Why to Prague
How would you best describe a city with a one thousand year history and renowned for its stunning architecture? A city associated with many important historical figures which has been central to the history of the Czech state; a city whose beauty amazed people as far back as medieval times. Prague has earned many titles over the years and words such as magical, majestic and golden have been used in its description. It is often dubbed the city of one hundred spires and, indeed, Prague can be one hundred times different. The panoramic views of the city are adorned with beautiful palaces and decorative town houses in the historic areas of the Old, New and the Lesser Towns and the Hradčany quarter.
What makes Prague so unique?
Regardless of the many poetic descriptions bestowed upon Prague what really makes the city different is that it is a living textbook of European architectural styles. The city’s thrilling repertoire includes Romanesque rotundas, Gothic towers and cathedrals, Renaissance town houses and palaces, Jewish synagogues, Baroque churches and monasteries and Cubist and Art Nouveau monuments. All of this and more can be found in the protected historic centre of Prague which comprises 866 hectares. The area was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992.
Royal Way through Prague
If you are unfortunate enough to have only one day to explore Prague, then the best option is to set out on a stroll along the Royal Way. The pleasant walk through the city centre starts in front of the Municipal House which is the most spectacular and the most expensive of Prague´s Art Nouveau buildings. The Municipal House is used today as a popular gallery and concert hall.
From there you pass under the Powder Tower and after a few metres you are in for a surprise: you might well be familiar with Cubist paintings but perhaps not Cubist houses? One of the world´s first examples of Cubist architecture is the House of the Black Madonna.
Carry on along Celetna Street, with its historic palaces, and after a few minutes you will reach the magical Old Town Square. It was here where dramatic tournaments were held in the medieval period, where 27 Czech noblemen were beheaded during the Thirty Years’ War and where people listened to the announcement of the establishment of the first communist government in 1948. This is where history was written.
Today´s visitors mostly come here to admire the Gothic TynChurch and the Old Town Hall with the famous astronomical clock. There is a captivating procession of statues of the apostles when the astronomical clock strikes every hour which is well worth waiting for.
Karlova Street will then take you to Charles Bridge. One of the symbols of Prague, the bridge has spanned the Vltava River since 1357. During the 18th century the leading sculptors of the time decorated the bridge with beautiful statues. Don´t forget to stop by the statue of the Czech Saint John of Nepomuk and make a wish. It is said that if you place your hand on the brass cross so that all of your fingers are touching the stars your wish will come true. Enjoy the wonderful views of the river and then walk to the Lesser Town.
In Nerudova Street you will notice the poetic house signs such as “By three fiddles” or “By two suns”. At Hradcanske Square stop to watch the changing of guards before entering the first courtyard of the largest castle complex in the world – The Prague Castle. If you have time to spare make sure you visit the monumental Gothic St Vitus Cathedral or the Old Royal Palace which houses a fascinating exhibition entitled “The Story of Prague Castle.”
Prague: at the crossroads of cultures
In the first half of the 19th Century Prague was a place of co-existence and the cross-fertilisation of three different cultures: Czech, German and Jewish. Franz Kafka as a Jewish-German-Czech writer is probably the most famous example of the connection of these cultures although at the time it was regarded as nothing unusual. The harmonious co-existence which lasted several centuries was shattered by the Second World War. Take a wander through the streets of the old Jewish Town and try to picture the ghetto which dates back to medieval times. The Old-New Synagogue has a long history going back to the 13th Century and is one of the longest continually used synagogues in Europe. Considerably younger is the Spanish Synagogue, built in the Spanish Moorish style popular in the 19th Century. There are other synagogues (eg The Jubilee Synagogue – the only one decorated in the style of Viennese Art Nouveau) and Jewish cemeteries in Prague.
