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Prague, Czech Republic

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Did You Know … ?

  •  It took nearly 600 years to build St. Vitus Cathedral (1344-1929).
  • Czechs drove on the left side of the road until Hitler invaded and changed that.
  • Prague’s Old-New Synagogue is Europe’s oldest functioning synagogue (1270).
  • The Prague Castle complex covers 111 acres, almost equal to Vatican City (108.7 acres).
  • The Charles Bridge is 1,690 feet long, Europe’s longest medieval bridge.

 

From palaces to puppets

Prague is one beautiful neighborhood after another. Indeed, it can be a little overwhelming to encounter so many visual riches at every turn — but most visitors count this as one of travel’s pleasanter challenges.

The city boasts a rich treasure of architecture, dating from medieval times to the modern, partly because it was the seat of royalty for centuries. And, despite religious upheavals, World War II and the 1968 Soviet invasion, Prague’s heritage has survived relatively intact, especially when compared with some other European cities.

Hradcany (Castle Hill) is the site of Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral and a complex of associated government and ecclesiastical buildings. Dating from the ninth century, the castle had been the seat of Bohemian kings.

Hradcany abuts the Mala Strana (Lesser Quarter) with charming and winding cobblestone streets that lead down to the Vltava River and across the 14th century Charles Bridge to the Old Town Square. Here are palaces, townhouses and the renowned old city hall with its astronomical clock. Importantly for the Czechs, the Old Town centerpiece is the Jan Hus Monument, remembering the 15th century religious reformer who was burned at the stake as a heretic. The Jewish Quarter is in the Old Town, too.

To the south is the New Town (new in the 14th century) and the broad Wenceslas Square where crowds gathered to demand an end to communism, 21 years after Soviet tanks rolled into the same space.

Prague also is associated with an eclectic collection of other interests — music, Franz Kafka, puppets and beer.

The city’s history is intertwined with that of Mozart and the Czech composers Dvorak and Smetana and is today the setting for numerous concerts and music festivities. Kafka, a native son, was the existentialist author who gave us the word kafkaesque.

Puppets have been a Czech passion for 300 years, a passion that translates into puppet theaters and festivals in Prague, plus remarkable souvenirs.

As to the beer, this is Bohemia and some of the highly regarded Bohemian beers are made in Prague pubs, well positioned for the tourist at the end of a busy day.

 

Things to do for Venturers

  • Climb a tower for the views. Choices include the Powder Tower, the towers of Charles Bridge, the St. Vitus Cathedral Tower and the Petrin Observation Tower, a 1,043-foot imitation of the Eiffel Tower.
  • Apply to attend a two-week workshop for making puppets or creating a puppet show.
  • Take a bus or drive about an hour to Terezin, which was a holding camp for Jews before Nazis shipped them to death camps. Admittedly, touring the Ghetto Museum and the nearby Small Fortress that served as the Prague Gestapo’s prison is a sobering experience.
  • See the Czech capital from the seat of a bicycle. Prague has 230 miles of bike paths.
  • Make Franz Kafka a sightseeing theme, spotting or visiting his birthplace, any of the numerous buildings he lived in, his workplace, his burial site and, at last, the Franz Kafka Museum. To do this, you will be climbing and descending Castle Hill in order to include the tiny home on the famed Golden Lane where Kafka lived for a time.
  • Go hiking without leaving the city. Michelsky Les and Kunraticky Les are large forests with steep hills and trails to follow.

 

Things to do for Centrics

  • For great views, ride the funicular up Petrin Hill in Mala Strana, the Lesser Quarter.
  • Attend a Mozart concert inside Bethlehem Chapel. This is one way to see the inside of the 1391 building where the 15th century Jan Hus advocated church reform.
  • Head to the taverns to sample the dark beer of Bohemia. It is often brewed on the premises.
  • If you are Jewish, attend Friday night services in Europe’s oldest synagogue.
  • Get out to see Prague at night when spotlights highlight castles and bridges. Listen to street performers on Charles Bridge.
  • Shop in Prague’s Lesser Quarter for mementoes, especially puppets. Then see a puppet show. If yours is a November visit, see one of the shows that are part of One Flew Over the Puppeteer’s Nest, an annual festival.

 

Things to do for Authentics

  • Look for the Dancing House, a swaying glass structure designed to resemble the dancing silhouette of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
  • Buy a few pieces of Bohemian crystal. You can have them shipped home.
  • Attend the music festival called simply Prague Spring International Music Festival. Also, if a music lover, see the Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana museums.
  • Take a guided city tour to ensure you see all the top sites including Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral; the Old Town Square with its most famous feature, the astronomical clock; the Charles Bridge; the synagogues and graveyard in the Jewish Quarter, and Wenceslas Square in the New Town.
  • In good weather, have a coffee and enjoy the atmosphere at one of the numerous outdoor cafes that line the Old Town Square.
  • In December, shop at the traditional Christmas markets on the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square.

 

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Prague City Tourism at www.prague.eu