City of a Hundred Spires“, “Caput Regni: Head of the Kingdom”

Prague, Czech Republic, August 2009

Almost exactly 5 years since the first and only time I’ve been to Prague, back then with my family on a Central European tour; now I return as part of my usual birthday trip celebration. Not that I like to celebrate big throwing a party, but I rather travel somewhere and enjoy this way. The probably only exception last year when I turned 30 and therefore made a proper party out of it. Still it’s always quite hard to find any good deal during this time of the year right in the peak of high season.

For that reason this guide is actually a combination of these visits, plus another more recent where we would also take the chance to get to Cesky Krumlov. It’s always great coming back to Prague. Refreshing memories and also being able to provide with a proper travel guide entry for my blog as otherwise remembering all the details from these years back would have not been accurate with half of it missing. But something also as great as for the first visit was to be able to see some colleagues we worked together some years ago in London before they moved back to their home town! A piece from the past continued 5 years after as if time did not pass in between.

But as said before, this was more a birthday treat than an usual weekend trip therefore that we opted to go for a luxury stay this time. Flights with BA and an incredible original art-nouveau 5* hotel. I strongly recommend you to check from time to time the deals on packages at the British Airways website, it can seriously be a surprise and will probably be nicer and even cheaper than booking separately.

Prague is by all means one of the greatest and most beautiful cities not only across Europe but the world. It is always included on any poll and listing of the most beautiful cities in the world, or places to visit before you die and similar lists. Once you visit the city you will understand why. As such, you can imagine the incredible amount of history, sights, museums, entertainment and nightlife, therefore in a weekend it is absolutely impossible to visit everything. You will need at least a minimum of 4 days although I would personally recommend you more if you have the chance, or a me right now, coming for a second time and continue visiting new places.

On my first visit we were 4 full days and was just in the limit of OK. I planned a very tight schedule but visited almost everything! This time we went just for the weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday night and was nice enough. It makes a vast difference visiting a city for the first time or coming a second or more times after, where you don’t worry anymore about rushing to see everything but instead enjoying what you liked the most without any rush and discovering new places along the way. Gladly because of this I can create a more in deep guide, notoriously the what to see and do section below.

The city is split in what is called the New and the Old Towns, clearly defined and extremely easy to move around them. For instance, unless your hotel is located on the outskirts, you will be able to walk pretty much everywhere both new and old towns.

A must see is the Prague Castle area. Without visiting this then you have not visited Prague! It’s the heart of the country and city. Every inch radiates history while most of the monumental constructions as the castle, cathedral, churches and monasteries, ancient streets and historical buildings succeed one after another.

Food-wise talking it is incredible the huge and great choice you have pretty much everywhere. On both visits I never had any issue finding a nice Czech restaurant. Even in the most touristy areas you can find great quality and not the usual tourist traps like in most cities elsewhere.

For more information about Prague check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Czech Republic’s currency is the Koruna (CZK). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.

What to see and do in Prague:

  • Malá Strana District Formally known as the Lesser Town of Prague or the Little Quarter is one of the most historical areas in the city right below the castle hill.

-Charles Bridge Symbol of the city. Construction started in 1357 but was not until the 15th century that was finished. Linking the Lesser Town with the Old Town across the Vltava river, it is described as to be the most extraordinary Gothic bridge in the world. Flanked with 3 towers, 2 on the Lesser side and 1 by the Old town side, and 30 statues, all of them later Baroque additions.

-Wallenstein Palace Currently home to the Senate of the Czech Republic. Built between 1623-1630 to be the residence of Albrecht von Wallenstein although he only enjoyed it for 1 year until his assassination by Ferdinand II. Some museums are of public use like a branch of the National Gallery. Of special importance are the Main Hall, Knights’ Hall, Antechamber, Audience Hall and the Mythological and Astronomical Corridors.

-Saint Nicholas Church One of the most beautiful and important churches in the city. Built between 1704-1755 it is the finest Baroque building in Prague. One of Mozart’s masterpieces, Mass in C, was first performed in this church with him playing the organ.

-Church of Our Lady of Victory Not of special interest architecturally talking, but famous for the altarpiece Infant Jesus of Prague.

-Pisek Gate Is the last preserved city gate of the Baroque fortifications dating from 1721.

-Petřín Tower Built in 1891 with certain similarities to the Eiffel Tower in Paris is an observation tower.

  • Hradčany District Is the most picturesque image the world has of Prague, with the Castle and Saint Vitus Cathedral the major highlights in the city on top of the hill.

-Castle Listed in the Guinness World Records Book as the largest ancient castle in the world. It’s origins can be traced back to the 9th century. Many buildings compose this area, all of it included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

-Saint Vitus Cathedral Although an older church existed in the site since 930, the current cathedral was started in 1344 and consecrated almost 600 years later. It’s one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world. Among it’s treasures are the Czech Crown Jewels, but those cannot be visited.

-Saint George’s Basilica Is the oldest church still standing in Prague Castle although the façade is a Baroque 17th century addition. It houses the 19th century Bohemian Art Collection of the National Gallery in Prague.

