If I had to name my favourite city in the world, it would be Prague, hands down. I may be biased being half Czech and all, but I didn’t even get to explore this gorgeous city until a few years ago.
My dad was born there and came from a harder time, so he never really liked to talk about it. As a result, I was never made aware of the magic that this little city holds until I went to see it for myself.
Almost everywhere you go there is some sort of story or mythology linked to the amazing buildings and sites. It's like a different world full of wonder and mystery which is why I can't get enough.
Over and over again, different travel sites have rated Prague one of the most beautiful European cities in the world and it is not without reason. It's also one of the few European cities that was not destroyed in the war. Ok so bear with me, because this takes a little bit of a dark turn, but it actually ends up that Hitler came to and fell in love with Prague (naturally) and decided that he wanted it to become the cultural hub of Europe. As a result, it was spared in WWII, with only one single bomb ever dropped there – accidentally. This means that every single historical building and castle dating back centuries, remains intact to this day. I have yet to see Prague in the wintertime but I suspect that it will don the snowfall like a glorious white cloak, showing a cooler and more ghostly beauty.
Over the years more and more people have heard of The Czech Republic, making it quite a popular tourist destination. So if you are heading out for a life changing trip or going back for old time’s sake, here is a list of some of the top things to do in this glorious city:
1. Visit Charles Bridge
Karluv Most is incredible. Crossing over the Vltava River, construction began in 1357. The bridge spans over 621 meters and is open to pedestrians only. It is always busy, full of tourists, vendors selling portraits of the city and often times musicians can be found along the way. The bridge also has 30 gothic statues all along the sides, including one that people generally stop in at to make wishes. But perhaps the craziest fact about this bridge is that it was said to have been constructed with Bohemian sandstone and egg yolks for strength! Having survived multiple floods and centuries of wear and tear, it could only be the incorporation of this obscure ingredient that contributes to its longevity.
Band playing on Charles Bridge
2. Go to Kampa Island
This is on the other side of Charles Bridge. A long walk but certainly worth it. There are multiple things to see and do here. From writing a message to John Lennon on Lennon Wall, to seeing the Vodník tucked away by the water wheel (the vodník comes from Czech mythology. He is a naughty water creature who likes to take the souls of little children and keep them in jars hidden in his watery lair). Kampa Island is perfect during summer when you want to have pinics and explore the tiny island and ideal in winter for romantic dinners where you can look out over the twinkling lights of the city. But for me, the biggest allure that Kampa Island has is what I think may be a Templar Church. Hidden around the corner from Lennon wall, if you walk down, you will come across a dark and mysterious building adorned in Cross Patee’ otherwise known as Templar Crosses. Prague is renowned as being a place that was one full of Templar activity so I wouldn’t discount the fact that this could be the real deal.
Lennon Wall where you can leave a message
Vodník waiting for your soul
Depiction of a Templar Knight
View inside the Templar Church
3. View The Clementinum Library
Hidden just a short ways down on the main side of Charles Bridge, it is possible to walk to this wonderful location. Klementinum in Czech, is a historical complex of buildings, one of which holds one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Viewings are at allocated times so you may have to wait a while but simply buy your ticket and explore a little until it's time to go inside. The tour takes you through the building, past ancient books and gadgets and even includes a long climb to the very top where you get to go out onto the viewing deck of the roof. Prague has a gorgeous skyline that is worth photographing from a height. And then there is the piece de resistance, the Baroque library hall. It is absolutely gorgeous. Do be aware though, that you do not actually get to go inside this library. No, you have to stick your neck in and crane over a little door while getting jostled by other tourists. So this one may be more for the bibliophiles and book lovers who want a sneak peak of something stunning.
My crappy photo of the library in the Klementinum
View from the top of the Klementinum
4. Visit the Astronomical Clock
This city is just dripping in history, and the Astronomical Clock or Orloj is one of my favourites. First installed in 1410 (making it the third oldest in history and the oldest in operation). There is another legend here that the clock was created by Jan Hanuš who was then blinded in order that he not replicate the clock elsewhere. In turn, he broke the mechanism within the clock as vengeance. This story may not be considered true but I love it. it was only repaired 100 years later and it still works to this day. Not only does it keep time but it also has a myriad of tiny statues, other hands and dials and symbols for astronomical purposes. I don’t know the meaning of them but what I do love is watching the clock strike the hour. Every hour, the clock chimes out the hour and from two tiny faded blue doors, emerges the twelve apostles. They each go around once and then death tolls the bell. It is a real spectacle that people gather around to watch all day. I myself caught it about 10 times in total, if not more, because it really is something to witness.
The incredible Astronomical Clock
The Twelve apostles coming around
5. Visit Old Town Square
Once you are done at the clock, I suggest you put on your walking shoes and begin exploring. Old Town Square is around the other side of Orloj and is always filled with tourists, performance artists and food. Stop to take in the vibe but do not, I repeat do NOT, stop at one of these restaurants for food. You WILL be ripped off. My suggestion is that you take a walk, get lost a few blocks down where there are no tourists, and try to find food there. Directly behind the Square is the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn which towers over all of the buildings and is also worth stopping in for a little.
