Mandatory Prague – Things you simply must see…
Prague is relatively small, but there’s a lot to see. Whether you’re packing it all in to a few days or you have a few weeks to make your way around, chances are you still won’t get to it all. But, to start you off, here’s our list of “must-see” sites we recommend to anyone who makes their way to Prague. Remember, Prague is mostly walkable (with the exception of a few out of the way spots like the zoo). If you’re really pressed on time – you might consider a comprehensive bus tour.
Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square)
The heart of the city center, this giant square going back to the 11th century showcases the beautiful eclecticness of Prague’s architecture. It is home to many churches and historical markers, including a statue of the religious reformer Jan Hus, whose burning at the stake for his beliefs triggered the Hussite Wars, the Old Town Hall, and Church of Our Lady before Týn.
You can also find the Pražský orlo (Astronomical Clock) here. Built in the early 1400s, it is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest clock still in operation. Every hour there is a procession of apostles and different figures along the outside of the clock moving, including a skeleton ringing bells to signify death and mortality.
After checking out the square, explore the streets that lead to Karlův most (Charles Bridge). This is an incredibly touristy walk filled with shops of overpriced things – but it’s still fun to wind through the narrow cobble-stoned streets and historic buildings – don’t be scared to go down tiny walkways, you’re likely to stumble into beautiful secret courtyards and pubs.
This Gothic stone bridge was one of the many Czech monuments commissioned by Charles IV in the 14th century and built by the same architect behind the St. Vitus Cathedral. The bridge is lined with Baroque statues, the most famous being that of St. John of Nepomuk, a Czech martyr whose statue has been polished bright by people touching it for good luck.
Down to Lennonova zed’ (Lennon Wall) & Kampa
If walls could talk, Prague’s iconic John Lennon Wall would speak volumes. Located down a quiet, secluded street at the base of the Petřín Hill, the wall was used by Czech youth as a space for anti-communist activism after John Lennon, their Western pacifist hero, was killed in 1980. As a result, the facade bears hundreds of layers of political graffiti, banned Beatles lyrics, and futile attempts at whitewash by the secret police
Be sure to walk around the nearby Kampa Island for a moment to relax and beautiful views. Plus, you can get up and close with Prague’s politically charged art scene. You’ll find the famous and provocative Czech artist David Černy’s giant babies that crawl up the T.V. Tower here, as well as his Piss Sculpture in front of the Kafka Museum. There’s also the Brown-nosing sculptures, giant bottoms you crawl into to watch a video making fun of a former Czech president and director of the National Gallery.
Up to Pražský hrad or Hradčany (Prague Castle)
On your walk up to the castle be sure to check out the Malostranské náměstí (Lesser Town Square) area and the many churches it holds, such as the baroque masterpiece Kostel sv. Mikuláše (Church of St. Nicholas).
Then head on up to Prague’s most popular attraction, the castle that dates back to the 9th century and has been the seat of multiple kings, emperors, and rulers, now home of the president. The complex includes the stunningly unique Katedrála sv. Vita (St. Vitus Cathedral) and also houses several museums, courtyards, luscious gardens and the narrow Golden Lane where alchemists, writers and other castle servants lived.
Prague’s old Jewish Ghetto, this area is home to one of the oldest cemeteries in Europe, multiple historical synagogues and a number of Prague’s mystical legends. The graveyard holds about 12,000 visible tombstones, but is home to countless more underneath since the graves were built on top of eachother due to lack of space and years of antisemitism. The quarter is also home to the oldest still-existing synagogue in Europe – the Old-New Synagogue –where Rabbi Löw’s popular Czech legend Golem is said to reside. This district is also the birthplace of Franz Kafka; you can find Jaroslav Róna’s statue tribute to him here, near where Kafka used to live sandwiched between two spiritual sites.
Just 200 meters from the Charles Bridge in Jan Palach Square lies Rudolfinum, a concert hall and art gallery built in 1885. Rudolfinum was conceptualized by businessmen and financial institutions, incredibly unusual donors at the time, in order to emphasize the supreme role of art and act as a temple honoring the importance of culture.
The building’s impressive Neo-Renaissance architecture is enough to bring curious onlookers to its doors, behind which you’ll find a gold and marble auditorium that’s home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Named for Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, the building’s Dvořák Hall is one of the oldest concert halls in Europe. Music nerds will be thrilled to learn that Antonín Dvořák himself conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra’s first concert in the hall in 1896. Visit in May or June for a chance to see the Prague Spring International Music Festival. And don’t forget to check out the many exhibition rooms throughout Galerie Rudolfinum.
