Things to Do in Prague
Sitting high on a hill overlooking the Charles Bridge and Vltava River, Prague Castle (Pražský Hrad) is a huge complex of museums, churches, palaces, and gardens dating from the ninth century. Nestled in the historic center of Prague—all of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site—the largest castle complex in the world is an outstanding relic of Prague’s architectural history and a must for any visitor to the City of a Hundred Spires.
Forming a grand walkway between Prague Old Town, and the Lesser Town and Castle District, the 15th-century Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) is one of the city’s most striking landmarks. The magnificent Gothic bridge features 16 stone arches, two watchtowers, and 30 blackened baroque statues depicting various saints.
On Jan. 16, 1969, a student named Jan Palach set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. Today, a truly unique memorial comprised of a horizontal weather-worn wooden cross rising up from cobblestone streets pays homage to Palach and his friend, Jan Zajic, who killed themselves as an act of political protest.
Today, visitors can stop at Jan Palach Memorial (Památník Jana Palacha) and reflect on the changes that have taken place in this Eastern European country. While travelers agree that the memorial isn’t well marked, or very well-explained, its significance in Czech history is great and certainly worth a visit.
One of Prague’s most popular tourist attractions, the Astronomical Clock (Prazský Orloj) was built in the 15th century and is a mechanical marvel. Found on the south side of Prague’s imposing town hall in Old Town Square (Staromestske namestí), visitors line up in their hundreds to see the display as the clock strikes the hour.
Prague’s Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) is the historic heart and navigational center of the city’s UNESCO-listed Old Town. A feast of architectural wonders, the medieval square is ringed with grandiose Romanesque, baroque, and Gothic style buildings, including some of Prague’s most photographed monuments.
Wenceslas Square (Václavské Námesti), one of Prague’s largest public squares, is actually more of a boulevard. Wide and tree-lined with sidewalk cafes and stylish boutiques, it feels modern and cosmopolitan. The square is bursting with history—from its intricate art nouveau buildings to its poignant memorial to the victims of Soviet occupation.
Golden Lane (Zlata Ulicka) runs along the northern wall of Prague Castle and is one of the most famous and picturesque streets in the city. The lane and its miniature houses were built in the 15th century for castle guards but later housed artists and writers, including Franz Kafka.
Located close to Prague castle, Strahov Monastery (Strahovský Kláster) has been home to a community of monks since the 12th century. The monastery is one of the most important landmarks in the Czech Republic and is famous for its historic library, which contains countless volumes, including over 3,000 original manuscripts.
Visible from all over town, hilltop Prague Castle (Pražský Hrad) is one of the city’s most memorable landmarks. The castle is just one part of Prague’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hradcany (Castle Hill), a vast complex of palaces, cathedrals, and royal buildings, including some of Prague’s finest works of architecture.
Cutting a swathe through the Baroque beauty of Prague’s historic heart, Nerudova Street (Nerudova Ulice) runs uphill through Malá Strana (Lesser Town), forming a link between Charles Bridge and Prague Castle on the west banks of the Vltava River. In the days of the Czech monarchy, the street formed part of the Royal Way, which the king followed from the Old Town Square to the castle on ceremonial occasions.
Now named after the famous 19th-century poet Jan Neruda, who lived at no. 47, the street is composed of brightly colored and gabled Baroque townhouses and palaces, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries and today bursting with boutique hotels, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants; as the street wends up towards the castle it becomes the province of several overseas embassies. Unusual features of Nerudova are the symbols painted or carved on to the façades of the buildings; these represent the professions of the original owners in the days before street numbering was introduced; thus a musician lived at ‘At the Three Violins’ (no. 12) and a goldsmith at ‘At the Golden Cup’ (no. 16). An intriguing pharmacy with its original interior dating from 1821 is located at ‘At the Golden Lion’ (no. 32) and the elegant Morzin Palace (no. 5) is embellished with imposing statues of Moors; this is currently the Romanian Embassy.
More Things to Do in Prague
St. Vitus (or Katedrála svatého Víta) is the biggest and most important church in Prague, the pinnacle of the Castle complex, and one of the most knockout cathedrals in Europe. It's broodingly Gothic, with a forest of spires and a rose window to rival that of Notre Dame.
