Prague Pictures, Praha, Czech Republic

Astronomical Clock and the Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

The 15th century Astronomical Clock attached to the Town Hall (1338 AD, left) and the Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti) in the heart of Prague (Praha).

Prague Tourism

Prague, the ‘City of a Hundred Spires’ brims with aesthetic and architectural treasures, Rococo here, Gothic there and the drama of Art Nouveau elsewhere. Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of innovation and interest, clean, romantic, relaxed, walkable, and offering plenty of entertainment ranging from kid-tastic puppet shows to spontaneous poetry outpourings to heavy-metal S&M.

Note that signposts are frequently only in Czech language, so we include the names of the top sights in brackets alongside the English version.

Top Attractions

• The Old Town Square

Old Town Square is a brilliant place, full of sights, sounds and entertainment, though inevitably crowded with tourists and prices of food, drink and horse carriages (even Segway tours these days! ) are ambitiously high (not to mention exclusively touristic) while pickpockets roam with feeling, along with omnipresent touts pushing tours, bars, restaurants, shows, concerts and so on.
The square in December is home to a great Christmas market.
It is possible to climb to the top of the Town Hall for a bird’s eye perspective on the square.
If you wish to see the best of the Old Town and other top Prague attractions then get yourself out of bed a bit early and hit the square at 7am! That will be a different experience and well worth a bit of effort, especially if you’re a camera fiend.
The Old Town zone includes the Old Town Hall/Astronomical Clock, gothic Tyn Church, the Powder Tower, medieval Charles Bridge, and Josefov the former Jewish Town, with Europe’s oldest in-use synagogue and remarkable cemetery.

• The striking Astronomical Clock (geddit? )

The 14th century gothic Town Hall and Astronomical Clock, Prague, Czech Republic

The 14th century Old Town City Hall and its essential hourly clock-watching just off the Old Town Square.

Prague’s Astronomical Clock puts on a fun and funny medieval (you don’t often see those adjectives together! ) show every hour on the hour when doors above the clock open and a parade of clockwork apostles appears. Meanwhile statues around the clock perform various acts: a skeleton rings a bell; a Turk shakes his head; a miser fondles his money bags; Vanity looks in a mirror. The show ends with a golden cock crowing and the tower bell ringing. Really a fantastic show, and free of course. Close up photo of the main clock face

The clock (Orloj) was completed in 1410and is the oldest working astronomical timepiece in the world. It can tell the time, day, week, month and year in Central Europe as well as in Babylon (! ) and Sidereal time (time based on the rotation of the earth relative to the stars).
The clock was supposedly built by a certain Master Hanus who was, after completion, blinded by order of the city council so he could not replicate the masterpiece for any other European city. This tale may be an urban legend, probably invented by Prague tourism marketing department!

• Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge, Karluv most, Prague

Charles Bridge (Karluv Most to local people), is a 14thC construction.

Charles Bridge crosses the Vitava river here and supports the weight of 30 saints – 15 on each side – each with its own history and is the city’s third biggest tourist attraction after the Old Town Square and Clock which are, as it happens, only a hundred metres straight on. Photo taken early in the morning!

A bizarre statue on Charles Bridge

This statue on Charles Bridge needs no explanation as it was the result of an excess of absinthe on a Friday night long, long ago, obviously.

• Prague Castle (Hradcany Castle)

Prague Castle, St Vitus Cathedral and Charles Bridge, Prague

Prague Castle, with St Vitus Cathedral on the left, comprises just about all the buildings seen on the hill in the background beyond the Charles Bridge. Photo by Karney Li.

Prague Castle is a massive, royal complex – the largest ancient castle in the world – and encompasses many curiosities and artefacts of great historical interest so an official walking tour of the castle is highly recommended. In peak months the castle zone will be VERY crowded.

Prague Castle under attack by tourist hordes, Prague, Czech Republic

Prague Castle under attack by tourist hordes.

The castle complex began in 870 with the Church of the Virgin Mary and includes St Vitus Cathedral (below), Basilica of St George, the Archbishop’s Palace (below), a monastery, Franz Kafka’s cottage (below), the current Czech Presidential offices and the Czech Crown Jewels. Hradcany is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For tourist purposes the castle is open practically all day (5am – midnight in summer, 6am to 11pm in winter), every day except Christmas Eve. There are group guided tours or individual audio-tours.

