The 12th century Charles Bridge, a link between Old Town and Lesser Town, is so popular there are occasionally people-to-people pileups from one end to the other. For that reason, it’s best enjoyed at sunrise when you’re sure to meet canvas- or camera-wielding artists at work.
Arguably the city’s most famous attraction is the much-touted Astronomical Clock Tower. Crowds gather at the top of each hour in anticipation of its rotating rings, moving figures and chiming bells. Though the finale may underwhelm you, the artistry—and the fact that it’s survived Prague’s violent history—makes it worthy of attention.
365 traditional Czech names are carved onto the outer ring of the lower face. Czech natives celebrate their Name Day with small gifts such as chocolates or flowers.
History is inescapable in Prague, its citizens having emerged from communism some 22 years ago. And World War II, though it’s somewhat more distant on the calendar, is vividly remembered in the well-preserved Jewish Quarter. It’s chilling to consider as you wander this sacred territory that it owes its preservation to Hitler, who wanted the ghetto preserved as a museum to an extinct race.
Old New Synagogue
Europe’s oldest active synagogue may get its unusual name from the fact that it was originally built in the 12th century and called the Great or New Synagogue. Later, as new synagogues arose, it became known as the Old New Synagogue.
After WWII, Pinkas Synagogue (above) was turned into a memorial to the 80,000 Jews of Bohemia and Moravia murdered by the Nazis, their names inscribed on the walls. Perhaps most haunting is an upstairs exhibit of children’s drawings from Terezin, a transit camp where prisoners were held before shipment to extermination camps.
Old Jewish Cemetery
The oldest tombstone dates from the year 1439. The cemetery today contains some 12,000 tombstones though the actual number buried here is far greater. When you tour, note the small stones (not flowers) on top of markers, sometimes holding a paper with a wish or prayer on it.
Jewish Quarter buildings are closed to tourists on Saturday to observe the Sabbath.
Featuring prominently in Old Town Square is the bronze Art Nouveau fountain, a memorial to protestant reformer, Jan Hus. In the background, the shell-pink Kinsky Palace where Czech native Franz Kafka attended prep school.
While people watching often takes precedence over sightseeing in Prague’s busy main square, Staromestské Námestí is home to a number of worthy sites. The imposing Gothic construction of the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn (Tyn Church) with its not-quite-identical towers dominates Prague’s Old Town Square.
Hit the shops in nearby Ungelt Square which has a branch of contemporary glassware store Material as well as Botanicus, a Czech institution for lotions and potions. Nearby Dlouh Street is one of my favourite shopping destinations.
Toasty warm, this traditional Slovakian treat (trdelnik) is dusted with cinnamon, sugar and nuts. Look for open stalls or bakeries selling this perfect late afternoon pick-me-up.
Passersby are tempted by the cinnamon sweetness of trdelnik, a traditional pastry made daily in bakeries across the city.
Four Seasons (Veleslav.nova 2A). If perfection is desired, look no further than this renowned chain where the setting, service and amenities are unsurpassed. Book an evening meal at Allegro to enjoy riverside views and the award-winning cuisine.
Kimberley takes time out from filming to pose before heading out with CityTV’s CityLine cameraman Patrick Reynolds on the unusual seven-seater bike.
Between Jewish Quarter and Old Town Square lies Prague’s most exclusive shopping street, Parížská. Big names like Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss and Burberry dominate the tree-lined street.
Be prepared to sit in the basement if you ask for the no smoking section at Kolkovna (V Kolkovne 8). Instead, opt for a street-side table with a view of the Spanish Synagogue.
ABOVE Prague’s most exclusive shopping street, Parížská.
A sweeping avenue developed in the 14th century, Wenceslas Square is rarely deserted, but an easy stroll nets a vast selection of shops and restaurants to enjoy. At its apex is the National Museum, seen just behind the statue of Duke Wenceslas on horseback. (It seems the Christmas carol gave him a boost in title.)
At tea time head to the splendidly restored Grand Café Orient (Ovocný trh 19) to get a feel for 1912 Prague. Or, visit Municipal House Café for a light lunch in an exquisite Art Nouveau setting.
