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
LANDMARKS AND HISTORIC SITES
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.