Open the map and find a central European country nestled between Germany, Poland and Austria named the Czech Republic. The capitol city of this charming country is Prague, a city of over 1 million inhabitants who walk in the footsteps of history going back nearly 2,000 years. Prague is located centrally and has been a hub for traders across Europe for centuries. In the Middle Ages Prague was very wealthy and larger than London or Paris. It prospered under rulers from the beginning, like King Wenceslas, and later the Habsburgs (not to be confused with the Hapsburgs). But after WWII, Prague and the entire country suffered four decades of communism. In 1989, Prague and the Czech Republic became free and is thriving again. It is a most beautiful European city, capturing Gothic and Baroque in its architecture and many beautiful styles in between
I traveled there with my family a few summers ago. There was no direct flight from Dallas so a layover at London was required. We arrived very jet lagged at our beautiful hotel, The Alchemist. The rooms were spacious and ornately furnished with elegant antiques. I love a hotel that feels like old Europe. After dinner at the lovely outdoor restaurant across the street we went to bed to start our visit of Prague fresh the next day
Prague proved to be one of those cities you can visit for a week and have plenty to see and do. It was July and unseasonably hot for this usually climate-comfortable place. There was no air conditioning except in our hotel room so we were quite hot. That aside, Prague is very walkable though it does have a metro that you can ride. We walked everywhere with the exception of taking a tram to and from the castle from our hotel and a funicular up Petrin Hill.
We visited Prague Castle which overlooks the city from its fortress walls. It has beautiful rooms where the Ptemyslid kings once ruled. The gardens are lush and provide the perfect backdrop for pictures. Within the castle fortress is the huge Saint Vitus’ Cathedral which is over 600 years old and houses the crypts of the Bohemian kings and Catholic rulers. Inside the cathedral is also St. Wenceslas’ tomb.
Strolling through Old Town Square was a sightseeing destination of its own. Most everything built here dates back to the 1300’s and 1400’s. There is a big cobblestoned square and a fascinating astronomical clock that has been working since 1572. Every hour, tourists gather to watch the clock toll and roosters crow, wooden dancers perform and the bells ring out the time. The clock is not just for telling time, it keeps track of the planets movements around the earth.
The Charles Bridge is one of Prague’s biggest tourist attractions. This medieval bridge over the Vltava River is adorned with spectacular statues of imposing figures from the Holy Roman Empire and Czech leaders. Its two towers at either end with their tall pointy rooflines puncture the sky and can be seen from all around the city giving us directions as we walked.
One of the prettiest parts of Prague is the Jewish Quarter. The buildings are a bit newer but beautifully adorned and clean. Very upscale shopping can be found here- like Chanel and Rolex. But it is important to go visit the Old Jewish Cemetery with its 200,000 tombstones crammed together. The Old-New synagogue is interesting with the story of the Golem that lived in the attic and was reported to have scared away Nazi soldiers.
During our stay we toured the Loreto, a shrine to the Virgin Mary, Wenceslas Square, St. Agnes’s Convent, Kampa Island, the National Gallery and the Franz Kafka house. A fun place for a picnic and outdoor stroll is Petrin Hill. We rode a funicular to get to the top. It is lush with trees and walking paths. One path leads right to the castle through a vineyard overlooking the city. There is a replica of the Eiffel Tower on Petrin Hill but it is only ¼ as big as its Paris counterpart.
The food in the Czech Republic was really delicious. It is typical of eastern European fare like schnitzel, ham, sausages, dumplings and potatoes. However, there are many sophisticated restaurants throughout the city serving all types of international cuisine.
The Czech Republic still maintains its own currency called Hellars and Korunas. Some tourist mistakenly think all of Europe is on the euro, but that is not the case. Prague is becoming popular with tourists so although it is still not as expensive as the large western European cities to visit, prices are going up.
So Open the Map! Find Prague and plan your visit to this city of architecture, history, Good King Wenceslas and cobblestoned squares where beauty abounds at every turn.