Bell Tower, Prague

Self-Guided Walking Tour of Prague: A Complete 2-3 Day Itinerary

While Paris has always been my first love, little did I know that I’d also fall madly in love with the old world charm and beauty of Prague. In my opinion, few cities in the world compare to the magical architecture of these two cities, both equally adored in my eyes. I first saw Prague while I was living and studying abroad in Paris back in 1993, just four years after the Velvet Revolution. With over 40 years of communism, much of Prague’s beauty had been shroud in mystery and wasn’t unveiled for the world to see until 1989 with the fall of communism.

Prague’s history is long and deep which makes this charming city even more fascinating. Founded around the end of the 9th century at the crossroads of Europe, Prague became the seat of the Kings of Bohemia with a thriving marketplace alongside the River Vltava. Feuding kings, bloody wars, and the building of the Old Town Square surrounding the immense Prague Castle defined this prospering city that reached its glory in the 14th century during the reign of Charles IV. Charles IV commissioned the building of New Town, the spectacular Charles Bridge, the Gothic masterpiece Saint Vitus Cathedral and the Charles University, the oldest in Central Europe. Thanks to Charles IV, the “golden age” inspired much of the beauty you see in Prague today.

When to Go

Today, Prague relishes as one of the top major tourist destinations in all of Europe where people from all over the world come to take a step back in time and marvel at this masterpiece of architectural delight. Prague’s multi-layered history of architecture takes us back to her founding 1,100 years ago in the Romanesque era to her flourishing by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras, all within 3.34 square miles.

With only 1.3 million inhabitants, Prague sometimes can feel overrun with tourists blocking its tiny, winding cobblestone streets and filling up its squares. But despite the hordes of tourists, the magic of this city is spellbinding and is bound to take your breath away.

The best time to go to Prague if you want to avoid tourists yet take a little bit of a chance on weather is during the shoulder season meaning either Spring or Fall. We went in early May and had fairly good weather with a little spring rain. It wasn’t too unbearably crowded or hot like it gets during the busy summer months. I imagine September would be lovely in Prague.

Neighborhoods to See

Prague is made up of five independent municipalities: Hradčany (Prague Castle), Lesser Town (Malá Strana), Old Town (Staré Město) and New Town (Nové Město) and Josefov (the Jewish district) was added in 1850. Although Prague was one of the few European cities untouched by WWII, the Nazi occupation lead to the demise of the Jewish population who either fled or were killed in the Holocaust. The Germans who had formed the largest ethnic group in the city were expelled after the war. Then came 40 years of communism followed by freedom and an opening to the world.

In this guide, I will focus on the top touristic neighborhoods to see first for old world charm and architectural bliss:  Malá Strana (Lesser Town), Old Town (Staré Město), Malá Strana (Lesser Town), and Hradčany (Prague Castle). We stayed in Nové Město (New Town) which despite its name, is not new as it was founded in 1348 by Emperor Charles IV to link Old Town with other parts of Prague. There is plenty to see in Nové Město as well in terms of stunning architecture, the Wenceslas Square, department stores, shops, restaurants and more. Another district you must visit is Josefov, Prague’s old Jewish ghetto filled with beautiful synagogues, an old Jewish cemetery and the Jewish Town Hall. We only had time to briefly visit the Old New Synagogue (Staronová synagoga), one of the oldest and most valuable European and world Jewish monuments, and the oldest synagogue in Central Europe. We simply ran out of time. I would highly recommend spending at least half a day in Josefov if not more. If you like to shop, then you could also easily spend a half to full day in New Town as well. The itinerary below is meant for at least 2-3 full days to explore at a leisurely pace.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

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Prague Castle

A Walking Tour of Prague: The Prague Castle

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.

Prague Castle

Leaving Lesser Town and heading up to the Prague Castle.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

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Old Town Square, Prague

The Magic of Prague

“With almost a thousand years of architecture virtually untouched by natural disaster or war, few cities anywhere in Europe truly compare to Prague” – Marc Di Duca, Rough Guides (2011)

I fell in love with Paris the first time I stepped foot in the French capital over thirty years ago. I thought I’d never find a city more romantic and beautiful than Paris until I met Prague. In my opinion, few cities in the world compare to the magical architecture of these two cities, both equally loved in my eyes. I first saw Prague while I was living and studying abroad in Paris back in 1993, just four years after the Velvet Revolution. With over 40 years of communism, much of Prague’s beauty had been shroud in mystery and wasn’t unveiled for the world to see until 1989 with the fall of communism.

