Top 10 Prague
In Prague's Hradčany neighborhood, Prague Castle (Pražský hrad), once the home of Bohemia's kings, is today the official residence of the Czech Republic's President and one of the city's most visited tourist attractions. Originally built as a walled fortress around 970 AD, the castle has changed dramatically over the years and contains examples of most of the leading architectural styles of the last millennium. Within the castle walls are a number of Prague's most popular tourist sites, including St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George's Basilica, the Powder Tower, the Old Royal Palace, and the Golden Lane. The largest ancient castle in the world, this vast complex requires considerable time to tour, but it's time well spent (particularly rewarding are the excellent views over the Vltava River with the old town and its countless spires in the background). Highlights include the Old Royal Palace's main hall, the Vladislav Hall, so large it could be used for jousting tournaments, and staircases wide enough to allow mounted knights to use them. Be sure to also spend time in the Royal Garden, dating back to 1534 and home to a number of superb buildings including the Ball Game Pavilion, the Royal Summer House with its Singing Fountain, and the Lion's Court. (English language guided tours are available.)
Address: 119 08 Praha 1
One of the most recognizable old bridges in Europe, magnificent Charles Bridge (Karlův Most) boasts 32 unique points of interest along its 520-meter span. Built in 1357, the bridge has long been the subject of a great deal of superstition, including the builders having laid the initial bridge stone on the 9th of July at exactly 5:31am, a precise set of numbers (135797531) believed to give the structure additional strength (for added good measure, it was constructed in perfect alignment with the tomb of St. Vitus and the setting sun on the equinox). The bridge is famous for its many fine old statues. Among the most important are that of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and that of John of Nepomuk, the country's most revered saint, unveiled in 1683 (a more recent superstition involves rubbing the plaque at the base of the statue for the granting of a wish). Other highlights include spectacular views over the River Vltava and the structure's superb Gothic gates.
The Clementinum (Klementinum), one of the largest collections of historic buildings in Europe, is home to the National Library of the Czech Republic. These beautiful Baroque buildings were originally part of a Jesuit College, and later came to house the Jesuit book collection as well as the collection from the Karolinum. The library eventually became the property of the state after the Jesuits were expelled, and the Clementinum became a public library in 1782 shortly after being constituted as the National Library. With more than six million books, the Clementinum's collection is huge and includes copies of every book published in the Czech Republic. A highlight is the exquisite Baroque Library Hall with its beautiful ceiling artwork, the 68-meter-tall Astronomical Tower with its spectacular views over Prague, and the splendid Mirror Chapel with its exquisite décor. English language guided tours are available, and for a truly memorable experience, the Clementinum is also used as a venue for jazz and classical concerts.
Address: Mariánské náměstí 5, 110 00 Praha 1
Official site: www.klementinum.com/index.php?linkID=lnk6&lang=2
The historic center of Prague, the Old Town (Staré Město), is where you'll find the splendid Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí), one of the best places to begin exploring the city. Here you'll find the Tyn Church and the Clementinum, along with numerous other fine old churches, as well as splendid old architecture dating back as far as the 11th century, while the Jewish Quarter, Josefov, is just a short walk north. A highlight is the Old Town Hall (Staromestská radnice), home to the wonderful early 15th-century Astronomical Clock (orloj): each hour, it springs to life as the 12 Apostles and other figures appear and parade in procession across the clock face. Other Old Town Hall highlights are the Gothic doorway leading to its splendid interior with its art exhibits and displays, a chapel built in 1381, and an old prison. Be sure to make the ascent (by stairs or elevator) to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower for its fine views over Prague.
Address: Staroměstské náměstí, 110 00 Praha 1
Spread across some of the city's most important architectural landmarks, the National Gallery in Prague (Národní galerie v Praze) is home to some of Europe's most important art collections. The bulk of the collection is housed in the Veletrzní Palace (Veletrzní Palác), a relatively modern structure built in 1925 that holds the 19th- to 21st -century works. While there's a strong emphasis on Czech artists, foreign artists such as Monet and Picasso are included, as are other art forms such as photography, fashion, applied arts, and sculpture. Other notable works are held in the Kinsky Palace (Palác Kinskych), home to Asian art, art from the ancient world, and the gallery's Baroque collections; and at the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia where you'll find European art from the Middle Ages. Finally, the splendid 17th-century Sternberg Palace (Sternbersky Palác) houses some of the gallery's most famous pieces, focusing on European art from the Classical era to the end of the Baroque period and including important ancient Greek and Roman pieces; 14th- to 16th-century Italian masterpieces; and 16th- to 18th-century works by artists such as El Greco, Goya, Rubens, van Dyck, Rembrandt, and van Goyen.
