Few cities in Europe can touch Prague for architectural beauty, artistic originality, moving history, and of course, delicious beer! The fact that the city remains arguably Europe’s best urban bargain sweetens things of course, even if a visit here means contending with year-round crowds, particularly in the beautiful old town. But even weaving your way through selfie-snappers and street artists on the Charles Bridge and in the Old Town Square does nothing to detract from the city’s beauty and atmosphere. Untouched by the bombs of World War 2, and lovingly restored after decades of Communist rule, Prague is a transportative destination, whether explored with someone special or on your own during a Czech Republic vacation. Options are plentiful, but here are four one-day itineraries to get your Bohemian adventure started.
Classic Old Town Prague
Not to scare you with the prospect of an early morning on your Europe vacation, but it’s worth getting up early to experience the Charles Bridge before the crowds arrive. The bridge is spectacular at any time, but you’ll want some peace and quiet to admire the beautiful statues and views of Vltava River. Next, head to the Old Town Square and take the opportunity to admire the 15th-century Astronomical Clock. It’s currently under restoration, but is scheduled to be back in place in time for Czechoslovakia’s 100th anniversary at the end of October 2018. The towering spires of the Church of Our Lady before Tyn offer a magical backdrop, even as the crowds begin to swarm in. Relax with a coffee and morning pastry before backtracking to the astonishing Clementinum, famous for its Baroque library and Astronomical Tower. Note that entry is by 45-minute tour only.
Devote your afternoon to the Jewish Museum, which is in fact a collection of historically significant synagogues on the Old Town’s northern edge, plus the evocative Old Jewish Cemetery. The Old-New Synagogue (or Staronova Synagogue) is the oldest active synagogue in Europe and is said to be home to the fabled Golem of Prague. You also shouldn’t miss the Spanish Synagogue, which brings a distinctly Moorish aesthetic to its architecture and interior. Note the oddball bronze tribute to Franz Kafka outside. Remember, the museum and all related sights are closed on Saturday. After dark, double back for an evening walk along Charles Bridge, where the illuminated Prague Castle offers the ultimate romantic backdrop.
A Day in the Castle District and Petrin Hill
Prague Castle is a must, on your Czech Republic vacation, but like the Old Town, it fills up quickly if you don’t get an early start. Save your legs (you’ll be walking plenty today) by taking the tram up to Prazsky hrad stop and starting at St. Vitus Cathedral. If you’re there close to opening, you’ll have at least a little time to enjoy this Gothic wonder by yourself before the big tour groups descend. The rest of Prague Castle is less hectic, so explore as you will, but don’t miss the Old Royal Palace, 12th-century St. George’s Basilica, the adorable Golden Lane, the ghoulish Torture Chamber, or the historic Black Tower. If you still have the energy, take in the panoramic view and peruse the art collections of Lobkowicz Palace, or enjoy a breath of fresh air over the City of Spires in one of the gardens that surround the castle.
After lunch, double back to the pilgrimage site of Loreto for a dose of spirituality in the largely secular Czech Republic. Then let your jaw drop at the Strahov Monastery, particularly when you catch a look at its vast library. Devote the balance of the afternoon to Petrin Hill, perhaps zipping up to the observation deck of Petrin Observation Tower for unbeatable Prague views. Continue exploring the park (astronomy buffs shouldn’t miss Stefanik Observatory), descending via the moving Memorial to the Victims of Communism. This brings you out in the Lesser Quarter, where you can meander your way to the Lennon Wall for a much needed (and colourful) shot of political defiance before enjoying another evening in Prague.
Revolutionary and Modern Day Prague
Though World War 2 left its architecture unscathed, there’s no denying the turbulence of Prague’s 20th century. A day exploring it starts at Wenceslas Square, particularly the Jan Palach and Jan Zajic Memorial in the shadow of the National Museum. Czechoslovakia’s transition to democracy (prior to the two countries’ amicable divorce) was hard won, and standing at the top of the square, seeing the memorial and imagining the protestors of the 1968 revolt and 1989 Velvet Revolution is a powerful experience. After paying your respects to Saint Wenceslas himself, stroll down the square, turning off toward ether the Mucha Museum, dedicated to one of the Czech Republic’s most influential artists, or the Museum of Communism for a somewhat ramshackle, but utterly compelling look at Czechoslovakia’s dictatorship, and others of the kind around the world.
Since you’re in the area, nip around to the beautiful Municipal House concert venue. You can perhaps catch a tour, or even see what’s playing that evening and book a glamorous Prague night out on your Czech Republic vacation. Right next door is the imposing but gorgeous Powder Tower, one of the great gates to the old city. If you have the time and energy, take a taxi or metro to Exhibition Palace, part of Prague’s National Gallery and home to Alfons Mucha’s jaw-dropping 20 canvas Slav Epic. If you only have time for one gallery, make it this one. Kids might find it a bit dry, so if you have them in tow, head to the heavily interactive National Technical Museum instead.
Laid Back, Off-Beat, and Creative Prague
The Czech Republic is famous for its Bohemian culture and quirky artistic sensibilities (hello Kafka), and that’s what today’s itinerary is all about. Start the morning at Vysehrad, fondly known by some as “the other Prague Castle,” exploring the basilica, cemetery (Mucha is buried here, in case you’re now hooked and would like to pay your respects), and exhibition. It’s easy to get lost in the serenity of the park here, but leave time for a leisurely walk up the Vltava until you reach Frank Gehry’s Dancing House. Cross over Legions’ Bridge (wave to the crowds on Charles Bridge to the north if you like), to Kampa Park.
The Museum Kampa is filled with contemporary Czech and central European art that defines its own style. It’s a great way to start the afternoon, on your Czech Republic vacation, before paying your respects to Prague’s prince of eccentric creativity, Franz Kafka, at the Kafka Museum. Finally, keep following the river to the Prague Metronome, where you can take your seat for the ultimate sunset view over the City of Spires.