by Audrey Burns
Prague, the beautiful and historic capital of the Czech Republic, was home to Bohemian kings and queens, a cultural center of the Holy Roman Empire and fiercely occupied by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century. This city rivals Paris in its beauty and is a true example of the meeting of Eastern and Western Europe (note, while in Prague do not refer to the Czech Republic as Eastern Europe, the Czech people view themselves as Central Europeans without doubt).
Due to Prague’s rich history and unique cultural heritage, a visit here makes for an incredible travel experience that will keep you dreaming of medieval castles and somber violin music long after your return.
If you find yourself in this part of the world and have only a couple of days to experience this exquisite city, grab some korunas, learn a couple of Czech phrases and read below for five top attractions to help you make the most of the city:
- PragueCastle Complex – This is the most popular tourist destination in Prague and for good reason. The complex dates back to the 9th century and is home to the famous St. Vitus Catherdral. In the complex, it is possible to see all types of architecture (gothic, renaissance, baroque) and you could easily spend the entire day here. Many tourists will ask “So, where’s the castle?” upon entering the complex. There are many different sections throughout the complex and not just one, dominant structure, for example, Daliborka Tower and the golden lane where The Metamorphosis author, Franz Kafka, once lived. The Czech President currently lives and works in the castle complex so you might catch a glimpse of his BMW motorcade. While walking through the various sections of the complex, feel free to stop for a respite at one of the many cafes and sip Becherovka.
- Lobkowicz Palace – Neighboring the PragueCastle Complex, this palace is has only recently been restored and opened to the public. The Lobkowicz family lost their fortunes twice, once to the Nazis and once to the Soviets. An American descendent was able to reclaim the palace and the family’s other holdings under a 2002 restitution law. The Palace offers an amazing audio tour to the sounds of classical music. Wander the exquisite rooms of the Palace and admire the family’s collection of portraits, unique art, weapons, and classical musical manuscripts. Be sure not to miss the Palace’s gardens that lead to the heart of Prague’s Castle Town.
- The Museum of Communism – This gem is hidden away in the heart of capitalism (in the same building as a casino and a McDonald’s) and is often a quiet retreat from the bustle of the cobblestoned Praguestreets. Wander among Lenin and Stalin busts and inhale the scent of a dark time of repression for the Czechs. One of my favorite displays was a time card puncher that had a sign taped next to it reading in Czech, “Timely arrival to work deals the decisive strike against the American aggressors!”Indulge in candle bust of Stalin and a toothy matryoshka doll pin in the gift shop.
- Old Town Square – The heart of Prague, the medieval town square is surrounded by towering churches including the Church of St. Nicholas, Church of St. Gall and Týn Church. The Astronomical Clock on the Old Town City Hall is the oldest working clock in the world and greets the crowds every hour with the twelve apostles, humanly vices and the grim reaper. The Old Town Square is oftentimes geared up as for afair, with delectable Czech potatoes and sweets, leather and jewelry merchants and performers to rival any renaissance festival. Beware this area is very crowded, particularly beneath the Astronomical Clock on the hour.
- The Petřín Lookout Tower – The walk to the lookout tower winds up through gorgeous hills and parks that will have you feeling like a native of Praha out for a stroll. The Lookout Tower strongly resembles the Eiffel Tower and the steep climb will not disappoint with glorious views of the architectural gem that is the city of Prague. Close in distance to the Strahov Monastery, take the time to visit this abbey home to an incredible collection of antique books. While the Břevnov Monastery (in the Břevnov district of Prague) was the world’s first brewery, the Strahov Monastery Brewery can give you a taste of Czech beers now known all over the world like Plzeň and České Budějovice.
Prague is filled with breathtaking beauty and spirit. The sights above will give you a range of experiences and an idea of the rich history of the city, though admittedly, this list only scratches the surface. Here are a few other choice sights to make you rub the bronze plaque on the statue of John of Nepomuk on Charles Bridge, wishing for more time in this gorgeous old city:
- Charles Bridge
- Old Jewish Cemetery
- National Library of the Czech Republic
- PragueState Opera
- Jazz cruise on the river Vltava
Audrey Burns is a writer currently working in the field of immigration. She is a graduate of Syracuse University’s Writing Program and has conducted research in language acquisition at the University of Rochester. Her work has appeared in JEPPA, Children Churches & Daddies, Democrat and Chronicle, and she served as editor on the publication Pro(se)letariots: The Writing of the Trans-Atlantic Worker Writer Federation.
Photograph by Roman Boed