Bohemian crystal, Gothic castles and Baroque churches, Prague is a page out of a storybook. Here are the 10 Prague things to do.
During the day, the bridge is a bustling hive of activity. Street musicians compete with artisans hawking jewellery, paintings, and Bohemian glass trinkets.
You may have to fight your way past the crowd gathered around the statue of St. John of Nepomuk, a Czech martyr saint who was thrown off the Charles Bridge into the Vltava River during the reign of King Wenceslas IV.
People queue up to touch this statue for good luck. At night, the musicians come to life and the bridge becomes a party strip beneath the sinister shadows of the statues and Gothic towers.
According to the Czech writer, Milan Kundera, “The thousands of saints looking out from all sides, threatening you, following you, hypnotizing you, are the raging hordes of occupiers who invaded Bohemia 350 years ago to tear the people’s faith and language from their hearts.”
This Gothic stone bridge was built in 1357 for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. It straddles the Vltava River and connects the Old Town with Mala Strana. Legend has it that egg yolks were mixed into the mortar to strengthen the construction of the bridge, and as Charles Bridge has indeed survived many floods – including the recent August 2002 flood which was their worst in 500 years – perhaps the egg yolks were a good idea!
The 15th century astronomical clock is Prague’s central meeting point and a distinctive distinguishing feature of this architecturally stunning city. Each hour, crowds gather beneath the clock to watch the moving apostles appear in its windows.
The clock itself has two round faces – an impressive circular sphere that measures the time and shows the movement of the sun around the earth and below it, a calendar with paintings of Czech rural life painted by artist Josef Manes.
Join the queue to go up to the top of the Old Town Hall tower, where you can sit and soak in the magnificent views of the city.
This Baroque garden is a unique architectural gem built on a steep hillside, and is secreted behind high walls in Karmelitska Street in Mala Strana.
Its Italian-style terrace garden was built in 1715 for Jan Joseph, the earl of Vrtba. The gardens are terraced and each level is supported by curved walls and connected to the next with sweeping stair cases.
The lower part of the garden has an aviary and a neat circular pool surrounded by islands of trimmed hedges. Throughout the various levels, there are frescoes, statues, sculpted hedges, scenic walls and sweeping staircases.
The view over Prague changes as you ascend each level of the garden. At the top, the garden narrows and there is a seat where you can sit and admire the spires, domes and rooftops of Prague.
This ancient castle, which dates back to AD 880, has been the seat of the Czech government since Prince Borivoj founded the first fortified settlement on these grounds.
The castle sits proudly on a hill dominating the river skyline and qualifies as the largest ancient castle in the world. History and architecture merge to make Prague Castle an awe inspiring symbol of ancient splendour.
You can spend days wandering through the serene halls of St. George’s Basilica, the Gothic grandeur of St. Vitus Cathedral, the castle’s magnificent sweeping grounds and palatial quarters.
While this is the throbbing heart of Prague’s tourist activities with rows of restaurants and quaint shops, Prague’s Old Town manages to retain a Disney-like quality with horse-drawn carriages, colourful street performers and buildings that resemble a movie set.
A maze of interesting side streets lead out of Prague’s old town square where you can wander around for hours admiring the architecture and browsing through shops. There are many stalls that sell puppets, dolls, original paintings of Prague, and cast iron souvenirs.
At night, the buildings are all lit up like a Bohemian fairyland and provide an enchanting backdrop for one of Prague’s many evening outdoor concerts.
6-John Lennon’s Peace Wall
Tucked away in a quiet square amidst the baroque architecture of Prague’s diplomatic quarter, you’ll find John Lennon’s Peace Wall.
Although Lennon never visited Prague, he was worshipped as a pacifist hero for Czech youth. After Lennon was assassinated, young locals painted a 180cm tall portrait of him on the wall in an artistic form of graffiti.
For the next decade, this wall became a gathering place for those that opposed the communist regime and the oppression it represented.
Even though the government continually painted over the wall, John Lennon’s portrait would always magically reappear. Lennon’s face, surrounded by anti-totalitarian graffiti, is still there, left alone by the new regime.
Recently listed on the World Heritage list, the Jewish Quarter has a rich history dating back to the 10th century.
At the time, Jews lived below Prague Castle in what is now the Lesser Quarter. Their community grew over the centuries to form a Jewish Town – with its own representative authority, court system and extensive autonomy – that was divided from the Christian town by a wall.
Named after the emperor Josef II, whose reforms helped to ease living conditions for the Jewish, the Jewish Quarter contains the remains of Prague’s former Jewish ghetto which was once the largest Jewish settlement in Europe.
Sights worth visiting are St Procopius Basilica (built as part of the Benedictine monastery in the early thirteenth century), the Old-New Synagogue (which is Europe’s oldest working synagogue) and the Old Jewish Cemetery (Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish burial ground).
The cemetery has thousands of crumbling stones from as many as 100,000 graves.
8-St Nicholas’ Church
Prague has many elaborate Baroque churches that were designed to impress the common folk with the power and richness of the Jesuit faith.
They come complete with original statues and ceiling frescoes. St Nicholas’ Church took 80 years to complete and has so many statues it could easily take an afternoon to explore. Mozart himself tinkled on the ivories of this 2500-pipe organ.
Bohemian crystal glassware artwork originated in the 17th century when Italian and German cutters joined the court of King Rudolf II and began to cut the natural crystal found throughout the Czech Republic.
Bohemian crystal became well-known all around the world and attempts to imitate it were unsuccessful until English lead crystal was discovered.
In Prague, you can buy beautiful vases, wine glasses, plates, bowls, decanters, and other glassware in both traditional and contemporary glass designs.
The Vltava River flows from the southern border of the Czech Republic through the centre of Prague all the way to its northern border.
It divides Prague into two – the eastern bank where the Old Town is located and the western bank where Prague Castle stands.
Enjoy the views of Prague’s skyline lit up against the night sky as you glide along the Vltava River past Prague Castle, the Vysehrad area and the National Theatre while tucking into a three-course buffet dinner.
Another way of enjoying the river is to stay at the Riverside Hotel which is located on the western bank of the Vltava River, just two bridges from Charles Bridge.
This boutique hotel has an Art Nouveau facade and is decorated in Belle Époque style with luxurious custom-made furnishings. Most rooms offer fairy tale views of the city’s towers and turrets.