Enter by the Golden Portal to take a look at the stunningLast Judgement mosaic. Inside you'll find the final resting places of both Charles IV (who gave his name to Charles Bridge) and Saint Wenceslas. The chapel containing Wenceslas' remains is a stunner, encrusted with semi-precious stones.
The cathedral also contains the crown jewels of the Bohemian kings and an Art Nouveau window by Mucha. Climb the tower for a stunning view of the Castle District.
Starting life as a tribute to musical icon and peace activist John Lennon after his untimely death in 1980, Prague’s John Lennon Wall quickly became a symbol of peace and free speech for young Czechs angry and disillusioned with the country’s communist regime—much western pop music was banned under the regime, and some Czech musicians were even imprisoned for playing it.
Found in the Baroque streets of Prague’s Malá Strana (Lesser Town) on the west bank of the Vltava River, the Church of Our Lady Victorious (Kostel Panny Marie Vitezne) has its origins back in 1611. It was rebuilt in its present, richly Baroque style in the 30 years up to 1669 by a Carmelite order of monks and has an interior of dazzling gilt and marble adornment. However, the church’s main claim to fame is its painted wooden statuette of the Infant Jesus of Prague. At about 20 inches (50 cm) in height, it has a highly stylized head topped with cherubic curls and its right hand is raised in blessing. The Infant Jesus is originally from Spain and was donated to the Carmelites by a princess of the noble Lobkowicz dynasty in 1628; he has an rich wardrobe donated by visiting dignitaries as well as two crowns—one a gift studded with pearls and garnets given by Pope Benedict XVI when he visited Prague in 2009—and his outfits are changed at set points in the church year.
The statue’s bejeweled, fur-lined robes and crowns can be seen in the Museum of the Prague Infant Jesus above the church, which is accessible via spiral staircase.
Malá Strana is the area that meanders down from the Castle Hill to the Vltava River. A literal translation of its name would be 'Small Side' but its most often called the Lesser Side. Unfair? Well, while it might not have the grandeur of the Old Town across the river, many find it more charming.
Because the area was razed by fires in the 16th century, the architecture here is mainly baroque. Its finest site is the Wallenstein Palace with its fabulous walled garden full of fountains and statues. There's also the Church of Saint Nicholas and, high on Petřín Hill, a miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower.
The Rudolfinum is a prestigious music and art venue located on Jan Palach Square on the bank of the Vltava River in Prague. This impressive neo-Renaissance building was built between 1876 and 1884, opening in 1885 to serve as a multi-purpose cultural center combining concert halls and exhibition rooms.
Today, the Rudolfinum is home to the Galerie Rudolfinum and hosts a varied programme of classical music concerts and art exhibitions. It is the home venue of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, which was founded in 1896. The Philharmonic Orchestra holds world-class classical performances throughout the year from the building’s largest hall, the Dvořák, which is one of the oldest concert halls in Europe and is noted for its exceptional acoustics.
As well as being able to buy tickets for various performances and exhibitions at the Rudolfinum, guided tours are available for those interested in the history and architecture of the building.
The Jewish ghetto in Prague grew up in Josefov around the Old New Synagogue (Staronová Synagoga), which was in use as early as 1270. It has the distinction of being oldest functioning synagogue in Europe – for over 700 years services were only halted during Nazi occupation between 1942–45 – and today it is once more the heart of Jewish worship in the city. A Gothic oddity, the whitewashed synagogue is topped with brick gables and its interior is starkly simple and little changed since the 13th century, with one prayer hall for the men and an adjoining gallery for women, who originally were only allowed to witness services from behind a glass screen. An elaborate wrought-iron grill encases the pulpit and the Torah scrolls are contained in a plain Ark on one wall. Apart from a couple of chandeliers, the only embellishment is a tattered red flag bearing the Star of David hanging from the ceiling, given as a gesture of respect to the Jewish community by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1357; the red banner close by was a gift from Ferdinand III in thanks for Jewish help in repulsing a Swedish invasion in 1648. Down the centuries the building has survived fires, pogroms and sieges, giving rise to the legend that is protected by angels.