• St Vitus Cathedral (Chram Svateho Vita, inside Prague Castle grounds)

A 14th century gothic mosaic of The Last Judgement on the south side of St Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic

A 14th century gothic mosaic of The Last Judgment on the south side of St Vitus Cathedral (Katedrála Svatého Víta). Photo by Myrabella. St Vitus was under construction for 700 years. And you thought your loft took a long time!

St Vitus Cathedral is a gothic and neo-Gothic structure packed with Baroque and Renaissance trimmings and a touch of Art Nouveau glasswork.
The building started in 1344, ran out of funds from time to time, and was finally finished in 1929.

Here’s a tip on getting into St Vitus’s Cathedral without lining up for ages (and enabling you NOT to be a tourist for a while! ): start early and join the locals for Mass every day at 7am or Sundays at 8am. Prague Castle gates open at 5am in summer, 6am in winter.

Art Nouveau stained glass in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic

Art Nouveau stained glass in St Vitus by Alfons Mucha.

St. Vitus essentials are the wonderful stained-glass windows (possible to enter free for those) and the dazzling, apocalyptic mosaic in St. Wenceslas Chapel. Climbing to the top of a tower will provide excellent aerobic exercise and a fantastic view. Note that if you need a ticket, the office is in a different building opposite the cathedral main door.

St. Wenceslas Chapel, highlight of art in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic

The St. Wenceslas Chapel is considered by many to be the highlight of art in St Vitus Cathedral. Photo by Clayton-Tang.

The Chapel of St. Wenceslas was completed in 1364 and is where various relics of Wenceslas are kept.
The lower part of the walls are embellished with over 1, 000 semi-precious stones and paintings based on the Passion of Christ.
The upper section is a gallery of paintings on the life of St Wenceslas, created between 1506 and 1509. The room is not open to the public, but can be viewed from the doorways.
A door with seven locks in one corner of the chapel leads to the Crown Chamber and the Czech Crown Jewels. These are very rarely seen in public.

• Golden Lane home of Franz Kafka (servant’s quarters of Prague Castle)

Massed tourists in Golden Lane, Castle complex, Prague

The blue cottage in Golden Lane, originally the servant’s quarters of Hradcany Castle complex, this became Kafka’s early home.

Golden Lane is a neat little alley beside the castle wall, originally occupied by castle guards and service people in the 16th century but once the castle was decommissioned as a serious defensive structure its colourful cottages were taken over by goldsmiths. Then in later years they were home to artists, including the writer Franz Kafka from 1916 to 1917.
Since tourism arrived in Prague the cottages have become showcases of medieval and renaissance life – a goldsmith’s workshop, a tavern, and Kafka’s cottage which now functions as a book and souvenir shop.

• Municipal House (Obecni Dum, in the Old Town)

The art-encrusted art nouveau facade of Municipal House in Prague, Czech Republic

The art-encrusted 1912 art nouveau facade of Municipal House (Obecni dum), next to the 11thC gothic Powder Gate.

Municipal House is a civic centre, concert hall and superb place to have a drink or meal in a total art-immersion environment.
The mosaic centre piece is Homage to Prague by Spillar, while sculptures representing The Degradation of the People and The Resurrection of the People crouch below it.

Make sure you have a drink or meal in the café or restaurant – perhaps with live music – in order to really appreciate the incredible Art Nouveau styling

• Petrin Lookout Tower

Petrin Watchtower, Prague

Petrin Watchtower, built in 1891.

The Petrín Tower (aka Rozhledna) in Petrin Park is 60 metres (180ft) high and compared to Paris’ Eiffel Tower even though the design and size is very different. The tower is set in a lovely park and has two observation platforms that offer excellent views of Prague. Access is via 299 steps or a lift and there is a café at the top for vital refreshments such as cool glass of Budvar.

