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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Czech Republic.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Czech Republic.
Prague is a magical city full of cobbled streets, winding lanes and the most amazing architecture. The City of a Thousand Spires has inexpensive options for the impoverished traveller, too, like the Old Town Square, one of Europe’s biggest urban spaces and home to jazz bands and buskers. It’s a wonderful introduction to the city and it’s free, which makes the next item, Prague Castle, a little more bearable.
The castle is a melange of styles dating back to the 10th century, and tickets are valid for two days, so you can go back and see everything properly. You must also visit the Strahov Monastery with its Mozart-related history and wonderful library.
Take a free walking tour of the city with locals and you’ll enjoy the city even more. The John Lennon Wall, a structure where students started writing his lyrics to express themselves, is iconic and vibrant – you can leave your favourite lines, too. The Prague Underground Tour is fascinating, with a walk through the erstwhile labyrinthian hiding places of churches and monasteries.
You must also visit Prague’s National Marionette Theatre, which, while not inexpensive, is fantastic, both for its Art Deco look and its programmes. Take a walk in ethereal Petrin Park, with its rose garden and fruit tree-filled Seminary Gardens, as well as Divoka Sarka Park, with its ice-cold public pool. Indulge in some shopping at Europe’s largest flea market in Praha 9, as well as the fresh vegetables and fruits at Havelsky Market.
After all that shopping, cool off with a beer spa – that’s right, a beer spa – and the good news is that you get to drink it too.
LEAVE ON A JET PLANE: Return flights start at 567USDfrom Mumbai and 541USDfrom New Delhi.
VISA: 68USD. ATMs are widely available, and credit cards are accepted almost everywhere.
GET AROUND: Prague has an integrated metro, tram and bus network.
STAY: If you’d like to stay in the centre of Prague without breaking the bank, Airbnb is your best bet. Hotels outside the centre are cheaper. Otherwise, try Sophie’s Hostel, Czech Inn or Sir Toby’s Hostel.
EAT AND DRINK: Local bars offer delicious meals on a budget – so get ready for carb-heavy abundance to feature heavily in your life. Avoid bars near tourist attractions and ask locals for recommendations- the average Czech meal costs approximately 8USD, with beer being really cheap and sometimes included in this cost. For example, U Houdko and the old town’s U Sadlu have menus of goulash, dumplings, pork and potatoes. Bohemia Bagel is intensely popular among the Czech. The historic U Fleku Brewery and restaurant is a cultural and culinary must-visit with classic Czech dishes and different beers.
WHEN TO GO: April to June, September, October and the Christmas to New Year seasons are busy- although the busiest time is May, during the Prague Spring festival. The cheapest and times to go are January to March; bundle up for the cold! Or, if you’re slightly rich, July and August.
Prague’s most familiar monument, connecting the city’s Old Town with the Little Quarter, was the city’s only crossing over the Vltava River until 1741. It is 1,706 ft (520 m) long and built of sandstone blocks. Now pedestrianized, at one time it could take four carriages abreast. Today, due to wear and tear, many of its statues are copies. The Gothic Old Town Bridge Tower is one of the finest buildings of its kind.
The sculptor Matthias Braun (1684-1738), who was born near Innsbruck and learned his craft in Austria and Italy, came to Prague in 1710. His first work, the statue of St. Luitgard, was produced when he was only 26. Other sculptors were Johann Brokoff (1652-17 1 8), of German origin, and his sons Michael and Ferdinand. The latter produced some of Charles Bridge’s most dynamic figures, such as St. Adalbert and St. Francis Xavier, which shows the Jesuit missionary supported by three Moorish and two Asian converts.
Charles Bridge was named after Charles IV, crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1355, who wanted the bridge to echo the ancient Rome of the Caesars. However, it was not until the late 17th century that statues inspired by Roman sculpture were placed on the bridge.
The statues mainly depict saints, including St. Vitus, the bridge’s patron saint. Cherubs, dice, and a centurion’s gauntlet form part of the statue of The Madonna and St. Bernard Nearby, the Dominicans are shown with the Madonna and their emblem, a dog (The Madonna, St. Dominic, and St. Thomas).
