Since 1989 and the end of the Communist era, Prague has seen a surge of visitors. It’s no wonder as Prague’s old world charm and romanticism, history and architecture, stunning and surprising Cathedrals meets art nouveau – it is a forward thinking city steeped in history and tradition.
If you are looking to avoid the crowds – Prague is not for you! It is wall to wall people – a veritable advertisement for Canon and Nikon as cameras are almost a 1:1 ratio with the people. Prague won’t disappoint – I was in love with the city the moment the airport shuttle arrived in town! As a Christmas destination, Prague pulls out all the stops, from festive Christmas Markets in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, to carolling under Charles Bridge.
Look at any guide book to Prague, and the 10 ten tourist attractions are consistent:
1. Prague Castle – an imposing fortress overlooking the city, perched high upon the hilltop, Pragues’s Castle is highly visible from many points around town. In the late 9th century, Prince Borivoj built a wooden fortress. There have been fires, uprisings and continued change over the centuries, including much of the current Renaissance castle, rebuilt in the 16th century. If the history of Prague is of interest, I highly recommend buying the full ticket – you are able to see many more aspects of the castle. The ticket is good for 2 days, allowing you to soak in as much history as you can before information overload, and come back the next day to see the rest! Highlights included Golden Lane, Powder Tower and the Royal Palace. Spend some time in the Story of Prague Castle exhibit – also very interesting.
2. St. Vitus’s Cathedral – words can not begin to describe a cathedral which took more than 600 years to build. Take the time to climb the bell tower if you can – with close to 300 steps, the crowds diminished considerably. The views from the top are spectacular and the sheer size of the bell – amazing!
3. Old Town Square – This area has been a market since the Middle Ages. There has been much bloodshed over the ages, as many regimes have risen and fallen! Over the Christmas holidays, it houses a spectacular Christmas market, bustling with people day and night. It is the heart and soul of Prague – the Astronomical Clock another icon of the area, is housed in the old town hall.
4. Charles Bridge – in a word: iconic. The Charles Bridge is crowded with tourists, vendors and locals day and night. Flashes from cameras can be seen from Prague Castle at night. For new years, it will be packed as Prague says good bye to last year and welcomes in the new!
For more than 600 years, processions, battles and executions have occurred on this bridge. There are 30 statues of saints and religious figures lining the walk, attracting crowds who want to photograph or touch them. To quietly appreciate the majesty of the bridge, one needs to be up early to quietly stroll along the cobbles that link the city across the River Vltava. At night, photographers line the streets to get the perfect shots as the city, bridge and Prague Castle light up, casting a glow over Prague.
5. Old Jewish Cemetery
With the oldest stone dating from 1439 and the final burial taking place in 1787, the Jewish Cemetery contains an estimated 200,000 graves, making it a significant contributor to Jewish history in the region. Tickets need to be purchased to visit the cemetery, which also includes admission to the Synagogue and an interesting museum. The museum gives an excellent insight into the Jewish faith. Men will need to wear a yarmulka (skull cap) while in the synagogue.
I found the cemetery to be an interesting and sombre place to visit, however I felt that the site has become another tick on the tourist chart, and somehow takes something away from the site. While I too took a couple photos, I found it difficult to accept the poor behaviour of a number of tourists, as I felt this was a place that deserved some respect. The stones were cordoned off so that people didn’t wander through, yet the ropes did not prevent people from going into the grave sites to create silly poses amongst the graves for snapshots!
6. National Gallery – the first Functionalist building in Europe, the National Gallery holds and impressive collection of art, including 14 Picassos.
7. The Loreto – a Baroque shrine to the Virgin Mary, the Loreto is a replica of the original Santa Casa in Loreto, Italy.
8. St Agnes’s Convent – now the home of the National Gallery, this 13th century convent was founded by Princess Agnes who gave up her life at court to follow a spiritual life in 1234. This Gothic building holds impressive works of medieval and early Renaissance art.
9. Wenceslas Square – another bustling Christmas Market, lined with shops, hot mulled wine and other delicacies -filling the interior of what was once a humble horse market.
10. PetrinHill – great walking trails and escape from the throngs of people in town. Also provides a brilliant vantage point to look out over the city, Petrin Hill is perched over the Mala Strana and is popular with tourists and locals alike.
Tourists are everywhere! On foot, Segways, horse and carriage or in vintage cars. What will be your favourite sites?
Prague’s magic has not been lost on me – stay tuned for more posts going into more detail about Prague’s top ten attractions.
While not listed not listed in the top 10 attractions in Prague, the Lennon Wall and Love Locks are also worth a visit. Both are evolving as changes and additions are made – worth having a look.
While visiting, we stayed at The Golden Wheel Hotel, walking distance to everything we wanted to see.
Not on the Top 10 list, but definitely the romantic choice, visit Prague’s Love Locks and Lennon wall.