Since the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and the opening up of Central and Eastern Europe, Prague has risen as one of the most attractive travel destinations in Europe. With an incredibly beautiful medieval core and a vibrant city life, it is no difficult to understand why millions of visitors are lured to the Czech capital each year.
More than thirty years ago, Prague (or Praha in Czech) was known as just a city of the Eastern bloc, a mere satellite of the Soviet Union. Despite being rich in architectural and cultural heritage, the city was completely overshadowed by the flashier metropoles to the west. But the former capital of the kingdom of Bohemia couldn’t keep its marvel a secret for too long as the veil covered its beauty fell in 1989. Today, the Czech capital attracts more visitors than ever. Especially with its current appearance: modern offices, glitzy shops and trendy cafés – all packed in among the beautiful Baroque buildings and stone-cobbled lanes of the Old Town. Even the most experienced traveller would have trouble resisting this city’s charms.
Looming above the Vltava’s left bank, Prague Castle has been an unmistakable symbol of the Czech state for more than a thousand years. Founded in the first quarter of the 9th century, it was the seat of Bohemian princes, kings and emperors, and after the republic was established in 1918, it has also become the residency of the presidents.
Spreading over 45 hectares, the castle is one of the largest complexes in the worlds. It comprises of a palace, a church, several gardens, as well as official and fortification buildings. They represent precious monuments of all the architectural styles, ranging from Baroque, Renaissance to Gothic. Within its walls lies a handful of museums and galleries which house some of the country’s greatest artistic and cultural treasures.
Strolling across Charles Bridge is definitively everybody’s favourite activity while being in Prague. This stone bridge connects the Old Town to the castle and was built at the beginning of the 15th century to replace the Judith Bridge that had been badly damaged by floods in the previous centuries. Over time, it gradually became the icon of the city and a national monument. Not surprisingly, people from around the world have come in droves, and the bridge is extremely popular among couples. Charles Bridges has sometimes referred to as the Bridge of Love thanks to many padlocks of love on the bridge.
Packed with stored churches, spired towers and winding narrow alleys, Staré Město (Old Town) easily creates a fairytale urban scene. It is among the oldest and by far, the most magnificent district in the Czech Capital, and the main reason why Prague is often referred to as “The City of Hundred Spires”.
The core of the historical centre is the Old Town Square, which originated as a marketplace in the 10th century and has been the site for many political and cultural events that have shaped the history of Prague. Surrounded the Old Town Square are several meticulously preserved buildings, such as the Gothic-inspired Church of Our Lady before Tyn, the House at the Minute in Renaissance style, as well as the city’s most noteworthy monument – the Old Town City Hall. Dating back to 1338, the building draws the greatest number of visitors, especially at the start of every hour when the twelve apostles rotating inside its famous astronomical clock. The city government is long gone from the Old Town City Hall, but it is still the most popular place in Prague to get married.
Encompass the Old Town on all sides is Nové Město – the New Town. Its creation dates back to the 14th century when King Charles IV ordered to expand the city to adjust the increasing population of Prague. A spacious new area between Vyšehrad and Old Town was, therefore, constructed. Since then, the new district has served as the city’s main commercial centre and has become home to countless businesses, banks and offices, as well as the eye-catching Dancing House.
Being said that, the New Town is also rich in culture, offering many theatres, cinemas and museums, as well as the State Opera House. It also houses the Vyšehrad Fortress – a citadel that has played a role in Czech history for more than 1000 years. Perched on a cliff high above the Vltava, the structure can easily be recognised by the twin Gothic spires of the Church of St.Peter and St. Paul – Prague’s oldest surviving building.
Practical Information in Prague
- Prague is plagued by pick-pocketers. Despite increasing police’s control, petty crimes occur quite often and this endemic seemingly won’t end anytime soon. So be vigilant all the time, especially at crowded tourist attractions (Wenceslas Square and Old Town City Hall), in subways (both Metro A and B) and on trams (Tram 22 which runs to the castle).
- Similar to the Royal Castle in Kraków, separate tickets are required to visit different parts of the castle. Some sections do not charge an admission fee after 18:00, for example, the Golden Lane.
- In order to go to Vyšehrad Fortress, take Tram 17 from the Old Town to Výtoň. Then follow the walking path to the top of the hill. The Dancing House also lies on this route.