For your first visit you need no less than 4 days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in most cases, you will need use of public transport only to venture further afield.
Love its hundreds of spires, its varied and stunning architecture, and its recently-renovated and well-maintained feel.
Don’t miss: Climbing various towers for rooftop views (especially the Charles Bridge’s Old Town tower); strolling Charles Bridge early in the morning, before hordes of tourists arrive.
Worthy attractions: Charles Bridge; Prague Castle, including St Vitus’s Cathedral, Golden Lane and Royal Garden; Old Masters Gallery at Sternberg Palace; Old Town Hall, where you can look behind the scenes at the workings of the Astronomical Clock; Staronová Synagóga and a handful of others in Josefov; Church of St Nicholas in Malá Strana; Loreta; Strahov Monastery, with several magnificent halls; Vrtba Garden, with sweeping views over the city.
Recommended day trip: Karlstein.
Left for another visit: Schwarzenberg Palace; Wallenstein Palace; St George’s Convent; Old Jewish Cemetery.
Last visit: May 2010.
When I am pressed to name the city that I think is the most beautiful in the world, I always say Prague. My preferences in architecture and ambience run along spires that pierce the skies, bridges spanning the rivers, narrow streets, medieval jumble of roofs, delightful little details around every corner. Elaborate façades of buildings of later-than-medieval eras do not hurt either.
Prague has all of that and more. And most importantly, almost all of its architectural delights are in pristine renovated shape. We always feel that a structure is always more attractive when it looks cared after than something in a dilapidated state. On our first visit to Prague, we fell in love with it, and a recent return trip only reinforced our affection.
Things to See
Prague is more or less divided into two parts by river Vltava. The left bank is where the Castle, the district around it (Hradčany) and the atmospheric Little Quarter (Malá Strana – it is actually the second largest of the five main areas of the city) are. On the right bank, the historic core of the city consists of the Old Town (Staré Město) and the Jewish Quarter (Josefov); to the south of the two, the larger New Town (Nové Město) has a few points of interest as well.
The focal point of the historic Prague center is the vast pedestrian Old Town Square ♥♥♥ (Staroměstské Náměstí). In addition to colourful array of Romanesque and Gothic buildings surrounding it, several important sights are located here, including Jan Hus Monument that commemorates the religious reformer and Czech hero. We only marvelled from the outside at the magnificent multiple steeples of the Church of Our Lady before Týn (open only for services) and the lovely Rococo Kinský Palace (a venue for temporary art exhibitions, so probably not worth much of an in-depth visit), but we stepped into the dramatically white Church of St Nicholas ♥ (Kostel Sv. Mikuláše) to admire its huge crown-shaped chandelier.
The southwest corner of the square is taken up by the Old Town Hall (Staroměstská Radnice). Its most famous feature, the Astronomical Clock ♥♥ (Orloj), is a remarkable piece of engineering. It also offers mechanical figure performances every hour to the crowds of tourists gathering in front of it. The performance consists of the procession of 12 Apostles, preceded by movements of the figure of Death, and followed by a crowing cock. There are also moving figures symbolizing Vanity, Greed and Lust. Curious, but very short, and may not be worth enduring the crowds. (On advice of an acquaintance, we had a breakfast with a view to the clock one day at a café opposite the Town Hall; while we were able to enjoy the clock performance better, we did not particularly liked the establishment – see below in “Places to Eat”.)
Old Town Hall Tower is open for a climb to its high gallery with a fine view of the city ♥♥♥. If you also want to see the workings of the clock mechanism from inside, you will have to get a full town-hall tour with a guide ♥. We decided to go for it and, while it is definitely of the kind that can be skipped, were not very much disappointed: There is a number of interesting rooms and exhibits.
To the north of Old Town Square lies the historic Jewish Quarter. One of its main streets, Pařižská ♥ is an impressive treasure trough of renovated 18th- and 19th-century buildings.