Prague’s cultural marathon
If you go to Prague with someone who enjoys visiting museums, galleries or attending concerts, you will be in for a real cultural marathon. You can choose from hundreds of galleries in the city. There is modern Czech and international art to admire at Rudolfinum, an extensive selection of Czech art ranging from the Romanesque period to contemporary work at the National Gallery and a series of fascinating exhibitions at the City Gallery Prague. Renowned composers Dvorak, Janacek and Smetana earned Czech music true immortality and you can enjoy their works in their homeland. There are stunning music halls in Rudolfinum, at the Municipal House, the Theatre of the Estates or The State Opera. Theatre lovers will certainly not be overlooked in Prague and there is no need to worry about the language barrier. The unique black theatres combine film, dance and pantomime without the need for understanding Czech.
The Festivals of Prague
The Bohemian Carnevale Festival brings the ancient tradition of carnival back to Prague. Various music festivals take over for the rest of the year: Prague Spring, Prague Proms, Autumn Strings,and Easter and Christmas festivals… A relaxing atmosphere and great music take over Prague´s islands during the United Islands Festival. Film enthusiasts love the independent cinemas such as Aero, Svetozor or Lucerna which regularly show fantastic films not screened at the multiplexes. Prague Food Festival regularly showcases gastronomic treats and the Czech Beer Festival celebrates exquisite Czech beer. One of the main sports events of the year in Prague is the long-established Prague International Marathon.
To design a new building amidst the architectural treasures built over the centuries is not an easy task and that´s why you will not find very many modern buildings in the historic centre of the city. The building boom was predominantly a little further out of the centre or at the outskirts of Prague where there are numerous new business and shopping centres. Striking modern buildings by Jean Nouvel (Andel) and Frank Gehry (Dancing House) represent bold statements by private investors rather than the local authority. A fine example of contemporary art is the work of Czech artist David Cerny who shocked many by his Entropa sculpture during the Czech presidency of the EU. His controversial works are popular among visitors: including babies climbing up the Zizkov TV tower, the hanging horse in the Lucerna passage or the bronze men peeing messages in a fountain the shape of the Czech Republic in the yard of Hergetova cihelna.
When is best to go to Prague?
Statistics show that most visitors come to Prague during the summer. The autumn, spring and winter are no less attractive seasons to visit the Czech capital, however, and it is certainly less busy. At Easter and Christmas, in particular, Prague takes on its festive face and the popular markets and cultural programmes in its many squares create a truly unique atmosphere.
Where to go shopping?
Shopping in Prague is easy and enjoyable. The area around Wenceslas Square and the nearby Na Prikope Street is home to many of the world´s leading fashion brands. Parizska Street is the place to be for those looking for luxurious boutiques and designer stores. The Prague Metro will take you to the numerous shopping malls which offer everything from clothes to furniture under one roof. Should your heart desire an original gift then as well as Czech costume jewellery, crystal glass and wooden toys you should look out for Czech fashion and design. The Czech Fashion Centre in the city centre is home to the boutiques of the leading Czech fashion designers. Original designer pieces can be purchased in the following stores: Kubista, Futurista.
Where to stay, where to eat?
There is no other place in the Czech Republic with such a wide selection of hotels and restaurants as Prague. Luxurious hotel chains such as Four Seasons, Hilton, Sheraton, Mandarin Oriental and Kempinski are all represented in the city alongside hundreds of other 5*, 4* and 3* hotels and guest houses. Many other charming restaurants with Czech and international chefs also strive to raise the profile of Czech cuisine. The Czech Specials branded restaurant focus on specialties of the regional cuisine.
Prague from all angles
Where are the most famous pictures of Prague taken? Prague´s bridges are best captured from the Letna Park. Discover the stunning views of the Old Town from Prague Castle or from the top of Prague´s Eiffel Tower – the Petrin view tower. The Zizkov TV Tower offers an even better view and on a good day you will be able to see as far as 100 kilometres. There are more views to capture on your camera at Vysehrad and original pictures of Prague can also be obtained during the visit to Prague´s underground.