ceremonies outside Hotel Thermal during the festival's opening and closing, as well as before the premiere of the films they bring to the festival, and might even sign some autographs. But you'll also have to brave hordes of fans to get close.

If you want to go paparazzi, most of the big names stay at Grandhotel Pupp and travel to Hotel Thermal by limousine before the events they participate in. Hang out long enough in front of Pupp or behind Thermal and you might get a peek.

What to see

Organizers have yet to announce a full slate of films for this year's festival or the Hollywood stars that will be attending, but keep an eye peeled over the coming weeks for future announcements.

What we do know: Thirty-three films comprise the lineup for this year's festival including 27 world premieres, three international premieres, and three European premieres, covering five continents.

This year's festival will pay homage to the late film historian Eva Zaoralova (1932-2022), who was its artistic director from 1995 to 2010, with a film screening and a photo exhibit devoted to her memory. In remembrance of Zaoralova, whose focus was Italian cinema the festival will screen Federico Fellini's "The Road" (La strada) from 1954.

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