• Wandering the historic Mala Strana ‘Lesser’ quarter, very picturesque and relaxed atmosphere, much less busy than the Old Town (it’s near the Charles Bridge)

• Lobkowicz Palace, the largest art collection in the Czech Republic as well as a fascinating family museum and terrific afternoon concerts. Beethoven dedicated his 3rd, 5th and 6th symphonies to Lobkowicz princes. Lovely patio for drinks or lunch.

• Vysehrad castle and historical city district.

Prague Walks

Here are a couple of highly recommended walks around Prague (also known as Praha, Prag and Praga)

Tourists taking a Time out in the Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

Time out in the Old Town Square.

The Royal (Way) Walk: Starting at the Art Nouveau glory of Municipal House, this walk – which is used be the old coronation route – passes various notable buildings through the city’s heart: from Staromestske Namesti (Old Town Square), across Karluv Most (Charles Bridge) and up to imposing Prague Castle (Prazsky Hrad) and the free-to-enter St Vitus Cathedral. The walk continues along the Vitava river bank and up Petrin Hill for a panoramic view of the Castle and the city.

New Town/Old Town Walk: This takes you through both the city’s new and old faces, starting at the National Museum in the New Town’s rather dull Wenceslas Square – previously home to Russian tanks, now a popular shopping area – through an open market place and along narrow back streets to Old Town Square, then continues to Josefov, the old Jewish District.

A busker band on Charles Bridge, Prague

Quite good quality buskers manage to find convenient locations.

Don’t expect to meet any Czech people who are not in service to the tourist trade, in high season anyway, they are a rare breed bordering on extinction. You will, however, be surrounded and possibly buffeted by staggering numbers of querulous tourists trying to beat you to the best seat in the café, the best point for a sunset shot, the next toilet. . .

Prague Weather

Best season: This depends on personal preference of course but bugbog would choose the shoulder months of October/November and March/April, for clear, chilly days with space to move.
Winters are very cold but much less busy and get less than half the summer’s precipitation with average lows of -3C (27F) and highs of 3C (37F), whereas summer gets most of the rain, pretty fair heat of 14C-25C (57F-77F) and massive herds of tourists trampling the feeding grounds and watering holes. Curiously May – August gets the most sunshine hours but also the most rain.

Architectural Alternatives to Gothic in Prague

Baroque, St Nicholas Church

The baroque interior of St Nicholas Church in Mala Strana, Prague

The baroque interior of St Nicholas Church in Mala Strana. Photo by Jorge Royan.

Also known as St Nicholas Cathedral, this glittering example of the golden art of baroque was completed in 1765. Curving around the inside of the great dome are brilliant frescoes by Frantisek Xaver Palko while the Baroque organ boasts over 4, 000 pipes and was played by Mozart in 1787. The 79m high belfry and its panoramic view is open to the public for a fee.
Baroque architecture evolved in Italy in the 16th century to celebrate the wealth, power and glory of the Catholic Church in the face of Protestant competition. Bernini was the most famous sculptor to work in the baroque style.

Rococo, Rott Cristal

The graceful rococo facade of Rott Cristal building in Male Namesti, Prague, Czech Republic

The graceful rococo facade of Rott Cristal building in Male Namesti.

One of the many gorgeously ornate buildings scattered around the Old Town, Rott Cristal’s rounded decor evolved from the Baroque style (barocco in Italian). Rococo echoes the curving shape of sea shells (rocaille in French), a style that became known as Rococo architecture.
While southern Europe pleasured themselves with elaborate, gilded Baroque architecture France soon moved on towards a softer and more graceful Rococo style, leading a fashion that spread through north and eastern Eastern Europe.

Rococo, Archbishop’s Palace

The rococo Archbishop

The rococo Archbishop’s Palace, inside Prague Castle (the royal Hradcany complex) was rebuilt several times but morphed into rococo between 1669-1694.

Deconstructivist,The Dancing House

The

The Dancing House (Tancici Dum), aka the Drunk Building.

This twisted ‘new-baroque’ design that delights many and nauseates more was a co-operative architectural venture between Canadian-American Frank Gehry and Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić. The building was originally named Fred (Astaire) and Ginger (Rogers), after the famous American dancers since the shape mimics a classic dance move.