There are a handful of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter that may be worth a visit. Foremost of them is the Old-New Synagogue (Staronová Synagóga) ♥♥, one of the oldest in Europe. Unlike other synagogues, this is less of a museum exposition and more of a true place of worship look-in. The other synagogues all exhibit ceremonial and domestic artifacts from Jewish life of past centuries. We stopped by Klausen Synagogue (Klausová) ♥, Maisel Synagogue (Maiselova) ♥ and the Ceremonial Halls ♥ near the cemetery. We decided against visiting Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý Židovský Hřbitov), as well as a few other synagogues in the area.
Not far from the Jewish Quarter is a mildly interesting Museum of Decorative Arts (Uměleckoprůmyslove Muzeum), with exhibitions of glass, crystal, porcelain, clocks, wedding dresses, etc.
We attended an excellent classical concert ♥♥ – Vivaldi and Mozart – in the beautiful Chapel of Mirrors at the Clementium. The impressive complex is now the National Library, and you would not get to the chapel unless for a musical performance. In fact, there are many classical music performances in various churches across the city. We have been only to one, but liked it a lot.
We only walked by the Powder Gate (Prašná Brána), a severe-looking tower, and the Municipal House (Obecní Dům), one of the most prominent Art Nouveau buildings in the city, on the edge of the Old Town.
The narrow and winding Charles Street ♥♥♥ (Karlova Ulice) is home to many attractive Gothic and Renaissance buildings with fascinating house signs. In this area of Prague, matching house names with their signs is a never-ceasing delightful activity for children and adults alike. The street runs from the Old Town Square directly onto the Charles Bridge.
Charles Bridge ♥♥♥ (Karlův Most) is undoubtedly the main symbol of Prague. The pedestrian bridge is busy with revelers, street vendors, artists and performers from morning hours until well after midnight, so if you want to experience it at a quiet moment, you have to come here with sunrise. But even at its busiest, the 650-years-old bridge is still a wonder. It is lined with 30 statues, many of which are copies of the originals now displayed at various museums. One statue, that of St John Nepomuk, near the middle of the bridge, is always a cause for pedestrian traffic on account of all people who want to rub it for luck.
The bridge is guarded by towers on both sides of the river. You can ascend to the top of each tower for great sweeping views over the city and the river. I personally liked the view from the Old Town Bridge Tower ♥♥♥ slightly better than that from the Little Quarter Bridge Tower ♥♥.
On the left-bank side of Charles Bridge, the Little Quarter is the part of Prague that has been least affected by recent history. It is probably the most atmospheric and romantic area because of that. Bridge Street ♥ (Mostecká Ulice) is a picturesque entryway to the area.
Right under the bridge on this side of the river is the district of Kampa ♥, one of the most happening areas in Prague, with plenty of good eateries and some points of interest.
The main square of the Little Quarter, Little Quarter Square ♥ (Malostranské Náměstí) is a former marketplace now surrounded by fine Baroque buildings. It is dominated by Church of St Nicholas ♥♥ (Kostel Sv. Mikuláše – yes, there are two churches of the same name in Prague). In this resplendent cathedral, you get a rare chance to ascend to the balcony for a good view of the church interior from an upper level.
Not far from the square is Wallenstein Palace (Valdštejnský Palác). It is open only on weekends, not when we were around, and we decided against visiting gardens only, although reputedly they are very alluring. Instead, we spent some time in Vrtba Garden ♥♥ (Vrtbovská Zahrada), a beautiful Baroque garden of steps and ballustraded terraces. From the top terrace, there are magnificent views both of the castle and of the Little Quarter.
Similar to Charles Street, the picturesque and narrow Nerudova Street ♥, which runs from Little Quarter Square up to the castle, has a splendid selection of fine houses adorned with magnificent heraldic beasts and emblems.
There are several other churches, parks and gardens in the Little Quarter. The southwest part of it is taken up by the vast Petřín Park ♥, with grand panoramas of Prague from different vantage points. There are several minor attractions at the highest point of the park, served by funicular railway (Observation Tower, an imitation of Tour Eiffel of sorts, Mirror Maze ending with a room of curved mirrors, Observatory).
