(Press Release from Czech Tourism)
How can one briefly describe a city with architecture and history a thousand years old, a city associated with the significant personalities and history of the Czech state, a city whose beauty has amazed its visitors since the Middle Ages? Prague is a magical, golden city of cobbled streets and a hundred spires, but, most importantly, a city that is always amazing and original. Once, you will notice the details on a historic gateway; the next time, you will discover the ornamentation on the facade of a Baroque house; and still the next how in an instant the setting sun transforms the skyline of monuments into a fairy-tale scene… Welcome to Prague, the city of everyday wonders!
Why is Prague so unique?
Aside from the poetic attributes, its comparison to a European textbook of architectural styles most describes the singularity of Prague. A riveting textbook, indeed, as the main roles here are played by Romanesque rotundas, Gothic steeples and cathedrals, Renaissance mansions and palaces, Jewish synagogues, Baroque churches and cloisters, and Cubist and Secessionist monuments. All this in the 866 hectares of the Historic Centre of Prague, entered in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992.
Prague in a day, or the best of Prague on the Royal Tour
Should you have the misfortune of being in Prague for only a day, waste no time but set out at once to discover the most famous monuments along the so-called Royal Tour. This pleasant walk around the city centre begins in front of the Municipal House. Without question the most spectacular and most beloved Prague Secessionist building, it is also a well-known concert and exhibition space. After passing through the Powder Gate, a surprise awaits: certainly you are familiar with Cubist paintings, but what about Cubist buildings? One of the first examples of
Cubist architecture in the world is the House of the Black Madonna, where you will find an exhibition on Czech Cubism. Continue walking down Celetná Street, with its historic palaces, and at the end the fairy-tale scene that is the Old Town Square will spread out before you. Here, in the Middle Ages, celebrated tournaments were held. Here, 27 Czech Lords were beheaded during the Thirty Years’ War. Here, in 1948, people listened to the report on the establishment of the first communist government. Here, history was written. Today, tourists come to the square to see the Gothic Týn Church and, even more so, the Old Town Hall with the renowned astronomical clock. Wait until the top of the hour for the procession of Apostles before continuing on. Karlova Street will lead you safely to Charles Bridge. One of the symbols of Prague, it has connected the banks of the Vltava since 1357. In the 18th century, the leading masters of the time decorated the bridge with their sculptural works. You could spend a considerable time at each sculpture just admiring the work. Don’t forget to make a wish at the statue of the Czech Saint John of Nepomuk. When you place your hand on the brass cross so that every finger covers one of the stars, then your wish will come true! Enjoy the view of the river as you cross over to Malá Strana, or Lesser Town. On Nerudova Street, pay close attention to the poetic house emblems (House of the Three Fiddles, House of the Two Suns). At Hradčany Square, watch the changing of the castle guard, then enter into the courtyard of the largest castle complex in the world, Prague Castle. Here, if you have not already, you will regret that you do not have more time, as ahead awaits a visit to the monumental Gothic St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace and the Golden Lane with its side by side houses…
Prague, at the crossroads of cultures
Still in the first half of the last century, Prague was a place where three cultures blossomed side by side and significantly influenced one another: Czech, German and Jewish. Franz Kafka, as a Jewish-German-Czech author, is the most prominent example of their interconnection, though in his own time not so unusual. The Second World War finally brought to an end several centuries of enduring (though not always peaceful) coexistence. Go for a tour of the old Jewish Quarter and try to imagine the ghetto that arose here back in the Middle Ages. A key landmark of the area was the Old New Synagogue from the 13th century, one of the longest continually used synagogues in Europe. The Spanish Synagogue, built in the Spanish Moorish style popular in the 19th century, evokes a considerably more recent time. In the area of Prague, still more synagogues (e.g. the Jubilee Synagogue – the only one in the world decorated in the Viennese Secessionist style) and Jewish cemeteries can be found.
Prague cultural marathon
If you are going to Prague with someone who enjoys going to museums, galleries and concerts, prepare yourself for a proper cultural marathon. Of the hundreds of galleries, the following are not to be missed: the modern Czech and international art at the Rudolfinum, the representative collection of Czech art from the Romanesque period up to the present day at the National Gallery, and the exclusive exhibition premises of the City Gallery Prague. Classical composers such as Dvořák, Janáček and Smetana have played an important role in the immortality of Czech music, and now you can hear their works in their homeland. The Rudolfinum, Municipal House, The Estates Theatre and the State Opera all feature beautiful music halls. Theatre lovers need not fear the language barrier either. The unique concept of the black light theatre offers performances that combine film, dance and pantomime.
Prague by day and night
Sightseeing by day, entertainment by night. Wenceslas Square and its adjacent streets transform at night into an animated thoroughfare with dozens of restaurants and bars. Jazz clubs and music bars in the Old Town often are located in historic premises and thus amaze their guests with the unusual contrasts of old and modern. Vinohrady recently has also become a favourite destination for entertainment, with excellent restaurants and G&L clubs. Those who opted for more inexpensive accommodations in Žižkov certainly will not be sorry. This section of the city is famous for its number of restaurants and pubs.