-Old Royal Palace Dating back to the 12th century it houses the famous Vladislav Hall and a replica of the Czech Crown Jewels.

-New Royal Palace Has the most and better interior decorations of any other building in the castle area and is nowadays the Presidential Palace. It’s closed to the public.

-Belvedere Palace Also known as the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace it’s the masterpiece of the Royal Gardens. A pure fine example of Italian Renaissance architecture. It was meant to be a gift from Ferdinand I of Hapsburg to his wife Anne who never enjoyed it as she died before being completed.

-Lobkowicz Palace Just around the corner of Saint George’s Basilica this small palace now houses The Princely Collections exhibition which includes armour, old master paintings, musical instruments, manuscripts and more. A collection of over six hundred years of family collecting of fine arts.

-Zlatá Ulička The Golden Lane is one of the most characteristic old and charming streets in Prague consisting of small colourful 16th century houses. The house at number 22 is linked to the Czech-Jewish writer Franz Kafka who used this house to write in peace.

  • Staré Město (Old Town) Also included in full in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list is a gem not only in the city but in whole Europe among one of the very best preserved examples of Medieval city.

-Old Town Square The largest and most popular square in Prague located in between Wenceslas Square and Charles Bridge. Most of the symbols of the city are located here among the beautifully preserved houses.

-Týn Church Is has been since the construction in the 14th century on the site of an older church, one the most important churches in this part of the city, being Saint Vitus Cathedral the most important in the Castle area. In Gothic style, its towers are very characteristic.

-Astronomical Clock and City Hall Much better known as the Orloj is the world famous medieval clock dating to 1410, making it the third oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. It is mounted on the tower of the City Hall. It is a must do to wait for the hour when the figurines and bells play and move.

-Kinský Palace Originally built for the Golz family in the 18th century in Rococo style it houses today the Art Museum from the National Gallery.

-Jan Hus Memorial Was built in 1915 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Jan Hus’ murder

-Powder Tower It is one of the surviving original city gates dating back to the 11th century, although in its current state since 1475. It is one of the major symbols of the city. It’s name is taken from the 17th century when it was used to store powder.

-Municipal House Next door of the Powder Tower is this grand art-nouveau building containing a concert hall and a beautiful kavarna (coffee place).

-Jewish Quarter Also known as Josefov. Prague once had one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe with roots as early as the 10th century. Vastly demolished between 1893 and 1913 in order to make way to an urban plan similar to Paris, but with the Nazi occupation it never took place. Fortunately, the little that was left was preserved by the Germans as it was meant to be the museum of an “extinct race”

-Old Synagogue Is the oldest active synagogue in Europe dating from 1270 and although it was converted to a church from 1380, it turned back to synagogue in 2006. It is the main reason why it survived to our days.

-Spanish Synagogue Built in 1868 in Moorish revival was one of the last additions to the Jewish Quarter. The Germans used it to store items taken from the Jews for their planned museum.

-Old Jewish Cemetery Was in use from the 15th to the 18th centuries.

  • Nové Město (New Town) Right next to the Old Town, separating both is the main square Wenceslas.

-Wenceslas Square Is the largest square in Prague, long rectangle shaped and flanked by many art-nouveau buildings that the city is famous for.

-National Museum Is the massive neo-classical building at one end of the square. Steps lead to the top from where you get a fine view of the area. The museum houses a wide range of objects and art from prehistory to ethnography, numismatic, archaeology and more.

-Wenceslas Statue Easy to spot as it’s in the middle of the square.

-Palace Koruna Is one of the most prominent art-nouveau building in the square with it’s characteristic corner tower, built in 1912. There are shops in the ground floor passages, fully restored in 1996. Occupies numbers 1-2.

-Adam Pharmacy From 1913 designed by art-nouveau Prague architect  Emil Králíček at number 8.

-Peterka House From 1899 designed by Jan Kotěra, with beautiful floral art nouveau motifs in its façade it’s a residential building at number 12.

-Grand Hotel Europa From 1905 designed by Alois Dryák, at number 25-27. It’s by all means one of the most remakable buildings in the square and perhaps the most beautiful in art-nouveau style.

-Wiehl House From 1895 designed by Jan Zeyer and ideas from Antonin Wiehl, the owner of the site. It’s one of the finest examples of neo-renaissance architecture. Sited at number 34.

-Melantrich Building Next to the Wiehl House is this imponent art-nouveau style building from 1914, once the largest publishing house in the country, nowadays a luxurious hotel. Sited at number 36.

-Hotel Adria From 1914 is one of the most historical hotels in the city.

-National Theatre First opened in 1881 in commemoration of the visit of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and partly rebuilt after a fire that occurred days after, reopened in 1883, closing only for renovation in 1977. It’s one of the most prestigious and beautiful opera houses in the world.

-Charles Square It’s one of the largest squares in the world, and largest Medieval square in Europe. Major transport hub in the city, easily reached by metro at Karlovo Náměstí station.

-New Town Hall Built in 1419 was the administrative centre of the New Town.

-Saint Ignatius of Loyola In early Baroque style from the second half of the 17th century. Considered the third largest Jesuit complex in Europe.

