Prague

Prague is a city of cathedrals, gold-tipped towers and bridges. Swans swim through the beautiful river Vltava that runs through the city. The city’s medieval centre is still a beautiful blend of cobbled lanes, walled courtyards and cathedrals, places that stood through WW II. The 9th century castle facing east is a sight to watch.

Prague presents the independent traveller a vibrant amalgam of music, art, fine dining and special events. The city has become the most sought-after destination in Central Europe, enchanting the travellers with its beauty and vibrancy.

The old-age charm of the city is well preserved. The city presents a picturesque view, with its romantic riverside and quaint bridges with its skyline is dotted with the spires of medieval churches. The city is laid out as per the historic Old Town plan designed 1000 years ago. Ancient chapels, beautiful gardens, cafes and old-styled bars are all just a few blocks away from the Old Town Square. The city charms the tourists with its enchanting architecture, mellifluous classical music and excellent wine and food.

The communist regime saw its decline thanks to the “Velvet Revolution”, a series of peaceful protests staged by demonstrators, almost 25 years ago. The city came out of the one-party rule and is now one of the favourite travel destination in Europe. The cafes and Gothic cathedrals in the cosmopolitan city, see a melange of culture aficionados and pleasure lovers.
In the true Bohemian spirit, the unusual is common here, with a former monastery modified into a five-star hotel or a one-time nuclear bunker transformed to a nightclub!

When to Go

Prague remains beautiful and busy during Christmas and Easter holidays and summer months. Spring time sees good weather and a relaxed tourism. Tourists have much to enjoy with flowers blooming, opening of historic sites for business and the beginning of the Prague Spring International Music festival. Fall sees the trees decked in gold and scarlet leaves! People pick mushrooms, as a ritual. Winter sees a drop in tourists and the temperature. Some castles and museums close for the season. But, the picturesque view of the snow-blanketed capital is worth a watch!

The Bohemian slopes has the best skiing in January and February. Hence, a room at any ski resort in the area would be difficult to get. For the non-skiers, the late spring (April / May) or the fall would be the best season to visit. The countryside then, is bright with vibrant colours and there would be no rush in the hotels and restaurants.

How to reach?

By Air
Many budget carriers serve Prague, connecting the capital to several other cities in Europe. They are an economical choice to travel within Europe. But, booking in advance makes things easier.

Airports

The country’s main international airport is the Václav Havel Airport (former Ruzyně Airport). It is 15 km (10 miles) away from the city centre. The two terminals of the airport are Sever 1 (North 1 or N1) and Sever 2 (North 2 or N2). The terminal you would depart from or arrive at would be clearly mentioned in your ticket. It would take 30 minutes to the downtown from here, by taxi. Rush hour (7am to 9am and 4pm to 6pm) would make it + 20 minutes!

There are several options to commute from the airport to downtown. Your time, budget and the luggage you carry would decide your option.

Prague’s municipal bus service, Bus 119, is the most economical. It leaves from just outside the arrivals area to Dejvicka metro station (on the Green Line, A) every 15 minutes on weekdays. It is less frequent on weekends and evenings.

The airport is linked to the central V Celnici street, near Namesti Republiky (Republic Square), by the Cedaz minibus shuttle. It is close to the Old Town Square, running regularly between 5:30 am and 9:30 pm daily. The one-way fare to V Celnici is 150 Kč.

A taxi ride to the center would cost 600 Kč–900 Kč. To destinations outside the centre and away from the airport, the fare is higher.

On a fixed price of 600 Kč and 900 Kč, Prague Airport Shuttle offers transport to your hotel, depending on the number of passengers (one–eight). You are allowed a delay of one hour from your scheduled arrival time, be it the flight delay or delay at the customs and immigration. Reservations should be made in advance, online.

Train Travel

There are two internation train stations in Prague. One is the main station, Hlavní Nádraží, which is about 500 yards east of Wenceslas Square via Washingtonova ulice and the other international station is Nádraží Holešovice, in a suburban area about 2 km (1 mile) north of the city centre along the metro Line C (Red Line).

The frequent point of departure for trains to Berlin, Vienna and Budapest, and the high speed train to Brno, Olomouc and Ostrava in Moravia, is the main station, Nádraží Holešovice. Two other bigger stations in Prague service mostly local destinations. Smíchovské Nádraží services the west, with trains to Karlštejn, and is located in the southwest of the city centre across Vltava (on metro line B, Yellow line). Masarykovo Nádraží, near Náměstí Republiky in the city centre services the suburban destinations.

The best way to reach the centre of the town, on arriving at Hlavní Nádraží, is by metro. The station is on metro Line C (Red Line), and is just one stop from the top of Wenceslas Square (station: Muzeum).

