Prague is often named one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Few places can indeed boast such a diverse architecture, ranging from baroque churches to gothic towers and Art Nouveau buildings. Prague is also a city that nurtures art and music, a city that inspired authors, musicians and poets. It is for these very reasons that the Czech capital has become one of Europe’s hot spots, attracting millions of expectant tourists, eager to follow in the footsteps of Kafka and Dvorak and be inspired too.
As a matter of fact, walking the streets of Prague can sometimes feel like wandering into a real-life Disneyland, with its good and its bad sides. Yet, reducing it to a museum city wouldn’t be a fair depiction. It would be forgetting its local markets, locally brewed beer served in lively cafés, engaging street art, unexpected vineyards growing in the middle of the city and even the cutting edge architecture of its New Town. Luckily, secret Prague is never too far from touristy Prague.
1. The Prague Castle:
Reigning over the city, the Prague Castle will probably be one of the first sights you’ll see upon arriving in the city. It should also be one of the first spots you’ll visit. The Castle’s gates open at 9AM and getting there early is a prerequisite. Yet, most tourists will share the same idea, meaning that there’s good chance the castle will be crowded no matter how early you get there.
That being said, the castle is a real jewel, whether it is the majestic Gothic outline of the St-Vitus Cathedral, the quiet Roman bareness of the ST-George Basilica or multicolored facades of the Golden Alley looking just like dollhouses in the back of the Cathedral. The Castle feels like a whole city on its own right, comprising museums, places of worship, back alleys and peaceful gardens, making it possible to get away from the crowd when needed.
When getting out of the castle, a stroll through the Hradcany district is also fitted to discover a different side of the area, less touristy but as atmospheric, from the baroque monastery of Loreto to the unexpected slopes of a vineyard, where you could pick a few fresh almonds from the surrounding trees.
2. The Charles Bridge:
Is any place more emblematic in Prague than the Charles Bridge? The answer to that might be boldly subjective but this bow bridge has undoubtedly become a city icon. Whether it is buried deep under snow in winter or coming alive with musicians and artists in summer, the bridge is beautiful all year round.
Connecting the Mala Strana district to the Old Town, the construction of the Charles Bridge started in 1357 as a replacement of the former Judith Bridge. It was commissioned by King Charles IV and wasn’t completed until the 15th century. The Charles Bridge exceeded its purpose though and became a work of art more than a mere means of crossing the Vltava River, decorated with 30 statues and protected by bridge towers, which can be climbed for a better view.
Another way to discover this iconic landmark is through a switch of perspective, as a few companies located just below the bridge offer boat rides on the River. Those cruises sure are touristy, and the beer that is served won’t be the best, but they offer a nice view nonetheless.
3 .The Astronomical Clock:
A few blocks away from the Charles Bridge lies another Prague landmark. Located on the Old Town Square, the astronomical clock is as clever as a system as it is a remarkable work of art. The clock mechanism comprises three different parts: the astronomical dial showing depictions of the sun and the moon, the calendar dials and the infamous “Walk of the Apostles”, that can be admired hourly from 9AM to 11PM.
The walk can be seen from the ground but you will get a better look at it from the tower’s chapel, although you will need to buy tickets in advance. The clock is outstanding all day long but seeing the procession of the Twelve Apostles is arguably the clock’s highlight, given the remarkable details put into the figures of the Apostles but also into more mysterious figures, such as the one depicting death.
Once the procession is over, there are still reasons to linger on the Old Town Square and especially at night, since the illuminated square perfectly highlights the beauty of the surrounding buildings, and that of the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Tyn in particular.
4. The Jewish Quarter:
The Jewish Quarter, also known as Josefov, dates back from the 13th century, when the Jewish population was required to settle into one area of the city. For more than 800 years, Josefov was the center of Jewish arts and spirituality, although it was ipso facto a ghetto. A lot of its inhabitants left the district when it started being renovated at the beginning of the 20th century and the tragedy of the Holocaust then occurred, emptying Josefov of most of its population.
Many monuments stood the test of time nonetheless, including a number of synagogues and an old Jewish cemetery that have now become part of the Jewish Museum. A combined ticket is necessary to access these landmarks, except the Old-New Synagogue that requires a separate ticket. A good few hours are necessary to make the most of the place as all synagogues are very different from one another, from the Moorish architecture of the Spanish Synagogue to the cultural artefacts on display at the Maisel Synagogue.
5. The Basilica of St-Peter and St-Paul:
Prague is a city of many churches but none comes close to the Basilica of St-Peter and St-Paul in our book. Located on the Vysehrad Hill, far from the touristy hustle and bustle of historic city, this church doesn’t give away its secrets right from the get-go though.
On the outside, it might even look a little plain, apart from a front gate covered in vibrant mosaic tiles. Yet, the inside of the basilica is a different story altogether, blending Art-Nouveau style, Neo-Gothic statues and even a few Baroque elements effortlessly. The level of details on the walls and ceilings is so amazing that spending a few hours within the church wouldn’t seem far-fetched.
Yet, the park surrounding the church has its perks too. Its peacefulness is invigorating and quite perfect to catch a break from the city. Add to the picture a superb view on the Prague Castle and you’ve got the definition of a hidden gem.