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Prague apartments

What to do in Prague ?

Prague is simply one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Built by Europe’s finest architects and artists over the course of more than 600 years, its spired buildings, famed bridges, flowing river and cobbled streets are at once breathtaking and charming. Evidences of that graceful turn-of-the-century vogue—art nouveau—are everywhere.


The center of Prague is basically one big landmark, monument and historic site, spread across three districts—the Old Town, the Lesser Town and the Jewish Quarter. It’s all best taken in by foot: Public transportation only skirts the edges, taxis are criminally expensive, and a lot of the old city is zoned for pedestrians only.

A good route to follow is that known as the Royal Way, the ancient coronation route between the Powder Gate (Prasna Brana) and Prague Castle (Hradcany). We recommend starting at the castle and doing the route backward, moving downhill rather than up, and ending in the Old Town area, where you’ll find many food and drink options after a hard day’s sightseeing and souvenir buying.

Start walking at Prague Castle (Metro Malostranske) through the small walled garden and up the stairs behind the garden wall. The castle grounds include St. Vitus’ Cathedral (Katedrala sv. Vita) with its brilliant stained-glass windows, the Romanesque St. George’s Basilica (Bazilika sv. Jiri), the row of tiny former craftsmen’s houses called the Golden Lane (Zlata Ulicka), several small exhibitions, and many government offices, including that of President Vaclav Havel. (Guided walking tours will help sort out the tumultuous history that produced these structures.)

Most of the attractions in this area are free of charge. A 220 Kc ticket, which is good for three days, will get you into the cathedral, basilica, old royal palace and powder tower. Castle buildings are open daily 9 am-5 pm (4 pm in winter). Castle grounds are open 5 am-midnight April-October and 5 am-8 pm November-March. Call 224371111 for tourist information.

Exit the castle area through the main front gate, where two unsmiling guards unflinchingly tolerate photographers and tormenting tourists. Guards change on the hour, with an elaborate ceremony daily at noon. To your left as you leave the castle, you’ll find a great photo op—one of the best hilltop views of the city.

The Renaissance-style Belvedere (or Royal Summer Palace) is at Kralovska Zahrada, Prague 1, and is part of the Royal Gardens. Strahov Monastery’s library contains Bohemia’s most important collection of ancient literature. Open daily 9 am-noon and 1-5 pm. Adults 40 Kc, students 20 Kc, children under age 7 free. Strahovske Nadvori 1, Prague 1, phone 5732-0828.

Lesser Town Square (Malostranske Namesti) is capped by the domed, highly baroque St.Nicholas’ Cathedral (Chram sv. Mikulase), whose organ keys were actually played by Mozart.

Broad Charles Bridge (Karluv Most on your map) is lined with statues and affords great views of the city and river, as well as the opportunity to see and hear the talent of local artists as you cross from the castle area of the city into the Old Town.

At Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti) you’ll find the former city hall (Radnice) with its tall tower and famous astronomical clock (orloj), whose moving figures do their thing at the top of each hour. (You’ll see crowds gathering as the time approaches.) You’ll also see the statue of Jan Hus, the “other” St. Nicholas Church (this one containing a magnificent crystal chandelier) and the many-spired Church of Our Lady Before Tyn.

Ornate Paris Street (Parizska) leads out of Old Town Square to the Jewish Quarter (Josefov), where several synagogues (some closed for reconstruction) house museum exhibits. You may want to pay 450 Kc for a guided tour, because it lets you into the interesting cemetery:
Consecrated land was in short supply, so caskets were sometimes stacked six or more deep, with a corresponding number of tombstones jutting from the ground at every angle. Stars of David appear on buildings and fences throughout.

Celetna is another street leading out of Old Town Square. Celetna leads to the Powder Gate (Prasna Brana), a tall stone medieval orphan in the midst of newer buildings. It was once used for the storage of gunpowder.

The striking building with the dome and large mosaic to the left of the tower is Obecni Dum (Municipal House), glistening after a three-year renovation. If Prague were a necklace, Obecni Dum would be the diamond pendant. This art-nouveau masterpiece houses the Prague Symphony Orchestra in spectacular Smetana Hall, three restaurants, space for traveling art exhibits, reception rooms for dignitaries and a gift shop. Truly, no expense was spared in restoring this building to its former splendor; gold, silver, stained glass, tile and murals throughout show the loving work of patriotic Czech artisans. Although you may tour the ground
floor without charge, we recommend the guided tour, which will show you Smetana Hall and the glittering reception rooms upstairs. Check for times in the downstairs gift shop; you may have to reserve for a tour in English. For information, call 2200-2101. Namesti Republiky 5.

