Prague – Praha, the Heart of Europe, the Golden City, the Mother of Cities, the City of a Hundred Spires. The nicknames it has acquired since its founding in the 9th century are vast, like the cobblestones that pave its historic center. Prague is the capital city of the Czech Republic and is home to some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen.
My family and I recently seized the opportunity to travel to and spend a few days in Prague. In our opinion, the people are friendly, the history of the city is vast, the food is amazing, and the beer is cheaper than water. The last one is not an opinion…It’s true, at restaurants the beer is cheaper than water. “Na zdraví!” That means “cheers!” in Czech.
Below are some sights my family and I think you must see while in Prague. This list is not an example of everything to do in Prague because…well…we were only there for two and a half days…and this list isn’t even everything we saw and experienced. It’s just what my family and I believe are the must sees. Honestly, we could go back and still fill up a week’s itinerary. These are just the sights that were at the top of our list.
The Charles Bridge
I think it’s impossible to go to Prague and not see the Charles Bridge. Not only because it is such a historic landmark, but because it is quite central to many of the sights. I think we crossed it at least six times and saw it from many vantage points as we traversed Prague.
The Charles Bridge was commissioned by Emperor Charles IV after the Judith Bridge was damaged by a flood in 1352. The foundation stone was laid at exactly 5:31 a.m. on July 9, 1357. Gothic in style, this pedestrian-only bridge spans 520 meters over the Vltava River and connects the two main historic sections of Prague. It is adorned with 30 statues featuring saints and important Czech historic figures. Each statue has a story and is significant to the history of Prague. The bridge towers that anchor each entry point to the bridge are stunning and once served as fortifications.
You could spend a lot of time just learning about the Charles Bridge. There’s a Charles Bridge museum and boat tour that details the construction and history of the bridge. There’s also the opportunity to go inside each bridge tower and explore, as well as, get a unique elevated perspective.
One of my favorite memories of our trip to Prague is my daughter on the Charles Bridge at sunrise skipping along the cobblestones lost in her own daydream.
- TIP: Arrive at dawn if your goal is to get a picture of the Charles Bridge without a crowd of people on it. It gets packed throughout the day and evening.
Old Town Square
The Old Town Square in Prague is beautiful and lively. It is a mixture of Renaissance, Baroque, Rocco, Classicists and Gothic architecture…maybe more styles. Key buildings within the Old Town Square include: Old Town Hall, Church of St. Nicholas, Church of Our Lady Before Týn, Palace Goltz-Kinski. This square is great for photos and night is my favorite time to visit because it is so beautiful with the buildings illuminated.
Town Hall Clock Tower
The Town Hall Clock Tower is a beautiful combination of art and function. The sculptures surrounding the façade are detailed and symbolic and the artwork and engineering of the clocks are amazing. The two clocks show the time, sun position, moon phases, date, month, and astrological sign among other things. An added benefit is that a bit of theatre ensues every hour as the skeleton sculpture turns over the hourglass and rings the bell, cueing the 12 Apostles to begin their promenade in front of the windows of the upper section. Tourist gather around shoulder-to-shoulder, camera phones focused on the scene. Without looking at the clock, one can almost predict the time based on the amount of people gathered around the tower.
Prague Castle is more of a castle complex than the traditional castle most people imagine. It occupies a quite a bit of land and according to the Guinness Book of World Records is the largest ancient castle in the world. It is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic and once was the seat of power for kings and emperors.
My family and I toured the interior of the Old Royal Palace section. If you go, you must visit the Vladislav Hall and look up. The helical star-like vault is stunning. It’s worth touring the Old Royal Palace just to view the ceiling in this room.
Guards are situated on either side of the main gate. When we were approaching them on our first morning in Prague, a tourist was trying her best…yet fruitlessly….to get a reaction out of one of the guards. If your lucky enough to be around during a changing of the guards, it is quite a large production and well worth seeing. We accidently timed it just right. Love it when that happens.
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral is located within the Prague Castle complex. It is home to some of the most beautiful stained-glass windows I have ever seen; the pieces are so intricate and the colors of the glass are clear and vibrant. It is definitely worth a visit because stained-glass windows can only truly be appreciated in person. Entombed in St. Vitus Cathedral are the remains of Czech kings, emperors and members of their families to include Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Roman Emperor. He established Prague as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire during his reign in the 1300’s and he an advocate of art and culture.
- TIP: Arrive early. This sight gets extremely crowded throughout the day with tour groups.
This section within the Prague Castle complex is quite interesting. The top section was the ramparts and defense walls where the weapons were kept and from where soldiers took up arms to protect the castle. The lower section is comprised of small dwellings where villagers lived. When I write small, I mean three rooms if they were lucky. Several of them are set up to portray what life was like on this lane in the past. At the end of this lane is a house that Franz Kafka, the famous German author of The Metamorphosis lived for a bit. I read this book about a year ago. So, I thought it was interesting.
Just outside the Golden Lane and down a steep staircase is a dungeon, rather authentic and untouched where prisoners were shackled and tortured. It was eerie. I can only imagine the horrible things that happened in that room.
Petřín Tower, sometimes referred to as the little Eiffel Tower, sits on top of Petřín Hill in the center of Prague. It is surrounded by a beautiful park. To get the to Petřín Tower, I recommend walking up through the park. It is lovely and the views of Prague improve the higher you climb up the hill. I bet the park is beautiful in the Fall. Once, you arrive at Petřín Tower, climb the 299 steps to the top for a beautiful panoramic view of Prague. I actually think that the view from the middle balcony is better than the view from the top because you don’t have interference from the windows. There’s not an outdoor balcony at the very top.
Once you complete the climb and make your way back down, I suggest relaxing at the café at the bottom of the tower with a Czech beer. Remember what I wrote earlier…beer is cheaper than water…and tastes better in my opinion.
Other Notable Sights
Prague truly is quite beautiful and interesting. It is also extremely walkable. We actually walked 26 miles throughout Prague during our two-and-a-half-day trip because the short distances to each sight added up and we sometimes just like to stroll through a city and discover things along the way. Some other sights my family and I recommend are the National Museum, John Lennon Wall, Dancing Building, Penguins, Swans/Muskrats, Statue of Franz Kafka, Powder Tower, Obecni Dum, Jewish Quarter and National Theatre.
Overall, I can honestly say I really love Prague. The people, energy of the city, art, architecture, and culture are inspiring. I hope this blog inspires you to plan your own trip to Prague…the Heart of Europe.