Prague is an unknown city to most Americans even though we’ve read about it in history books or vaguely remember Czechoslovakia’s attempted bloody breakaway from Communism in the late 60s. For most, Prague is better known for its Czech crystal and world-renowned marionettes. After your visit, we think you’ll say it’s a picture postcard at every turn and a delight for all seasons.
Prague is steeped in colorful history and marvelous architecture. Known as the “City of Spires,” it has transformed itself into one of the most vibrant, beautiful ancient cities in all Europe replete with all the modern amenities; one you’ll find captivating and very affordable. If you enjoy exploring cities on foot, mingling with the locals, you’ll also discover that Prague is one of the best walking cities ever.
Prague is about 1,000-years old with a similar historical past to Budapest [Hungary]. As with Budapest, the ever-friendly Habsburgs rode rough shod over Prague from the early 16th-century until they were literally and figuratively thrown out of the chancellary window in 1848.
After WWI, Czechoslovakia emerged from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to ultimately become a socialist republic in 1960. Like Hungary, 1968 found the Czech’s embroiled in a failed “freedom fight” with the Soviet Union. Along with other Eastern European countries under Soviet rule, the Czechs were freed during what is now called the “Velvet Revolution” of 1989. At that point, Czechoslovakia separated into the Czech and Slovak Republics. Today, the Czech Republic embraces parliamentarian principals and has been an active member of the EU since 2004.
A two or three night stay in this tourist-friendly city is a definite “bucket list” destination for any river cruise that begins or ends in Passau or Nuremberg. Three days allows you to see it all at a leisurely pace and still have plenty of time to shop [Ladies, you won’t believe the bargains!].
Premier rates Prague as a 9 on our “WOW!” factor scale of 10, and here’s why:
Prague is easy to see and navigate through because the Vitava River [pronounced Vitavma] divides the four main sightseeing areas of the city: Castle District on the left, the Old Town, Jewish Quarter and New Town on the right. Prague’s second most popular tourist attraction, the 14th century stone pedestrian-only Charles Bridge [Karlovy Most] connects the two sides of the city. There’s a very efficient 3-line metro augmented by a very good system of trams. You can buy a 3-day unlimited pass for under $20pp, so you can avoid the taxis [which we feel are less inviting than those of New York City].
The best place to begin your walking tour is on the “right bank” first visiting New Town, continuing on to the Old Town and finishing in the Jewish Quarter. Nove Mesto [New Town] is a beautifully expansive part of Prague. Strolling through its Wenceslas Square, a remarkable boulevard, you may momentarily feel as though you’ve been transported to Paris’ Champs-Elysée. It’s breathtaking, a fun place to grab a bench, maybe a picnic and watch the world go by. It’s also similar to Paris in the quality of the shops found along the Square and nearby.
You’ll also enjoy a short visit to the nearby National Museum and the fascinating Hotel Europa. While we don’t normally encourage hotel visits, this is really, really different and a must see. The Europa is one of the most ornate, architecturally interesting buildings in Europe. If you happen to be there around noon, have lunch in their restaurant... it’s like traveling back in time to a much different world, and well worth the few extra Korunas.
Prague COMPASSPOINT™ Guide Hint: While wines are very affordable, we found them quite average on the quality scale, so go for the table wines. It would be better to sample and enjoy one of the hundreds of exceptional Czech beers, possibly some of the very best in the world.
As you continue your exploration, take a walk around the nearby Much Museum located in Kaunicky Palace for extraordinary examples of stunning Baroque architecture. The art is good in the museum, but the architecture outside is better. From there it’s only a short walk up Na Prikope Street to the top of the Powder Gate Stairs for one of the best locations to take a photograph the Old Town [Stare Mesto] area. It’s a short walk and a bit of a climb, but well worth the effort and the memories!
While in Old Town, continue your walk west on pedestrian-only Celetna [also known as the Habsburg Coronation route], probably the oldest street in Prague. Nearby at address No. 34, you’ll find a fascinating “cubist” building known as the “House of the Black Mother of God,” another great photo-op. If you look up the street you’ll see the Old Town Square, a remarkably well-preserved medieval marketplace that is still functioning. Take a small break and have a cup of coffee and pastry at one of the local cafes on the square and enjoy the moment.