The cult of St. John Nepomuk, who was canonized in 1729, was promoted by the Jesuits to rival the revered Czech martyr Jan Hus, whose reformist preaching earned him a huge following in the early 15th century. Jan Nepomucky, vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Prague, was arrested in 1393 by Wenceslas IV along with others who had displeased the king over the election of an abbot. John died under torture and his body was bound and thrown off Charles Bridge. He is commemorated by a statue (St. John Nepomuk) and a bronze relief depicting him being thrown off the bridge. St. John Nepomuk is a popular figure and statues modeled on this one can be seen in countries throughout Central Europe, especially on bridges.
St. Adalbert 1709
Adalbert, Bishop of Prague, founded the Church of St Lawrence on Petrin Hill, Prague, in 99 1. He is known to the Czec as as Vojtech.
View from little Quarter Bridge Tower
The tall pinnacled wedge tower gives a superb view of the city of 100 spires.
St. Luitgard, 1710
This statue, sculpted by Matthias Braun, is based on a blind Cistercian nun’s celebrated vision in which Christ appeared and permitted her to kiss his wounds.
Bridge Tower Sculptures
Peter Parler‘s sculptures include St Vitus, the bridge’s patron saint Charles IV, and Wenceslas IV
Thirty Years’ War
In the last hours of this war, the Old Town was saved from the invading Swedish army. The truce was signed in the middle of the bridge in 1648.
St John Nepomuk, 1683
Reliefs on the bridge depict the martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk. Here, the saint is polished bright from people touching it for good luck.
For 200 years, the wooden crucifix stood alone on the bridge. The gilded Christ dates from 1629 and the Hebrew words “Holy, Holy, Holy lord” were paid for by a Jew as punishment for blasphemy
Large quantities of egg white were needed to strengthen the mortar used in building the bridge and Emperor Charles IV asked everyone with chicken s to supply eggs for this purpose. Legend has it that one village misunderstood and sent wagon loads of useless hard-boiled eggs.
1357: Charles IV commissions Peter Parler to construct a new bridge, replacing the Judith Bridge.
1683: The first statue, of St. John Nepomuk, is placed at the center of the bridge.
1683-1720: Statues by the Brokoffs and Braun are erected along the bridge.
1974: The bridge becomes a pedestrian area and a focal point of the city.
1992: The Historic Center of Prague joins the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
Built in around 1270, this is the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe and one of the earliest Gothic buildings in Prague. The synagogue has survived fires, slum clearances in the 19th century, and several Jewish pogroms. Residents of the city’s Jewish Quarter (Josefov) have often had to seek refuge within its walls and today it is the religious center for Prague’s Jewish community. It was called the New Synagogue until another synagogue was built nearby — this was later destroyed.
This Gothic hall, with its distinctive crenellated gable, has been a house of prayer for over 700 years. Its twin-nave has a ribbed, vaulted ceiling. To avoid the sign of the cross, a fifth rib was added (five-rib vaulting) and decorated with vine leaves, symbolizing the fertility of the land, and ivy. In a two-story building the women’s gallery would be upstairs, but here it is located in the vestibule. The number 12 is a recurring feature throughout the synagogue, probably in reference to the 12 tribes of Israel.
The Old-New Synagogue stands in Josefov, once Prague’s Jewish Ghetto. The area is named after Emperor Josef II, who partially relaxed the discrimination against Jews during his reign in the 18th century. For centuries, Prague’s Jews had suffered from oppressive laws — in the 16th century, they had to wear a yellow circle as a mark of shame. In the 1890s, the ghetto slums were razed, but a handful of buildings survived, including the Jewish Town Hall and a number of synagogues. During World War II, the Nazis occupied Prague and almost two-thirds of the city’s Jewish population perished in the Holocaust, mainly in Terezin concentration camp, situated northwest of Prague.
