The thriving modern metropolis of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, remains faithful to its medieval origins, a relic of an illustrious past dotted with more than a hundred towers in quaint neighborhoods, each with its own unique charm. The birthplace of writer Franz Kafka, this is a capricious city that likes to change its style, a city as enigmatic as it is romantic, cosmopolitan, open, and always surprising.
Prague’s peaceful Vltava river is crossed by elegant bridges. The city, steeped in art and aesthetic preciousness, seems lost in time. Dreamy and extremely well preserved, it proudly displays its impressive castle, stunning palaces, museums, theaters and churches, and its streets and squares are teeming with life.
A fairytale city, carefully tended throughout the centuries, Prague is exciting and intoxicating, full of history, magic and finesse. When you decide to come, these are the landmarks you need to visit:
The Castle Quarter
The silhouette of Prague Castle, which dominates the left bank of the river, is one of the city’s most iconic images. Even more captivating at night, when it is beautifully lit and St. Vitus Cathedral appears in the background, Prague Castle was built in the ninth century and is recognized as the world’s largest. The architectural complex includes churches, monasteries, palaces and lodging for the courtesans. Throughout its long history, it has served as the residence of the kings of Bohemia, the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and the presidents of the former Czechoslovakia. Today is the home of the president of the Czech Republic. Construction of St. Vitus Cathedral, part of this architectural complex, started in 1344, but between renovations and restorations, it was not completed until well into the 20th century. Its tower, more than 300 feet high, is the ideal place to take a long look at the Golden City, as Prague is known for the golden hues of its many towers. A stroll through cobblestone streets will lead you to the Golden Lane (Zlata Ulic ká), where Franz Kafka, author of Metamorphosis, lived during the early 20th century.
This district, located on an island at the foot of the Castle, is separated from the rest of the city by large parks along the river. In the 17th century, many noble and aristocratic families settled in this area and built sumptuous palaces. It was the seat of the political administration of Bohemia until it was moved to Vienna. For this reason, Malá Strana is considered an architectural treasure in the baroque style of Central Europe. A lovely place to wander aimlessly and visit its souvenir and crafts shops.
Old Town Square
Old Town Square is the heart of the city and a perfect example of Prague’s architectural richness. Many consider it one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, where travelers can observe the different styles that make this city so unique, with jewels from the Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance periods. Some highlights of the square include the Old Town Hall with its famous astronomical clock built in 1410, and the Church of Our Lady of Tyn, the most important religious building in the city after St. Vitus Cathedral.
The Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter is located a short walk from Old Town Square. According to tradition, Jewish immigrants arrived in Prague after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. Here, you’ll find Europe’s oldest synagogue, which is still open for worship. A visit to the crowded 15th century cemetery, with more than 12,000 visible tombstones, is truly impressive. It is believed that more than 100,000 Jews are buried here, but Adolf Hitler decided to keep the site as part of his “Museum of a Vanished Race.” Leaving the Jewish Quarter, you will arrive to the Boulevard of Paris, the most elegant street in all Prague, lined with cubist buildings, art nouveau architecture, luxury boutiques and shops.
This imposing pedestrian bridge over the Vltava River, connecting the Old Town with Malá Strana, is one of the most fascinating in the world, and one of the most visited and photographed places in Prague. It was built in the 14th century by King Charles IV. Following the design of Rome’s famous Castel Sant’Angelo bridge, it lined with majestic statues. One of these statues represents the likeness Saint John of Nepomuk, confessor of King Wenceslas IV’s wife, who was thrown into the icy river in 1393 by order of the jealous monarch. According to folklore, John of Nepomuk is a miraculous saint, and devotees must ask for a miracle while touching the base of the statue with the left hand.
Restaurants, Hotels and Shopping
One of the most charming places to stay while in Prague is the Golden Well Hotel, located in Malá Strana, near the Castle walls and minutes from Charles Bridge and Old Town. It is a small lodging recommended by the most recognized hotel guides in the world. It occupies a 16th century building, which originally belonged to the Habsburg Emperor Rudolph II, who gifted it to the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe. During spring and fall the hotel’s guests are allowed to use the emperor’s private entrance, which leads to the gardens of Prague Castle. The best restaurant is Terasa u Zlate Studne, ideally located near the Castle. It offers Czech and international fare with interesting nuances of French haute cuisine. It has an attractive terrace with beautiful views of Prague, a perfect place to enjoy a dinner by candlelight. If you want to do some local shopping, nothing beats the famous crystal from Bohemia for beauty and value. It has been manufactured by Czech craftsmen since the 13th century, although its superior quality only began to be properly valued during the late Renaissance. A stunning chandelier, beautiful wine glasses and decanters, will be excellent reminders of your trip to an unforgettable city, a place touched by a halo of mystery and magic. ■