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Visit Prague

You may need a couple of days to properly visit Prague, but only a couple of hours to completely fall in love with it.

We flew to the Czech capital from London on a short budget flight. You can even board a cheap bus or train ride (with the local company RegioJet or the German powerhouse Flixbus) from bordering states.

For our trip we brought with us our loyal Lonely Planet’s Prague & the Czech Republic guide. Get the latest edition here!

Where’s Prague?

Prague is the capital of the fairly new state of Czech Republic, or Czechia, as it’s also known. Being located nearly at the heart of Europe, Czech Republic, and  Prague in particular, is easily accessible from anywhere in the continent. 

However, such a position makes it so that the country has no access to the sea; in fact it borders with Slovakia to the south-east, Austria to the south, Germany to the west and north-west and Poland to the north-east.

It used to be part of a larger country: Czechoslovakia. The two entities, Czechia and Slovakia, went their own way in 1993: it was an amicable divorce between two peoples who shared a common language and a long history of foreign rule.

Czech Republic and Slovakia – a bit of history

Click here to skip the history lesson.

Czech Republic and Slovakia were united from the end of WWII up until the Velvet Revolution, in 1989, when Czechoslovakians took to the streets to protest against the Soviet regime: both countries suffered greatly under the oppressive yoke of Communism. 

During the conflict (1939-1945) it was Nazi Germany who ruled over two briefly-separated entities – Czechia was known at the time as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, whilst Slovakia was the Slovak Republic.

In the years between WWI and WWII the newly formed Republic of Czechoslovakia was torn by ethnic conflicts; before that, under the Dual Monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian empire, from the mid-19th century until the dissolution of the vast reign, in 1918, the territory roughly corresponding to the Czech Republic (Bohemia and Moravia) was ruled by the Austrians, while Slovakia was part of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Bohemia and Moravia – a bit of history

Let’s just briefly step back: Bohemia and Moravia had coexisted as separate entities in the Middle Ages: the Duchy of Bohemia – a much smaller territory than then-Moravia – lasted 400 years under the Premsyl dynasty, from the 9th until the 14th century; the  Moravian empire, or Great Moravia, centred around the Morava river, included parts of modern-day Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland (including Silesia), Serbia and Hungary. It reached its apex in the 9th century under West Slavic king Svatopluk

Enter the Magyars, who settled in the Carpathian Basin in 895AD and eventually invaded Moravia, which was later ceded to the bordering Bohemian Kingdom. Beloved ruler Charles IV (Karel IV), king of Bohemia, became Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and established his seat in Prague, in the 14th century.

Fast forward through the 15th-century religious wars fomented by the Hussites Protestant reformers – who professed a stripped-down version of the flashy Catholicism displayed by the Popes in Rome: a weakened Bohemian Kingdom will inexorably fall in the hands of Austria’s Habsburg empire after a sound defeat at the battle of Bílá Hora, near Prague, in 1620.

The rest is known history

Visit Prague – DAY 1

The first intense day focuses on the Old Town (Staré Město): the itinerary starts on the northern side of the historic centre, at the Jewish quarter (Josefov).

Ceremonial Hall

The Jewish Museum in Prague is a complex that includes four synagogues, a cemetery, the Ceremonial Hall and an art gallery. Check the links below to have more info on the specific sites.

The Old-New Synagogue and the Jerusalem Synagogue are not part of the Jewish Museum in Prague as they are overseen by the Prague Jewish Community. You can visit both sites with a discounted combined ticket of CZK270 (£9.20/US $11.60).

Check opening times and admission options before making your decision. Don’t forget to check the Jewish holidays calendar so as to avoid any disappointments.

If you wish to visit all the sites included in the Jewish Museum in Prague (listed above) and the Old-New Synagogue, there is a combined entrance ticket that costs CZK 500 (£17.00/US $21.90).

These sites can also be visited as part of a 2.5 hour-long guided tour, called “Prague Jewish Town”.

