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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Doors in Prague

Windows and Doors of Prague

“Better keep yourself clean and bright. You are the window through which you must see the world.” – George Bernard Shaw

I admit, I tend to have a small obsession with photographing doors and windows. I don’t know exactly why but perhaps it is because of the mystery they behold of what lies behind. The unknown stories from centuries of the past. I have written several posts on windows and doors from around the world. Up there with Paris, there is no other place in Europe in which I found the doors and window decorations as fascinating and beautiful as in Prague.

Prague is an enchanting, delightful city with some of the most well-preserved architecture in Europe. Yet her beauty has caught on and there are few times throughout the year that Prague is not overwhelmed with tourists. Given the constant crowds, I ended spending a lot of my time looking up and craning my neck to crop out the people from my photos. Thank goodness I did, as otherwise I would have missed so much as the windows, doors and rooftops of the buildings are sensationally decorated.

Prague is known for its interesting decorative door signs that back in medieval times when the signs were used for street addresses. The ornate doors and windows are befitting of Prague’s eclectic mix of architecture ranging from Baroque to Renaissance and Neo-Classical genius. After visiting other places in Europe, I’ve come to realize how incredibly fortunate Prague was to have avoided the bombing from WWII and remain relatively untouched. The entire city feels like an enormous open-air museum that is a true joy to see.

Here are some of my favorite little treasures I saw while wondering the charming cobblestone streets of Prague.

Prague Decorative Windows

Doors in Prague

Doors in Prague

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Morning at the Bell Tower in Prague

Prague is one of those cities that seduces one’s soul. It is a magically beautiful city that is easy to fall in love with its architectural charm, its open air squares, cobblestoned streets and endless array of terra-cotta rooftops, medieval churches and spires. Voted as one of the top touristic destinations in Europe, Prague has obviously been discovered and the best way to see her unspoiled beauty is to get up and going early.

On our last morning in Prague, we set off right after breakfast to Old Town Square to climb the Bell Tower knowing that if we were lucky, we would beat the crowds. Our timing was perfect and there is nothing quite like getting a bird’s-eye view of the city as it wakes up and comes to life.

Old Town Hall (Staroměstská radnice) was built during the reign of King John of Luxembourg in 1338 as the seat of the Old Town administration. The oldest part of the complex consists of a lovely Gothic tower with a bay chapel and a unique astronomical clock – known as the Orloj –which is the oldest and most elaborate functioning astronomical clock in the world.  Although watching the hourly presentation of the “12 Apostles” is a huge tourist attraction, the real pleasure of the Old Town Hall is its remarkable views of the city from the Bell Tower.

As you climb up a series of winding steps, you are delighted with a sense of awe and wonder at the views below. Here are a few of my favorites.

Bell Tower Prague

Bell Tower Prague

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St. Vitus Cathedral Prague

Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral

Perched magnificently above the River Vltava in Prague lies the spectacular St. Vitus Cathedral, a spellbinding masterpiece of French Gothic architecture whose dramatic spires dominate Prague’s fairytale skyline. The St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and most important church in the Czech Republic and its chapels, frescos, tombstones and sensational stained glass make it one of the most incredible churches I have ever seen. Its construction took over a thousand years and its origins date back to the end of the 9th century during the formation of the Prague Castle, one of the largest ancient castle complexes in the world.

The first stones of the foundation were laid in 1344 upon an earlier 9th century altar that had been dedicated to St. Vitus. Emperor Charles IV who inspired many of the great buildings and beautification of Prague wanted to make a grand medieval cathedral within the palace grounds and hired architect Peter Parler to work on the church.  Parler worked on it for 46 years until his death in 1399. Unfortunately not much work occurred for several centuries after Parler’s death, leaving the cathedral half-finished until a resurgence in the desire to complete it consumed the national psyche of the re-emerging nation. For the next several decades, a mix of architects, artists and sculptures worked on the church giving it a rather asymmetrical, piecemeal appearance. An opening ceremony for the church was held in 1929 to commemorate the millenium of St Wenceslas. Yet it still took until after WWII for the cathedral to be fully completed. Despite its chaotic past and building, St. Vitus Cathedral is a magical place and a must-see for any visitor to Prague.

As you walk through the castle gates, you will quickly realize that it is impossible to get a sense of how large the St. Vitus Cathedral is given it’s location. It is literally smushed within the buildings of the third courtyard of the Prague Castle and it takes numerous photos to get an appreciation for its sheer dominating size and grandeur.

St. Vitus Cathedral Prague

St. Vitus Cathedral

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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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Bazilika svatého Jakuba Většího

The ornate details within the Basilica of St. James in Prague

Tucked rather discretely among the opulent, ornate buildings in Old Town, Prague lies the Basilica of St. James (Bazilika svatého Jakuba Většího). From the outside, this rather nonchalant church can easily be missed however once inside be prepared to be spellbound by its elaborate, thrilling beauty.

