Prague, often referred to as the ‘city of a hundred spires’, was founded in the 9th century and has one of the most charming and beautifully preserved centres in Europe. After the fall of communism in 1989, the Czech Republic capitalised on the tourist potential of Prague, which resulted in ever increasing numbers of tourists visiting the Czech capital. It is a marvelous place to wander round: medieval architecture, cobblestone streets, and the numerous historical and cultural sights are all located within a relatively compact area. Thus it’s easy to understand why the Historic Centre of Prague is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an extremely popular tourist destination. Whilst I would encourage everyone to avoid the centre and explore other areas of Prague and the Czech Republic, you should take one day to experience the centre so that you don’t feel that you’ve missed out on anything.
Having lived in the Czech Republic for several years, I have decided to create a simple itinerary that will guide you round the major sites of central Prague (see google map); there are of course plenty of other sights depending on your interests. I have also written a post on my favourite pubs and restaurants so hopefully you won’t go too hungry or thirsty either!
Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí)
Staroměstské náměstí is the historic square in the Old Town quarter of Prague, and is as good a place as any to begin a tour of the centre. The square contains several buildings of impressive architectural significance; including the baroque church of St. Nicholas, the Roman Catholic parish church for Our Lady before Tyn, and the Old Town Hall.
The Old Town hall was founded in 1338 and comprises a complex of houses, the Gothic tower and astronomical clock. Access to the chapel, historical halls. and underground tour costs a reasonable 100 czk and provides visitors with an overview as to how the town developed during the early years. The old town was raised to reduce the risk of flooding, thus some of the original old town buildings can be seen on the underground tour. For a birds eye view of the historical centre and surrounding areas you can climb the tower (there is actually a lift) which costs 120 czk. Situated on the southern wall of the Old Town Hall is the medieval Astronomical Clock, and having been functional for more than 600 years, is the oldest operational astronomical clock in the world; thus it’s reputation as a technological masterpiece is definitely deserved. Every hour, the crowds gather beneath the clock to witness ‘The Walk of the Apostles’, a procession of figures that emerge from above the clock face. It’s probably the most over rated event in Prague and will consume several minutes of your life that you’ll never get back.
If you have sufficient time you could do worse than spend an hour or two on a Vltava River cruise – there are numerous companies touting for business, and their cruises vary in price, so best to check as to what’s included. A one hour tour with Prague Boats is probably a reasonable option and allows you to relax and enjoy Prague from the water. Alternatively, hire a pedalo or rowing boat (peak season only).
The Jewish quarter (Josefov) is located a short walk to the north of the square. As early as the 13th century, increasing numbers of Jewish people expelled from various parts of Europe resided in the Ghetto. Despite extensive remodeling over the years, the significant historical buildings remain, including six synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery. The Jewish Quarter escaped destruction by the Nazis during WWII as Hitler wished to preserve it as a “Museum of an Extinct Race”.
Charles Bridge (Karlův most)
Charles Bridge was completed in the early 15th century and is the main pedestrian link between the Old Town Square and the Castle District. Until 1841, this was the only bridge on the Vltava River, and thus became an important trade route within the city, as well as between Western and Eastern Europe. The Old Town Bridge Tower (Staroměstská mostecká věž) is one of the three towers important in defending this vital crossing; pay 90 czk and climb the 138 steps for impressive views of the bridge and Prague Castle. The baroque statues that line the bridge are all replicas, although the surviving ones are exhibited in the national museum. Whilst it’s a must see when visiting the city, if you’re there during peak season then don’t bother trying to cross during the day as it’s far too crowded and unpleasant; find another way. Otherwise you’ll have to navigate groups of slow moving tourists, many of whom randomly stop to take photos, as well as those trying to make a living by selling art and crafts or drawing caricatures. If you want some decent photos of Charles Bridge then after you cross the river, take the first set of steps on left hand side down to Na Kampě, and then walk back towards the river which is usually very quiet. If you wish to experience a Charles Bridge devoid of tourists then return in the early hours of the morning (the closer to sunrise the better).
On the Malá Strana side of the river make your way towards Petřín Hill. although it’s worth walking past the Lennon wall at Velkopřevorské náměstí. Since the 1980’s, the wall has been covered in John Lennon-inspired graffiti including lyrics and political slogans, and was particularly important for those who opposed communism. It’s continually evolving, so may look different from the image below.
There are two ways to the top of the hill; the funicular railway or hike up through the park. The funicular is part of the integrated public transport network thus requires at least a standard 30 minute public transport ticket (24 czk). The main attraction is Petřín Tower (Petřínská rozhledna) which was built in the late 19th century and has a slight resemblance to the Eiffel Tower, although it’s a fifth of the height and not quite as elaborate. It’s definitely worth a visit, and for 120 Czk, provides one of the best views of central Prague, the Vltava River, and the castle complex.
Other notable attractions in the area include the wooden mirrored labyrinth (90 czk) and the Church of St. Lawrence. The gardens of Petřín Hill are a popular area for sunbathing and an ideal place to stop if the weather is decent and you have you have brought your own lunch; also, there is a cafe next to the tower. Otherwise, continue through the gardens towards the Strahov Monastery (Strahovský klášter). If you’re not interested in a guided tour of the monastery, which boasts an impressive library, as well as an excellent brewery, then continue to the main road which has numerous places for eating; obviously those nearer the castle are more expensive.
Prague Castle (Pražský hrad)
The castle complex is one of the largest ancient castles in the world and has been home to a number of monarchs and political leaders since the 9th century. The complex itself is a mix of different architectural styles as these individuals tried to impose their influence through the ages. There are an array of ticketing options that give you access to the various exhibitions and buildings within the complex. It’s a popular tourist attraction all year round, although If you are interested in castles then go for the ‘Circuit A’ ticket which is valid for two days and probably provides the best value for money at 350 czk.
From the castle you can descend to towards the river by Staré zámecké schody (quickest route) or Nerudova, Malostranské náměstí (scenic route) or tram #22, and then make your way towards the Old Town square via Mánesův Bridge which, as previously mentioned, provides great views and photo opportunities of Charles Bridge and the Old Town Bridge Tower. Now it’s time for a well deserved Czech beer and some traditional Czech fare.
PUBS AND RESTAURANTS
Given that Prague is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, it’s incredibly easy to stumble into one of the many tourist traps for a quick beer or bite to eat whilst you’re exploring this amazing city. See the link below for places that are worthwhile stopping by.