Prague is a delightful city to explore on foot with its extraordinary architecture, charming cobblestone lanes and enchanting churches, squares and buildings. Prague’s history is long and deep which makes this spectacular city even more fascinating. Founded near the end of the 9th century at the crossroads of Europe, “Praha” or the “doorstep” became the seat of the Kings of Bohemia with a thriving marketplace alongside the River Vltava in what today is known as Old Town Square. Merchants and craftsman from all over the world would meet here to trade and by 1234 Prague’s Staré Město “Old Town” was founded.
Old Town revolves around Old Town Square which is laced in history and architectural genius and remains the historic heart and the soul of the city. Many believe it is the grandest, most magnificent square in all of Eastern Europe with its intricate pathways of cobblestone streets reminiscent of medieval times and its brightly-hued pastel buildings each with a history of its own right.
Every way you turn, there is an architectural treasure as one building seems to outshine the next. The styles of architecture range from Romanesque (characterized by semi-circular arches that was prevalent in medieval Europe) to Gothic (with its characteristic pointed arches, ribbed vaults and the flying buttress that occurred after the Romanesque period in the 12th century) and Baroque (began in the late 16th century and includes dramatic use of light, oval shapes, grandeur and large ceiling frescoes).
What makes Old Town and much of Prague itself so utterly spectacular is that much of its treasured architecture from medieval times remains untouched by war or natural causes. There were floods that inundated the city in Medieval times that caused immense destruction but architects simply built over and restored the buildings in a new style of architecture. Many buildings of Gothic style were restored with Baroque facades.
As you enter Old Town, the first thing you see and pass through it the Powder Gate. Built in the 11th century, the Powder Gate was one of 13 entrances into Prague’s Old Town and still stands tall today. It was reconstructed in 1475 during the reign of King Vladislav II in 1475.
Walking through the gates, feels like stepping back in time. Despite the masses of people and tourists, if you look up and peer at the stunning, elaborate buildings you are bound to be awestruck by their pure magnificence. Several walking tours and guide books will give you detailed history on each building because of course every single one has a story. Also pay close attention to the detail of the doors, windows and the unique signs decorating each building. You could literally spend hours just walking around Old Town Square.
It is best to get up and going early in order to beat the crowds of tourists. These photos above were taken in early May before noon. By lunch time, the square is typically filled with people enjoying the sights and dining at one of many outdoor restaurants and cafes.
A must-see in Old Town Square is the Astronomical Clock. It is the oldest and most elaborate functioning astronomical clock in the world and a main attraction in the square especially on the hour when you can watch “The Walk of the Apostles”, a moving procession of the 12 Apostles. The first clock was built on the town hall building at the beginning of the 15th century and was completely operational by 1572.
The stars of the show are the 12 Apostles.
Another experience that cannot be missed is to climb the Bell Tower at the Town hall for an amazing bird’s-eye 360 degree view of Prague. It is definitely worth the effort! On a clear day, you can see for miles on end and get some spectacular photos. The views on a cloudy day are still impressive.
There are two magnificent churches that dominate Old Town Square. St. Nicholas’ Church is at one end and the Church of Our Lady before Týn at the other side of the square. Both are equally impressive and quite different in architectural style and design. The Church of Our Lady before Týn is what you would envision of medieval Prague with its spectacular Gothic style. The church was built from the mid-14th to the early 16th centuries and the Baroque interior replaced its Gothic roots at the end of the 17th century.
Nearly every building in the square is absolutely exquisite. The colors and decoration are extraordinary and it is hard to stop taking pictures of them. You could literally go building by building and admire each one while looking for its unique decorative sign.
On the other side of the Town Hall and Astronomical click lies the lovely Baroque Saint Nicolas’ Church. Completed in 1735 replacing an original church dating back to 1273, the interior of St. Nicholas’ Church is a masterpiece with stunning ceiling frescoes, pearl white stucco walls and a 2,500-pipe organ that fills the room with sound. If you have time, buy a ticket to attend an evening concert at the church and it will not disappoint.
The stunning interior of the St. Nicholas’ Church. Listening to a live organ and soloist sing inside the church is something not to be missed. Gaze up at the beautiful ceiling while the melodic music bounces off the walls and arches of the church, and you will be in awe.
The south side of Old Town Square displays an array of gorgeous Romanesque and Gothic buildings that are filled with mystery. Some host restaurants at the bottom that date back hundreds of years. There are even hidden wine cellars in the basements.
The Storch House is perhaps the most elaborate in the row which has a 19th century painting of St. Wenceslas an horseback. St. Wenceslas was a duke of Bohemia from 921 until his assassination in 935 and continues to play an important role in Prague’s history.
The buildings around the Storch House are equally lovely and ornate.
As I walked around the square and continued my exploration to other parts of Old Town, I was mesmerized by how much beauty surrounded me. I loved every single building and could never consider a favorite. It amazed me that such a place continues to exist in today’s modern world.
Our next stop on our day-long walking tour of Prague was to neighboring Malá Strana or “Lesser Town”. Stay tuned….
Here are some excellent guidebooks and resources I used to help research this post:
Rough Guides to Prague, 2015 edition, written by Marc Di Duca
DK Eyewitness Travel 2016 Prague, Vladimir Soukup
Discover Prague Guide – provided by most hotels in Prague
There are also tons of wonderful tourist websites on Prague. Enter a destination or name of a building or site on google, and you will be amazed at the wealth of fantastic information available.
This article is also available for download on the iTunes app GPSmyCity. You can download by clicking this link. GPSmyCity provides a GPS-assisted downloadable version of this blog post.