Prague Castle ♥♥ (Pražský Hrad) is where the history of Prague started. It has several points of interest. First of all, of course, is the St Vitus Cathedral ♥♥♥ (Chrám Sv. Víta) whose towers and spires soar above the city. The Gothic cathedral is richly decorated and impressive both on the exterior and inside, with brilliant stained-glass windows and magnificent bas-reliefs around its perimeter.
A small alley with brightly-painted tiniest of houses, Golden Lane ♥ (Zlatá Ulička) is an amusing sight, a former residence of castle guards and later goldsmiths. In 1916, Franz Kafka stayed in No. 22 for a few months. All of the houses are now souvenir shops. There are also a couple of small expositions – medieval arms and clothes, and a torture chamber.
The Royal Palace (Královský Palác) is only marginally worth a visit. Its dozen or so of rooms open for visitors fail to truly impress. St George’s Basilica ♥ (Bazilika Sv. Jiří) keeps remnants of some impressive frescoes. There is also a reputedly strong collection of paintings at St George’s Convent (Klášter Sv. Jiří), and the Czech history museum at the Lobkowicz Palace (Lobkovický Palác) within the castle complex. Also there is a small but curious toy museum ♥, which is very popular with kids. Its thousands of exhibits are arranged in a series of thematic displays, and the upper floor is given to a huge collection of Barbie dolls and its friends.
We did linger a bit at the pleasant Royal Garden ♥ (Královská Zahrada) outside castle walls, and took a passing look at the Belvedere, one of the finest Renaissance buildings north of the Alps (it is open only for exhibitions).
Outside of the castle gates, at Sternberg Palace (Šternberský Palác), you can find Gallery of Old Masters ♥. It does not compete with the foremost painting collections found elsewhere in Europe, but some of its paintings are worth a look.
A town called Hradčany was founded in early 14th century around the castle. In this elevated area of the city, there are several charming streets and attractive sights to explore. We only looked from the outside at Schwarzenberg Palace (Schwarzenberský Palác) and a couple of other imposing buildings. We did visit Loreta ♥, an opulent complex devoted to the legend of the Santa Casa de Loreto. Its treasury contains a large number of valuable jewelled liturgical items.
We also visited Strahov Monastery ♥♥ (Strahovský Klášter), which boasts a couple of grandiose halls, Theological and Philosophical, and the splendid Church of Our Lady. We could only see the libraries through the open doors, and I do not recall why we were not able to actually enter them.
To the south of the Old Town lies the area that is younger in appearance, the New Town. While dating from mid-14th century, this district was largely redeveloped in the late 19th century. There are several potentially interesting churches located in various corners of it (none that we visited), the resplendent National Theater (Národní Divadlo), which can only be visited for a performance, and a few museums that we decided to skip, among them the National Museum (Národní Muzeum) whose collection is said to be much less impressive than the building it inhabits. Some blocks in Nové Město consist entirely of adjoined Art Nouveau buildings, with mosaics, sgraffito, ornamental balconies, bas-reliefs, etc. All in well-preserved condition.
The two major squares in Nové Město are Wenceslas Square ♥ (Václavské Náměstí) and Charles Square ♥ (Karlovo Náměstí). The former is really a wide street surrounded by hotels, restaurants, clubs and shops. The latter has a peaceful retreat of a park and projects the academic environment of the city university.
The most fetching quays are along the edge of the New Town. It is here that you will come upon the quirky “Ginger and Fred” office building, for instance.
Of the attractions outside of the city center, we only attempted to visit a couple. On our own, we went to Vyšehrad, the legendary first seat of Czech royalty. The area has several interesting sights, including the twin-spired Church of St Peter and St Paul, but as we came around in early evening, everything was mostly closed and deserted.
At the advice of our personal guide, we also went one evening to the Exhibition Ground to see a light-show performance of Křižík’s Fountain ♥.
