Prague Travel guide
Prague Travel guide (06. Aug 2008)
Author: Fred Mawer
Prague Travel guide
Visually, the Czech Republic’s capital is in many ways impossible to improve. The Stare Mesto and Mala Strana districts, either side of the Vltava River, together form one of Europe’s best preserved old city centres, with virtually every street an uplifting symphony of cobbles and extravagant Renaissance and baroque architecture.
And Prague is not just pleasing to the eye. It’s also a great city-break destination for classical concerts – wherever you are, you’ll hear the strains of Smetana and Dvořák wafting out of churches and upstairs windows – and for atmospheric cafés and pubs (and cheap beer).
But these days there’s no need to hole up with a Pilsner in a no-frills beer hall. Since the Velvet Revolution back in 1989, the city has transformed itself into a prosperous, sophisticated destination, with more than its fair share of glamorous cocktail bars, fancy restaurants and designer hotels.
1. Charles Bridge
For much of the day, the 14th-century pedestrian connection linking Stare Mesto and Mala Strana is thronged with buskers, beggars, caricaturists and tourists. So, if you can, stroll its length late at night or before breakfast, when you’ll have just the bridge’s blackened statues for company and an unimpeded view of the castle etched on the skyline. In the warmer months you can climb up into the old bridge towers (April-November 10am-6pm).
2. Prague Castle
Encompassing a series of interconnected courtyards, lovely gardens, the Gothic St Vitus’s Cathedral, the medieval cottages of Golden Lane (where Kafka briefly lived), plus many other historic buildings and several museums, the massive complex requires half a day to do it justice. Don’t miss the Story of Prague Castle, a permanent large-scale exhibition that opened last year in the Old Royal Palace.
During the day, the castle is always mobbed. To truly appreciate its haunting Kafkaesque quality, return in the evening. You do not need a ticket to access the courtyards, which stay open to midnight (11pm in winter).
00 420 224 373 368/224 372 434
April-October 9am-5pm, November-March 4pm
Various tickets available
3. Jewish museum
Prague’s Jewish quarter, the Josefov, is now an elegant neighbourhood of art nouveau buildings and designer shops and cafés. The museum is spread over five synagogues dotted around the quarter, only one of which – the Old-New Synagogue – is still used for religious services.
The rest are exhibition centres and contain a huge collection of artefacts that movingly tell the history and persecution of the Czech Jews. It also includes the Old Jewish Cemetery, a forest of 12,000 lopsided tombstones squashed into an improbably small plot of land. Try to visit first thing: by mid-morning, everywhere gets swamped by chattering tour groups.
00 420 222 317 191
April-October Sun-Fri 9am-6pm; November-March Sun-Fri 9am-4.30pm
290Kc (£7), or 470 Kc (£12) including the Old-New Synagogue
4. Strahov Monastery
Other than to escape the castle-going crowds, the prime reason for visiting the Premonstratensian monastery is to gawp at the library – its frescoed and booked-lined Philosophical and Theological halls are glorious, ornate wonders. Elsewhere, there is an impressive display of religious art. Return to the city centre via the idyllic orchards below the complex.
Strahovske nadvori 1
00 420 233 107 730
Library: daily, 9am-noon, 1pm-5pm. Art gallery and convent: Tue-Sun, 9am-noon, 12.30pm-5pm
Library 80 Kc (£2); art gallery and convent 60 Kc (£1.50)
5. St Nicholas Church
This is the grandest of Prague’s many baroque churches and was built in the 1730s. It has an over-the-top interior and monumental dome decorated with hundreds of golden cherubs, swooning virgins and elaborate trompe l’oeil frescoes.
March-October daily 9am-5pm; November-February daily 9am-4pm
60 Kc (£1.50) Rates are based on two people sharing a double room and include breakfast and taxes.
This good-value hotel was designed by a leading Czech architect, Eva Jiricna. Bedrooms are sleek and Cubist influenced, while public areas, such as the glass-walled library and drawing room with a help-yourself honesty bar system, are striking yet relaxing.
The location, on a cobbled square on the edge of the Old Town’s upmarket Josefov quarter, is excellent.
00 420 225 303 111
5,200 Kc (£123)