After spending a month in Prague, I can tell you that some of the greatest places in the city are not touted in the guidebooks. Prague is a beautiful, expansive city filled with a jumble of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, and it has seen over a thousand years of fascinating history. One of the most well-preserved cities in Central and Eastern Europe, Prague is worth a visit for anyone touring Europe.
Although I’m still not done exploring Prague, I have a friend visiting me next weekend, and I need to show him the best of the city in three days. So, I came up with a list of the best places to visit in Prague, some of them touristy, others less so.
1. Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral – Prague Castle is the seat of the Czech national government – essentially Prague’s version of the White House. It is one of the largest castle complexes in Europe, and it includes several museums, St. Vitus, an amazing monastery, interesting shops and restaurants, and plenty of other gems hiding among its passages. St. Vitus Cathedral, which was begun in 1344, is a prime example of Gothic architecture. Construction halted during the 15th century and wasn’t finished until the mid-19th century, when the cathedral was finished in a Neo-Gothic style. The stained glass windows, the façade, and the Baroque altars inside are all absolutely breathtaking! It’s worth braving the tourists!
2. Petrin Hill – Petrin is a large park in Mala Strana (Minor Town, or The Lesser Quarter), located across the river from Old Town. Petrin is home to an observation tower, beautiful gardens, and a house of mirrors. From the top of the hill, you can see all of Prague! And you can either walk up to the top, or take the funicular (a tram) up the hill from Ujezd.
3. Vysehrad – A fortress most likely built in the 10th century. Within its ancient walls are an historic cemetery with the remains of many famous Czechs, the Church of St. Peter and Paul, the Rotunda of St. Martin (which dates from the 11th century), and a pleasant park. The outer walls of the Vysehrad have a great panoramic view of Prague, and the quiet park, along with a few cafes and restaurants, make the Vysehrad a perfect place to spend a warm afternoon.
4. Charles Bridge (Karlov most) – Built by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in the 14th century. Crowded with tourists by day, but awesome view of Prague at night!
5. Jewish Quarter (Josefov) – The former Jewish Quarter in Old Town was the Jewish ghetto of Prague, and it includes the Jewish Museum, the Jewish Cemetery, the Old-New Synagogue, and several other interesting sites relating to Prague’s Jewish history. The Jewish Cemetery contains some of the oldest graves in all of Prague, and the Old-New Synagogue, built in 1270, is Europe’s oldest active synagogue.
6. Kampa Museum – Situated on the Kampa Island’s park (a small island connected to Mala Strana), the Kampa Museum has modern art installations inside it and all along the riverbank in the park. See David Černý’s bizarre babies with bar codes for faces, as well as a row of bright yellow penguins, and a few other interesting modern art pieces. Kampa Park itself is beautiful, with a picturesque view along the Vltava River.
7. Letna Beer Garden – It’s just a little beer and food stand on the eastern end of Letna Gardens, a park in one of the outer neighborhoods, Holesovice. A calm place to get away from the tourists in Old Town! Open from 11 am to 11:30 pm from June to September, this is the perfect place to sit outside, drink a beer, and take in an amazing view of Prague (especially at night)!
8. Lennon Wall – Set up in 1980 by a rebellious group of Prague students, the wall originally commemorated Lennon’s untimely death with a painting of him. The Communist police repeatedly tried to whitewash the wall, but people would come during the night, inspired by the Beatles’ music (which had been banned), and graffiti the wall over and over. Now it holds lyrics and messages of peace and love, and the graffiti changes every day!
9. Strahov Monastery – located inside the Prague Castle complex, this monastery deserves a special mention. It functioned from its founding in the 12th century until the Communists took power, when all the monks were thrown in prison. They have since come back, and the monastery is open to the public for only 80 Kc (a little over $ 4). Their two libraries are extremely fascinating, with ornate frescoes on the ceilings and books dating back to the 9thand 10th centuries. They also have “Cabinets of Curiosities” filled with interesting artifacts and fossils donated by travelers and monks alike.
10. Church of Our Lady Before Týn – Right on Old Town Square in the center of Prague, Týn Church is a great example of Gothic architecture, with stunning Baroque altars to many different saints on the inside. Although it’s right off Old Town Square, the passage to it is a bit hidden and not as many tourists venture there! Of course Old Town Square itself is a must-see when you come to Prague, just beware of pick-pockets waiting to prey on tourists.
By: Rebecca Baird-Remba
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Rebecca Baird-Remba is a staff writer at AllMediaNY.com.