Just off the square at No. 16 Celetna is one of the most photographed buildings in Prague. Truly amazing, the Storch House is adorned with an incredible fresco and a maze of facades; a must see as is the Old Town Hall [c. 1350] also located on the Square. The centerpiece of the Town Hall is its astronomical clock, which on the hour provides a delightful, animated show that lasts 10 minutes – it’s one of a kind.
If you’re interested in Jewish History, take a walk along Paris Street [Parizska] and enter Josefov [the Jewish Quarter]. There’s much to see in this gorgeous turn-of-the-century area including the old Jewish ghetto and the world-famous Spanish synagogues which, in the early 1900s, formed together to become the Jewish Museum. There’s also a remarkable 1000-year old cemetery on the grounds.
The crowning jewel of this spectacular city is Hradcany [pronounced Hadcany] know as the “Castle District" or "Prague Castle.” Clean the camera lens because you’re in for a real treat as you become immersed in incredible displays of Baroque architecture and vast art collections found in castle after castle and many current government buildings, including the Chancellery of the President of the Republic. If you plan your day well, you’ll be able to enjoy the ceremonial changing of the Royal Guard that occurs daily at noon; it’s better than Buckingham Palace and less crowded.
We found it interesting that Prague Castle is actually considered its own city within Hradcany. At the center of all the breathtaking basilicas, chapels and palaces stands the Cathedral of St. Vitus, the most visible, most astounding example of Baroque architecture left in the world. Built during the 10-11th centuries, it fills almost a third of the entire area. [Speaking of COMPASSPOINT Guide hints... we’ll also tell you about the “secret” tram to take so that you can avoid the very steep walk up to the castle – another reason Premier is the best travel agency for a river cruise vacation.]
Located at the foot of the entrance to Hradcany is a spectacular building and home to the Senate: Wallenstein Castle and Gardens with its ornate fountains and geometrically planted flower gardens – it’s a 9 on our WOW scale as well. Nearby [about 200 feet] is one of the most interesting stores you’ll ever visit: a classic marionette shop that will just blow your mind.
Hradcany is so dense that we think the best overall photo-op is from the other side of the river in front of the Jewish Quarter. The shots from there are spectacular and worth the extra walk. Walking across the Charles Bridge, you can also take wonderful panoramic shots. Even better, go at night when the castle is lit up like a Fourth of July light show. You can also grab some great shots of the Castles as you walk through the area up to “Castle Square.”
Walking the Charles bridge really is a must because it’s like strolling parts of the left bank in Paris... artists, street vendors and musicians line the bridge as the river flows swiftly below. If you’re staying in Old Town, the best time to go [if you’re not into the street scene] is just after breakfast or early evening. The bridge is adorned with 70+ statues, all with historical significance and very ornate. It’s completely safe to walk at any time of the day or night.
Also on the left bank is Mala Strana [pronounced Malistrana] with its beautiful green space, gardens dating back to the mid-13th century. In some ways it will remind you of strolling through New York’s Central Park, sans the runners. This is also one of the more fun shopping areas in Prague. Mostecka Street [pronounced Mostedska] is a really cool, very narrow shopping street filled with quaint boutiques, sans the name brands — it’s great for bargains on almost anything you want to buy, including crystal.
We don’t have enough room to do more than highlight this city of spires, but hopefully we’ve excited you enough to want to go. And don’t forget, when you book your cruise and Prague package with Premier, you’ll receive our exclusive, destination-specific COMPASSPOINT™ Guide — the most thorough river cruise planning and preparation guide series to be found anywhere. Your COMPASSPOINT™ Guide also includes comprehensive insights of what to see, where to dine and where to shop in Prague [Oh yes, and the secret tram, too.] — it’s free when you book with Premier River Cruises.
The best way to ensure you have the inside scoop on everything Prague and the best price on your river cruise, is to book now with one of the river cruise experts at Premier River Cruises.
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