One activity that we like to make a part of our visit to any city with river traffic is a boat excursion. There are many offerings of this type on Vltava. While the different perspective on main city sights is always fascinating, not all boat rides are born the same. On our first try, we were given a true cruise of the river, going some distance away from the Charles Bridge. If you pick one of those, you’ll agree with a ♥♥ rating. Unfortunately, on the more recent occasion, we fell prey to one of the many ticket-sellers dressed in sailor’s costumes that patrol Knights of The Cross Square at the Old Town end of Charles Bridge. The cruise they offer does not really take you anywhere, entering the mouth of Kampa canal for a few minutes and going no further than one bridge away from the Charles Bridge. The 45-minute floating around the central part of the river costs CZK 290 for adult and half of that for a child, includes entrance to the nearby Museum of Charles Bridge (we skipped it), as well as a choice of beer or Sprite and of ice cream or gingerbread. Not worth it, really.
We also spent most of one day on our first visit to Prague in the company of a walking tour guide. She was a transplanted Russian, recommended to us by friends. We have slightly mixed feelings about the tour, since even though our guide told us a number of great stories about Prague, we felt that we were rushing from place to place in some cases. We have her information available, so if anyone is interested, feel free to contact us.
The subway system of Prague is not very convenient in the city center, with only a few stations within walking distance of the main sightseeing areas. The trains, nonetheless, run very frequently. The tram network is a lot more extensive and is a prevalent mode of public transport.
Places to Eat
Our most expensive meal in Prague was at the restaurant V Zátiší ♥♥♥, on Betlémské Náměstí. The cuisine is Bohemian, and on one night we went all out to have a great meal. Everything we had was delicious, but looking at the online menu of the restaurant today, I cannot locate specific dishes that we recorded as having, – no doubt the menu has changed since our visit. However, chocolate mousse and creme brulée are still on the dessert menu, and we put down superlatives about them in our diary. Nice decor of the place and refined service were additional positives. The damage was considerably higher than for any other meal that we had while in Prague: $185 for a party of three (no records of how much it was in local currency). Last visit: Fall 2004.
With refined service and curiously predominantly retired-age clientele, U Modré Kachničky ♥♥ (“At the Blue Duckling”), on Nebovidská, is famous for its variety of duck. We tried roasted duck on Slivovice and duck breast roasted in ginger, as well as a plate of grilled vegetables, preceded by beef consommé, Czech potato soup and wild game pate. Everything of the highest quality, but a bit pricey. We heard that reservations were recommended, but on a Thursday night the several medium-sized rooms of the restaurant were far from full. Our damage: CZK 3260 including gratuities, roughly $155, for a party of three. Last visit: Spring 2010.
Le Café Colonial ♥ is a nice place near the juncture of Široká and Zarecká. Pretty interior, good fusion menu, unhurried service. Among our selections were beef carpaccio, tempura, tuna steak, grilled lamb. All good, but no more than that. Chocolate fondue with fruits for dessert received the highest marks. The damage: For a party of three, CZK 1950 (~$95) before gratuities, including two glasses of wine. Last visit: Spring 2010.
Chez Marcel ♥, on Haštalská, is a French bistro in Prague’s Old Town. Those familiar with Café Rouge franchise in the UK will find it very similar to that. Soups, croques, and other requisite fare. We had a pretty heavy lunch there, with two courses for each person in our party of three. Damage: CZK 1050 (~$50) including gratuities. Last visit: Spring 2010.
A random selection while walking around Kampa, restaurant 3 Stoleti ♥♥ (“Three centuries”) provided one of our best meals. Understated modern decor. Quite busy on Friday night, the waiters were constantly playing catch-up. Large menu, heavy on traditional-modern fusion. We had two excellent soups – chicken consommé and kulajda with mushrooms – and portobello mushrooms for starters, and then a fantastic goulash Ferdinand and two different types of pasta for the main course. Chocolate fondue with fruits did not meet the expectations – too few fruits. Damage for a party of three: CZK 1250 before gratuities, about $60. Last visit: Spring 2010.
