Prague surprised and overwhelmed me as one of the most beautiful and welcoming cities I’ve ever seen.
The historic part of the city is located around the imaginary axis of Prague Castle – Charles Bridge – Old Town Square (Pražský hrad – Karlův most – Staroměstské náměstí). A quick tour on foot can be done in under two hours, but there are enough stuff to see in Prague to keep one busy for weeks.
The Old Town
The first place to see in the Old Town is the Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí). The square is framed by a set of historic buildings dating back to the Middle Ages, the gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn, and the Old Town Hall with the oldest functioning astronomical clock in the world.
The Old Town Hall and the clocktower at the Old Town Square:
Pražsky orloj – the world’s oldest working astronomical clock:
The Old Town Square at night:
Here are some more pictures of the Old Town Square:
This is the first view of the Old Town that you see when you enter it from the Charles Bridge:
The Old Town consists of narrow streets, cafes and pubs, museums and churches. It is well preserved, friendly and cozy. Hotels, restaurants and all varieties of shops are everywhere:
Czech beer is among the best in the world. Enjoying locally brewed Velvet beer (smooth and velvety indeed) at restaurant Potrefená Husa:
The façades of some buildings are sometimes hard to miss:
Historical references are everywhere, like this house where the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler used to live:
The Clementinum complex in the Old Town hosts the National Library and the Observatory. It is also a museum and is open for guided tours. Clementinum used to be a Dominican monastery, then a Jesuit college, and some time later it became part of the University. This is the baroque hall of the National Library:
If you want more views and don’t mind some exercise, you can climb the Observatory Tower of the Clementinum. You will be rewarded by 360 degree views of the Old Town, including those of the Old Town Square:
One can also explore narrow alleys and peek into dark gateways and courtyards:
There is also a newer face to the Old Town. This is the 19-th century National Theater (Národní divadlo), located on the right bank of Vltava a couple of blocks south of Charles Bridge:
And this is the plaza behind the National Theater:
Sometimes medieval towers share the space with fin de siècle art deco buildings:
And even in the Old Town one can find graffiti like in any other big city:
Charles Bridge (Karlův most) and Vltava River
Charles Bridge is arguably the most photographed icon of Prague. It spans the river from one domed tower to another, and is the most convenient pedestrian route from the Old Town to the Lesser Town and Hradčany. From dawn and way beyond dusk it hosts artists, musicians, photographers and pickpockets.
Charles Bridge and its Eastern (Old Town side) Tower:
There a lots of statues on Charles Bridge and many of them have their own story. Take a close look at these statues. Read the plaques. Note the statue of St. John Nepomuk (Jan Nepomucký) – the legend says that it was installed at the same spot where he was executed by drowning.
Charles Bridge is worth visiting at any time of day, dusk or night:
This is the West Tower of Charles Bridge as seen at night from the adjacent Lesser Town street:
One can get into the West Tower of Charles Bridge through a door at its base and climb the wooden stairs to the top of the tower, from where you’ll see some of the best views of the city.
Prague Castle with St. Vitus Cathedral (right), St. Nicolas Church (left) and the Lesser Town as seen from the West Tower of Charles Bridge:
Charles Bridge and the Old Town seen from the West tower:
More views from the Charles Bridge tower:
Vltava river flows through the heart of the city and is a part of its image. It is crossed by multiple bridges and swarms with tourist boats and small rental boats.
The river flow in the central city area is being controlled by several dams, each about a meter or so high, which makes straightforward navigation impossible. Most tour and rental boats are limited to the space between two adjacent dams. In some places there are bypass channels that to some degree extend the navigable space on the river.
The rental boats are popular and numerous, and come in all shapes and colors:
The side channels of Vltava make some neighborhoods look like Venice:
Hradčany – The Castle District
The Castle District, or Hradčany, is located on an elevated part of the town at the left bank of Vltava river. It is home to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral which form the iconic Prague skyline.
Hradčany, the Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral as seen from Charles Bridge:
One can get to Hradčany from the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) via narrow streets that sometimes become staircases, some of which host small artisanal and souvenir shops.
Once you get up there you’ll find yourself on a large square, framed by the Castle (now the Presidential Palace) and several baroque buildings:
The Palace is a typical imperial structure, but nothing out in your face:
If you’re lucky you can watch the change of guard in front of the Palace:
One can enter the inner area of the Palace through its front gate. The first courtyard is formal and empty:
However once you get past the first courtyard the surroundings get more lively:
The structure that towers above the castle is the St. Vitus Cathedral. It looks centuries old, but it is actually only the rear part of the church that dates back to the 14th century, while the façade was completed in the early 20th.
