Prague is the capital of Czech Republic, a city with something for everyone.It’s beauty rivals even Paris, its history spans a millennium and its home to some of the best beer in Europe. It is one of the continent’s premier destinations, combining glorious architecture, lively beer gardens, medieval lanes, riverside parks, interesting museums, a thrilling history and a cosmopolitan vibe that sweeps you off your feet. No matter how long you stay, you will always wish it was longer.
Best Time to Visit
The best times to visit Prague are the spring and early fall when the weather is mild and there are fewer crowds. Because of the city’s generally chilly climate, the warmer summer months see the largest influx of tourists.
Top Places to Visit in Prague
1. Prague Castle
Prague Castle, 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. At night the lights from Prague Castle glow in a range of hues. Basing yourself in the vicinity is a good idea so you can experience the city highlights by day and night.
2. Charles Bridge
One of the most recognizable old bridges in Europe, magnificent Charles Bridge (Karluv 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. 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.
3. The Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock
The historic center of Prague, the Old Town, is where you’ll find the splendid Old Town Square (Staromestské námestí), 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, home to the wonderful early 15th-century Astronomical Clock: 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.
4. St. Vitus Cathedral
Within the grounds of Prague Castle, the Roman Catholic St. Vitus Cathedral is the Czech Republic’s largest and most important Christian church. Seat of the Archbishop of Prague, it’s also home to the tombs of numerous saints and three Bohemian kings. Founded on the site of a Romanesque rotunda built in 925 AD, the cathedral was started in 1344 and took more than 525 years to complete, resulting in a mix of modern Neo-Gothic and 14th-century Gothic styles, along with Baroque and Renaissance influences. Be sure to make the climb up the cathedral’s 97-meter main tower for splendid views over Prague.
5. The Church of Our Lady before Týn
One of Prague’s most recognizable buildings is the Church of Our Lady before Týn, usually abbreviated to simply Týn Church. Unmistakable for its twin 80-meter-tall spires flanking each side of the building (each supporting four smaller spires), its main entrance is through a narrow passage past the houses obscuring its façade. Although completed in the 15th century, the church was altered numerous times through the centuries as the city’s allegiances changed, and while interior renovations are ongoing, there’s still much worth seeing, including numerous fine tombs, the superb Gothic northern portal with its Crucifixion sculpture, early Baroque altarpiece paintings dating from 1649, and one of Europe’s finest 17th-century pipe organs. Afterwards, be sure to explore the 11th-century Ungelt Courtyard behind the church with its many fine restaurants and cafés.
6. The National Gallery in Prague
Spread across some of the city’s most important architectural landmarks, the National Gallery in Prague is home to some of Europe’s most important art collections. The bulk of the collection is housed in the Veletrzní Palace, 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.
7. Prague Zoo
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.
8. The Hilltop Fortress: Vyšehrad
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 Hradcany). Although now largely ruins, the fortress is a wonderful place for a stroll or picnic and offers superb views of the surrounding city.
9. The National Theatre
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.