There's a reason that a visit to Prague tops the list of many a traveller. As the historical capital of Bohemia, it's a culturally rich and historical hotspot that still retains much of its fairy-tale appeal. From cobblestone squares, vertically-inspired Gothic architecture, storied churches and magnificently preserved monuments, the past resides along with the present throughout this most walkable city.
As the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, Prague is thriving and prosperous. It is also a city that ranks as the sixth most visited metropolitan area in Europe. Part of the reason is the café culture and vibrant nightlife. Another part is its beauty. Set on seven hills with the Vltava river wending its way through the heart of the city, Prague delivers a magical attraction that is hard to resist.
Often considered part of Eastern Europe, Prague is actually half-way between Berlin, Germany and Vienna, Austria. Interesting enough, that makes the location of Prague further west than Vienna, typically considered part of Western Europe.
1. Stroll Charles Bridge
Whatever you do, save time to stroll the baroque statue-lined Charles Bridge, the most iconic feature of Prague. But do it early in the morning, preferably at dawn. Any other time and you will be part of an ever-growing circus that includes artists, performers, buskers, hawkers, and of course, tourists and locals—especially the young. Also, beware of the many pickpockets swarming the bridge, some of whom work solitaire, but many work in gangs.
In 1350, there wasn't a bridge connecting Prague Castle on one side to the city on the other side of the Vltava River. So, in 1357, Charles IV commissioned Peter Parler, architect of St. Vitus Cathedral, to replace the original Judith Bridge damaged by floods in 1342. Completed in 1390, the stone bridge survived floods and wheeled traffic for some 500 years.
After the Second World War, the oldest bridge in Prague was made accessible to pedestrian traffic only. Stroll the bridge for scenic views of the city as well as the saints on the bridge—all 30 of them. Just know that the original, soft sandstone sculptures have all been replaced with replicas. They weather better.
As with many cities, the popularity of lover's locks adorning bridges and professing eternal love has not left Charles Bridge unscathed. However, many consider it to be a visual scourge and weighty problem that can affect the structural integrity of bridge supports.
2. Peruse Prague Castle
One of the largest castles in the world, the 9th century Prague Castle spans seven hectares and includes courtyards, St. Vitus Gothic Cathedral and St. George's Basilica. It also houses the crown jewels of the Bohemian Kingdom. While the Gothic Cathedral dominates the castle, it is said the castle dominates the city.
Be sure to check out the latest addition inside St. Vitus Cathedral, the 2018 all-silver sculpture of the saints: St. Vojtech, Radim Gaudentius and Radla.
3. Meander through Old Town Square
The historic centre of Prague, Old Town Square was the main marketplace from the 10th to early 20th century. Dotted with cobblestone streets and churches, including the St. Nicholas Cathedral, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.
Expect to find buskers and entertainers, as well as the Christmas and Easter markets. The famous astronomical clock parades the 12 apostles every hour. Unfortunately, it was out of commission when I was there, so not much to see.
Save time for coffee at the Grand Café Orient, with its rare cubist interior and buffet bar, parquet floors and angular light fixtures. Located on the first floor of the House of the Black Madonna, they also serve sandwiches, salads, and light fare.
4. Shop Wenceslas Square
Wenceslas Square is where you go to shop, dine, and enjoy Prague's most famous square. However, before 1848, it was known as "Horse Market" because it was a centre of horse-trading in the Middle Ages. Look for the world's only cubist lamp post in a corner off Wenceslas Square. Designed by Emil Kralicek, it's proudly Prague.
Check out Czech culture near Wenceslas Square, in the National Theatre and Prague State Opera, known for its Rococo auditorium.
5. Ponder the Franz Kafka monument
Ironically, the Jewish Quarter was largely left alone during the Second World War because rumour was that Adolf Hitler planned to retire in Prague. His intent was to preserve the Josehof Quarter as a museum dedicated to an exterminated race.
Now a metal statue of a headless, handless and footless man carrying a smaller man on his shoulders is located next to the Spanish Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. Created by the Czech sculptor Jaroslav Rona in 2003, the surrealist sculpture is intended to represent the Jewish novelist Franz Kafka, as the smaller figure sitting astride the suited torso.
6. Drink a Pilsner
You might say that beer is the national drink of the Czech Republic. The fact that its citizens drink more beer than any other country in the world per capita is a hearty endorsement on how much they like the liquid. So much so, that on most menus, beer is cheaper than water. But it's actually Pilsner, which was invented in Prague about 1,000 years ago. Nowadays, almost 97 per cent of Czech beer is brewed in the Pilsner style, a light beer with a strong flavor of hops.