If you are planning a trip around Europe and are short of time, the most logical itinerary should include its majestic historical towns. No matter how little time you’ve got, you must visit Prague, an outstanding display of all kinds of architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, and Czech Cubism. Even if you can’t stand the crowds, the charming hidden corners and backstreet alleys will make you fall in love with Prague.
The terrain determines Prague’s urbanism. The magnificent River Vltava divides the city between the east and the west. The left bank is home to the Castle District – Hradčany and Malá Strana or Lesser Town. The city centre sits on the right bank: Staré Město or The Old Town and Nové Město or the New Town. Most of the historical monuments are located within these four densely populated medieval boroughs that make up Prague 1 District. The other historical districts are Prague 5 south of Malá Strana, Prague 6 and 7, north of it, and Prague 2, 3 and 4 south and east of the Old and New Towns. Massive socialist blocks from the late 20th century surround the city. Except the medieval core the rest of the city is pretty disperse interspersed by several green belts separating the neighborhoods.
The Prague Castle, together with the Cathedral of St. Vitus and several palaces, museums and gardens, is the largest medieval castle in the world. Several elegant palaces surround the Castle together with the grand baroque Loreta an important pilgrimage site. Heading to the Old Town we cross the gothic Karlův Most (Charles Bridge), one Prague’s symbols. Until the mid 19th century it was the only bridge in town making Prague one of the most important trading routes. It is famous for its 30 statues and 3 watchtowers. The medieval city center spreads itself from the grand Old Town Square. The Old Town Hall famous for its Astronomical Clock is amongst the city’s most important gothic structures. The Church of Our Lady before Týn overlooking the square is the Old Town’s main church. The neighborhood north of the square called Josefov is home to a few remaining monuments from the Jewish Ghetto. Some 300m from the main square, the gothic Powder Tower blends with the Art Nouveau Municipal House. Most of the important cultural institutions are located within the New Town, to the south of the Centre: the monumental National Museum presides the long Wenceslas Square, while the elegantly decorated National Theatre takes the main spot on the river. Another interesting place located 2km south of the Old Town is the Vyšehrad Castle with the neo-gothic Basilica of St Peter and St Paul. Many important Czechs are buried in the Vyšehrad cemetery.
Where to stay in Prague? Prague offers all kinds of accommodation facilities. You name it, every class and style is there. Even though prices have gone up in the last 20 years Prague is still cheaper than most Western European destinations. The most authentic neighborhoods Old Town and Lesser Town are for sure full of charm, but are also annoyingly overcrowded. The New Town is also very touristic, but streets there are much wider so it’s easier to breathe. All other historical districts are more relaxed. Arguably, the most convenient neighborhood to stay is Prague 1 district around Josefov (with many hostels around), a bit cheaper, yet well connected and close to the Old Town.
Prague has a fairly developed public transport grid, which is cheap, reliable and efficient. The fastest way of moving around is by Metro which has 3 lines covering a large portion of the city. Trams and buses are another convenient way with an additional plus: the views are so worth it. Walking around is quite pleasant, most of the city is flat and distances are not too long. Biking can be fun too, although quite challenging in the Old and Lesser Towns. Taxis are not very expensive, but tourist scams are quite common. Avoid taking one on the street and arrange your ride beforehand. Though touristy, taking a boat over Vltava River is highly recommendable.
Prague was the first city most westerners discovered when Eastern Europe opened up in the year 1990. Since then the city has changed from a rusty negligent sleepy town to the world’s tourism capital. Nowadays there are so many tourists that it’s difficult to enjoy its museum streets in all their glory. Nevertheless it boasts so many architectural wonders that it’s possible to enjoy some of them without a mass of tourists behind your back. Besides the excellent traditional breweries and modern teahouses are reason enough to visit this exceptional city.
Prague Travel Guide
- In the 1st District, near Josefov. Happy Frog recommends Maximilian Hotel
- The Prague Castle: Cathedral of St. Vitus and Golden Lane;
- Palaces near the Castle and Loreta;
- Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square;
- Powder Tower and Municipal House;
- Frank Gehry’s Dancing House.
- Grab a Czech beer and a bite in U Kunstatu.
- On foot, by bike, metro, tram, bus, boat or taxi.
- Escape for a weekend to the beautiful Český Krumlov.
DO NOT MISS:
- Explore the Jewish heritage of Josefov;
- Find the unique Czech Cubist buildings;
- Climb Petrin Hill for some unforgettable views;
- Spend a day wondering around Vyšehrad Castle;
- Discover David Cerny’s Public Sculptures.