Prague’s history is long and deep which makes this charming city even more fascinating. Founded around the end of the 9th century at the crossroads of Europe, Prague became the seat of the Kings of Bohemia with a thriving marketplace alongside the River Vltava. Feuding kings, bloody wars, and the building of the Old Town Square surrounding the immense Prague Castle defined this prospering city that reached its glory in the 14th century during the reign of Charles IV. Charles IV commissioned the building of New Town, the spectacular Charles Bridge, the Gothic masterpiece Saint Vitus Cathedral and the Charles University, the oldest in Central Europe. Thanks to Charles IV, the “golden age” inspired much of the beauty you see in Prague today.

Charles Bridge, Prague

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

Prague is made up of five independent municipalities: Hradčany (Prague Castle), Lesser Town (Malá Strana), Old Town (Staré Město) and New Town (Nové Město) were unified in 1784 and Josefov (the Jewish district) was added in 1850. Although Prague was one of the few European cities untouched by WWII, the Nazi occupation lead to the demise of the Jewish population who either fled or were killed in the Holocaust. The Germans who had formed the largest ethnic group in the city were expelled after the war. Then came 40 years of communism followed by freedom and an opening to the world.

Enter the magic of Prague

Enter the magic of Prague

Today, Prague relishes as one of the top major tourist destinations in all of Europe where people from all over the world come to take a step back in time and marvel at this masterpiece of architectural delight. Prague’s multi-layered history of architecture takes us back to her founding 1,100 years ago in the Romanesque era to her flourishing by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras, all within 3.34 square miles.

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Hrad Karlštejn Crech Republic

A Visit to the Karlštejn castle

I must admit I have a bit of a sweet spot when it comes to castles. Maybe it is the child that still wonders within me or the fact that my husband proposed to me overlooking one of the most magical castles of all, Neuschwanstein in Germany. Whatever the reason, I adore visiting castles as they have a way of taking me back to the carefree days of reading Harry PotterThe Chronicles of Narnia or dreaming of Sleeping Beauty’s castle in a fairytale.

It came as no surprise that during a recent trip to Prague, we decided to get out of the city for a day and see one of the Czech Republic’s most beloved castles: The Karlštejn castle (Hrad Karlštejn). Only 20 kilometers southwest of Prague, the Karlštejn castle is one of the most famous and visited castles in the country.

Hrad Karlštejn Crech Republic

Hrad Karlštejn Crech Republic

We arrived around 11 am by personal driver. Hiring a driver for the day was one of the best decisions that we made. For six hours, the cost was a mere $65 and we had the freedom to do and see as we pleased. Most tourists arrive via tour bus in a package deal that brings you to other sites as well. You can visit the castle either way but I am glad we did it on our own.

Once in town, there are two ways to reach the castle, both on foot. You can either walk up along the medieval village of Karlštejn bringing you past souvenir shops and restaurants (about one and half kilometers steep walk to the castle) or you can leave from the car park which takes about ten minutes walk through the forest. Once you arrive, you must purchase castle tour tickets if you haven’t already done so online (recommended) or as part of your tour package if you are coming via tour bus. The lines were quite long so I’m relieved we arrived early. One of the tours was already sold out.

Hrad Karlštejn Crech Republic

The lovely forest surrounding the castle.

Built between 1348-1355 by Emperor Charles IV, the gothic-style Karlštejn Castle was a symbol of the Golden Age and served as a safe depository of the Bohemian royal and imperial jewels, holy relics, royal treasures and an archive of state documents. The history of Karlstejn is a mix of many myths and incredible true stories that can be heard while touring the inside of the castle. Despite its ornate beauty and massive size, it is said that Charles IV visited the castle only six times.

View of Hrad Karlštejn from above. Photo Credit: Wikipedia free commons

View of Hrad Karlštejn from above. Photo Credit: Wikipedia free commons

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