The Czech Republic’s longest river, the Vltava begins in southern Bohemia before meandering 270 miles (430 kilometers) northward toward Prague. The river has shaped the Czech capital over millennia, splitting Malá Strana (Lower Town) in the west from Staré Mĕsto (Old Town) and the modern city to the east.
Built in 1891 for the Czech Tourist Club’s General Land Centennial Exhibition, Petrin Tower (Petrínská Rozhledna) resembles a mini Eiffel Tower perched atop Petrin Hill. The highest point in Prague, with panoramic views, the landmark is popular with tourists who brave the 299 steps to get a bird’s-eye view of the city.
Letná Park (Letenské Sady) is a large urban park built on Letná Hill, offering commanding views of Prague’s Old Town, including the Vltava River. It’s a popular place for skateboarders, rollerbladers, and cyclists, although the park is large enough that visitors can also relax with a picnic on its grassy areas or tree-lined avenue in peace.
Those looking for refreshment can stop for a drink in the popular beer garden here, which is always teeming with visitors during the summer months. For coffee and cake, or perhaps an evening meal, head to the Hanavský Pavilion; this cast-iron, pseudo-Baroque building was constructed at the end of the 19th century and provides some of the best views of the city from its terraces.
The giant arm of the Prague Metronome has been swinging back and forth in Letná Park since its construction in 1991. This unique monument sits on the site where a large statue of Joseph Stalin was erected in 1955. The statue was destroyed in 1962, and now the Metronome takes its place upon a marble plinth that was used as the base for the original monument.
A major landmark along Prague’s Vltava river, the National Theatre (Národní Divadlo) is one of the city’s most culturally important landmarks, with a rich artistic tradition. Built in the late 19th century in neo-Renaissance style, it hosts a regular program of works of both classic and modern theater, ballet, and opera.
In a city known for its baroque, Gothic, and Art Nouveau architecture, Prague’s postmodern Dancing House (Tancící Dum) stands out for displaying none of these architectural styles. The curvaceous, concrete, metal, and glass building was designed by the architectural duo of Czech-Croatian Vlado Milunić and Canadian-American Frank Gehry (of Guggenheim Bilbao fame) and completed in 1996.
Kampa Park is on the west bank of the Vltava River in Prague. The park is famous for three giant baby sculptures designed by controversial artist David Cerny. Cerny purposely made his art with the intention to provoke people, and you can find his art throughout the city. He also made 10 other baby sculptures which can be seen crawling up the Zizkov TV Tower. The ones on the TV tower are made of fiberglass, but the ones in the park are bronze. The babies don't have normal faces. Instead they have alien-looking heads with long rectangular slots where the face should be.
The sculptures in the park were supposed to be part of a temporary exhibit, but they were so popular that they are now a permanent part of the scenery. They are located near the entrance to the Kampa Museum, which is the Museum of Modern Art from Central Europe.
Twice as large as the Old Town area, Prague’s New Town (Nové Mesto) is sprawled across one of the banks of the Vltava River. Despite its name, the New Town was founded by Charles IV back in 1348 following his coronation under the Holy Roman Empire. It was later redeveloped during the late 19th century.
The New Town features a mix of historic buildings and squares with more modern developments. Wenceslas Square lies at the heart of the area. This was originally built as a horsemarket and is now a popular place for visitors due to its variety of hotels, shops, restaurants, and nightlife. Other notable squares in the New Town include Charles Square and Republic Square, which also hold plenty of appeal for visitors.
The main attractions and historical buildings within the New Town include the Dvořák Museum, the National Museum, the National Theater, the Dancing House, and the New Town Hall.
A harrowing reminder of Europe’s dark history, the Terezin Concentration Camp was set up in the Czech Republic by the Nazi regime in 1941 and used as a holding camp for prisoners awaiting transfer to Auschwitz and Treblinka concentration camps. Today, the World War II site is preserved as the Terezín Memorial (Památník Terezín), telling the horrifying truths of the Holocaust, as well as the stories of some of the 150,000-plus prisoners held at the camp and the tens of thousands who lost their lives.
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