The Old-New Synagogue is one of three synagogues in Prague where services are held today. Admonishing worshipers on their way into the synagogue are the following words inscribed on the entrance portal: “Revere God and observe his commandments! For this applies to all mankind.” Inside, men and women are segregated for religious rituals. Services are held in the main prayer hall and are reserved for men only; those attending must keep their heads covered. Women may follow the rituals from the adjacent women’s gallery, where they can stand and watch through small slot windows. In the center of the hall is the bima, similar to a wrought-iron cage, with a lectern from which the Torah is read daily (cantor’s platform)/ Above this is a red Jewish Standard, a copy of the 1716 original.
The historic banner of Prague’s Jews is decorated with the Star of David and within it the hat that had to be worn by Jews in the 14th century.
These formed part of the 18th-century extensions built to allow women a view of the service
The tympanum above the door in the south vestibule is decorated with clusters of grapes and vine leaves growing on twisted branches.
This, and its lectern, are surrounded by a wrought-iron Gothic grill .
Located above the Ark, this is decorated with 13th-century leaf carvings.
This shrine is the holiest place in the synagogue and holds the sacred scrolls of the Torah.
The glow from the bronze chandeliers provides light for worshipers using the seats lining the walls.
Rabbi Low’s Chair
A Star of David marks the chair of Chief Rabbi Low, placed where the distinguished 16th-century scholar used to sit
Two massive octagonal pillars inside the hall support the five-rib vaults.
The great scholar Rabbi Low was director of the Talmudic school (which studied the Torah) in the late 16th century. According to legend, he made a being, the Golem, from clay and brought it to life by placing a magic stone tablet in its mouth. The Golem went berserk, so the rabbi removed the tablet and hid the creature in the Old-New Synagogue’s rafters.
Near the Old-New Synagogue is the Old Jewish Cemetery. For more than 300 years, this was the only burial ground permitted for Jews. More than 100,000 people are estimated to be buried here. The oldest gravestone dates from 1439, and the last burial was in 1787.
1200s: Work starts on build in g the New Synagogue.
1700s: Construction of the women’s gallery on the western and northern sides of the synagogue.
1883: The architect Joseph Mocker begins renovation work on the building.
1992: The Historic Center of Prague becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I was working on an animated film in Los Angeles in 1982 when I was ordered back to Prague by the communist Czech government. I wanted to finish my film and was tired of the government telling me what to do, so I decided not to return even though I knew this meant I might not see my family again. Then, in 1989, I became a U.S. citizen, and a few months later the Berlin Wall fell. I could once again go home. Whenever I visit, I try to swim against time, not to recall the oppressive fortress that used to be Prague but to reconnect with the favorite places of my childhood.
Our family home is located on the main route through historic Prague, on Nerudova Street in the Hradcany Castle District. It had been the gatehouse for the Prague Castle and goes back to the 14th century. My first walk in Prague is usually up the street to the castle—the seat of kings, emperors, dictators, and presidents. I like to go there in the evening. A quiet alley behind the castle, Nov5? Svet, is where the Danish Renaissance astronomer Tycho Brahe lived. He came to Prague as a guest of Emperor Rudolf II, a patron of the arts and sciences.
Brahe was just one of the many astronomers, mystics, and alchemists that the emperor invited to his Prague court. Across from Brahe’s house, a discreet entrance leads to the lush charms of Deer Moat, a park with meadows, benches, winding paths, and the remains of the emperor’s greenhouse, called Fig House. You can almost see the shadows of the deer, bears, even lions that Emperor Rudolf II kept here. He was told that when his favorite lion died he would too, and that’s what happened. Prague Castle looms above Deer Moat, and I enter it through the East Gate. With the crowds gone, I feel like a time traveler walking along the Golden Lane— a street of colorful small houses.
After its split from Slovakia in 1993, Czech Republic has evolved into one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations. Although under Communist rule for decades, it is its Bohemian history that still stands out through its architecture and charm and is the biggest draw for international travellers.
