Prague is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Central Europe. A city that rivals Paris in terms of beauty, its position on the frontier of East and West is evident in the city’s unique baroque, Renaissance and Gothic architecture. With a rich history dating back over a millennium, the city boasts a myriad of attractions for tourists.
A wander around its ancient cobblestone streets will introduce you to quaint gardens, churches, cosy cafés and trendy pubs. While its art galleries may not rival the Louvre, there are plenty of museums and galleries to explore, as well as the largest castle in the world.
Prague has become a top tourist destination, largely due to its legendary nightlife and excellent, inexpensive beer, and it can get extremely busy. But if you’re up early, it’s possible to beat the crowds and have a few hours’ relative peace in the medieval centre with its monuments, churches and bridges lining the banks of the beautiful Vltava River.
Prague’s Top Attractions
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Prague Castle is one of the city’s most popular attractions and, according to the Guinness Book of Records, is the largest coherent castle complex in the world. Originally dating from the 9th century, the complex includes the St. Vitus Cathedral, which dominates the skyline, and a series of interconnecting palaces, gardens and courtyards. It’s also home to the Czech government. It’s worth setting aside a day to explore this area.
The Old Town Square, Staroměstské náměstí, is like journeying back in time 600 or 700 years. One of the most beautiful historical sites in Europe, it’s home to the Old Town Hall and the Astronomical Clock, a marvel of medieval engineering. Created by Master Hanuš in 1410, hordes of tourists line up every hour to film its procession of the Apostles and moving statues, including a skeletal ‘Death’. It’s worth taking advantage of the surrounding bars and cafés to sit back and soak up the atmosphere in this dramatic square.
The Charles Bridge is best seen at dawn, when it’s at its most atmospheric. Commissioned by Charles IV in 1357, this iconic structure is adorned with 30 stone baroque statues, and offers stunning river vistas. At one end of the bridge is a carved stone head of a Bearded Man (Bradáč). If the river level rises above this marker, it’s a signal that the city will flood and all residents need to head for the hills.
Prague Zoo is located just outside the city centre, but it’s easy to get to on public transport. With over 5,000 animals and 650 species, the zoo is located in spectacular scenery and is well worth a visit. Highlights include the Indonesian Jungle and Pavilion of Gorillas, while children love the petting zoo and fun play areas.
Prague is also home to the Franz Kafka Museum, dedicated to its most famous literary son. Essential for all Kafka fans, this museum has a number of multimedia exhibitions and houses many of his first edition books, along with fascinating diaries, letters and manuscripts.
The Christmas Markets are among the best in Europe, and they embody the spirit of the season. Enjoy a glass of mulled wine while listening to a series of international choirs singing festive songs, or take a spin on the open-air ice rink. The Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square are at the heart of the action, which starts in November.
The Prague Spring International Music Festival is the best classical festival in the Czech Republic, welcoming participants from around the world, including chamber music groups and orchestras. Performances take place at venues across the city, and the Prague Symphony Orchestra open and close the festival.
While the Spring Festival is the musical heavyweight, its younger sister, the Prague Autumn Festival is catching up quickly. Featuring a high calibre of musicians, it presents a unique combination of genres including classical, jazz, and early and world music, and runs from September to October at concert halls around the city.
Shops and Nightlife
Prague offers a wide variety of shops, from high fashion to rare books and antiques. Pařížská, or Paris Street, is the place to go for designer shops and boutiques, or you can wander around the streets of the Old Town exploring the treasure trove of unique and rare items on offer.
Prague is renowned for its lively nightlife, with a wide variety of restaurants, bars, pubs and nightclubs around the city. Whether you want to chill in a jazz venue, party until dawn in a lively nightclub, sip cocktails in an elegant bar, or enjoy a traditional beer hall, there’s something for everyone here.
Getting to Prague
Upon arrival at Prague’s Václav Havel Airport, you will find a number of options to get to the Old Town, including public and shuttle buses, the Airport Express bus, or train. In the city, transport is a breeze with an excellent transport system of buses, trams and metros.