This tour follows the traditional coronation route of Bohemian kings, passing through the Old Town, across the Charles Bridge to the Lesser Quarter, and then a long hike up to the Castle. It’s a terrific overview of the city, and if you have time for just one walk, make it this one.
Start at the (1) Powder Tower (Prasna Brana) at Na Prikope 1, one of the original gates into the Old Town. It was once used to hold gunpowder, hence the name. To the right is the opulent art nouveau (2) Municipal House (Obecni Dum) (Namesti Republiky 5; www.obecnidum.cz), one of the most important buildings of the Czech national revival. It now houses arguably the finest concert hall in the country as well as a beautiful café and dozens of other glittering rooms and salons.
Following Celetna Street, walk a couple of blocks until you reach the Cubist-style (3) House of the Black Madonna (www.ngprague.cz) at Ovocny 19 and the corner of Celetna. Cubism captured the imagination of Prague architects looking to make a complete break from the bland, historicist styles of the 19th century. This building was built in 1912 and now houses an excellent museum of Cubist design and a period-piece 1920s café (grandcafeorient.cz).
Continue along Celetna until you reach the (4) Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti), the center of the city’s commercial life for the past thousand years. The most important sights here are the twin-spire (5) Church of Our Lady Before Tyne (Staromestske Namesti 604), to your right, the Gothic (6) Old Town Hall (Staromestske Namesti 1) straight ahead, and the ancient (7) Astronomical Clock on the southern face of the town hall tower. The center of the square is dominated by a statue of the Czech Protestant martyr (8) Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415. If it’s close to the top of the hour, hurry over to the Astronomical Clock to hear the clock chime and view a spectacle from the Middle Ages. Otherwise, climb to the top of the Old Town Hall for great views over the square.
After you’ve had your fill, find the tiny, jumbled alley called (9) Karlova, which leads to (10) Charles Bridge (Karluv Most). Whatever you’ve read or heard about the bridge before is not likely to prepare you for its grace and beauty in real life. It was originally built in gothic style in the 14th and 15th centuries. The statues, with their strong religious motifs, were added beginning in the 17th century. Take your time strolling across the bridge, admiring the sights and spires on both sides of the river.
On the Lesser Quarter side, follow Mostecka to the quarter’s main junction, the (11) Lesser Quarter Square (Malostranske Namesti). Walk around the back of the square to see the exuberant baroque (12) St. Nicholas Church (www.svmikulas.cz). Czechs usually regard baroque as too extreme for their tastes, but here the glitter and gold, the paintings and curved marble columns work well.
From here, walk up (13) Nerudova, one of the handsomest streets in the Lesser Quarter. The elegant palaces on both sides were the work of 17th- and 18th-century Italian masters. Many of the houses have nicknames, denoted by a relief over the door. No. 11, for example, is the House of the Red Lamb. At the top of Nerudova, you’ll find stairs leading to (14) Prague Castle (Prazsky Hrad), Hradcanske Namesti 1, the seat of political and religious power for centuries. It’s free to enter the castle grounds and to walk inside the St. Vitus Cathedral. For a serious exploration, though, you’ll want to give it at least a few hours and leave it for another day.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.