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.
A very popular tourist attraction in Prague, and it is one of Europe’s oldest cemeteries. It is very close to the Jewish Quarter, which, as you can see, is also apart of Mandatory Prague. This graveyard holds around 12,000 tomb stones that one can see, but there are thousands of graves buried below the visible stones. Due to a lack of space, all the graves are quite literally piled on top of one another, and it is a very moving sight to see.
Whether or not you are Jewish, checking out the cemetery can be an emotional experience, because it represents years and years of antisemitism. We highly recommend paying this cemetery a visit while you are here, seeing as there are none others like it.
The Dancing House was constructed in the late 1990’s, and it is an incredibly modern and unique structure. The building is full of windows, and it is literally curved, built to resemble the shape of a dancing man. The only part of this building that is open to the public is the top floor, in which you will find one of the city’s leading restaurants: Ginger and Fred Restaurant.
The restaurant offers panoramic views of the Charles Bridge, the river, and the Prague Castle. Another pro tip: go at sunset, because everything looks that much prettier with a touch of orange.
As if it isn’t obvious, when you are in Prague it is essential that you visit our most popular attraction. It dates all the way back to the 9th century, and it was a seat of power for multiple kings, emperors, and rulers. It is a stunning structure, with so many small details that allow it to radiate when the sun shines on it. The castle houses several museums, three courtyards, and even a quaint garden cafe.
In addition, the castle is located in New Town, so you can walk from your tour straight into the narrow, cobblestone streets that allow you to see what Prague is really like.
Charles Bridge is a fixture of Prague life, and the connection between Prague’s Old Town and Prague’s New Town. It was built back in 1357, and not much has been done to renovate it since then. It is a gorgeous Gothic structure decorated with statues that tower of you and bring you back into the olden days. The bridge is always crawling with artists, street food, locals and travelers alike, all trying to soak in the stunning view of Prague that the bridge provides.
Pro Tip: If you want to see a truly breathtaking view of Prague, wake up before the sun rises (or just stay out all night), and stand on the bridge to see the sunrise.
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.