-Church of St. John of Nepomuk on the Rock Built in 1738 on a terrain higher than the surrounding one hence the characteristic stairs and visual beauty.

-Jubilee Synagogue The largest in Prague built in 1906 in Moorish revival style.

-Emmaus Monastery Meant to be from its conception the only Benedictine monastery in all Slavic Europe, established in 1347 was badly damaged during the war in 1945 hence the interesting steel roof added in the refurbishment in 1960.

-Riverside Promenade Where you will find a succession of elegant and luxurious apartment buildings from early 20th century, most of them in art-nouveau style.

-Dancing Building Is one of the most shocking and brilliant additions to the city. The constructivism design of Frank Gehry and built in 1996. Controversial at the beginning, extremely famed and loved nowadays.

-Hlavní Nádraží (Central Train Station) An art-nouveau masterpiece designed by Josef Fanta and finished in 1909 replacing an existing neo-classical structure.

  • Výstaviště Where is the main exhibition hall in the city, and also an amusement park, planetarium, park and concert area.

-Industrial Palace Is the highlight of the exhibition area, designed by Bedřich Münzberger in 1891 is the largest art-nouveau building in Prague.

-Křižík’s Light Fountain Also built for the occasion of the 1891 exhibition, and rebuilt in 1920 was unique in Europe as being the first sound and light fountain.

Transports:

Václav Havel airport is 20 kilometres to the north west of the city. The cheapest way to get to the centre is by bus for 32 CZK per way (not even £1) if buying the ticket at the vending machines or kiosk on the arrivals terminal, or 40 CZK if buying from the  driver. Buses  119 or AE depart direction Dejvická station on line A of the metro, while bus 100 goes to Zličín metro station on line B. At night bus 510 is the only choice, with direction Jiráskovo Náměstí or I.P.Pavlova near the city centre. All buses take around 40 minutes on average to reach the destination, and allow you to interchange to metro or trams within the hour after validating the ticket. A more expensive option are the Airport Buses running every 30 minutes for 60 CZK.

Prague is very well connected to the neighbouring European countries by train. The likes of you arriving to the city by train if you are on a Central European tour are high. In fact in my 2009 visit we departed Prague for Vienna by train taking less than 5 hours, saving you more time than if having to fly. Warsaw, Budapest, Bratislava, Munich and more are all frequently connected.

Within the city there is a wide network of metro, trams and buses covering literally every corner. The fastest way to move around is without doubt the metro, although it’s not very extensive. Trams in the other hand are at almost any street a tourist would ever need to go and therefore very convenient.

Should you be staying 3 days and over then consider getting a travel card. Those are sold either for 24h, or 3 and 5 days. It will definitely save you money than having to buy separate tickets each time, and also giving you more flexibility as you will be more likely to take public transportation if you hold one of those card. In any case if your hotel is in the centre, you don’t really need a travel card as you will be visiting the city by foot most of the time.

Accommodation:

There is an impressive wide choice of hotels in the city for everyone’s taste and desire. Finding a good deal should not be difficult, but bearing in mind it is one of the most visited cities in Europe by tourists, expect prices to be higher than elsewhere and specially during high season months. Still, if booking well in advance you can find nice prices for good hotels. As usual, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.comAgoda, OpodoLateRooms or Ebookers.

Update 1st November 2015. Since we’ve been back to Prague on this weekend, there is another hotel that I can strongly recommend to further consider if you are looking at where to best stay. Hotel Elite, in Ostrovni 32, Nove Mesto. A very nice 4* property right in the middle of the “New Town”, at the foot of Malá Strana District in the north and Wenceslas Square to the east, hence great central location. Easy to walk everywhere from the hotel without the need to take public transportation. The staff was very attentive and polite at all the times, the interior decor boasts historic and modern fittings in a beautiful old building dating from the 14th century. Very comfortable large bed and nice size and quiet bedroom. The breakfast was also very nice with a large choice of both East European and more traditional western foods.

Our stay in July 2014 was a bit different to what we are used to do on short breaks. Since it was my birthday weekend, this trip was more of a treat than the usual sightseeing and tiredness after all. Well, we visited the city before and for longer time therefore we knew all the sights and could concentrate in enjoying the city at slower pace without any rush to see anything precise. We stayed at the 5* Art Deco Imperial Hotel, in Na Porici 15, Nove Mesto (New Town). As from the name you could guess, it was an impressive early 20th century art-nouveau style building, and not only in its façade but the whole interior and every fitting and detail. All absolutely original. The facilities were immaculate, and so the service, comfort, staff and massive breakfast choice. Another great point is the location, right in the middle on the city therefore walking distance to any sight in the New and Old Towns. As explained before, this was basically a treat, not something we normally do even if we wish.

As for the 2009 visit, we stayed at the 4* Art Hotel Meda (formerly known as the Denisa Hotel), in Narodni Orbrany 33. Not far from the Prague Castle minutes away walking, and next to the Dejvicka metro station. Really nice property on a quiet area of the city. Comfortable and decent size bedrooms, friendly and helpful staff and nice breakfast.

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