If you turn right at the tower by the Powder Gate, you’re on Na Prikope, the banking street. Follow Na Prikope until it ends at the broad, open space called Mustek (Little Bridge), which forms the lower end of Wenceslas Square (Vaclavske Namesti). This is not so much a square as a broad, gently sloping, very commercial street with the National Museum (Narodni Muzeum) at the top and Mustek at the bottom. St. Wenceslas (Sv. Vaclav) sits astride his giant
horse at the top of the square, from which he’s silently watched kingdoms and regimes rise and fall. Warsaw Pact tanks moved through the square in 1968. Jan Palach set himself on fire in the square to protest that invasion (see the small memorial to him a few yards in front of Wenceslas’ statue), and hundreds of thousands of angry Czechs gathered in the square in November 1989 to
demand the end of communism. Many high-priced, purely capitalistic businesses line the square today.

Prague Castle

The largest collection of wonders in the city, Prague Castle is an amalgamation of architecture from differing periods. From the almost pastoral serenity of St. George's Basilica, to the awe inspiring Gothic power and passion of St. Vitus Cathedral, to the magnificent sweep of the grounds, the castle is wondrous and has attractions for all - history and architecture plus marching soldiers and entertainment. You could spend weeks exploring the grounds, fortifications, palatial quarters and sacred houses. You can walk up Nerudova and a pretty steep hill from Malostranské nám. Alternatively, take tram N° 22 or 23 to Prazský hrad, which is at the castle's second courtyard, or go all the way to Pohorelec. This has breathtaking views of Prague and means you can make a quick stop at Strahov Monastery. Beware of pickpockets on this tram.

General Information
The castle has an information centre in the second courtyard, where you can find out what time the changing of the guard takes place, buy tickets, get audio guides and such. Golden Lane is free during the winter. Winter ticket prices are as follows:
110Kč - for St. Vitus Cathedral, Old King's Palace, Powder Tower and Daliborka Tower.
90Kč - for St. Vitus Cathedral, Old King's Palace and Daliborka Tower.
40Kč - Daliborka Tower.
The information centre open 09:00 - 16:00. Castle grounds open 06:00 - 23:00. Admission free.

Praha 1, Hradčany
Tel: 224 37 33 68

Hradčany Square (Hradčanské nám.)
The area known as Hradčany is actually all the buildings on the top of the hill. The first buildings date from around the year 880, but the castle's golden age came in the middle of the 14th century when it was imperial residence to Emperor Charles IV. He rebuilt the royal palace and had all the fortifications strengthened. Much more recently former president Havel took a personal interest in restoration work at the castle. He is also responsible for designing the lighting, which makes the castle look so beautiful at night. What else could you expect from a man of the theatre?

Schwarzenberg Palace (Schwarzenberský palác)
The most distinctive and largest of the buildings on the cobbled square sweeping into the castle is this palace on the left. Built between 1545 -1563, the building is home to the Military Museum.

Sternberg Palace (©ternberský palác)
Sharing an entrance with the Archbishop's Palace is the ©ternberský palác, now part of the National Gallery. The huge gallery, commissioned in 1698, is the home of the National's collection of European art. In 1991 thieves stole US.6 million worth of Picasso paintings. Unrelatedly, the museum is now under massive renovations on its ground and second floors so all the 'important' works (read: Rubens and Rembrandt) have been moved to the first floor. The building is on your left before entering the first courtyard. Admission 20 - 50Kč.

10:00-18:00 except: Monday: Closed

Archbishop's Palace (Arcibiskupský palác)

Sharing its entrance with the Sternberg Palace is the early Renaissance Archbishop's Palace. If you look carefully at the heraldic device on the front of the building you can spot different hats according to the rank of the church official. For instance, the archbishop is represented by a green hat with ten tassels, and the bishops are those with green hats and five tassels.

First courtyard (První nádvoří)
Pause at the castle gates to admire the soldiers' uniforms (designed by the wardrobe designer of the film Amadeus), and hopefully see the changing of the guard. Then, move into the courtyard flanking the presidential rooms, which are unfortunately not open to the public. These are numerous and include the Spanish Hall, once the venue for meetings of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. As you walk through the archway, the steps on your right are where many of the official greetings are made to visiting heads of state. Some rooms are open on national holidays.

