Prague is a truly magical city. It is not for nothing that it is called the Golden City (Zlaté Město in Czech). Praha – as the Czech say – is especially enchanting in the mornings when the milky fog envelops it like a white blanket and tourists are yet to wake up and swarm the streets. There is the Prague of Kafka and Havel with rebellious and provocative art and a passion for puppets, there is the traditional Prague with an overwhelming number of medieval and other historical landmarks like the castle, there is the Jewish Prague with its ghetto, beautiful synagogues and cemetery, and last but not least there is the never sleeping modern Prague offering a vibrant nightlife with an overwhelming number of cosy beer cafes, famous jazz clubs and sleek nightclubs. Even if you are the off-the-beaten-path type of guy you should see at least a few of the famous sights and landmarks.
For a visit of the Prague Castle district (Hradcany) you should plan at least half a day if not more since the area is pretty huge and is considered to be the largest castle complex of the world. For centuries the castle was the seat of Czech rulers and nowadays it functions as the official residence of the republic’s president. The magnificent castle with its numerous palaces, chapels and royal gardens make the perfect spot for a romantic walk. Entry to the grounds of the castle are free but in order to access other interesting sites such as the St Vitus cathedral, Basillica of St George and Golden Lane you should use a combined entry ticket. The gothic St Vitus Cathedral is a splendid landmark of Prague that can be seen practically from every location in the city. It houses some real gems such as the tomb of St John of Nepomunk and the Chapel of St Wenceslas. It’s also the place where you can admire the world-famous stained glass in art nouveau style designed by Alphonse Mucha.
Nearby you will also find the picturesque Golden Lane with its bright-coloured cottages. According to the legends this was the place where local alchemists had to find the solution to turn ordinary materials into gold. The Czech-Jewish writer Franz Kafka, famous for portraying the ridiculous bureaucracy in public administration, lived for 2 years in this tiny atmospheric street. Now the street is filled to the brim with souvenir shop selling Prague’s puppets and other stuff. From Hradčany you could take a stroll to the Lesser Quarter; the Malá Strana with its many Baroque style houses where you could have a relaxing meal or coffee in one of its numerous café’s. The non-vegetarians amongst us can try a local specialty such as pork knuckle, a large hunk of pork knee that goes under the name Koleno or a homemade goulash with bread dumplings on the side. When in Malá Strana seize also the opportunity to see the Infant Jesus of Prague: a statue in a shrine depicting of Jesus Christ as an infant, which is believed to have miraculous powers and is visited each day by hundreds of religious worshippers.
After this it has become time to explore to the Old Town around the main square at the other side of the Vltava River. The most enjoyable way to arrive there is to stroll along the Charles Bridge, of the most iconic bridges in the world connecting Prague Castle and Old Town Prague. The construction of the bridge was commissioned by Charles IV and was finalized in 1390. The stunning statutes of saints at both sides were added in the 17th century and only two centuries later the bridge got its current name. The uncanny sturdiness of the bridge is supposed to be caused by eggs mixed in the mortar. The Charles Bridge is incredible crowded, no matter the season and no matter the time of the day. I still remember that during my first visit to Prague I wanted to catch the magic of this bridge on photo, but without all these herds of people. Well: maybe only photos with my gorgeous girlfriend of these days posing. We decided to take a very early morning tram to visit the bridge for a nice photo shoot. And when I say early, I mean very early: something between 4.00 and 5.00 am. But it turned out to be a mission impossible. Even on that time of the day there were already some flocks of Asians with the inevitable umbrella (luckily enough there were at least no selfie-sticks those days). Also the big tummy of some German tourist did its best to ruin the arty pictures I had in mind. And on top of it there was a Czech film crew working on the middle of the bridge, I do not remember if that was maybe for some European x-star movie since Prague has the reputation of being a hub for the European porn industry. Anyway after a few lame attempts we decided to give up on the photo shoot mission and go for breakfast and coffee.
From the bridge you can continue to the Old Town Square: an amazing ensemble of Baroque and Art Nouveau buildings painted in cheerful colours. At the south-face of the Town Hall you will see the usual big bunch of excited tourists with phones and camera’s in standby mode eagerly waiting the moment that the world-famous Astronomical Clock strikes the hour. It is the oldest still working oldest astronomical clock in the world. At the hour the funny spectacle starts: a little skeleton rings his golden bell, the 12 apostles peep at the windows, followed by the crowing of little golden rooster. The Wenceslas Square with its statue of King Wenceslas in front of the National Museum in the very heart of the New Town of Prague is on walking distance. In this lively area of Prague’s New Town you can find some renowned beer pubs and breweries, frequented by beer-lovers from all over the world.
When in Prague be sure to taste also some of the prominent Jewish flavours the city still has to offer. The old Jewish Ghetto, aka Josefov, is tucked in between the Old Town and the Vltava River, north of the Old Town Square. In the 13th century the local Jews were instructed to leave their homes and settle in this area and soon Jews in exiled from other countries moved in too. The area is home to many old synagogues, amongst some which function now as museum and memorial to the Holocaust victims. The Spanish Synagogue with its detailed interiors and gold leaf is an architectural masterpiece detailed interior. The Old Jewish Cemetery has turned into a dazzling collection of tombstones placed over each other. There was a huge lack of space and according to Jewish traditions remains could not be moved; so the only way was up.
After all these historical and traditional landmarks you might be in the mood for watching some more modern stuff, rebellious, funny pieces of art; art with a wink so to say. You have come to the right place as well since it will also remain the city of timeless rebels such as Kafka and Havel. You can visit the John Lennon wall, covered with graffiti and lyrics from Beatles’ songs. It was already erected in 1980 and the drawings and texts are still changing. You can also take a selfie with the two peeing statues in front of the Kafka Museum, which are meant to be a satirical comment to local politicians. Or head over to the Stare Mesto area to watch the Simund Freud sculpture hanging over the cobbled street. The seven foot tall sculpture of the worlds most famous psycho-analyst led to several emergency calls in the past by people who probably forgot to wear their glasses and interpreted it has a suicide attempt of a real human.
As some antidote to all the beauty of this city you can also have a glimpse of the Zizkov Tower, it is a great demonstration of how the future would look like according to the communists in 1960 and has been voted the second ugliest building in the world. At last some warnings: watch out for pickpockets, they’re a massive pain in the ass, especially around popular tourist areas in Prague. And although the situation has slightly improved: the taxi drivers are notorious for scamming people in the Czech Republic, beware and stick to corporations rather than independent taxis.