Address: Staroměstské náměstí 12, 110 15 Praha 1
Official site: www.ngprague.cz/en/
The Prague Municipal House (Obecní dům) is widely considered one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau in the city. Built in 1912, this splendid civic building is also home to one of Prague's most important (and largest) concert venues, Smetana Hall, and boasts numerous striking features, from its sumptuous façade with a large mural on the arch above the second floor balcony to the large dome that rests behind and above the arch. The interior is equally impressive and includes many fine stained glass windows and important paintings. While English language guided tours are available (including a chance to see otherwise closed ceremonial rooms), one of the best ways to enjoy this landmark is to take in a concert or sample its café or restaurants.
Address: náměstí Republiky 5, 111 21 Praha 1
Official site: www.obecnidum.cz/en/
Opened in 1931, the superb Prague Zoo is not only one of the top attractions in the city, it also ranks among the world's top 10 zoological parks (based on visitor reviews). In the Troja suburbs just a short distance north of the city center, this 143-acre attraction is an especially fun outing for those traveling with kids. Along with its more than 4,800 animals representing some 700 species - including many considered close to extinction - the zoo is notable for its role in saving the native (and endangered) Przewalski's horse. Highlights include a chance to ride a chairlift with great views of many of the animal enclosures, a huge giraffe exhibit, the superb salamander display, and the steamy indoor tropical jungle.
Address: U trojského zámku 3/120, 171 00 Praha 7
Official site: www.zoopraha.cz/en
Prague's Jewish Quarter was originally located in the Castle District but by the 1200s had spread to the Josefov area and was for centuries regarded as a slum. Its transformation into one of the city's most important and interesting districts took place in the late 1800s when large sections were demolished to make way for Art Nouveau apartment buildings. Today, Josefov is a pleasant area to stroll and includes the Jewish Museum in Prague (Židovské muzeum v Praze), an important attraction that consists of the Maisel Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Ceremonial Hall, and the Klaus Synagogue.
Address: U staré školy 141/1, 110 00 Praha 1
Official site: www.jewishmuseum.cz/aindex.php
The Strahov Monastery and Library (Strahovsky kláster) dates back to the 12th century and is the second oldest monastery in Prague. While its imposing gateway and churches are impressive enough, its most important buildings are its two beautifully decorated Baroque libraries. The Philosophical Library contains a variety of extraordinary furnishings, along with an exquisite ceiling painted by Franz Anton Maulbertsch entitled Enlightenment. The second library, the Theological Library, consists of a splendid Baroque room with a beautiful ornate painted ceiling by Siard Nosecky, a Strahov Monk, along with superb ceiling frescoes framed by detailed stuccowork. The libraries contain many rare old volumes and manuscripts, including the famous 9th-century Strahov Gospel, while in the cellars are old printing presses along with the remains of St. Norbert, founder of the Premonstratensian Order. Also of note are the cloisters, which house a religious art collection and treasury.
Address: Strahovské nádvoří 1/132, 118 00 Praha 1
Official site: www.strahovskyklaster.cz/webmagazine/home.asp?idk=257
On picturesque Little Quarter Square, St. Nicholas Church (Malá Strana) is one of Prague's newer churches. Built by Jesuits in the 18th century, it's a fine example of High Baroque and is notable for its splendid interior with its unique 19th-century chandelier, as well as the large Baroque paintings by Czech painter Karel Skreta that adorn the huge cupola. The church also features a bell tower, which visitors are permitted to climb, from the top of which are great views over the church's huge dome and the old city. Try to time your visit to coincide with one of the regular concerts held here, including Mozart's Requiem and other notable classical pieces. (English language guided tours are available.)
Address: Malostranské náměstí, 118 00 Praha 1
Official site: www.stnicholas.cz/en/
Idyllically perched on the banks of the River Vltava, Prague's National Theatre is a must-visit for lovers of the performing arts. Home to the country's top opera, ballet, and drama performances, the National Theater was opened in 1881 as a symbol of Czech national identity and to promote the Czech language and culture. Despite a somewhat checkered past that saw the building destroyed by fire and even closed by the communists, this stunning theater has undergone extensive renovations and stands as a monument to the city's rich talent and cultural significance. (English language guided tours are available). Anther Prague theater of note is the Estates Theatre (Stavovské divaldo), built in the late 18th century in Neoclassical style and once a favorite of Mozart, who chose to premier Don Giovanni here.
Address: Národní 2, 110 00 Praha 1
Official site: www.narodni-divadlo.cz/en
Looking like something out of a fairytale, the Vyšehrad fortress stands high above the Vltava River overlooking Prague. Known to have been in existence as far back as the 10th century, it has long been the subject of myth and legend, including the foretelling of an ancient princess of the rising of a great city around it. Once the royal residence of Vratislav II, Vyšehrad also played a role as part of the original Royal Route taken by kings about to be crowned, who would have to stop here to pay tribute to their predecessors (the route led from Vyšehrad to Hradčany). Although now largely ruins, the fortress is a wonderful place for a stroll or picnic and offers superb views of the surrounding city.
Address: V pevnosti 159/5b, 128 00 Praha 2