Bazilika svatého Jakuba Většího

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Lesser Town Prague

A Walking Tour of Prague: Malá Strana

As you cross the iconic Charles Bridge, you arrive in Malá Strana or “Lesser Town, a charming, picturesque part of Prague that peacefully lies beneath the Prague Castle and is known for its delightful winding cobblestone streets, its array of lovely restaurants, shops and cafes, its beautiful buildings and homes, and best of all, its lack of crowds giving this part of town a quieter, peaceful feeling.

Despite it’s name “Lesser Town” (Malá Strana is also referred to as the Little Quarter), Lesser Town is by no means a less beautiful or fascinating place to explore. In fact, it got its name because it was originally the smaller part of town where the king lived which in those days was away from the hustle and bustle of the Old Town markets and square.

Lesser Town Prague

View from Bell Tower looking towards Lesser Town.

After you cross the Charles Bridge, slowly the crowds dissipate and you can wander the charming eighteenth century cobblestone streets – many of them tucked behind gorgeous buildings and jetting uphill –  in lovely solitude.  In many ways, you will find Lesser Town to be Prague’s most enchanting part of town. Despite its intimate size of only 600 square meters, it is easy to get lost within its narrow streets and loose the hordes of people in Old Town. Home to such gems as the Church of St. Nicholas, the Little Quarter Square, the Kafka Museum, Petrin Park, and the Wallenstein Palace and Garden (which sadly was closed when we were there for a private event), you could easily spend a late afternoon or evening enjoying this intimate neighborhood.

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Charles Bridge, Prague

Prague: A Walk across The Charles Bridge to Lesser Town

There is no bridge in Prague that is more symbolic than the sensational Charles Bridge (Karlův most). Completed in 1402 by court architect, Peter Parler, the iconic Charles Bridge is a feat of medieval engineering that was the only link connecting Old Town and the Prague Castle across the River Vltava, for over 400 years. Lined with a never-ending collection of magnificent baroque statues against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Prague Castle and terra-cotta rooftops of Malá Strana (Czech for “Little Quarter” or “Lesser Town”, the Charles Bridge is a must-see for any visitor to the city.

The Charles Bridge and Old Town Square are the two places I remembered vividly in my head from my visit to Prague over 20 years ago in 1993. Visiting them again in detail did not disappoint. My only regret was not making the walk down to Charles Bridge at night to see the city ablaze with shimmering lights. That will have to be for another visit.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

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Old Town, Prague

A Walking Tour of Prague: Old Town Square

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.

Powder Gate, Prague

The Powder Gate

Old City Gate Prague

Old Town, Prague

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.

Old Town Square, Prague

Old Town Square

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Bell Tower Old Town Prague

A bird’s eye view of Prague from the Bell Tower in Old Town

Prague does not disappoint even in the rain. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world filled with history, culture, and architecture that will make you swoon. Left basically untouched by the destruction of WWII and kept tightly sealed behind the iron walls of communism for 40 years, Prague has come to life over the past decade as tourists from all over the world come to relish her fairytale beauty.

I too was swept away and seduced by the delights of Prague, and I couldn’t stop looking up at the immaculate detail on each and every building. Sometimes however it pays to look down. One morning before the crowds stormed into Old Town Square I climbed the Bell Tower for an aerial view of the city. Despite the poor weather conditions – it was rainy and gray – I was able to capture these shots of the serpentine curves of the city and red rooftops below.

Bell Tower Old Town Prague

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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 Day Trip to the Karlštejn castle in the magical countryside outside of Prague

There is no better time to visit Prague than in the springtime when the city is waking up to blooming flowers and sunshine and the hordes of tourists are just beginning to arrive. The city becomes alive with outdoor restaurants, cafes and bars where you can sit and watch the world go by. The rain is tapering off and the unruly level of tourists (that most likely make summertime in Prague unbearable) is still at a manageable level.

We thoroughly enjoyed our four days in Prague, spending hours on foot exploring this spectacular city awash in history, culture and charm. I was mesmerized by the beauty of Prague with her immaculate architecture that has made this city one of the hottest tourist destinations in Europe. Little did I know, the Prague countryside is equally as lovely and magical as the crown jewel herself.

On a Saturday morning, we decided to hire a driver for the day and headed out to explore the glorious Prague countryside and see what the locals do in their spare time. It was a stunning May day with brilliant blue skies, a gentle breeze and not a sign of rain. We were grateful to have it after spending our first few days in Prague in the drizzling rain.

Prague, Czech Republic

Leaving Prague

Our driver was an amiable young man who filled us in on the history of Prague. He had an encyclopedia of knowledge and a wonderful car with a front to back sunroof that gave us a bird’s-eye view of the passing countryside.

After leaving the city, it wasn’t long until we reached the lush fertile countryside. We immediately came across brilliant yellow fields of flowering rapeseed which emitted a delicious, heavenly fragrance that filled the car. We learned that rapeseed is the main crop allowed by the EU in the Czech countryside and accounts for about 75% of cultivated fields. It is used to produce canola oil.

Rapeseed

Rapeseed

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