Old Town Square and Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn
6.Visit the Jewish Cemetery
This is just behind the Orloj. Well you go around to the Old Town Square and continuing down that side, in a tiny street, you follow a few steps down and come to the Jewish cemetery. One of the most important Jewish monuments with gravestones dating back to the 15th Century, they are all really close to one another giving it an overgrown feel and look. I remember seeing it in a history book back when I was a kid and it both unsettled and fascinated me. The dark stone, mottled with age and lined with moss, jutting out this way and that. You have to pay to go in but I managed to peek under a fence to see that raw beauty of this site.
Gravestones at the old Jewish Cemetery
7. Pop in at Wenceslas Square
Perfect if you are in the Old Town Square area. Just a few blocks up, this main square is a sight to behold. Apart from the enormous museum that you can visit, there are towering painted buildings, all stunning with their old architecture. There are also many shopping opportunities as well as many restaurants and bars and of course the main statue in the square of none other than St Wenceslas himself.
Posing at Wencelas Square
8. View Dancing house.
This building is hard to miss because its modern design stands out against the Neo-Baroque, Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings surrounding it. This building is loved and hated equally but more significantly, it is the site of a singular bomb detonation in World War II. This twisting glass and steel building is abstract and stands out starkly against the historical structures. Again, not everyone’s taste but certainly worth a look.
9. Check out St Vitus Cathedral
Prague is known as the city of a hundred spires because there are endless churches and towers whose ancient spires all reach out to the sky together, so it is difficult to choose which cathedrals to visit. They are all incredible in their own right and do all deserve a visit but if you are pressed for time or looking for the best one then I would suggest St Vitus Cathedral. Any Millennials will remember the 2001 film starring Heath Ledger called 'A Knight’s Tale'. It was filmed in Prague with a number of scenes taking place at this church. If the movie isn’t familiar, I would still recommend visiting because the Gothic architecture is almost indescribable. Construction on the cathedral began in 1344 and one of the most memorable features is the Rose Window, comprised of stained glass representing a scene from the Creation.
Rose Window at St Vitus Cathedral
10. Visit Prague Castle
St Vitus is actually already part of Prague Castle, so while you are there, you may as well take a look around. This castle area spans across 70 000 m² and is estimated to have been founded in 880. Again, just showing off that almost ancient history. Starting at the courtyard, you can walk down to the terrace through the gardens. This is the best place for panoramic shots of Prague because the castle is situated high above the gorgeous city, ideal for travel pics. Back up to the cathedral, you can walk down past St George’s Basilica through the what is more significant for me- Golden Lane. This is an important street because there is a little blue house that you can visit; and it is here that none other than author Franz Kafka lived. Kafka is a renowned novelist whose stories where based on the absurd, realism and the fantastic. Born in the Czech Republic, to German parents, both countries like to claim ownership over him. You will find many statues, tributes and even a museum dedicated to him in Prague, with his childhood house being one of the more important locations.
Outside of Prague Castle
View from the Outlook Terrace
11. Climb up the hill at Vyšehrad
This is another big one that I love. Believed to be the oldest area in Prague, this is a site of historical legend. There are old turrets and lookout points and you can walk through and all the way to the top of the hill where legend says that Horymír was once wrongly imprisoned. Granted one last wish before his execution, he requested that he be allowed a final ride on his trusty steed Šemík. Once upon his horse, he rode all the way to where the boundary wall overlooked the Vltava many many meters below. Šemík lept from the great height, into the water and the impact split his belly open. But his dedication to his master was so strong that he swam across with river, Horymír on his back, and when he finally got to the other side, Šemík lay upon the river bank and died but his master was free. I don't know how true it is but I love that story.
For your viewing pleasure, you will also find St Peter and Paul Basilica at the very top which features and incredible stone mosaic above the entrance. The intricacies in the mason are stunning.
The top of Vyšehrad
St Peter and Paul Basilica carvings
12. Go to little Paris
Known to locals as Petřín, this little getaway boasts a 63.5m tall steel frame work tower that looks very similar to the Eiffel tower. This structure is a favourite of locals for picnics in the garden, proposals at the top and somewhere in between a mirrored maze for kids. There is at art installation just before you enter onto the premises that is also worth looking at. That's the thing about Prague, there are always obscure art pieces all over the city. Some are permanent like the one outside Petřín and outside the National Theatre (the hollow cloaked man in tribute to Don Giovani) and others are temporary like the giant gold bone I saw suspended above the tram towers many years back.
The Petřín tower spire
View coming down from Petřín
Sculptures outside of Petřín
Don Giovani Statue outside the National Theatre
13. Get lost
This is one of my favourite things to do in Prague. The buildings stretch up to the sky and the cobble stones turn your ankles every now and again but how else can you know that you are in Prague other than by nearly tripping and falling on ancient paving stones? It is worth your while to spend a morning or two walking the streets and getting lost. There couldn’t be a prettier place to get slightly panicked but then find your bearings and continue on in. There are hundreds of tiny street stores that are filled with delights you wouldn’t otherwise get to see. I came across a fashion museum and a creepy dark art place. There is also a sex museum not too far from Old Town Square if that is your thing. But whatever you are looking for, on foot is the way to go.
Honestly there are a million more places that I could and most likely will write about. Prague holds a special place in my heart and I am currently aiming to save to visit on my next international trip. It sounds weird but it is my second home and I haven’t known a city that I haven’t lived in as well as I know the ins and outs of my gorgeous second home town. Prague – I am hoping to see you soon!