What to see

Prague Castle

Pražský hrad, or Hrad, to Czechs is the Prague Castle which is the city’s most popular attraction. Seen high up above the Vltava’s left bank, its serried ranks of spires, towers and palaces tower above the city centre like a fairy-tale fortress. A fascinating collection of a variety of historic edifices, museums and galleries, lie within its walls, housing some of the Czech Republic’s greatest artistic and cultural treasures.

The castle is recorded as the largest ancient castle in the world, in the Guinness World Records, and is 570m long, an average of 128m wide, and covers a total area bigger than seven football fields!

Charles Bridge

A 600 year old Charles Bridge connecting Old Town and Lesser Town, was commissioned by King Charles in 1357, replacing Judith Bridge that was destroyed in a flood in 1342. The sides of the pedestrian bridge is lined by thirty Baroque statues, along with a number of vendors, musicians, performance artists and beggars.

The bridge is always bustling with activity. But at dawn and dusk, there is lesser crowd. There is one tower each at either end of the Charles Bridge offering a beautiful panoramic view. The Castle, lit at night, is a beautiful sight to watch.

Old Town Square

Prague’s Old Town Square is between Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge. It bustles with tourists and locals in summer. The blend of architectural styles reflect Czech’s history. Romanesque, Baroque, Rococo, Gothic and Renaissance are all represented in the beautiful edifices around the square. The Gothic towers are in stark contrast to the Baroque style of St. Nicholas. The Old Town Hall has a variety of Gothic and Renaissance buildings.

St. Vitus Cathedral

Prague Castle grounds house the St. Vitus Cathedral. It is the most important and the largest church in the Czech Republic, where the Archbishop of Prague is seated.

The building of this cathedral began in the 14th century and continued into the first half of the 20th century. The cathedral is also home to important historic and artistic treasures. The crown jewels are housed here. The silver funerary monument of St. John of Nepomuk, decked with flowers and angels is a part of the tour around the cathedral. St. Wenceslas Chapel is the most beautiful of the chapels with semi-precious stones and frescoes encrusted on the walls.

Astronomical Clock

The astronomical clock is the highlight of the Old Town Square. It is a complicated ancient “orloj” that shows Babylonian time, Old Bohemian time, German time and sidereal time, besides sunrise and sunset, phases of the moon and sun’s position in the zodiac. It was crafted in 1410 by a clockmaker and a professor of mathematics. It has been repaired and maintained for over 600 years. It is the oldest clock in the world. Figures of Apostles are shown in the two upper windows every hour. This was added in 1865.

The walk of the Apostles begin every hour when the bell rings, the Gothic sculptures move, a cock crows and a trumpeter put up an interesting show for the tourists. Noon or midnight will have the most fanfare, obviously!

Wenceslas Square

The Wenceslas Square, one of Prague’s two main squares, is a shopper’s paradise and haven. It was used as Prague’s horse market by the orders of Charles IV in 1348. It is now a beautiful boulevard. There are bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels, shops and banks. These make the city’s nightlife interesting. Political gatherings convened at the statue of St. Wenceslas to parade down the square, where most of Czech’s 20th century history happened. The centre of Prague is Wenceslas Square, from where Old Town Square and Charles Bridge are just a five minutes away. All three metro lines meet in the square. Wenceslas Square houses the grand National Museum and the Prague State Opera.

Mala Strana

Malá Strana or Lesser Town district is on the other end of Charles Bridge. Baroque is the major style of architecture found there. It was founded as a royal town in 1257 when its history started. The Baroque style St. Nicholas Church and the Wallenstein Palace stands out in the vicinity.

There are many palaces, churches, squares, parks and gardens in the district. There are pubs, shops and restaurants in the Lesser Town Square. There are also international embassies functioning from the Baroque buildings. The Prague Castle towers over Malá Strana. It is easily reached through Nerudova Street that offers a picturesque steep climb. There are heraldic emblems of beasts, white swan, gold horseshoe and the red eagle on the houses on this street. Vojan and Petrin Hil are places that offers relaxing walks in parks.

Tyn Church

The Tyn Church of Our Lady is at the Old Town Square. The Gothic towers of the church are 80 meters high (260 ft.) and is visible from anywhere in the city. Like most churches in Prague, the Tyn church was originally built in the 11th century as a Romanesque church for foreign merchants. The Our Lady church was constructed in the 14th century. The roof, towers and gables were added later. Many Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styles of arts are to be found in the Tyn Church. The architects were Petr Parler and Matthias of Arras. The duo also were the creators of Prague’s many Gothic edifices.

