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.
Every major city has a zoo. But does every city have a zoo that’s been ranked among the best in the world by the likes of Forbes Traveler and TripAdvisor?
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 idea first came to the mind of a Count Sweerts-Sporck in 1881 as a way to commemorate the wedding of Crown Prince Rudolf and Princess Stephanie of Belgium—because what better way to celebrate a new bride and groom than with a couple hundred furry attendees?
Visited by more than one million people annually, the Prague Zoo 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. Despite its impressive list of animals, the zoo is a manageable 111 acres. But if you’re pressed for time, don’t miss the Africa House, the Indonesian Jungle, or the Valley of the Elephants.
The Jewish Quarter—formerly Prague’s Jewish Ghetto—has a history that stretches back to the 12th century. It’s not surprising, then, that it’s home to the oldest still-existing synagogue in Europe, the Old-New Synagogue. You’ll also find the Old Jewish Cemetery, Church of the Holy Ghost, Jewish Museum, five other synagogues, and the Rudolfinum here.
Also called Josefov, the quarter is the source of a number of legends that only add to Prague’s mystical reputation. Take Jewish mystic Jehuda ben Bezalel’s creation of the Golem of Prague, a clay creature said to have protected Prague’s Jews from anti-semitic attacks.
The quarter is also the birthplace of Franz Kafka, which is why you’ll come across a statue of the celebrated writer in the area.
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 home to a rose garden, or rosarium, showcasing nearly 12 thousand flowers. You’ll also come across 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.
As a side note, the tower was almost destroyed – on his visit, Hitler thought it obstructed the view of the city from the castle. Lucky for us, the plans were never seen through.
We’ll spell out just why the National Theatre nags a spot on our list of mandatories, but one look inside and you’ll need no such explanation. 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. That’s not to mention the theatre’s renowned drama, opera and ballet performances.
But despite its richly decorated appearance, the theatre has a turbulent history. Just when it was nearing completion in 1881, a fire broke out, burning much of the structure to ash. But out of the catastrophe emerged a symbol of national unity: in under 50 days, enough money was raised from locals for the reconstruction.
Just 200 meters from the Charles Bridge in Jan Palach Square lies Rudolfinum, a concert hall and art gallery built in 1881. 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. Our advice? Visit in May or June for a chance to see the Prague Spring International Music Festival.
Like most of Prague’s sights, Wenceslas Square in New Town has more history than we can fit on this webpage. But we’ll do our best and try.
Named for the patron saint of Bohemia and once used as a horse market, the square has been the site of just as many historic celebrations as violent demonstrations. In 1969, Czech student Jan Palach set himself on fire here in protest of Soviet invasion, and in 1989, the square served as a major site of the Velvet Revolution.
Now, the square is a center for business and culture by day, lined by shops, cafes, and restaurants. (But be warned that the area transforms at night: it’s also lined by strip clubs, making it a popular stop for raucous bachelor parties.)
Another thing—despite its name, the area isn’t really a square. Constructed in the shape of a rectangle, it’s actually more of a boulevard, with countless shops, cafes and restaurants leading to the Czech National Museum at the southeast side. The northwest side runs toward the border of New Town and Old Town.
If there’s one thing Prague is good at, it’s castles. Once you’ve checked the historic Prague Castle off your list, here’s another to add to the agenda: Vysehrad, a fort built on a rocky hill over the Vltava river around the 10th century.
Here, you’ll find the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul and the Vysehrad Cemetery, which holds the remains of famous Czechs like renowned composers Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, writer Karel Čapek, and Alphonse Mucha. If nothing else, your hike to the top of the fort will be rewarded by stunning, romantic views of Prague that are even better for sunset visitors.
Strolling through Letna Park, you’d never guess that its paths were once home to a 22-meter-long granite monument to Joseph Stalin. Yep, you read that right.
After the statue was destroyed (read: blown to bits) in 1962, Czechs used the space to build the only thing sensible: a massive beer garden. Pick up some cheap beer or a bottle of wine from the park’s restaurant (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.
If walls could talk, Prague’s iconic John Lennon Wall would speak volumes. Located down a quiet, secluded street at the base of the Petrin 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.
Ironically, on the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in 2014, a group of student artists painted the entire wall white to commemorate a new era in the Czech Republic’s history. Though some white spots are still visible, the wall has since been painted and repainted with motivational sayings, love notes, and as always, layers upon layers of Beatles lyrics. Visit in the early morning to avoid passing tours—and don’t forget your spray paint.
Old Town Square is one of the most vibrant attractions here in Prague with beautiful and historical architecture. It is home to the famous Astronomical Clock, Old Town Hall, and many lively restaurants and shops.
The square’s center is home to a statue of religious reformer Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake in Constance for his beliefs, which led to the Hussite Wars. The statue in the square known as the Jan Hus Memorial. It was erected on July 6, 1915 to mark the 500th anniversary of his death.
In front of the Old Town Hall is also a memorial to martyrs (including Jan Jesenius and Maxmilián Hošťálek). They were beheaded on that spot during the Old Town Square execution by Habsburgs, after the Battle of White Mountain. Twenty-seven crosses mark the pavement in their honour. The crosses were installed during the repairs of Old Town Hall after World War II, while a nearby plaque which lists the names of all 27 victims dates from 1911.
These days, the square is much calmer. It’s mostly known for being home to one of Europe’s best Christmas Markets as well as a wonderful Easter Market.