Czech it Out! Prague – The Heart of Europe

Being a native of Prague, Czech Republic I thought I would share some of the beauty of this city that in my opinion (and others too) equals that of Paris. There are so many beautiful places to visit in this country, but I thought I would start with my home town. Prague or better known as Praha locally has so much to offer from amazing architecture, world renowned music and art to great food and beer of course! There is something for everyone and it is not that expensive! It is best to see the sights on foot and walk the cobblestone street full of history.

Let’s start our journey in Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí). It is one of the two main squares in Prague and the center of the business and cultural communities at the heart of what’s referred to as New Town of Prague. The word new is misleading though, as the area was actually laid out in 1348 by Charles IV. At the top of Wenceslas Square is the monumental National Museum, in front of which a statue of St. Wenceslas on his horse stands. You may have heard the song good King Wenceslas? Just off to the left is the Prague State Opera.

From Wenceslas Square you can take a short 5 minute walk to the other main square in Prague called the Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí). This is the oldest and most important square and has been the center of Prague since the middle ages as a marketplace and is a must see. Standing in the center of the square you are surrounded by so many historical buildings. The main ones to take note of are the St. Nicholas Church, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, and of course the Old Town City Hall with the famous Astronomical Clock. The medieval Astronomical Clock known by locals as Orloj was first installed in 1410. It is the 3rd oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still in operation! Every hour it announces with 12 apostles passing by the window above the astronomical dial and with symbolic sculptures moving aside.

After taking in the sights of the Old Town Square walk through the narrow cobblestone streets of Prague stopping to enjoy the many architectural features, shops, and cafes and head to the historic Charles Bridge.

Charles Bridge (Karlův most) is a magnificent stone Gothic bridge that crosses the famous Vltava river and connects the Old Town which we just visited and Lesser Town (Malá Strana) on the opposite side. Its construction was commissioned by Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and began in 1357. It has always been said that the secret to why the bridge has remained intact throughout the centuries is that egg yolks were actually mixed into the mortar to strengthen the construction of the bridge.

Once you cross the bridge you will find yourself in Lesser Town, also known as Little Quarter. The steep streets, stairways, and Baroque facades surround the foothills of the magnificent Prague Castle. It is as though time has stood still in this part of the world.

Journey up the stairways and hills to visit the Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) and wander around its many courtyards, palaces, museums and gardens. Prague Castle is a castle complex dating from the 9th century and is the largest ancient castle in the world! A tour of Prague Castle is like walking through an Architecture textbook as is has many Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance details to admire. It is now the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic, but throughout history has been home to the kings of Bohemia and Holy Roman emperors.

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The whole castle complex is dominated by the monumental St. Vitus Cathedral (Katedrála Sv. Víta) which is truly a sight to see. Another part of this castle complex that should not be missed is a tour through the picturesque Golden Lane (Zlatá ulička). It was so named after the goldsmiths who lived there in the 17th century. This tiny lane is filled with small colorful houses built right into the arches of the castle walls.

Another great place to visit on this side of the Vltava River is the Petřín Lookout Tower (Petřínská rozhledna). It is one of the most prominent landmarks for Prague. It was actually built as a part of the Jubilee Exhibition in 1891. You might look at it and say, “Hmm it looks like the Eiffel Tower”. Well you would be right. It was actually a copy inspired by the Eiffel Tower and is exactly 1/5th the size of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and is actually at the same altitude. From the top of the tower you can overlook the entire city.

Back on the opposite side of the Vltava River you can see Vyšehrad or the “Castle on the heights”. It is a historic fort built in approximately the 10th century on a hill over the Vltava River. Situated within this castle you will see the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul, as well as the Vyšehrad Cemetery, containing the remains of many famous Czech people throughout history including Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, and Alphonse Mucha.

During a trip to Prague I would highly recommend experiencing an evening attending a Czech opera or ballet at either the National Theatre or the State Opera House. The Czechs have always been known for a rich artistic tradition and should not be missed. As this is such a large part of the Czech culture one can purchase very inexpensive tickets. This has always been this way so that any local could afford to attend no matter their station and have an appreciation for the arts. 

Lastly what trip would be complete without having a traditional Czech meal and beer (of course)? One of my favorite places is the Brewery and Restaurant U Fleků (Pivovar U Fleků). It has been in business since 1499 and is the only brewery in Central Europe which has been brewing continuously for over 500 years. Not only does it have a nice restaurant but also an outdoor beer garden. Cheers! Or should I say na zdraví!

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Written by our Czech native: Veronika Massie