The city of a thousand spires is not only a UNESCO world heritage site, it is also one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Straddling the Vltava River, Prague, the capital of the Czech republic is a city of many faces. We spent two days in Prague exploring the many attractions.
There is the modern, bustling cosmopolitan city centred around Wenceslas square. The grey and sometimes sombre suburbia, slowly emerging from communist rule. The thriving arts scene, dating back centuries. Prague has been the home and meeting point for artists, philosophers and educators for centuries. There is of course the medieval history, radiating out from the popular old town square.
Since the iron curtain drew back some 20 years ago, visitors have been flocking to Prague to enjoy the fairytale scenery, gothic architecture, art scene and history.
Most of them seemed to be there on the first day of our visit. Arriving just before lunch, we quickly checked into our accommodation and took the tram to the town centre and the Old Town Square.
It was simply breath-taking to step back in time among the ancient, frescoed buildings, cobblestone laneways and the magnificent Prague Castle looking down from the hillside on the other side of the Vltata River.
Crowds of people crammed the alleyways, pouring out of cafes and gift shops. Glittering displays of bohemian crystal, mouthwatering gingerbread and tacky souvenirs were all in plentiful supply.
The human river soon flowed to the Old Town Square and the famous Astronomical Clock. Crowds packed around the clock to watch the display as it chimed the hour, jostling for space for the obligatory selfie with the famous timepiece.
Further on, the Charles Bridge became even more densely crowded, if possible. Street vendors plied their wares from each side of the bridge, paintings, postcards and souvenirs, while buskers entertained for a few crowns.
As the human stream continued across the bridge, you had to dodge the selfie-sticks, as well as the umbrellas, golf clubs and flags being waved on high by tour guides trying to navigate their clients through the throng.
This soon brought us to Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral, where we spent some time admiring the elaborate stained glass windows, ornate chapels and towering spires.
The castle itself dates back to the 9th century, the surrounds now host a selection of museums. It was here we viewed original Beethoven manuscripts, quite an exciting find for a clasically trained pianist.
Walking along the cobbled alleyway of Golden Lane you will find the colourful 16th century cottages originally built to house the palace guards.
From the castle gates you are given a panaromic view over Prague.
Back at our hostel, we took the advice of the owners to head across the road for a genuine Czech meal. Eating where the locals do enabled us to enjoy an authentic Czech goulash and bread dumplings.
The following morning, Madame tour guide awoke us quite early, which was surprising given the hour to which she partied with the other patrons in the hostel.
A tram ride into the city, a quick breakfast in one of the few cafe’s that were already open and it was off to meet our personal tour guide for a two hour walking tour of Prague.
What a difference a night makes!
The streets were deserted, save for an Hungarian Vizla chasing a paper cup along the cobblestones as her owner trundled along behind on what was obviously their daily morning walk. There was not a selfie-stick in sight
Meeting at the Astronomical Clock, we had the opportunity to have a good close up look, learning more about the history and workings of this amazing instrument.
Across the deserted Charles bridge, we learned the history of the many statues flanking the bridge – many of which had been hidden behind a wall of tourists the previous day. We also learnt a little of the history of “defenestration”-political opponents thrown out windows of the palace to their deaths in medieval times. The most famous statue on the bridge is of St John of Nepomuk, who was thrown from the Charles Bridge as a martyr for refusing to reveal the Queen’s confessions to the King.
On to the old Jewish quarter we visited the New Old Synagogue and the old Jewish cemetery, learning the history of the Prague Jewish community.
Our tour took us back to Wenceslas square and on to St Nicholas Church, where we had the opportunity for a brief tour.
Our tour came to an end at the Louvre Cafe with brunch in the former haunt of intellectuals such as Albert Einstein and Frank Kafta.
A stroll by the River Vltava
By now the tourist throng had awoken once again. Armed with a few tips from our tour guide, we found the quiet oasis of the Wallenstein Palace gardens. Here we found bubbling fountains, free roaming peacocks and an amazing dripstone wall.
After wandering through the market stalls in Wenceslas Square, sampling some of the local produce.we meandered. along the Vltava River enjoying the spectacular scenery, taking in many of the artistic sculptures for which Prague is also well known.
Prague has so many magnificent attractions on offer and we definitely need to return to explore more fully. However if you are planning a visit to the more popular attractions, early morning is the time to go.
For more detailed information on the main attractions in Prague, look out for my next post “15 things to do in Prague”
Hostels not just for backpackers
20 Travel tips for Prague
Two weeks in Germany – a 16 day itinerary
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