Prague the festive
After years of absence, carnival festivity reminiscent of the old carnival tradition has returned to Prague with the festival Bohemian Carnevale. The following music festivals form a relay of music events during the year: Prague Spring, Prague Proms, Strings of Autumn, as well as Easter and Christmas festivals… The festival United Islands presents enjoyable music and atmosphere on the Prague islands, while the International Jazz Festival Prague has an already more than thirty year tradition. Thanks to some distinctive cinemas (Světozor, Aero, Lucerna), treats of world cinematography omitted from standard distribution also are available for film enthusiasts. The Prague Food Festival and Czech Beer Festival once again are dishing up gastronomic delicacies, while the races of the Prague International Marathon comprise the number-one sporting event.
Prague the modern
To design a building in competition with so many architectural styles is not simple, and thus in the centre you will encounter modern buildings only rarely. Thus, the construction boom took place just outside the centre, where new business centres and large shopping malls arose. For the meantime, prominent buildings by Jean Nouvel (Anděl) and Frank Gehry (The Dancing Building) represent more the courage of private investors than of the municipality. Thus, in the heart of the city, contemporary art is left to evoke the modern period. The works of Czech artist David Černý, who shocked Europe upon the inauguration of the Czech presidency of the EU with his sculpture Entropa, already have become a part of tourist guidebooks. The babies climbing the concrete structure of the Žižkov TV tower, the upside down horse in the arcade at Lucerna and the bronze men peeing messages on Kampa island, however, already were among sought-after sights.
Where to stay, where to eat?
Nowhere else in the Czech Republic will you have such a selection of hotels and restaurants as in Prague. Here, luxury hotels of such renowned names as Four Seasons, Hilton, Sheraton, Mandarin Oriental and Kempinski are represented, and there are hundreds of other five, four and three star hotels and pensions. For gourmets, a mark of quality is the first Michelin star in Central Europe, which was awarded to the Prague restaurant Allegro. Other restaurants, featuring the cooking of Czech and foreign chefs, also endeavour to increase the prestige of Czech gastronomy.
Where to go for shopping?
Shopping in Prague is wonderfully simple. On Wenceslaus Square and the adjacent street Na Příkopě are located well known international fashion labels, while Pařížská Street is home to luxury boutiques. Large shopping centres offering everything from food to furniture under one roof can be reached by metro. If, however, you are pining for something original and already have Czech jewellery, crystal or wooden toys from previous visits, focus on Czech fashion and design. In the city centre, have a look around the boutiques of Czech fashion designers at the Czech Fashion Centre. Remarkable design pieces can be purchased in stores such as Kubista and Futurista.
Discover less well known monuments
Sometimes taking a tram a few minutes from the centre is enough to discover a different Prague. Vyšehrad, the original seat of the Bohemian princes, for example, is a mythic and storied place. The Church of St. Peter and Paul with its rich Secessionist decoration, the Romanesque Rotunda of St. Martin, the casemates (narrow underground passages built by the French armada in the 18th century) and a walk around the Vyšehrad gardens present a pleasantly spent afternoon. You can indulge yourself in a similar programme in the quiet neighbourhood of Prague 6. First, admire the details of the reconstructed functionalist Villa Müller designed by Adolf Loos, then take the tram to the final stop at the Hvězda preserve and after a visit to the Renaissance Hvězda summer palace go for a walk in the area surrounding the Břevnov monastery. For an all day trip, set out for Trója. There you will find art and architecture in a gorgeous Baroque chateau, exotic plants in the tropical greenhouse of the Botanic Garden and the second most visited tourist destination in the country – the Prague Zoo. Forget about public ground transportation and take a trip on a steamer! In the season, it goes from the centre all the way to the zoo. Among the newly opened monuments is the chateau Ctěnice – originally a fortress, which centuries of renovations changed into a chateau and then into a noble estate.
Prague from all angles
Where are familiar pictures of Prague taken from? You will capture the Prague bridges best from Letná Park, while you will discover a beautiful view of the Old Town at Prague Castle as well as at the top of Prague’s little Eiffel Tower – the Petřín lookout tower. From the Žižkov television tower, during good visibility, you can see to a distance of up to 100 km, while Vyšehrad also offers beautiful views. You can splendidly capture how the silhouette of the Castle changes on the surface of the Vltava from the deck of a steamer or ferry. Quite unusual, you can also photograph Prague from below during a visit to the underground tunnel network.
When to go?
According to statistics, most people come to Prague in the summer. Spring and autumn, however, can be just as charming – and without the crowds. During Easter and Christmas, moreover, the city becomes festive, and thus, thanks to the popular markets and cultural programmes on the city’s squares, a quite different atmosphere is created.
What to watch out for in Prague
As in other large cities, a risk for tourists in Prague lurks in the form of pickpockets, who will want to take advantage of confusing situations for their enrichment. Because the Czech Republic is not yet a part of the euro zone, a little caution is also in order when exchanging money. Just be sure to verify the final sum of an exchange, including fees, before hand. It will be some time yet before the label “Prague cabby” sheds its negative connotation, but the situation here has improved: Thanks to the informational campaign Taxi Fair Place and more frequent audits, the number of complaints about crooks behind the wheel has been significantly reduced.
Current information about Prague can be found on the web pages of the Prague Information Service.
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