Three historic must-dos in Prague
1. Prague Castle & St. Vitus Cathedral & Palace Gardens:
Get your slice of history by visiting the 9th century Prague Castle, which is described by the Guinness Book as the 'largest coherent castle complex in the world', spanning an area of almost 70,000 sq. meters. The official residence of the President of the Czech Republic, the castle dates back to the 9th century and has been a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The castle also houses several museums, including the National Gallery collection of Bohemian baroque and mannerism art, a Toy Museum and the picture gallery of Prague Castle, based on the collection of Rudolph II. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside. Admire the stunning Gothic architecture of St. Vitus Cathedral on the castle grounds. This is the most important cathedral in the country and the seat of Prague's Archbishop.
The St. Vitus Cathedral within the grounds of the Prague Castle.
Instead of stopping there though, make time to sit back and soak in the charm of the place by visiting the castle's garden. Founded in 1534 the gardens are one of the few quiet places in the center of Prague. The lovely, originally Renaissance gardens, on the castle's southern slopes, are located on the site of old medieval vineyards. They were restored in the 1990's and are an idyllic location to soothe tired legs. Enjoy the natural beauty or absorb specific architectural elements like the baroque portal with sundial that cleverly catches the sunlight reflected off the water in the garden’s fountain. This helps you assimilate the castle experience as you fall in love with the place a little more!
- Most of the grounds, and the cathedral have free entry, so buy tickets only if you are actually planning on visiting the buildings.
- The castle is open until midnight, so you may want to go a little later in the day and miss the crowds
2. Charles Bridge
This very lovely cobblestone bridge, flanked by statues on either side is named after King Charles IV who commissioned it, and prettily crosses the Vltava to Prague Castle. Once central for commerce in the city, today it's restricted for pedestrian use, and its popularity is primarily as a tourist destination. With buskers, street artists, performers and vendors lining the sides and offering entertainment, the bridge has a vibrant and gay energy, and it's a pleasant place to spend some time. The bridge has spectacular views of the city skyline and the river below.
Another way to enjoy the bridge, and Prague, is to take a cruise down the Vltava. If I were to pick one moment from my first visit to Prague that will stay with me more than others, it would be this. As a professional swimmer, I've had a deep connection with water, as long as I can remember. I love spending time near water bodies - with no plans or expectation, just experiencing the calm of the moment. Coffee on the river, while cruising past Prague's pretty buildings and trees and a skyline dotted with old churches, castles and a setting sun, made it one of my favorite memories of the trip. Rides usually start at Dvorákovo nábreží and go to Vyšehrad and back.
- The bridge can get very crowded. Visit early morning or late evening, if you want quiet time.
3. Old Town Square:
In the heart of Prague's imposing and very popular town square you'll find the world's oldest Astronomical Clock. Located on top the Town Hall, with its hourly chime, the clock is a major tourist draw and has become an icon of sorts for Prague. Built in 1410, the clock indicates the phases of the moon, seasons and some Christian holidays as well. Colorful baroque houses, oodles of shops and restaurants, Gothic churches add to the lovely ambience of the popular tourist square located just between the famous Wenceslas Square and Charles Bridge. The viewing gallery on top of the Old Town Hall's tower offers magnificent views of Staromestské Námestí. A lovely way to spend the morning!
- Beware of pickpockets in the crowded streets!