Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, as well as the historical capital of Bohemia.
Prague is a city with a rich history. Founded during the Romanesque period, it has been a political, cultural and economic centre of activity throughout its more than 1,000-year existence. Through good times and bad, Prague as a city has survived and thrived.
I first visited Prague with my parents in 1995. I was nine and to say my memories are limited is being generous. I have very vague memories of relatives showing us the Castle and walking along Charles Bridge, but everything else is a bit of a mishmash blur.
So, when we had the chance to explore the Czech city in March it felt like I was exploring the city for the first time, but also like I was visiting an old friend.
We hadn’t planned for such a short visit to Prague, but thanks to flight delays and bus schedules we were left with little time, so we had to make the most of it seeing as much as we could in just one day.
We arrived late Friday evening and after checking into our AirBnB, it was dark and we had little time to do anything but eat and plan our approach for the following day.
The next morning we were up bright and early. After a quick breakfast, we were off to Old Town Square to join the SANDEMANs Free Walking Tour. Over the course of three hours, our lovely guide showed us the city and shared with us it’s history, stories and legends.
Old Town Square
Our day in Prague started in Old Town Square, which was filled to the brim with people marvelling at the sights and shopping the Easter Markets that were set-up throughout. It was hard not to be taken by the beauty of the Square, which is lined with buildings in both the Gothic and Baroque style – for architecture buffs, it’s definitely a can’t-miss location!
The Square is the centre of Prague’s history; it is the home to the famous Prague Orloj, the Old Town Hall, as well as St. Nicholas’ Church. It’s a tourism hub and home to some of the most beautiful gothic architecture I’ve seen throughout Europe.
Prague Orloj (or the Astronomical Clock)
Our next stop was Prague Orloj or the Astronomical Clock.
The clock was first installed in 1410, and it is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world, and the oldest one still in operation.
As per Wikipedia: “The clock mechanism itself is composed of three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; “The Walk of the Apostles”, a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures—notably a figure of Death (represented by a skeleton) striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.”
Every hour on the hour, hundreds of people gather in front of the clock to watch “the Walk of the Apostles.” They sometimes wait for nearly an hour to see what amounts to a 60-second show.
Although it is ranked as one of the most overrated tourist attractions in Prague I was a bit sad we didn’t have a chance to see “the Walk of the Apostles” and witness the clock in action.
Even without seeing “the Walk”, the clock itself is a thing of beauty. We spent a good ten minutes standing in front of it admiring the detail as our guide explained the significance of the various pieces, the figurines, and sharing some of the many legends surrounding the clock.
Wenceslas Square is one of the main squares in Prague.
Throughout history, it has been the site of many events including demonstrations, celebrations and public gatherings. It was in Wenceslas Square that Czechoslovakian independence was proclaimed in 1918. In 1945, it was the site of the Prague Uprising. And, in 1969, student Jan Palash set himself on fire in the Square to protest the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union.
Today, Wenceslas Square is the centre of the business and cultural communities in the New Town. It is home to the famous Hotel Evropa and the Czech National Museum, a grand neoclassical building, which punctuates the square.
One the day we visited, the Square was home to an Easter market. Locals and tourists alike wandered the boulevard exploring the market, sampling the delicious foods, and enjoying the brass band was set-up. The square was alive with people happily buzzing about.
Following the tour, we took off across the Vltava River and started the long trek up to Prague Castle. As we climbed the steep hill (very slowly), we took in the views of the red roofs that are so iconic to the city.
Up and up we walked until we reached the top and began to explore. Prague Castle is said to be the largest castle in the world at 570 metres in length and an average of about 130 metres wide (as per Wikipedia). Prague Castle is the official residence of the Czech president, and throughout history has also been a seat of power for kings of Bohemia and Holy Roman emperors.
Following a quick stop for lunch and a beer (we were in the Czech Republic after all!) it was time to make our way across the historic, iconic Charles Bridge.
The bridge was originally built in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV (source). It is 621 metres long and nearly 10 metres wide. The Charles Bridge is one of many that span the Vltava River, but it’s the 30 statues and statuaries of various saints and patron saints that line the walls that make it Prague’s most famous.
As I mentioned above, I have vague childhood memories of crossing the bridge, and this most recent experience couldn’t have been more different from what I remember.
It was mid-afternoon when we crossed the bridge, and it was packed. From wall to wall, top to bottom, Charles Bridge was filled with people. There were so many people that it was difficult to walk at a pace faster than a shuffle, and hard to get a good view of any of the statues that line the bridge.
It was a bit disappointing, but to be expected—it was a Saturday afternoon after all.
Although we were a bit underwhelmed with our crossing, Charles Bridge is definitely something you need to check out if you’re visiting Prague. Don’t make the same mistake that we did and visit mid-day. The bridge is typically less busy early in the morning and in the evening, so plan to visit at either end of the day to beat the crowds.
The Dancing House
Our final stop of the day was the Dancing House, which is located a few minutes down the river from the old town, Charles Bridge, etc.
The Dancing House (or Fred and Ginger as it’s sometimes called) is the nickname given to the Nationale-Nederlanden building. Designed by architects Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry, the building was built in the 1990s on the site of a house that was destroyed by the U.S. bombing of Prague in 1945, next to a plot of land that was co-owned by the family of former president, Václav Havel.
Built in the deconstructivist, or new-baroque style, the design of the house was meant to depict the “static and dynamic (“yin and yang”), which were to symbolise the transition of Czechoslovakia from a communist regime to a parliamentary democracy.” (source)
Although controversial when it was built, the house is now celebrated by Czech citizens and is even featured on a gold 2,000 Czech koruna coin.
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