Prague is the equal of Paris in terms of beauty. Its history goes back a millennium. And the beer? The best in Europe.
The 1989 Velvet Revolution that freed the Czechs from communism bequeathed to Europe a gem of a city to stand beside stalwarts such as Rome, Paris and London. Not surprisingly, visitors from around the world have come in droves, and on a hot summer's day it can feel like you’re sharing Charles Bridge with half of humanity. But even the crowds can’t take away from the spectacle of a 14th-century stone bridge, a hilltop castle and a lovely, lazy river – the Vltava – that inspired one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of 19th-century classical music, Smetana’s Moldau symphony.
Art All Around
Prague's art galleries may not have the allure of the Louvre, but Bohemian art offers much to admire, from the glowing Gothic altarpieces in the Convent of St Agnes, to the luscious art nouveau of Alfons Mucha, and the magnificent collection of 20th-century surrealists, cubists and constructivists in the Veletržní Palác. The weird and witty sculpture of David Černý punctuates Prague's public spaces, and the city itself offers a smorgasbord of stunning architecture, from the soaring verticals of Gothic and the exuberance of baroque to the sensual elegance of art nouveau and the chiselled cheekbones of cubist facades.
Where Beer is God
The best beer in the world just got better. Since the invention of Pilsner Urquell in 1842, the Czechs have been famous for producing some of the world's finest brews. But the internationally famous brand names – Urquell, Staropramen and Budvar – have been equalled, and even surpassed, by a bunch of regional Czech beers and microbreweries that are catering to a renewed interest in traditional brewing. Never before have Czech pubs offered such a wide range of brews – names you'll now have to get your head around include Kout na Šumavě, Primátor, Únětice and Matuška.
Prague's maze of cobbled lanes and hidden courtyards is a paradise for the aimless wanderer, always beckoning you to explore a little further. Just a few blocks away from the Old Town Square you can stumble across ancient chapels, unexpected gardens, cute cafes and old-fashioned bars with hardly a tourist in sight. One of the great joys of the city is its potential for exploration – neighbourhoods such as Vinohrady and Bubeneč can reward the urban adventurer with countless memorable cameos, from the setting sun glinting off church domes, to the strains of Dvořák wafting from an open window.
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Built over a time span of almost 600 years, St Vitus is one of the most richly endowed cathedrals in central Europe. It is pivotal to the religious and cultural life of Czechia, housing treasures that range from the 14th-century mosaic of the Last Judgement and the tombs of St Wenceslas and Charles IV, to the baroque silver tomb of St John of Nepomuk, the ornate Chapel of St Wenceslas and art-nouveau stained glass by Alfons Mucha.
Strolling across Charles Bridge is everybody’s favourite Prague activity. However, by 9am it’s a 500m-long fairground, with an army of tourists squeezing through a gauntlet of hawkers and buskers beneath the impassive gaze of the baroque statues that line the parapets. If you want to experience the bridge at its most atmospheric, try to visit it at dawn.
Prague’s most popular attraction. Looming above the Vltava's left bank, its serried ranks of spires, towers and palaces dominate the city centre like a fairy-tale fortress. Within its walls lies a varied and fascinating collection of historic buildings, museums and galleries that are home to some of Czechia's greatest artistic and cultural treasures. Note that visitors must pass through a security check before entering the grounds, so bring your passport or EU identification card.
This museum consists of six Jewish monuments clustered together in Josefov: the Maisel Synagogue; the Pinkas Synagogue; the Spanish Synagogue; the Klaus Synagogue; the Ceremonial Hall; and the Old Jewish Cemetery. There is also the Old-New Synagogue, which is still used for religious services, and requires a separate ticket or additional fee.
Strahov Library is the largest monastic library in the country, with two magnificent baroque halls dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. You can peek through the doors but, sadly, you can’t go into the halls themselves – it was found that fluctuations in humidity caused by visitors’ breath were endangering the frescoes. There's also a display of historical curiosities.
Prague’s most exuberantly art-nouveau building is a labour of love, with every detail of its design and decoration carefully considered, and every painting and sculpture loaded with symbolism. The restaurant and cafe here are like walk-in museums of art-nouveau design, while upstairs there are half a dozen sumptuously decorated halls that you can visit by guided tour. You can look around the lobby and the downstairs bar for free, or book a guided tour in the information centre.
While this monument's massive functionalist structure has all the elegance of a nuclear power station, the interior is a spectacular extravaganza of polished art-deco marble, gilt and mosaics, and is home to a fascinating museum of 20th-century Czechoslovak history.
The Old Royal Palace is one of the oldest parts of Prague Castle, dating from 1135. It was originally used only by Czech princesses, but from the 13th to the 16th centuries it was the king’s own palace. At its heart is the grand Vladislav Hall and the Bohemian Chancellery, scene of the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618.
More a broad boulevard than a typical European city square, Wenceslas Square has witnessed a great deal of Czech history – a giant Mass was held here during the revolutionary upheavals of 1848; in 1918 the creation of the new Czechoslovak Republic was celebrated here; and it was here in 1989 that many anticommunist protests took place. Originally a medieval horse market, the square was named after Bohemia's patron saint during the nationalist revival of the mid-19th century.