Visiting The Castle, Charles Bridge. Letna Park & Old Town Square
The sights of Prague are quite a sight.
Cobblestone streets, Old Town, a magnificent castle, the majestic Municipal House, classic buildings and views from high above Prague that are a short walk from city center comprise the visual highlights and delights of Prague.
Here’s a guide to the top sights in Prague, where you can spend a few hours and indeed a few days in this scenic city.
VISITING THE CHARLES BRIDGE
Prague’s splendor begins with the Charles Bridge, the city’s signature landmark as well as its cultural heartbeat. The Gothic structure, constructed in 1357 for Czech King Charles IV, is a pedestrian pleasure, gently arching over the Vltava River.
Hours can be spent spanning the span, for it is lined with artists, musicians and expatriates from many countries (the USA in particular) who are carving out a simple living simply because they love to live in Prague.
Paintings, portraits, jewlrey and CDs from bands playing on the bridge are sold along the edges, much to the shopping delights of the thousands of tourists who slowly travel over it time and time again throughout the day and evening.
Framed by towers on each side, which can be climbed for a view from above, the bridge is Prague’s invitation to exploration. On one side sits the Prague Castle. On the other side, the tower serves as a meeting and gathering place while it also houses a tunnel of shopping, fast food and even a couple of nightclubs.
At night, from the city center side, dressed up in lights, glistening against the river and with the lit-up castle in the background, the Charles Bridge is stop-in-the-tracks breathtakingly beautiful.
VISITING THE PRAGUE CASTLE
Looking down on the city like a watchful parent over a playground is the massive Prague Castle. Long the home of the Czech government, it is one of the city’s premier sights and attractions.
Walking the grounds and gawking at the buildings – particularly the St. Vitus Cathedral – is free. One of the most popular attractions is the changing of the guards at the main gate, which occurs every hour on the hour. There is admission to go inside certain areas (50-350KC, good for two days; inside the cathedral is an extra 100KC).
It’s a uphill hike to the castle across the Charles Bridge, though the there are several shops and beer stops along the way.
A less-touristed approach is through Letna Park, a long, pleasant stroll high above Prague. On the far end is a popular Letna Park beer garden, an afternoon delight among locals with picnic tables overlooking the city.
Sights along the way include the The Hanau Pavilion, a gorgeous – and pricey, by Prague’s standards – tiny restaurant that looks like an observatory, and what locals refer to as the “Stalin statue,” a rusting metal pulley atop a concrete block that was once a huge statue of Stalin during the Soviet occupation.
Today it’s a locals’ lookout and makeshift skateboarding park while the city tries to figure out exactly what to make of it. Once year the city has it figured out – it’s where Prague paints the sky with fireworks for New Year’s Eve. The Stefanikuv bridge, three up from the Charles Bridge by the Intercontinental hotel, leads directly to the beer garden. Letna Park is also an excellent place for running and rollerblading.
SIGHTSEEING AROUND THE PRAGUE CASTLE
If it seems the vantage points of the city never end from across the river, that’s practically the case. Surrounding the castle is a small – and steep – village with a monastery, restaurants, shops and one of the best authentic Czech bars in Prague.
Crystal shops, so prevalent in Prague, are less crowded here along the main street of Nerudova. At the top – and it’s a slow, fairly steep incline – awaits a park with one of those views. Bellavista, a restaurant-bar by the monastery, is a nice resting spot (grills meats, fish and pasta in the 250KC range); they’ll even wrap patrons in blankets if the cool wind blows.
By the time one locates The Black Bull – or U Cernacho Vola –it will be time for a good, strong Czech beer. A real find – it’s down from the castle on Lorent‡nskŽ across from a pair of “No Pezi Zone” signs – it’s as authentic as it gets. That’s because it’s real. A small, smoky joint it has old picnic tables and good, strong beer. Locals come in for a puff and pour; go in, sit down and order a beer at the very friendly cost of just 24KC. This is is a favorite spot of the Czech national hockey team coach.
THINGS TO DO IN OLD TOWN SQUARE
While the Charles Bridge may bridge any of Prague’s cultural gaps, Old Town Square is the city’s true heartbeat. This is the primary hangout area where one can feel the pulse of the city’s activity.
Framed by outdoor cafes and not one but two churches – including the oddly popular astrology clock which attracts numerous tourists when it moves each hour – it’s the gateway to the main part of Prague.
A maze of streets lead to Old Town Square, filled with shops (one featurues Medieval armor), restaurants and watering holes. Exit to the north, through the arches, and one of the city’s best bars–Chateau Rouge – awaits.
To the south, past the outdoor afternoon market, is Mozart’s house and the watering hole where he frequented. Frequently.