Tickets can be bought online at this link. However we do suggest to contact the Information and Reservation Centre before making your purchase to have more information about the tours.

If you start your visit when the sites open, at 9:00am, you will have the rest of the day to explore Staré Město.

Visit Prague – lunch break

But first, lunch. After such an intense dive into Prague’s Jewish history, you may be hungry. Walk under 10 minutes eastward, along  Dlouhá, which is establishing itself more and more as a foodies destination, and stop at Naše maso. If you’re a carnivore this butcher shop may as well be heaven for you. Try the beef steak tartare and pour your own beer from taps coming out of white-tiled walls. Here are other places where you can enjoy a mean beef steak tartare according to Taste of Prague.

As an alternative (or as a next stop for a sweet treat) head to nearby MyRaw Cafe for delicious vegan delicacies and third-wave coffee served in fancy contraptions (aeropress, drip bar and vacuum pot).

Once regally fed, move south to the Municipal House (Obecní dům), a beautiful Art Nouveau building completed in the 20th century. The complex – which had housed the Royal Court from 1383 to 1483 – can be visited on guided tours: it has bars, restaurants and a concert hall (Smetana Hall).

Right next to the main entrance to the Municipal Hall stands a scenic example of Late Gothic style: it’s the 65m-tall Powder Tower (Prašná brána). Construction began in 1475: at the time the tower constituted the main entrance to the city. When Bohemian king Vladislav II Jagiello moved the royal court to Prague Castle on the west side of the Vltava river, the tower was left unfinished.

After being used as a gunpowder storage – which gave it its current name – architect Josef Mocker rebuilt it in the 19th century in a Late Gothic fashion.

From the Powder Tower walk westward on Celetná until you reach the magnificent Old Town square. Everywhere you turn around there is a sight to take note (and a picture) of.

Start with the Church of Our Lady before Týn which houses the tomb of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. The present building with its characteristic 80m-tall twin Gothic spires was established in the mid-14th century. It had been a Hussite  religious site for 200 years until the battle of Bílá Hora in 1620 gave the House of Habsurg full control over the region: this brought about a re-catholicization. To add salt to the Hussite wounds, the golden chalice – symbol of the Hussites – that had proudly stood on the gable – was melted and used to make the halo around a newly added statue of the Virgin Mary.

Church of Our Lady before Tyn

Practical info for the Church of Our Lady before Tyn

Address: Staroměstské nám., 110 00 Staré Město, Czechia

Prices: voluntary – recommended amount is 25 CZK

Opening times: (March – December) Tue-Sat 10am – 1pm; 3pm – 5pm; Sun 10am – 12pm

Move to the Old Town Hall and wait till the hour strikes when the spectacle offered by the Astronomical Clock located on a Gothic tower entertains the many gathered tourists. The performance itself may be slightly disappointing and underwhelming as it only lasts 45 seconds. Keep in mind that the mechanism for the clock and the procession of the Twelve Apostles was designed in the 15th century: it was a marvel at the time.

Check the prices for a guided tour here. The tour gives you access to the Old Town Hall, the underground areas, a Gothic chapel with the view of the Apostles and the Gothic tower.

Unfortunately at the time of our visit the clock was under renovation and the Old Town Hall was not accessible.

Other sites you may want to visit while in the area are the Kinsky Palace, the Church of Saint Nicholas and the Basilica of Saint James.

However, we would suggest to head over to the Historical Building of the National Museum located in Wenceslas Square, or Václavské náměstí. It shuts at 6 pm and offers a series of exhibitions to choose from. With a combined ticket you can also visit the New Building of the National Museum. At this link you will find all the accessible buildings that are part of the National Museum cultural institution.

In the middle of Wenceslas Square do not miss the memorial dedicated to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic  who, in 1969, a month apart, committed public suicide by setting themselves on fire on the square, initiating and stirring up the Velvet Revolution. A cross marks the place of their death on Wenceslas square; not far are two epigraphs with flowers and candles. There are other memorials around Prague dedicated to the two young students.

