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Peerless Prague
Feel the history and enjoy the ambiance of this Czech Republic gem

With the sun’s last rays coloring the sky, we emerged from Prague’s Little Quarter onto wide, pedestrian Charles Bridge and headed across the Vltava River for Old Town. When we reached the bridge’s center, we stopped and stood in awe, savoring the surrounding views. Multiple bridges spanned the river on either side. The outline of the castle and rooftops of the Little Quarter lay behind us. The bridge’s east tower and the Old Town’s Gothic buildings lay ahead, rosette in the fading light.

Vltava River
Prague's Vltava River and Manesuv, Charles, and Legii bridges

The bridge pulsed with energy as tourists and residents alike strolled in harmony, enjoying this daily parade. Street musicians played classical or jazz standards as small crowds gathered and dispersed in small waves. "This has to be one of Europe’s most incredibly enjoyable places," exclaimed my wife, and I nodded in agreement.

The King’s Walk

An extended version of the medieval King’s Walk is the best way to appreciate Prague. The original route extends from Prague Castle down into the Little Quarter, then across the Charles Bridge into Old Town. The worthwhile extension of this route steers into the Jewish Quarter before ending with the New Quarter’s Art Nouveau architecture. A convenient way to arrive at Prague Castle is to catch Tram 22 from Metro stop Namestri Miru for an orienting joyride through the city, debarking just above the castle.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle
View from the river up to Prague Castle

Huge Prague Castle has been home to Czech rulers since the 10th century. If you focus on seeing just four of the major sites, the seemingly overwhelming castle complex becomes enjoyably simplified. From Tram 22, walk across the bridge spanning the ancient moat to reach Castle Square (Hradcanske namesti) for views of the 500-meter-long palace and St. Vitus Cathedral. After buying tickets at the square, enter the cathedral to admire its mix of Gothic and neo-Gothic architecture (completed in 1929) and its magnificent stained glass windows. The 1,000 year-old tomb of Saint Wenceslas, the "Good King," sits in the fancy side chapel.

Your next stop is the Old Royal Palace. Although extensively rebuilt, the large hall is Gothic, dating from the early castle days and the time of the Bohemian Princes of the 12th century. The spiral staircases and the large hall were built for horse-mounted soldiers and jousts. Don’t miss the commanding city views from the balcony.

Now stop by St. George’s Basilica, Prague’s best-preserved Romanesque church (973). Then continue downhill through the castle grounds. Veer left into Golden Lane. This quaint street originally housed the castle goldsmiths. Today the small houses contain shops, boutiques, galleries, and cafes for the perfect rest stop.

Little Quarter

Continue down the steps leading from Golden Lane into the Little Quarter, then wander the streets until coming upon Little Quarter Square (Malostranske namesti). Here you’ll find a monument to victims of the plague and the Church of St. Nicholas, built in the 1700s. Enter the church and gasp at Prague’s most ornately Baroque architecture and decorations. When you return to the square, note the large number of nearby shops selling Prague’s trademark crystal. The Charles Bridge is just a short walk down Mostecka street from the square.

Charles Bridge

As you pass the west end medieval tower and start across the Charles Bridge, you’ll enjoy eye-level views of bordering homes with wrought iron railings, flower boxes, and religious murals. The bridge was constructed in the 1300s, with the many statues added in the 1600s and 1700s. The tower at the east end, as you enter into the Old Town, is prized as on one of Europe’s finest Gothic gates.

East tower
Charles Bridge east tower

Old Town

Follow the shop-lined street (Kaptova) into the Old Town Square. This bustling spot has been Prague’s market center since the 11th century. The 14th-century Old Town Hall dominates the square with its 230-foot spire and the complicated astronomical clock (1490). Don’t miss the striking of the hour, when the clock’s figures come to life. Death tips his hourglass, the Twelve Apostles parade overhead, and the rooster crows as the hour rings. Revolving hands keep both Bohemian time (from sunset) and standard time.

Old Town skyline
Old Town rooftops

Astronomical Clock

Hus Monument
Hus Memorial

Around the square is a fantastic array of buildings and architecture, including the Gothic Tyn Church and another Baroque Church of St. Nicholas. At the north end of the square the Hus Memorial (1915) towers over people-watching stairs in honor of 15th-century Jan Hus, the religious reformer who founded the Hussite sect. At the square’s south end is an interesting row of pastel houses spanning Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Beyond the square, you’ll find narrow streets that wander between old homes and a myriad of small Gothic and Romanesque churches. Lose yourself in the maze!

Jewish Quarter

Jewish Cemetery
Josefov Cemetery

Walk north from the Old Town Square along Pariszka street for 200 meters to reach Josefov, the Jewish Quarter. Started in the 13th-century, it became a walled ghetto in the 16th-century. Emperor Joseph later eased the discrimination and tore down the walls in the mid 19th century. By 1930, 50,000 Jews lived in Josefov, but today only 2,000 remain. The Jewish Museum here consists of four synagogues, the ancient cemetery, and the Ceremonial Hall. Ironically, this museum is partly due to Adolph Hitler, who wanted to preserve Josefov as a museum of the "exterminated race." Purchase a single ticket for admission to all the sites. The small cemetery was the only burial ground allowed for the Prague Jews for over 300 years. The Old-New Synagogue (1270) is Europe’s oldest. The Maisel Synagogue shows a thousand years of Jewish history in Bohemia. The Pinkas Synagogue is a moving memorial to the victims of the Nazis, including a poignant exhibit of children’s art from Terezin, a Czech "model" Nazi concentration camp.

Republiky and Wenceslas Square

The New Quarter of Prague has two areas worth visiting for their Art Nouveau style. Walk back to the Old Town Square and continue eastward for 200 meters to Republiky Square. Here you’ll find the Municipal House (1912) and a great Art Nouveau cyber cafe, a good place for a rest stop. Then walk 300 meters southwest along Na Prikope street to Wenceslas Square (Vaclavske namesti), a broad avenue flanked by Art Nouveau buildings such as the Grand Hotel Europa. Walk up the boulevard to see the statue of "Good King" Wenceslas, the assassinated 10th-century Duke of Bohemia who became a symbol of Czech nationalism. The small garden just downhill from the statue is a memorial to the "Victims of Communism" prior to the overthrow of the Czech communist government in 1989.

Uniquely Prague

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Street musicians

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Jazz club soloist

Nightly classical music concerts, crystal glass shop browsing, jazz clubs, Czech beer, and tasty meals —.these are what make Prague so enchantingly unique. Where else can you choose from a dozen different classical music venues in a single night? Small ensembles perform in beautiful churches all over town. On successive nights we heard dueling classical guitarists playing Mozart and Dvorak; a trio of organ, trumpet, and voice performing Bach, Handel, and Beethoven; and a duet of voice and piano performing Broadway show tunes. We followed the concerts with visits to an Old Town jazz club to sample the music and some great Czech beer. It’s no wonder that the Czechs are among the world’s biggest beer drinkers. Try the Pilsner Urquell and Budvar on tap.

Prague rightly deserves its reputation as a special place. The history, architecture, culture, and ambiance are unparalleled. On your own visit to the fantastic city, be sure to give yourself a few days to see the sites at a leisurely pace and to sample the wonderful Czech music, beer, and food.

Click here for details to plan your own trip to Prague.

        Les Furnanz
        Photos: Rita Furnanz

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