Old New Synagogue

In Josefov, Prague’s former Jewish Quarter, is the oldest active synagogue in Europe, the Old-New Synagogue. Legend tells that stones from the Second Temple in Jerusalem were brought to Prague by angels to build the walls of the synagogue. Prague’s first gothic building, the Old-New Synagogue was completed in 1270 and has held divine services ever since, except for the Nazi occupation of 1942-45. The synagogue became the heart of the Jewish Quarter.

Powder Tower

The Powder Tower was one of the original gates into Old Town Prague. It was first built in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 15th century. It was used for storing gunpowder in the 17th century, which is why it got its name. The coronation route of the Bohemian kings began at this tower, through Old Town, across the Charles Bridge and to the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, where the royals were crowned kings.

Celetná Ulice

Celetná Ulice is the main thoroughfare connecting Old Town Square and Náměstí Republiky. It is always crowded. Many facades in the street are styled as per classic 17th or 18th century.

St. George’s Basilica

The inside of the Basilica is preserved as it was in the 12th century. It has a barnlike peaceful environ, with its golden yellow stone walls and arched windows. It was originally built in the 10th century by Prince Vratislav I.

Bethlehem Chapel

The church was originally built at the end of 14th century. The Czech religious reformer Jan Hus regularly preached there from 1402 till 1412 when he was exiled, and later executed in 1415. His sermons were in Czech – the layman’s language and considered uncouth – and not in Latin as the Roman churches demanded. His teachings inspired many including a German professor of theology, Martin Luther, whose sermons and teachings laid the basement for the Protestant movement.

In 17th century, after the Thirty Year’s war, Jesuits took over the chapel and demolished it in 1786. The original portal and three windows were excavated after World War I. The church was reconstructed in the 1950s. Not much remains of the older church, but remnants of Hus’ teachings can still be read on the inside walls.

Church of St. Nicholas

The best example of high Baroque in Prague is St. Nicholas church. Its architect is Christoph Dientzenhofer who began the Jesuit church in 1704. There was a more active Hussite church of the 15th century in the site. His son Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer took over the construction and built the dome and presbytery. Anselmo Lurago finished construction in 1755 with an addition of a bell tower. The broad dome in contrast to the slender bell tower is a splendid architectural contrast.

Clementinum

This complex is now part of the university. It dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries. The Jesuits occupied it for more than 2 centuries from early 1600s. Many buildings in it are closed to public, but is still worth a visit. The magnificent Baroque library was built by the Jesuits. Its ceiling murals portray the three levels of reflective surfaces with suitable acoustics. The place hosts chamber music concerts. Mozart had played here too. Johannes Kepler used the Astronomical Tower in the middle of the complex. It later functioned as the Prague Meridian. The time was set every day. At high noon a timekeeper would wave a flat from the balcony seeing which a cannon was fired from the castle to mark the hour.

Dancing House

Architectural styles spanning centuries is what Prague is known for. The end of the 20th century is represented by the deconstructive building style, of the Dancing House. It was created by Czech architect Valdo Milunic and Canadian architect Frank Gehry. This structure has in it both dynamic and static elements. It resembles a female dancer in the arms of her male partner. It is on the banks of the Vltava River and on Resslova Street. It is a private office building. There is a restaurant, the Celeste, on the 7th floor, which is open to the public.

The Dancing House is in sharp contrast to the classical architecture around it. Edifices in Art Nouveau, Neo-Gothic and Neo-Baroque styles are examples of the classical style. The modern construction of the Dancing House had its share of public opposition. Today, the city is proud of this splendidly creative architecture.

Botanical Gardens

The path from the public garden near Prague zoo leads into a rain forest, through a semi-desert environment and a tunnel beneath a tropical lake, ending up in a room devoted to plants from tropical mountains! Computer-aided climate systems and sliding doors maintain the climate well. The 429 foot greenhouse Fata Morgana simulates three different environments. It was opened in 2004.

Zizkov

The former industrial suburb and the epicentre of Prague’s nightlife, has over 300 bars in a total of 2 square miles. It has the highest number of drinking venues in any district of Europe. Beer is served in plastic cups in these comfortable bars.

Outside of Prague

Kutná Hora

Kutna Hora was a silver mining town in the medieval age. It built the riches of Bohemia and it gave the word ‘dollar’ to English from its origin word the Czech ‘tolar’. It is just a half hour bus ride from Prague’s Florence station. St. Barbara’s Church has featured in movies. The nearby Sedlec offers mine tour and ossuary. It is filled with bones of the plague victims, as its décor, which sends a shudder down the spine.

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