The capital of Czech Republic is known by many names. Call it The City of a Hundred Spires, The Capital of Bohemia, The Mother of Cities or my personal favorite: The Golden City. Would Prague by any other name sound as sweet?Prague is a city that feels untouched by time. A horizon of Gothic spires, set amongst a Medieval Old Town of narrow cobblestone streets, while retaining its enchanting and regal charm from years since past. With a rich history, world class beer, affordable prices, and its enviable location in the heart of Europe, is it any wonder that Prague is among the top 10 of its most visited cities? Let’s uncover the wonders of one of my favorite destinations in the world.
The Prague Castle Complex
Step into a fortress of fairy tale proportions. Proudly overlooking the Vltava River sits the largest ancient castle complex in the world. Hradčany or Castle Quarter spans an area of nearly 18 acres; the size of seven football fields! Three grand courtyards are surrounded by churches, palaces, museums, and gardens, just begging to be explored.Dating all the way back to the 9th century, this fortified settlement grew and was renovated as rulers changed, creating an eclectic mixture of architectural styles. The Prague Castle or Pražský Hrad was once the seat of the Kings of Bohemia. Today, this is where the President of the Czech Republic resides and rules.
St. Vitus Cathedral
The most striking feature of the complex is undoubtedly the St. Vitus Cathedral, which dominates the skyline of Prague. The Gothic-style Katedrála svatého Víta took almost six centuries to complete. It transformed from a Basilica in the 11th century, with final touches made on the Cathedral before consecration in 1929. The Roman Catholic cathedral is home to the current Archbishop of Prague and a royal mausoleum holding the tombs and remains of Patron Saints, Holy Roman Emperors, and Bohemian kings. The front facade boasts a colorful 14th century mosaic of the Last Judgement above the Golden Portal. Sun radiates through the intricate Art Nouveau stained-glass windows.The Prague Castle complex is free to visit, to wander around the courtyards, and enter the first part of St. Vitus Cathedral. If you are intrigued to see more, entrance to the main attractions at Prague Castle (Circuit A) is 350 CZK for 48 hours. This includes all of St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, exhibition “The Story of Prague Castle,” St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower, Powder Tower, and Rosenberg Palace.If you prefer an educational guided walk, the Prague Castle Tour offers an in-depth look at the royal history of the area. If you are short on time or cash, instead climb the 287 narrow, winding steps of the Great South Tower, offering sweeping views over the city. Price is 150 CZK. St. Vitus is open 9am-6pm from March to October and 9am to 4pm from November to February.
It’s now time to witness the stern face at the Changing of Guards ceremony. The sentries at the gates of the Prague Castle are swapped every hour on the hour from 5am-12 am in the summer and 6am-11pm in the winter. Noon is the best time to witness fanfares and the banner exchange.
Founded in the 10th Century, St. George’s Basilica is the oldest surviving church within the castle complex. Despite these extravagant religious structures, the Czech Republic is one of the most secular countries in the world. During the 40 years of Communist rule, religion was mostly prohibited, and churchgoing was strongly discouraged. After so many years of institutionalized atheism, many Czechs today do not report a formal affiliation to any church.
While you’re in the neighborhood, take a wander down Golden Lane where tiny, colorful buildings once housed alchemists, seamstresses, and goldsmiths. They have since transformed into craft stores, bookstores, and even an armory exhibition.
Enjoy Amazing Views From Above
Let’s be honest, Prague doesn’t have a bad angle. But for the best photo ops, I recommend shooting from the top of the hill in the Prague Castle complex.
Old Town Square
Where does the heart of Prague beat? In Old Town Square of course! Despite a number of foreign invaders, Prague is one of few cities in Europe that emerged from WWII with its Old Town almost entirely intact. Old Town Square or Staré Město flaunts pastel Baroque buildings and darker Gothic churches, lined along cobblestoned lanes.During Christmas and Easter, Old Town Square hosts holiday markets. During the summer, it’s buzzing with visitors being entertained by musicians, protesters, dance troupes, and vendors selling beer, sausage and sweet treats.
Walk along Charles Bridge
The Charles Bridge spans the Vltava river and connects Old Town to Mala Strana. The bridge boasts 16 arches, is protected by three Gothic towers and is lined with 30 Baroque statues. Commissioned by King Charles IV in 1357, construction of this massive bridge wasn’t finished for over a century. Visit early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the hordes of tourists who are themselves elbowing one another fighting through for the best views of the Vltava River. Climb up Old Town Bridge Tower to take in views across the bridge towards the Lesser Town and Prague Castle.