The cathedral has an interesting history and I would recommend to take a guided tour of it. It hosts the relics of St. Wenceslaus (Václav) and the tomb of another native Bohemian saint, St. John Nepomuk (Jan Nepomucký), who is venerated around the Roman Catholic world, particularly in South America, and is considered the patron saint of bridges – probably because he achieved his martyrdom by being drowned from a bridge.
St. Vitus Cathedral at night, as seen from the tower of Charles Bridge:
This is the older 14-th century rear part of St. Vitus:
And this is the 20-th century front of the Cathedral. It was completed soon after World War I, once the indepentent nation of Czechoslovakia was formed:
The formal entrance of the Cathedral between the old and the new parts of the building:
A stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral:
A side door at St. Vitus Cathedral
Walk around the inner part of the Castle around St. Vitus Cathedral and you’ll see quite a few pretty streets and structures:
By walking around the Castle one can get more views of the city:
While in the Castle District you may also want to take a 10 minute walk to visit Strahov Monastery and its noteworthy library:
Some of the books on display at Strahov Monastery library date back to the 9-th century:
The pilgrimage site of Loreta, next to Strahov Monastery is also worth a visit:
While in Loreta, check out the chapel of St. Starosta that has a life size crucifix with a bearded woman on it. According to the story, Saint Starosta was a young lady who was very much unwilling to marry her fiancé, and prayed hard for a deliverance from that marriage. As the answer to her prayers by the divine intervention she grew a beard, which caused her fiancé to reject her and to cancel the wedding. After that she was accused of being a witch, executed, and later made a saint.
Look to the south and you will see a painfully familiar silhouette of a metal structure. This is the Petřín Lookout (Petřínská rozhledna) Tower that was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris and built in 1891.
One can descend from the Castle District into the Lesser Town via the terrace gardens on the South side of the Castle:
The Lesser Town (Malá Strana)
The Lesser Town is located on the left bank of Vltava, to the west of Charles Bridge. Unlike the Old Town across the river, the Lesser town is rather baroque than medieval or Renaissance. For a long time The Lesser Town was a city separate from the Old Town, and there was an ongoing political, economic and cultural rivalry between them.
Malostranské Náměstí Square displays a typical baroque Lesser Town style (the building and the cathedral in the far background are the Castle and St. Vitus that are part of the Hradčany district):
The Church of St. Nicolas dominates the area with its green dome and the belltower:
Lush baroque façades, doorways and gates are ubiquitous and hard to miss:
Some street views are reminescent of Venice (except for the pavement instead of a Canal):
And some streets have a typical Central European look and feel:
Streetcars (tramwaj) are a big part of the public transit system:
But I never used those streetcars since all I wanted was to walk and look at the buildings and streets:
The New Town (Nové Město) and Vyšehrad
The New Town is located roughly to the South of the Old Town, and Vyšehrad (The Upper Castle) is further down South.
Unfortunately our stay in Prague was too short and we were only able to make a quick walk from the Old Town to Vyšehrad via the New Town.
As its name implies, the New Town has a newer look and feel than the Old and Lesser Towns, somewhat around 19-th or early 20-th century time period.
One can walk from the Old Town all the way to Vyšehrad along the bank of Vltava. This wall of buildings along Masrikovo Embankment reminds me of some other city, probably St. Petersburg.
This is what looked to me as a typical New Town street view:
Prague has scores of museums of all imaginable kinds, and the New Town is no exception:
As for Vyšehrad, we found out that it was not really a city neighborhood but rather a park on a hill behind a huge stone wall. The park has large green lawns, massive old trees, and benches. There is also a small cemetery noted for the tombs of Czech celebrities, such as composer Antonín Dvořák, writer Karel Čapek (he coined the term robot), artist Alphonse Mucha and poet Jan Neruda, to name a few.
There is one structure though that towers over Vyšehrad and is visible from other parts of the city – the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul:
The front doors of the Basilica are quite a piece of art – here’s a close-up of one of them:
Vyšehrad is located on a hill and thus provides some nice views over the river. This is the view up North: the Lesser Town and the Castle District with St. Vitus Cathedral dominating the scene:
And this is the view down South with the Yacht Club in the center:
I hope to visit Prague again some day and will try to plan for a longer stay which this wonderful city deserves.