Exploring alternatives – around Josefov (map)

If you don’t feel like walking too much, once you’ve finished your morning visit to the synagogues, you can stay in the area around the Jewish quarter.

Right beside the Spanish synagogue is the Kafka monument, a singular statue  dedicated to Franz Kafka, the German-speaking Bohemian writer born in Prague in 1883.

Franz Kafka

Close to the eastern bank of the Vltava river is Jan Palach square. Noteworthy here is the Rudolfinum, the seat of the Czech Philharmonic. In front of the Neo-Renaissance building there is a statue of the famous composer Antonin Dvorak, born in Bohemia in 1841.

If you have walked from the Spanish synagogue towards the river along Široká, you would have certainly crossed an elegant street called Pařížská, or Paris street, lined with Art Nouveau buildings.

Exploring alternatives  – entertainment for kids and adults

When you travel with kids you have to try and prevent them from getting bored, or else it might ruin your vacation with temper tantrums and high-pitched screams. Why not taking them to museums where they can get creative and hands-on with art? Here‘s a list of child-friendly museums according to an expat.

Prague has a long and respected tradition for classical music: Lonely Planet recommends a list of places where you can enjoy famous operas and symphonies as well as sit through ballet performances. Amongst the most famous Czech composers are Antonin Dvorak and Bedřich Smetana.

Visit Prague – pastries and dinner

Conclude your first day in Prague in the best possible way, that is:

  1. trying a pastry at a fine French-inspired patisserie called IF from the initials of its founder Iveta Fabešová, a finalist of the Czech Master Chef
  2. taking a picture of the quirky Dancing House (Tančící dům), also affectionately and appropriately known as Fred and Ginger
  3. having a sumptuous hearty dinner at U Fleku.

If you want to know more about U Fleku and Prague’s culinary offer, read our dedicated post here.

Visit Prague – DAY 2

Day 2 has arrived: it’s time to visit the western bank of the Vltava river.

To do so we need to cross a mighty bridge, the main character in the postcard pictures of Prague: Charles bridge (Karlův most).

The very first rudimentary version of the bridge consisted of a series of logs, followed by a more solid stone bridge built in 1170. The current version was built in the 14th century, with the first sand-stone block laid out on the 9th of July 1357 at 5.31 am by King Charles IV.

The bridge is rather low but wide. On the balustrade there are 30 imposing sculptures and statues of kings and saints. To better embrace the experience of “Gothic Prague”, walk along the bridge at dusk when the statues are rendered somehow ominous and daunting by the feeble light of the street lamps that only offers glimpses of the faces and partly uncovers the dress folds.

It’s fascinating and magical. But I digress.

Visit Prague – the Castle

Back on the itinerary, head north to the huge complex of Prague castle. There are different types of tickets covering different circuits (A, B or C). You can also opt for tickets that only grant access to certain exhibitions. The tickets are valid for two days which is convenient should you wish to spend less time each day visiting the many sights included in Prague Castle.

As for us, we opted for circuit B (CZK 250 – £8.50/US $11.00) because we were interested in the best-value-for-money deal. This ticket is it as it’s less expensive than the other two circuits but still lets you explore the most important sites: St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane and Daliborka Tower, used as part of a fortification system and a prison.

Prague’s main temple, St. Vitus cathedral, with its two 82m-high steeples and a 100m-tall tower, dramatically steals the show thanks to his grandeur and majestic Gothic beauty. Here’s where coronations of royals took place.

St. Vitus Cathedral

Golden Lane is next when it comes to picturesque charm: it’s a narrow alley flanked on one side by tiny colourful lodges that once constituted the modest  dwellings of the castle’s defenders, servants and goldsmiths – hence the name of the street. The famous author Franz Kafka briefly lived here, at number 22.

Visit Prague – Malá Strana

Once your visit is completed descend the 121 Old Castle Stairs and make your way towards Lesser Town, or Malá Strana. If open (April to October), you could walk down through the terraced Fürstenberg Gardens.

