Soaring majestically atop the hillside overlooking the glorious city of Prague, lies the Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) in the district of Hradčany. It’s stunning mass of spires, towers and palaces dominate Prague like a magical, fairy-tale fortress. Known as the largest ancient castle complex in the world, covering an area close to the size of seven football fields (70,000 square meters in length and 130 meters wide) this network of towers, churches, museums, halls, gardens and palaces is like a city in itself and is a must-see for anyone visiting Prague.
Scholars estimate that the Prague Castle was founded around 880 by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty. It was also around this time that merchants from surrounding lands began trading in the area and formed a marketplace that would eventually become Old Town Square in the heart of Prague. The first building to be constructed in the Prague Castle was the church of the Virgin Mary which only has a few stones remaining today. Over the next couple of centuries, the immense complex of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings were constructed and modified in various kinds of architectural style, beginning with the 10th century St. George’s Basilica, the St. George Convent, the impressive St. Vitus Cathedral, and the glorious palaces and gardens.
Since its founding, the Prague Castle has held an important role in history as the seat of power for the kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. Today, it is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic and has been opened up to the public since 1989.
You can reach the castle a number of different ways however we preferred to take the long hike up from Lesser Town on foot. Leaving Nerudova Street, we walked up the picturesque Malostranské náměstí to the top of the hill and the main entrance to the Castle. The views along the way were stunning and definitely worth the steep walk up.
The panoramic views of the brilliant, terra cotta rooftops of Lesser Town were stunning despite the threat of rain. You can get a real feel for how large Prague is and how much of it has remained relatively unchanged for centuries.
After a ten minute walk up the hill, you reach the Hradčany Square, the main square that surrounds the entrance to the castle. It is filled with musicians, street artists and traditional and not so traditional food for sale. There of course are also lots and lots of tourists.
The highlight of any visit to the Prague Castle is watching the Changing of the Guards. The Changing the Guards ceremony takes place in the first courtyard of the Prague Castle at 12 o’clock daily and is the formal handover carried out with marching, music and military precision. It is best to arrive early as the crowds and lines start forming around the Changing of the Guards making your visit to the cathedral and castle quite challenging.
To enter the Castle, you must pass through a gate adorned with sculptures of Titans, which were made by I. F. Platzer in 1770. Then you will have a series of three courtyards that take you through the inside of the Castle complex.
The masterpiece inside the Prague Castle is by far the glorious French Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral. The St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and most important church in the Czech Republic and its chapels, frescos and spectacular stained glass make it one of the most incredible churches I have ever seen. (It is so magnificent that I am dedicating an entire post to the cathedral). Its construction took over a thousand years and its origins date back to the end of the 9th century.
You can easily spend an entire day visiting the castle, St. Vitus Cathedral and all the beautiful buildings around Hradčany. There is so much to see and so much history it is almost overwhelming. Since our time was limited, we did not do the castle tour but did tour the St. Vitus Cathedral and walked around Hradčany. I enjoyed taking photos of all the majestic buildings and palaces.
Here is a photo gallery of the Archbishop’s Palace which I thought was quite impressive.
Here are some other lovely historical buildings around the castle.
The weather in May can be unpredictable and it was clouding up again looking like it was going to rain. We cut out visit short and headed back to town feeling a little bit disappointed as I can only imagine how Hradčany would look with the sun shining down upon it. I’m sure the colors of the buildings would be brilliant.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to walk through the Palace Gardens which are supposedly quite lovely and are a wonderful option for getting back down to the center of town. Instead, we returned the way we came and arrived just in time to have lunch at one of the many outdoor restaurants in Old Town Square (many which have umbrellas and even offer blankets to keep you warm in case of cool Spring weather or rain). I realized there are both good and bad things to going in the Spring. You chance the weather however beat the unbearable crowds (which were already getting to be annoyingly large by early May) and the scorching heat of summer. Maybe a visit in the Fall would be ideal?
If you go:
Here are some great resources I found on planning your visit.
Prague Castle for Visitors (website gives you opening hours, map of the castle, information on each palace, ticket information and more).
My Czech Republic (website gives extensive history on the founding of the Prague Castle).
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.