Of the two breakfast meals in Prague away from our residences, one was at Café Slavia ♥, across street from the National Theater. Quite pleasant. Last visit: Fall 2004.
The other was at Grand Café Praha with a good view on the Astronomical Clock on Staroměstské Náměstí. While we were able to enjoy the performance, the food was not great, the service was atrocious, and $30 for a party of three for that type of breakfast felt like robbery. Last visit: Fall 2004.
All of our breakfasts in 2010 were had at the tiny Bohemia Bagels ♥ around the corner from the Charles Bridge off Mostecká. Good choice of bagels with various toppings, omelets, pancakes and combo breakfast meals. We managed to hover around CZK 600 (~$30) for a party of three on each occasion. Last visit: Spring 2010.
Our walking tour guide took us to restaurant U Písecké Brány ♥ (“At the Sand Gate”), near the Royal Gardens in Hradčany. We had an excellent leg of lamb and tried the traditional fried cheese and local Czech beer there for the first time. No records of the damage. Last visit: Fall 2004.
Restaurant U Zlaté Podkovy ♥ (“At the Golden Horseshoe”), on Nerudova Ulice in Malá Strana, was a randomly-picked stop for lunch, typical Czech and very agreeable. Damage in dollars for three people: $27. Last visit: Fall 2004.
Also on Nerudova, U Zeleného Krále (“At the Green King’s”) is a pizzeria offering a variety of pizzas. Not exceptional, but a good stop for those who, like one member of our party, is very much into Italian staple food. Damage for a party of three: CZK 1060 including gratuities, about $50. Last visit: Spring 2010.
Another walking-by selection was restaurant U Karlova Mostu ♥, on Kampa island. Made to resemble a wine cellar, it turned out to be a popular tourist place, yet the food was quite good. Damage in dollars for a party of three: $26. Last visit: Fall 2004.
A reasonable lunch stop in Mala Strana is Cukrkavalimonada, on Lazenská. Various omelets, salads, pancakes, types of pasta. Small pleasant seating area, good food. Cash only. Damage for a party of three: CZK 410 (~$20) before gratuities. Last visit: Spring 2010.
One of our dinners on our first Prague visit was at Don Giovanni Italian restaurant next door to our apartment on Karoliny Světlé. Selected purely for that proximity on the day of our arrival to Prague because we had no energy to look for something with a local flavor, it provided an adequate meal but no more than that. The damage came to $80 for a party of three. On our return trip, we could not find the restaurant at where we thought it was. It seems to continue to pop up in internet searches, so I am not exactly sure whether we somehow missed it. Last visit: Fall 2004.
As a replacement for that, an arbitrary choice of Platina ♥, in Hotel Leonardo also on Karoliny Světlé, provided a reasonable dining experience. We sat in the courtyard, which was a bit bothersome because of constantly passing hotel guests; there is also seating inside. Good service. Excellent soups: chicken consommé and Bohemian potato soup in bread pot. Not very exciting small portion of tiger prawns. Very good duck and average quality steak for the main course. High marks for cheesecake with strawberries for dessert. The damage for a party of three: CZK 2260 with gratuities, including one glass of wine (about $110). Last visit: Spring 2010.
As in any large city, the options for a hotel or an apartment are plentiful on major online platforms. Any location in Old Town or Little Quarter will put you within at most 15 minutes of walking to most of the points of interest. The excellent tram network makes staying somewhere outside of city center workable as well.
On our very first visit to the city, we rented an apartment at Karoliny Světlé 30 ♥♥♥ (listing), within a couple of hundred meters from Charles Bridge. The two-bedroom apartment on 2nd floor was large, spacious and able to fit as many as 6 people. Good utilities and furniture. There are so many apartments being advertized online for this street and even this address that I am unable to locate the link to this particular one, so the only precise recommendation that I can make here is about location – excellent. Last stay: 2004.
Karlštejn Castle is among a number of destinations reachable from Prague for an intraday visit.