Once in Malá Strana, go visit the fine baroque building of Saint Nicholas Church with its green cupola. For an additional fee – and from a side entrance – you can climb the bell tower, which was used to spy on the American embassy nearby during the Communist era.

Continue westward along Nerudova, a small street flanked by “baroquefied” Renaissance buildings. Its name comes from Jan Neruda, a Czech poet who lived here at number 47, in the House of the Two Suns. There are other such names for some of the buildings here that originate from inscriptions and house signs used to identify the buildings and, in some cases, the profession of their inhabitants. Read a list here.

When the road starts climbing you will be in the proximity of 318m-high Petřín hill. On top of the hill is the Petřín lookout tower (accessible via lift or stairs). The tower resembles the Tour Eiffel: it was built for the 1891 Prague Jubilee Exhibition. Of the same year is also a very small quirky mirror maze. It can be fun for the kids.

Walk down the hill facing east. Alternatively you can pay for the funicular service to avoid the descent. Once down don’t miss the eerie memorial dedicated to the victims of Communism, created by sculptor Olbram Zoubek in cooperation with architects Zdeněk Hölzl and Jan Karel.

Visit Prague – dessert break

Next up is a sweet stop at Cafe Savoy. A classy patisserie dating to the First Czechoslovakian Republic, Cafe Savoy offers an entire sweet and savoury menu. As soon as you enter, preferably with a reservation, on the left-hand side your attention will be drawn to an enticing pastry case. You can indulge in as many desserts as you see fit but certainly don’t miss the venecek and the vetrník. Read more about what pastries and where to eat them in Prague here.

Kampa island and the John Lennon wall

Recharged, swiftly make your way north towards Kampa island. It is in fact an island as it is separated from the mainland by a narrow artificial canal – the Čertovka, or Devil’s Stream – feeding the watermills, once used for production of anything from textiles, to pottery, to bakery items. One, 15th-century Grand Priory Mill, still stands today and offers a great photo opportunity.

Before leaving the island, check out the creepy giant crawling babies, a creation of Czech artist David Černý, located just outside the Kampa museum. They’re part of a “Babies” series that the artist started back in 1994.

West of the island, after you’ve crossed a tiny bridge, is a ceremonial wall dedicated to John Lennon. After his murder, on 8th December 1980, John Lennon became a symbol for peace and freedom to many young Czechs eager to rid themselves of the Soviet regime. The wall – property of the Order of the Knights of Malta, who have tried to whitewash it several times, in vain – slowly came into being when Beatles lyrics and an image of the deceased artist were first painted. Now it is officially part of the city’s history and falls on every tourist’s path.

Before dinner, walk up and down the stairs of Prague’s narrowest street, located just off U Lužického semináře. The amusing thing is that traffic lights were installed to regulate the passage as it is too narrow to fit two people at the same time.

Two minutes away, on Míšeňská, is Lokál U Bílé kuželky, where you can enjoy some traditional dishes and craft beers. Read more about eating in Prague here.

Exploring alternatives – museums and a monastery

We did not have enough time to visit these sites but we had found them mentioned online and on our Lonely Planet guide, therefore we feel obliged to share them with you, should you want to pay a visit. Here they are:

Extra day in Prague?

If you have the luxury of spending another day in Czechia, why not doing one (or more) of these things? Enjoy!

  • Vyšehrad. A highly-recommended visit to this site just south of the city centre. Once the seat of the the king, Vysehrad exudes charm and a slight melancholic vibe. It offers great views on the city, the river and its many bridges.
  • Food (and beer) tour with Taste of Prague, or BeerTasting or BeerPrague, or City Unscripted. There are many companies to choose from and, since we have not tried a tour ourselves, we refrain from making a direct suggestion. Choose the tour that’s closer to your heart and most likely to make your taste buds sing.
  • Day trip to Karlovy Vary. Read our post about this Russian enclave, famous for its curative thermal water.

If you want other ideas, check out what the Crazy Tourist suggests for one-day trips from Prague.