First on everybody’s list to visit in Czech Republic is Prague. Known as the Paris of Central Europe, Prague doesn’t need much of an introduction and its popularity already shows with the sheer number of foreign travellers and tour groups that crowd the cobblestone streets through the day. But that doesn’t mean Prague should be skipped or looked over. No, stay and enjoy the architecture and livelihood of Prague’s Old Town.
Start with Old Town Square that has served as Prague’s main marketplace for more than a thousand years. There are many attractions to be viewed here, such as the famous Astronomical Clock, where, every hour on the hour, the figure of Death on the right side flips his hourglass, while the 12 apostles take turns to appear at the window above the clock.
Other than walking around Old Town Square, the Prague Castle is a must visit within the capital. It can be reached by walking across the Charles Bridge, named after King Charles IV.
The Charles Bridge is an avenue of 30 mostly baroque statues on the gothic style bridge. Stop by the statue of St John of Nepomuk (eighth on the right if heading towards Prague Castle) to make a wish. Touching the falling priest on the statue is akin to tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain – it brings good luck and ensures a return to Prague in the future.
Get orientated. If you are searching for a heavy dose of medieval grandeur, Prague more than fits the bill. The city is a twisting maze of Gothic cathedrals, stone bridges and gold-tipped towers. You’d be forgiven for thinking someone had pressed pause on this charming Czech capital in the Middle Ages.
A lot of Prague’s UNESCO-listed centre stems from the Bohemian era, particularly its 14th-century Golden Age. It was during this period that Prague took its place as one of the most important capitals in Europe – in part due to one man’s ambition.
Much of the credit for its success was laid at the feet of Charles IV (1316-78). who founded the city’s New Town and commissioned iconic sites ranging from St Vitus Cathedral to Charles Bridge, which still fords the Vltava River. Recently voted ‘the greatest Czech in history’. May 14 marks his 700th birthday. Expect locals to party like it’s 1316.
Getting around. Prague has an extensive public transport network, comprising metro, trams and buses. Tickets cover all forms of transport and are sold at ticket machines and offices, newsstands and tourist information centres.
The visit. For many Czechs. Charles IV will always be ‘the father of the country’, and Prague is clearly aiming to make daddy proud this May. Look out for medieval festivities, concerts and even a full re-enactment of his coronation.
But the influence of Prague’s famous patriarch is perhaps best explored in the cityscape itself. Never shy of lending his name to something, he founded Charles University (Central Europe’s first). New Town’s Charles Square was built in his honour, and he even laid the first stones of Charles Bridge in 1357. For 500 years this bridge was the only crossing between the Old Town and arguably the king’s most impressive legacy, Prague Castle.
Dominating the skyline, this vast complex of buildings, churches and gardens was originally the site of a grand Romanesque palace. But under Charles’ ambitious hand it was rebuilt in the Gothic style. Today, it is the world’s largest castle complex, and currently home to the Czech president.
Charles’ legacy continued long after his death. His Cathedral of St Vitus, the country’s biggest church, took nearly 600 years to build. Fittingly, it has been the final resting place for many Czech monarchs, including Charles IV. So where better to end your trip than by paying your respects?
“Wherever beer is brewed, all is well. Whenever beer is drunk, life is good” goes one Czech proverb.
After an evening at Prague’s oldest and most famous beer hall, you won’t have any trouble believing that Czechs consume more pivo (beer) per capita than any other nationality – except that all these hundreds of beer-swilling, fun-making stein wielders are speaking and singing in every language except Czech. Everyone complains about the noise and the food, but the place has been packed for centuries: records show that a license to make beer on this spot dates back to 1499, and the original Budweiser was a Czech beer.
U Fleku neither exports nor even bottles its famously pungent brew – and there doesn’t appear to be a need to, since the whole world comes here. Six large tavernlike rooms of communal tables, outside gardens, and shade trees make the capacity crowd seem less astounding than it is; the place is downright cozy during cold and dark winter evenings. A Czech brass oompah band plays traditional drinking music most summer weekends and if you’ve never experienced Munich’s Oktoberfest, you won’t have to after this.
