Prague Old Town including the Old Town Hall, Astronomical Clock, the Gothic Church, Powder Tower.
This ‘City of a Hundred Spires’ – cobbled cruising ground for Kafka, Mozart and Soviet tanks – brims with aesthetic and architectural treasures, Baroque here, Gothic there and a splatters of Neoclassical everywhere.
Prague (also Praha or Praga) is a delight and buzzes with innovation, interest, quirky things and noisy entertainment.
It is clean, romantic, relaxed, walkable, and has oodles of entertainment ranging from twee puppet shows to spontaneous poetry outpourings to heavy-metal S&M.
Cuisine is surprisingly sophisticated, Czech beer is world famous (Budweiser it is, but it isn’t, it’s much, much richer and more potent than the anaemic American version) and it’s good value – especially for opera and plastic surgery! All in all this is one of the best short-stay tourist destinations in Europe, with something for everyone.
Prague Main Attractions
This city is packed with stunning architecture ranging from heavy-duty gothic, through Baroque, Rococo and Art Nouveau to Deconstructivist.
Hradcany (castle district) aka Prague Castle (Prazsky Hrad), is the city’s most magnificent landmark and a World Heritage Site, including the imposing (free to enter) St Vitus Cathedral, with fine stained-glass windows, spectacular Wenceslas Chapel, various mosaics, Franz Kafka’s cottage, the Royal Palace/garden and St Nicolas’ Church.
Getting into St Vitus’s Cathedral without lining up: 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.
The Old Town includes the Old Town Hall/Astronomical Clock and the Gothic T´yn Church, the Powder Tower, medieval Charles Bridge and Josefov, the former Jewish Town, with Europe’s oldest in-use synagogue, a remarkable cemetery and excellent Art Nouveau cafés.
Petrin Hill with its little ‘Eiffel Tower’ for a 60m (180ft) panoramic view of the city.
Other notable buildings: National Theatre, Estates Theatre, the Dancing Building, Municipal House, Loreta and Kinsky Palace.
The Fortress in Vysehrad. Very little of the fort is of interest but the view from the hilltop is fine and the gardens are peaceful, free and – best of all – unknown to most tourists.
Zizkov is currently the funkiest district in the city, home to all sorts of absurdities, night and day, street theatre to wacky nightclubs.
The River Vltava provides an escape from the tourist mobs, so hire a rowing boat and take a picnic onto one of the islands, or head into the surreal Wallenstein Gardens at the base of Hdradcany Hill.
May-June, Spring International Music Festival, with classical music concerts in various venues; this is one of Europe’s best musical events, a must-see.
July-Sept, the city’s Folklore Festival.
Aug-Sept, Verdi Festival.
September, St Wenceslas Sacred Music Festival, performed in many superb local churches.
September, Mozart Festival, appropriate music played in the gorgeous Bertramka Villa often visited by Wolfgang himself.
Sept- Oct, Prague Autumn, international music festival, with classical concerts in the Castle.
October, International Jazz Festival.
October, Musica Iudaica, a festival of Jewish music.
November, Festival of Cyberculture (Datatransfer), including digital art, film, net and performance art.
Museums: National Museum for Natural History, Veletrzní Palác (Modern & Contemporary Art), Frantisek Bílek Villa, Jewish Museum.
Classical Music: The gorgeous Rudolfinum Concert Hall is a Neo-Renaissance masterpiece that hosts varied music and ballet performances. There’s also the Lichtenstein Palace, Church of St Simon and St Jude for chamber music, Bertramka for Mozart, while different churches hold classical concerts at least somewhere, everyday. Fly sheets keep tourists informed.
Dance/Opera: State Opera, Estates Theatre, National Theatre, Duncan Center, Ponec.
Theatre: Puppet Opera has a very popular long-run ‘Don Giovanni’ at the National Marionette Theatre. Impressive and funny at first, but too long.
English language shows are held at Black Box International Theatre and Misery Loves Company.
Live Music and Clubs: Stare Mesto and Zizkov have endless venues offering all kinds of performances ranging from old-fashioned jazz to off-the-wall experimental insanity.
Check English language Prague Post ‘Night and Day’ section for event info and listings. Tickets can be bought from the venue or try ticket agencies: Bohemia Ticket International, Ticketpro.
Some popular souvenirs are:
Fine Bohemian crystal, ceramics, wooden toys, Easter eggs (Kraslice) and puppets.
Touristy: Around the Old Town Square and en route to the Castle (The Royal Way) are endless shops for puppets, Kafka or communist T-shirts, Russian stuff, and matrioshka dolls.
Classy: Wenceslas Square, Parizska trida near the Old Town Square, and Na Prikope area.
Wacky: Back streets in Stare Mesto and Mala Strana.
Pick pocketing is endemic in Praga (much of it perpetrated by East Europeans, not by locals) and the police are of no use at all so look after yourself. Regular tourists or backpackers are all targets, especially if they are drunk and careless.
Basic rules are: never keep a wallet in an outside pocket and preferably leave most of your money in a hotel safe or stashed in your underpants; keep backpacks closed/locked; keep cameras hidden when not in use; don’t wear flash clothing; be very aware in danger zones such as crowded trams, buses and main tourist attractions such as Charles Bridge. Also beware sleeper trains and lock bags to luggage racks.