Sit in the wine bar and soak up the urban contemporary vibe while nibbling contentedly at KOGO’s Slovanský Dum location (Na Pr.kope 22). Or, descend into the cellared depths of Klub Architektu (Betlemske Namesti 5a) for hearty Czech fare at great prices.
Decorative arts enthusiasts go ga-ga over the tableware, books, furniture and writing papers on display (and in the gift shop) at the Kubistz Museum, located inside the House of the Black Madonna.
The city’s only Moser store, creating the finest Czech crystal since 1857 is their flagship (Na Prikope 12). A must visit.
If you’ve been to Paris you are familiar with shopping passages that house stores and restaurants. Lucerna Pasáž is a popular Czech passage but most of the shops still have a communist-era feel to them. In contrast, Pasáž Slovanský Dum (Na Pr.kope 22), has a branch of the Belgian design shop Flamant Store, clothing stores such as Mexx and Tommy Hilfiger, and a movie theatre with English subtitles.
Prague’s Performing Arts
Attending a concert in Prague is a memorable experience. There are dozens of locations where you can enjoy orchestras, ensembles, theatre and comedy. Performances change frequently so read the literature available at each location.
At one popular joint known humbly as The Pub I encountered my first experience with “Beer Pressure”. The Pub has a large screen TV that tracks consumption at each table, against other pubs throughout the country. The bartender and other diners (let’s be honest, they were drinkers not diners) encouraged me (by way of derisive shouts and stares) to drink more beer and not allow our pub to look weak. I caved.
“To suggest Czechs are obsessed with beer (pivo) is akin to saying a human being is obsessed with breathing—it’s an instinct.”
U Zeleného Stromu (Bel.msk. n.mesti 6)
If it’s a warm day, head to the outdoor garden patio.
U Medvídku (Na Perstýne 7)
There’s a brewery and a small gift shop with kitschy beer merchandise like pilsner lotion. It also has an outdoor patio where you can enjoy a plate of sausages, mustard and sauerkraut for about $7, including beer.
U Vejvodu (Jilsk. 4)
A popular Old Town destination.
“Once you’ve exhausted your comfortable walking shoes, take the reins of a horse drawn carriage and explore Old Town and New Town with a private guide.”
MORNING While you’re fresh, head to the top of the city and begin your day at Prague Castle. There are a dozen noteworthy buildings and sites.
NOON Nearing lunch time? Head to the Strahov Monastic Brewery. Afterwards, take time to enjoy the Theological Library and gift shop.
AFTERNOON When it’s time to head back down the hill, take a stroll along popular Neruda Street. You may want to take a short detour to see John Lennon’s Peace Wall if you are not going to spend additional time in Lesser Town during your stay.
EVENING Make a reservation at Hergetova Cihelná (Ciheln. 2b) where the riverside seating and passing boats provide a moving dinner show.
MORNING Start early in the Jewish Quarter as it’s easy to spend a full day touring exhibits.
NOON Stop for a quick lunch at King Solomon Restaurant (Širok. 7/37) which touts itself as ‘Madonna’s very own kosher bakery’ and then continue strolling down Parížská where, with cash in hand, you may be able to do more than window shop.
AFTERNOON Rent a bike from Praha Bike Tours and Rental for an afternoon tour around the city’s sites. Afterwards, stop at a local pub, like U Vejvodu, for a hard-earned pilsner.
EVENING You simply must take in a concert to fully appreciate Prague’s immersion in the classical arts. Kimberley’s picks? The more intimate venues of Lichtenstein Palace, home of the Music Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts, or the Neo-Classical Estates Theatre.
MORNING After so much sightseeing you may be ready for a leisurely day of shopping. The term bohemian is synonymous with individual style and that’s what you’ll find on Dlouhá Street. Start with a visit to Coffee Fellows (20 Dlouh.). Great coffee and decadent pastries should fortify you for the day ahead.
Still have energy to shop? While Palladium (n.mest. Republiky 1) is a huge indoor mall with more than 200 stores, the real fun is shopping Prague’s lively streets—Na Prikope, U Prasné brány and Mostecká.