The rich, dark home-brewed beer with its creamy head may not be to everyone’s liking, but 46,000 hectoliters of the elixir (about 2.15 million gallons) are said to be consumed yearly. Little wonder that any complaints about the goulash and dumplings are halfhearted.
The glorious architectural confusion of the oldest segment of Prague city lies on the east bank of the meandering Vltava River just off the Charles Bridge. The city’s first settlements appeared here in the 10th century when a bustling marketplace grew from its strategic riverside location at the mercantile crossroads of Central Europe.
One thousand years later the Old Town Square (Staromestské námestí) is still the very heart of Prague. This was the haunted neighborhood of Franz Kafka, but don’t expect an air of melancholy and paranoia. Today the square is a veritable stage set with bright outdoor café umbrellas; store windows that are a paean to kapitalismus; young entrepreneurial types glued to their cell phones; musicians, mimes, and tarot readers; and a milling crowd of tourists who come to witness the hourly procession of apostles and allegorical figures on the famous 600-year-old astronomical clock (Staromestská radnice).
A climb to the top of the 200-foot tower of the former Town Hall above it gives a dazzling panorama of this “City of One Hundred Spires” – surely the spires and turrets number twice that. Like many of the capital’s architectural gems, the 14th-century Church of Our Lady of Tyn (Tynky chrám) glows from a recent cleaning, its magnificent Gothic facade and elegant twin gables one of the city’s most recognizable silhouettes.
Prague has enjoyed an unparalleled cultural renaissance since the end of the forty-year Communist regime.
For centuries a magnet for classical musicians (“Whoever is Czech, is a musician,” asserts a local proverb), it is again a dream for music lovers, with prestigious international festivals and an embarassment of choices for those looking to hear the music of Bedřich Smetana and Antonín Dvořák, 19th-century local boy wonders. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart loved this city and called the people “my Praguers.” He basked in their veneration, a welcome change from the lack of appreciation in his native Austria. The spirit of Mozart’s genius is almost tangible in the cherubim-filled Estates Theater (Stavovské divadlo), the site of the premier performance of his opera Don Giovanni, conducted by the composer himself in 1787.
Restored to its neoclassical pale green elegance, and reopened in 1991 on the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death, this is a jewel case of tiered boxes that is spectacular inside and out. Concertgoers may recognize the Estates from scenes in the film Amadeus by Czech director Milos Forman; fees from the filmmaking generated the seed money for the theater’s sumptuous eight-year renovation.
Any lucky modern-day audience would be likely to agree with Gustave Flaubert’s declaration that “the three most beautiful things ever created in this world are the sea, Hamlet, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni.”
Much of Prague’s present architectural beauty was achieved during its 14th-century glory days under Charles IV, king of Bohemia and Moravia and Holy Roman Emperor. It was Charles who established a university in the city and commissioned his namesake Charles Bridge in 1357, Prague’s most beloved and recognized icon.
There are fourteen other bridges that span the swirling Vltava River (which overflowed its banks in the unprecedented floods of 2002), but the view from the foot of this pedestrian bridge on the east bank is nothing short of wondrous, encompassing the remarkable mélange of architecture on the hilly slope of the Malá Strana (Lesser Town) that leads up to Prague Castle on the opposite bank. Thirty-six Baroque saints, the majority added in the 17th century, line the bridge’s graceful sixteen-arched crossing.
The ritual of visiting the landmark bridge at many different times of day is a must. Early morning on the swan-studded Vltava means having the bridge to yourself while the guardian statues hover like ghosts shrouded in the lifting mist. Midday brings on a mass of residents, tourists, buskers and other street performers, and T-shirt vendors (“Czech ’em out!”). At night, the spirit of an ongoing block party winds down and the bridge becomes magical, even spellbinding.
Within arm’s reach of the bridge, the romantic boutique inn U Trí Pstrosu (At the Three Ostriches) offers oak-beamed guest rooms and excellent dining with a view. Formerly Bohemia’s first coffeehouse, its massive centuries-old walls keep out the noise of the crowds. Ask for a corner room for the best views.