Map: Inside Prague Castle

Prague Castle (www.hrad.cz) is a challenging tourist objective but worth the effort. It’s massive, and like the Louvre in Paris, easy to get lost amid the splendor. Added to that, the history is unfamiliar to most of us. Czechs may know something about men named Wenceslas and Boleslav, but not many others do. This tour breaks the Castle down into bite-sized bits. A combined-entry ticket is good for most sights in the castle area (the major exceptions to this are the Lobkowicz Palace and the Toy Museum).

Start at the castle’s (1) main gate, fronting on Hradcanske Namesti (Hradcany Square). The castle guards may look imposing, but they don’t mind if you sidle up for a photograph. Each hour there’s an elaborate changing of the guard. Enter the gate to find a series of handsome but bland (2) inner courtyards, dating from restoration work carried out in the 18th century by Austria’s Maria Theresa.

Continue inside to the real treasure, the enormous (3) St. Vitus Cathedral, the most important church in the country. St. Vitus would be a large church anyway, but squeezed within the walls of Prague Castle, it looks absolutely massive. Construction on the church began in 1344 but was not finished until 1929. Take time to tour the inside, admiring the large stained glass windows, the small chapels that line the sides, the royal crypt downstairs, and the ornate St. Wenceslas Chapel. If you’ve got the stamina, climb the stairs to the top of the tower for some of the best views over the city.

Just around the corner from the entrance to St. Vitus is the (4) Royal Palace, the former royal residence. The most important room here is the Vladislav Hall, the former coronation room, with its renowned, vaulted late-gothic ceiling. Back outside again and further down, (5) St. George’s Basilica is the second church in the castle complex and one of the few Romanesque buildings in Prague still standing. The interior is more solemn and stately than St. Vitus.

Outside St. George’s, follow the street down to the entrance to (6) Golden Lane. These impossibly tiny dwellings housed the Castle’s servants and marksmen in the 16th century, and Franz Kafka later lived at number 22. Beyond Golden Lane is the (7) Daliborka prison tower. The name “Dalibor” comes from a 15th-century prisoner who, according to Czech legend, learned to play the violin while incarcerated. Following the path around, you come to a small courtyard housing a café and the (8) Toy Museum (Jirska 6), with its historic collection of classic dolls, wooden toys, trains, and games. Just across from the courtyard is a new museum, the (9) Lobkowicz Palace, displaying the noble family’s valuable collections of paintings, sheet music, books, and weapons.

You can easily leave the castle complex from here and follow the path down all the way to the Malostranska metro station, or return to the main entrance and visit one more sight, the (10) Prague Castle Picture Gallery (www.obrazarna-hradu.cz). Emperor Rudolf II’s collection must have been impressive in its day, but it was plundered over the years, and while the remaining pictures are interesting, the gallery is not worth a major trip out of your way.

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