After John Lennon was murdered in 1980, he became a hero to the youth community of Prague for his messages of love and peace. Prior to 1989 when communism ruled, western songs like Lennon’s Imagine were banned by Communist authorities, because it was praising freedom that simply didn’t exist. Although Lennon never visited Prague himself, his face was painted on this wall as a symbol of resistance against communist rule. Young activists snuck out in the night to scrawl graffiti in Beatles lyrics and odes to Lennon, followed by their own hopes and dreams. This form of political and artistic expression posed a risk of inprisonment for what authorities called “subversive activities against the state.”The Communist police attempted to wash over the messages of peace but they could never manage to keep the wall clean. The wall, located across from the French Embassy in Mala Strana, is now owned by the Knights of the Maltese Cross, who encourage the inspirational messages to continue to this day.A small pedestrian bridge nearby the Lennon Wall is covered in “love locks” I love reading these sentimental messages from cities around the world!
Indulge in local food & drink
Traditional Czech food is heavy on the meat and carbs. Thanks to this, it’s easy to fill up cheaply. Think goulash, dumplings, pork knuckles, sausage in dark beer sauce or platters of beer cheese and fried bread. Local hot spots like U Houdků and U Sádlů offer these dishes for as little as £5.
Treat yourself to the national dish of the Czech Republic, Svíčková na smetaně. A Beef sirloin served with gravy, dumplings and cranberry sauce. Guláš (beef goulash) originates in Hungary, but this robust stew has become a staple for Czech palates. Chlebíčky are perfect for lunch – open-faced sandwiches topped with cold cuts and cheeses. And for dessert? Trdelník is a rolled cylindrical pastry served warm and toasty and coated in cinnamon and sugar.
The Czech Republic has the highest per capita consumption of beer in the world. Popular varieties on tap are Pilsner Urquell, Budvar and Gambrinus. Bernard and Svijany to treat yourself to fancy. All super affordable!
Be sure to check out the Strahov Monastery and Brewery, Prague Beer Museum and Beer Spa Bernard – where their motto is “We treat your body from inside and outside” The phrase pivo prosím – “Beer please!” will come in handy!
Catch the Astronomical Clock Show At the Top of Each Hour
The 15th century Astronomical Clock is a unique masterpiece, showing not only the time, day, week, month and year, but also the position of the sun, phase of the moon, astronomical cycles and festivals on the Christian calendar. Every hour on the hour, from 9am to 11pm, the clock springs to life as the Twelve Apostles appear. An exciting spectacle you don’t want to miss!The Gothic Tower of Old Town Hall rises up over the city, providing striking panoramic views over Church of Our Lady Before Týn. You can ascend to the top for 250 CZK. Note: CLOSED for repair until December 31, 2017.
Church of Our Lady Before Týn
Looming over Old Town Square, Church of our Lady before Týn flaunts two Gothic towers with twin pointy spires. If you look closely enough, you might notice that the towers aren’t identical in size. They represent the feminine and masculine sides of the world, one of the main characteristics of the Gothic style. They are aptly named Adam and Eve. In the Center of Town Square is the Jan Hus Monument, a religious reformer who challenged the corruption within the Catholic Church and is now a symbol of the Czech independence.
Explore the city’s Jewish Heritage
In the centuries past, Prague had a significant Jewish population. They were confined to a small Jewish Ghetto and allotted only a small plot of land for a cemetery. As more and more people were buried over the generations, they began having to move the headstones and bury people on top of each other. Visitors are able to understand and appreciate history in the Josefov or Jewish Quarter which was preserved by the Nazis during WWII to serve Hitler’s plans for a museum of the extinct race in Prague. For 300 CZK you can purchase a ticket for entrance to multiple Synagogues, the WWII memorial, Ceremonial Hall, and the Old Jewish Cemetery.
Throw out the map & get lost!
You can easily spend an afternoon exploring the wooded paths, mirror maze and rose garden of Petřín Hill, as well as enjoying the great views from around the Strahov monastery. If you’re in Prague for a few days and plan to visit a lot of attractions, the 72-hour Prague City Card is a money saver. In addition to admission to many of Prague’s top attractions, enjoy free public transportation and a complimentary ride on the Airport Express Bus, along with discounts at several restaurants and shops.There are 280 museums in Prague! There is a museum for everything your little heart could desire… beer, Jewish, toys, toilets, sex machines, gingerbread.The National Museum, whose collection of medieval and modern exhibits is spread across several different venues throughout the city, has a changing roster of free entry dates. The work of controversial artist David Černý can be seen all over the city. The Franz Kafka museum showcases humorous statues such as “Piss”, featuring two gyrating men urinating on a map of the Czech Republic. Text a personal message to the number next to the exhibit and these lads will spell it out for you. Prague joined the European Union in 2004, but has yet to adopt the Euro. Take advantage of this budget-friendly destination while it’s still easy on the wallet!
Have you visited Prague or is it on your radar? I hope I have convinced you to make the journey. It’s already calling my name to return!