Arriving in Prague, I was speechless. I almost had to pinch myself to make sure what I was seeing was in fact real, and not a scene torn from the pages of a children’s fairytale book. You see, Prague has all the elements of great fairytale- cobblestone streets, alluring architecture, enchanting spires, and of course, a monumental castle.
Prague is indeed, a real life fairytale.
Our time in Prague was spent simply walking. We walked back and forth between Staré Město (Prague’s Old Town) and Malá Strana (Little/Lesser Town), crossing over Charles Bridge many times during our stay. At the time I felt like we weren’t “seeing” anything. We didn’t visit any churches, and we didn’t go inside any buildings of Prague Castle. We just…hung out.
After four days in Prague, I still didn’t want to leave. There’s so much we didn’t get to see, entire neighborhoods left unexplored. I felt like we didn’t do Prague justice, and was feeling guilty for spending so much time walking around the same parts of town over and over again.
It wasn’t until we got home and I looked at my photos, that I realized we did actually see quite a lot. Truth is, the areas where we spent our time had a lot to offer, and a wonderful atmosphere we enjoyed being part of.
Self-Guided Walking Tour of Prague
Here’s a look at our journey through the beautiful neighborhoods of Prague, starting with Part One- The Old Town!
Prague’s Old Town (Staré Mĕsto)
Marking the eastern entrance to the Old Town of Prague is Powder Tower. It’s historically, one of the most important town gates. It was here where the King’s coronation ride began. The 65 metre tall tower gets its curious name from its former use as a gunpowder store.
The Old Town was my favourite part of Prague. A web of passages lined with exquisite architecture, all lead towards the bustling Old Market Square. However, the Old Town is much more than just the market square. It also includes the historic Jewish Quarter and a luxury shopping district.
The Old Town Square
We started every day at the famous Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí). Since the eleventh century, this has been the city’s main marketplace. The square, one of Europe’s most beautiful, is surrounded with exquisite historical buildings, the most eye-catching of which are Old Town City Hall and Týn Cathedral. Other highlights are the Astronomical Clock, St. Nicholas Church, the Jan Hus Monument and the delicious outdoor food stalls (I had a lemon-sugar crepe that was to die for!)
Every hour, hundreds of tourists gather round the southern wall of Old Town City Hall. Cameras in hand, heads peering up the tower, everyone waits excitedly to see the astronomical clock welcome in a new hour.
The clock chimes and the four figures flanking the clock are set into motion. A window above the clock opens and the mechanical Walk of the Apostles begins. As a nice touch, after the clock’s performance, a trumpet player heralds in the beginning of the next hour.
Old Town City Hall
Prague has so many must sees, but climbing up to the top of the nearly 70 metre tall tower at City Hall is something you should not miss out on. The views from the top are spectacular! Gazing over the orange coloured roofs, you can see Prague Castle off in the distance. I loved the great view we got of the top of Týn Cathedral and the surrounding Old Town Square.
It was fun to be up the tower during the astronomical clock’s performance and look down on the huge crowd gathered below. We also got front row seats, so to speak, of the trumpet player announcing the start of a new hour.
This powerful looking cathedral can be seen from all over Prague, standing watch over Old Town Square. Look closely at the Gothic steeples of Týn Cathedral and you will see that one is ever so slightly taller than the other. They are also not symmetrical, representing the masculine and feminine elements of the world.
Jan Hus Monument
Jan Hus was a Czech priest and rector at Charles University. He was a passionate advocate for church reform, which he considered to be fraudulent and corrupt. Hus paved the way for the Protestant movement of the 16th century but ended up being burned at the stake for heresy against the Catholic Church.
After his death, the Hussites (followers of Hus’ teachings) rebelled against the Roman Catholic rulers. They were able to defeat five papal crusades in what would come to be known as the Hussite Wars.
The memorial to Hus was unveiled in 1915, commemorating 500 years since Hus’ martyrdom. The monument depicts the victorious Hussite warriors and the Protestants who, 200 years later, were forced into exile. The young mother symbolizes national rebirth.
St. Nicholas Church (Old Town)
It’s kind of confusing, but there are two churches in Prague named St. Nicholas, both beautiful Baroque masterpieces. The one in Old Town Square was consecrated in 1737, only five years after construction began. St. Nicholas Church was used by the Russian orthodox congregation from 1870 to 1914 and today is owned by the Hussite church.
The Josefov District
Also in Old Town is Josefov, a historical Jewish quarter. It’s a paradoxical mixture of remains from the old Jewish ghetto and broad Art Nouveau boulevards, created after the slum clearance of the 1890’s.
Here you will find a monument to writer Franz Kafka, the Spanish Synagogue, Old Jewish Cemetery, and the Jewish Town Hall. In the heart of the community, is the the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Europe.
I can’t tell you too much about this area because honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to our tour guide. He was going into way too much detail, talking for way too long, so I got bored and ended up focusing on taking pictures of all the stunning architecture.
Charles Bridge crosses over the Vlatava river, connecting the Old Town to Malá Strana. This beautiful bridge is not simply a river crossing. It is Prague’s most celebrated landmark, telling many stories through the 30 statues and statuaries that line both sides of the bridge. It’s also Prague’s oldest bridge, dating back to 1357.
At the centre of the bridge is a statue of John of Nepomuk, a Czech patron saint who was thrown off the bridge by Wenceslas IV for refusing to divulge the queen’s confessions. It’s rumoured that rubbing the statue’s foot will bring good luck. I’d say you need some good luck just to get close the statue. During the day it is surrounded by anxious tourists looking for a little good fortune.
Each end of Charles Bridge is fortified by towers- respectively, the Old Town Tower and the Malá Strana Towers.
Continue reading Part Two of this post: A Walk Through Prague- The Lesser Town and Castle Quarter
Tips for Visiting Prague’s Old Town
- Access to the tower at Old Town City Hall is through the tourist information office. You can choose to either take the stairs or ride the elevator to the top.
- You must pay to access the sights in the Jewish Quarter.
- Charles Bridge is best seen at dawn or late at night, when the crowds are gone.
Tours in Prague
Here is a trusted site that has a large inventory of tours and tickets for activities in Prague. You can book everything from walking tours, river cruises, concerts, pub crawls, airport transfers, and day trips out of the city.
Accommodations in Prague
For your convenience, here is a list of accommodations in Prague. Please consider booking your Prague accommodations through the included link. It costs you nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!