Built and rebuilt with money from the public mass, this building has stood as a cultural epicenter for the Czech Republic since 1883, currently hosting Opera, Drama, and Ballet performances. Pass through the doors, and you’ll be met with gold-embellished walls that bear masterpieces by 19th-century Czech painters like Aleš, Ženišek, Hynais, Myslbek, and others.
Nearly every renowned Czech composer, conductor, dancer, playwright, singer, and musician have performed in the halls of the National Theatre and gathered in the famous Café Slavia across the street afterwards.
Vlado Milunić, a friend of Vaclav Havel’s, and Frank O. Gehry collaborated to build this unique and modern structure to fill the empty space left when Americans accidentally bombed the building that had stood there before. They modeled it to evoke two people dancing, at once both static and dynamic, just like the Czech society was under the rigid totalitarian control. It’s officially named after famous dance figures Ginger (Rogers) and Fred (Astaire). The top floor is open to the public in which you’ll find the Ginger and Fred Restaurant that offers panoramic views of Charles Bridge, the Vltava, and the castle. Pro tip: go at dusk for the best sunset view.
Although the square started as a horse market, it evolved into one of the most historical places in Prague, aptly adopting the name of the Czech Republic’s most beloved saint. Under the statue of St. Wenceslas Jan Palach committed his famous suicide, followed by Jan Zajíc a month later, both protesting the squashing of the Prague Spring in 1968. Thirty years later the square was home to the biggest demonstrations of the Velvet Revolution.
Now, the square is a center for business and culture, lined by shops, cafés and restaurants. (But be warned, the area transforms at night due to its many strip clubs, making it a popular stop for raucous bachelor parties.) Check out the rectangle-shaped square for the history, the shopping and the gorgeous mix of architecture found in the giant buildings lining the boulevard up to the 200-year-old Národní museum (National Museum) at the end.
A 10th century fortress built on a rocky hill over the Vltava, this hill is now home to the beautiful Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, and the Vyšehrad cemetery, where some of the most famous Czech icons rest, such as composers Dvořák and Smetana, writer Karel Čapek and painter Alphonse Mucha.
Besides boasting a stunning view of both the city center and the southern outskirts of Prague, the fortress is home to the city’s mythical founders. It is said that princess Libušu, the daughter of the king ruling from Vyšehrad and his successor, had prophetic trances, one of which consisted of her pointing towards where the Prague Castle now stands and foretelling “a great city whose glory will touch the stars.” She then instructed her subjects to build the city where a man was building the threshold of his house and named the city “práh,” which means threshold in old Czech. Her visions also led her to her husband, Přemysl, the father of the Přemyslid
Strolling through Letná Park, you’d never guess this park was once home to a massive 22-meter-long granite monument to Joseph Stalin. After the statue was destroyed (read: blown to bits) in 1962, Czechs replaced it with the Metronome, an indicator of time passing and a reminder of the past the Czech people have overcome.
They also used the space to build one of the best beer gardens in Prague. Pick up some cheap beer or a bottle of wine from the garden (or just bring your own—no one will notice) and snag a picnic table overlooking the hill’s unparalleled views of Old Town. Once you’ve had your fill, walk off the alcohol with a hike around the park’s 250,000 square meters of grassy hills and tree-lined paths.
There’s a reason the Petřín Hill was once one of King Charles’ vineyards. A green oasis of calm bordered by numerous gardens, it’s one of the most stunning hills in Prague (and believe us, Prague has many).
It’s also one of the most romantic. The hill is has a rose garden showcasing nearly 12 thousand flowers and is also home to a statue of Karel Hynek Mácha, a Czech poet who wrote the now-famous love poem Máj (May). As a result, hundreds of lovers meet at the statue every year on May 1. To make matters even more swoon-worthy, there’s also a miniature Eiffel Tower, which overlooks nearly all of Bohemia on a clear day. The park also boasts an observatory, mirror maze, and a cave full of one artist and sculpture’s fantastical paintings. You can take a lanovka (funicular) to the top for a still scenic, but much easier, climb.
Every major city has a zoo. But does every city have a zoo that’s ranked the 5th best in the world?
Yeah, we didn’t think so.
There’s a reason the Prague Zoo brags so many accolades. Located near the Trója Chateau in Prague 7, the zoo is home to nearly 5,000 animals and 650 species. The zoo came to be as a way to commemorate the wedding of Crown Prince Rudolf and Princess Stephanie of Belgium in 1881—because what better way to celebrate a new bride and groom than with a couple hundred furry attendees?
Opening to the public in 1931 and currently visited by more than one million people each year, the zoo boasts amazing views and is a gorgeous park in itself with wandering paths overlooking the city and river. It is also known for being one of the only successful breeders of Przewalski Horses, an effort that has largely contributed to the preservation of the species.