EVENING After a day on your feet, book passage on the Jazz Boat which docks near Cechuv Bridge on the Old Town side. Enjoy a peaceful cruise up the Vltava River with live music to serenade you.
Architecture enthusiasts are sure to enjoy a trip to Prague, where they’ll find Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Art Nouveau, Cubist and Communist style buildings on display. New Town is ideal location to start the tour.
I realize the word unique is grossly overused, but how else to describe a style of architecture that can be found in only one place on earth? In the 20th century, Czech architects and designers expanded the lessons of Picasso and Braque into architecture and decorative arts. While academia is divided on whether or not this style actually exists, we can contemplate its merits at the House of the Black Madonna Dum u Cerné matky boží. Originally constructed as a department store in 1912, its namesake statue is still firmly affixed behind the golden grill at the corner of this New Town destination.
Follow the signs to Republic Square Námestí Republiky and the magnificent Art Nouveau Municipal House Obecní dum (above) is easy to spot. The landmark building, dating from 1905, is capped by a distinctive half-domed roof and intricate mosaics. Inside, there are murals from Prague’s most famous painters including Alfons Mucha whose style is instantly recognizable.
While there is a dedicated Alfons Mucha Museum, it’s out of the way and strictly for those who love his work. Instead, wander into the public areas of Municipal House to see the Art Nouveau painter’s legacy.
Behind its lyrical green facade is the smallest of the city’s opera houses. With only 600 seats, albeit clad in luxurious blue velvet, The Estates Theatre (above) is a symbol of Prague’s artistic heritage. This New Town theatre is most famous as the venue where Mozart first performed his “Don Giovanni” in 1787.
If green space appeals, pack a picnic and wander through Lesser Town. Several locations are ideally suited to idle wanderings and picnics.
Built to rival Prague Castle, Wallenstein Palace is currently home to the Senate of the Czech Republic. The Baroque style palace and adjacent gardens offer a pleasant distraction for those who enjoy a moderate walk (approximately 40 minutes from Old Town).
John Lennon Peace Wall
A peaceful riot of graffiti adorns the artful wall, inaugurated by anti-communists at the death of the well-loved Beatle in 1980. Grab a Sharpie and leave your mark or pose for a campy photo.
Sparkling waterways give this area its nickname as the “Venice of Prague”. In its peaceful setting between the Vltava River and Devil’s Stream, the public benches and wide shade trees of Kampa Island are a welcome respite on hot days. Modern art enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to funky Museum Kampa.
Behind this tough-to-spot admission gate is an exquisite Baroque garden with graceful stepped terraces, decorated banisters, and handsome statuary positioned within tailored flowerbeds and hedges. I happened upon a wedding one day and was warmly invited by the celebrating guests to join in.
A short walk from Schwartzenberg Palace is the Strahov Monastery. While it’s still an operating basilica, the real attractions here are more earthly—books and beer. The gawk-worthy Theological Library dates from the 17th century and contains more than 200,000 volumes housed in an elaborately stuccoed and ceilinged room.
Check opening times—like many Prague Castle attractions, the Theological Library is closed from 11:45am–1pm.
Strahov Monastic Brewery serves simple Czech fare and, according to beer snobs, a heavenly brew. Take a seat on the patio or in the newly renovated restaurant.
The Library gift shop has lovely crystal paperweights and fine stationery to take home.
It’s unlikely you’ll need directions to Prague’s towering Castle District. Make your way to the well-marked Charles Bridge and follow the upward stare of fellow tourists. A complex of buildings, Prague Castle dates to the 9th century and includes museums, palaces, restaurants and, at its apex, the gothic cathedral of St. Vitus.
An easy 30 minute walk takes you to Hradcany Square Hradcanske namesti and the top of the castle complex. Sweltering hot day? Grab a cab from your hotel and start at the top.
Once at the top, orient yourself towards the Palace of the President with its behemoth Baroque stone statues of Fighting Giants, and observe the dutifully present uniformed guards.
A full day pass to Prague Castle is pricey but it provides access to many of the castle buildings. To save funds and avoid crowds, visit before 9am or after 6pm when architecture and gardens can be enjoyed for free. Purchase individual tickets to desired buildings.