Second courtyard (Druhé nádvoří)
Reconstructed by Empress Maria Theresa, this courtyard acts as an intersection point for two of the entrances into the castle. You can exit under the archway to reach the Royal Gardens and Stag Moat.

St. Vitus Cathedral (Katedrála svatého Víta)
Moving into the third courtyard of the castle you arrive at one of Europe's greatest Gothic cathedrals. The cathedral is the spiritual heart of the nation as the mausoleum of the Bohemian kings and the city's greatest landmark. Not surprisingly, it is always packed with visitors. Entrance is free, but a ticket buys you entrance into the royal crypt. You need to buy a separate ticket to climb the 287 steps to the top of the tower. Although the cathedral was started in 1344 it wasn't actually consecrated until May 12, 1929. Check out Mucha's window and the door with seven locks leading to the crown jewels (in Wenceslas's Chapel). The Tower closes at 16:15.


The Last Judgement

As you leave the cathedral, make sure not to miss the beautiful mosaic depicting the Last Judgement of Christ on the exterior of St. Vitus Cathedral. The mosaic is 84 square metres in area and was created in 1371. Considered the most important work of its kind north of the Alps, the work has been painstakingly restored.

Old King's Palace (Starý královský palác)
One of the oldest parts of the castle, the Old King's Palace dates from 1135 and was the seat of Bohemian princes. From the 13th to the 16th century it was the king's palace. Vladislav Hall was used for banquets, councils, coronations and in bad weather, jousting. All presidents have been sworn in here, and this building was where the 1618 defenestration took place. Don't miss the Rampart Gardens from here.


St George's Basilica (Bazilika svatého Jiří)

The basilica is the small chruch in the thri courtyard, behind St. Vitus. Now deconsecrated, it serves as a concert hall. In the chapel on the right of the entrance are the bones of St. Ludmila, the first Czech saint.


Golden Lane (Zlatá ulička)
The phrase picturesque street might have been invented to describe this tiny, snaking cobbled lane with its miniature workers' cottages - now mostly shops. It was here, in charming domesticity, that the aspirations of the common people were given shape. And what did they dream about? Gold, of course. It was on this street, or so legend has it, that 16th century alchemists laboured to discover the secrets of the Philosopher's Stone. Franz Kafka spent evenings at his sister's house, number 22.


Palace Gardens

A large set of steeply terraced gardens leading up to the castle. Originally an integral part of the fortifications, the land was sold off to local bigwigs in the 16th century. These wealthy owners reconstructed their plots in Baroque style in the name of prestige, punctuating the area with pavilions, galleries and fountains. The extremely steep climb up to the castle is rewarded by fitness, some beautiful landscaping and stunning views of the city. Admission 80/40Kč, families 180Kč.

Valdątejnská 12/14

Stag Moat (Jelení příkop)

Although once closed to the public, former president Havel ordered that this moat below the ramparts of the castle be reopened in 1998. Despite the name there hasn't been a stag here since ravenous soldiers gobbled up the last of them by the 17th century. The walk, which in parts can be more of a clamber, is worth it for a whole new view of the castle via the palace gardens. It also takes you past tennis courts, enjoyed by castle employees.

The Royal Gardens (Královská zahrada)
North of the castle walls are a succession of orderly and manicured gardens. The Royal Gardens were first laid out in 1534 and are home to the Míčovna or Ball Game Hall, the most ornate sports centre we've ever seen. Further along the eastern edge of the castle area you can find the Královský Summer Palace (Královský letohrádek), where, supposedly, Europe's first tulips, a present from Turkey, were cultivated. The gardens on the southern side of the castle can be entered via steps to the right of the main castle gate. The main garden on the southern side is the Ramparts Garden (Zahrada Na Valech), which overlooks Malá Strana. The Rampart Garden is attached on its western edge to the Garden of Paradise (Rajská zahrada) and on the south to the Hartig garden (Hartigovská zahrada), which surrounds the Music Pavilion (Hudební pavilon). In the 1920s and 30s the Rampart Gardens were redesigned by the Slovak castle architect Josip Plečnik. Unfortunately, his work was only seen for a brief time before the Communists closed the area to the spying masses. Again, former president Havel insisted that they be reopened in 1993. We are glad he did; the gardens reward visitors with one of the best views of the city.

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