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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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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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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