Truth be told, Prague has changed dramatically over the past twenty years -- it has been at least that long since my first visit. While architecture was always awe-inspiring and the city is rich with history, this picturesque Eastern European gem couldn't boast the world class shopping and dining that it can today.
Prague has come a long way and every year, keeps adding more to entice you. They have now added a third Michelin star restaurant, the Mandarin Hotel has an upscale spa that will pamper you, there are countless places to get lost if you're traveling solo, and you can even surf on the Charles River.
It's impossible to visit Prague and not walk over the Charles Bridge unless you avoid old town altogether. It's dreamy, always boasts incredible views regardless of where you take the river in. The Charles Bridge is full of tourists any time of day as there are musicians who have set up shop to play their latest and greatest for a few coins as well as those selling everything from jewelry and art to pottery and clocks. At night, there are picturesque views whether you stand on the bridge (or a nearby one) or take one of the barges out in the evening. There are many boat tours you can take day or night and if it's your first time to Prague, I'd argue that it's worth doing.
The above and below shots were taken while having dinner one night the ever so romantic Kampa Park Restaurant.
Walking through old town...
A couple hang out at the bridge - romance is always in the air in Prague.
You can even take paddle boats out on the river if you like.
Or a much larger ferry that offer tours.
The best time of day of course is at sunset along the Charles....seeing the sun sink into the river at least four times during my stay, was most definitely a highlight!
History & Architecture
The historical city center is actually on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage list. I spent most of my time in Hradcany (I stayed here when I first arrived) and Lesser Town, where I spent a chunk of time getting lost. Prague Castle is in Hradcany and there are some great other historical buildings in the area, including the Strahov Monastery in Strahov along Strahovské Nádvoří. It is a Premonstratensian Abbey that was founded in 1143 by Bishop Jindřich Zdík, Bishop John of Prague, and Duke Vladislav II. The monastery was built in the 12th century. Together with the Basilica of St.George at the Prague Castle (founded in 973) and Břevnov Monastery (founded in 993) it is one of the oldest monasteries in the country. There are so many hilly, cobblestone backstreets to walk through where you'll discover terraced gardens, the wooded area of Petrin Hill which I wrote about earlier (note: it houses the Eiffel Tower of Prague).
Walking around Hradcany area and Lesser Town.
St. Vitus Cathedral holds the Loreto Treasure is also in Hradcany and is apparently one of the largest and most valuable Church treasure in the Bohemia. In contrast to the the Cathedral Treasury, the Loreto Treasure has works only from the the 16th to 19th centuries, which includes goldsmith art from the 17th and 18th centuries. Decadent finds include home altars, reliquaries, crowns of the "Our Lady of Loreto" Statue, carved ivory, small sculptures, paintings and jewelry.
Antiquity at its best...
Spotted in a window during a walking tour of Old Town
The well known curving building in Prague, which I walked by on my last visit to this romantic city as well. It's known locally as the Dancing House (aka Tančící Dům) and it is across the street from a pretty bridge that crosses the Vltava River. Its design is unique, largely because it is a modern building surrounded by historic architecture on all sides and well because, it simply stands out. It was apparently built between 1992-1996 by architects Vlado Milunic and the the famous Frank Owen Gehry and had a different working name at the time: the "Fred and Ginger Building", after the legendary dance duo. The top floor of Dancing House also houses one of the city's leading restaurants: the Ginger & Fred Restaurant, which I didn't have time to visit this time around, so can't speak to the menu or the view.
Views of buildings, other landmarks and cathedrals in the distance from Prague Castle, which also shows some of Lesser Town in the distance.
Central Prague's architecture shows its history and attention to detail
New Town is also known as Nove Mesto and is the city's commercial and business district, so not as interesting to walk around as the other areas. Think shopping malls, hotels, cinemas, nightclubs, and fast food joints. We did go through here to visit Wenceslas Square, which is an interesting place to visit -- it used to be a horse market apparently back in the day. New Town and Old Town are separated by a "moat" aka Na Prikope Street. Some locals live out in the suburb of Vinohrady though I didn't have a chance to really explore it this time around. Other residential neighborhoods include Smichov and Andel where you'll find industrial architecture, bars and the Staropramen Brewery, which makes a good stop if you love beer and Prague certainly has no shortage of incredible choices.
Then, there's Old Town which has so many tourists, you'll be lucky to meet a local. I'm half kidding of course, but during prime time travel months, you'll need to venture off on some side streets to escape the crowds. Shopping is great here whether it's for Bohemian glass, jewelry or clothes. But, truth be told, it IS busy. Old Town Square is the main central hub and a good place to grab a drink at an outdoor bar or a cafe. And, if you happen to be there at 3 pm, you can see the astronomical clock "do its thing."
While we're talking art, apparently the Czech Republic is the only country in the world that has Cubism as an architecture style and because of that, a discussion surrounding it really falls in both the History/Architecture and the Arts/Culture section. For historical purposes, its the years of 1911-1914 according to our walking guide. The Black Madonna Building in the heart of Prague is apparently the first of its kind. Known as a masterpiece of Czech Cubist architecture, the building, which is located between Celetná Street and Ovocný trh, was constructed from 1911-1912 by Czech architect Josef Gočár. The name comes from the Baroque statue that is located on the corner and today, it also houses the Museum of Decorative Arts Exhibition about Cubism.
The Prague Astronomical Clock has been one of the greatest treasures of the city for over 600 years and is incredibly beautiful so if you have a zoom lens or binoculars, pull them out to get a closer look of the face, especially during its "show" every two hours. The clock has not only been showing the time and date for centuries, but also the position of the sun, phase of the moon, astronomical cycles and festivals on the Christian calendar.
There are so many spots in Prague to get breathtaking views -- my advice is to walk around, avoid trams and avoid Uber or taxis, at least for your first 48 hours. It's really the best way to learn the city and to 'fall upon' discoveries you likely won't get if you try to short cut it with a vehicle. I'll let the photos do the talking here. In Old Town Square, you can go the top of the tower and catch panoramic views of the city below -- the below shots were taken on my iPhone.
There's a stairway and elevator that goes to the top of viewpoint area (included in most tours) that will give you the above spectacular views. There's a small fee to get to the top and they sell clocks on pendants on-site.
Also on the ground floor if you stay for awhile and look around, you'll see some remarkable work on the ceiling - don't forget to look up in Prague and look up often!!
Shopping, Culture, Music & Art
Along the river, I fell upon a group of women dancers who gave a several song belly dance performance for us one afternoon - it was oh so lovely!
Art lovers will appreciate the Mucha Museum, which is the world´s first museum dedicated to the life and work of the world-acclaimed Czech ART NOUVEAU artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939). The museum is located in the Baroque Kaunický Palace in the center of Prague and they have a selection of over 100 exhibits comprising paintings, photographs, charcoal drawings, pastels, lithographs and personal memorabilia.
I met a cello player on a train and he offered to play for me in the park, at midnight. It was a precious treat and a raw Prague moment.
Performers are everywhere in fact -- it's not hard to find great music (and for free) right on Prague's streets, or along the river (below).
Taken along the banks of the river in September...
Art and great architecture combined also on the river....
There's no shortage of great shopping throughout the city, from porcelain, Bohemian glass, pottery, woodwork and jewelry to art work, clothing, shoes and craft work.