Prague’s old town is a compact historic district that can easily be explored on foot. It has so many landmarks, attractions, and beautiful buildings in the area, so visitors have something to see everywhere they go.
I have already shared some highlights and tips about visiting Prague in my last post Your Free City Walking Guide in Prague’s Old Town for Bohemian Rhapsody. Now, the walking tour continues after you have discovered what Old Town Square has to offer. We expand our map across the Vltava River, starting from the Charles Bridge – one of the most famous and stunning bridges in the world.
While it is true that having a walking tour is generally more comfortable during summer, there is a bonus of going to Prague in December – the Christmas Markets. The best Christmas Market in Prague is in Old Town Square. The open space in the square is filled with food stalls, surrounded by all the iconic architecture, yet, it is not the only place in Prague where you will get to enjoy some delicious local delicacies. Here are some of the places worth exploring outside the Old Town Square.
The construction of the Charles Bridge began when the old Bridge, also the first stone Bride to connect the two sides of the city, the Romanesque Judith Bridge was damaged in a flood. Charles IV, the leader of that time, commissioned Peter Parler to build a new bridge in 1357 to meet the increasing demand of the growing city.
The exact time of the first foundation stone was laid on 9 July 1527 at 5:31 am, because the palindromic number 135797531 was carved into the bridge’s tower. This time was chosen by the royal astrologists, believing that this is the most auspicious time for breaking ground. The construction of bridge took 45 years to build and it was completed in 1402. The length of the bridge is 505 meters long, and 10 meters wide, and it is a complex engineering project at that time. Charles Bridge is 5 meters taller than the original Judith Bridge, supported by 16 enormous balustrades, endured over 600 years of time on the river until today, making it the oldest bridge that still stands in the Czech Republic. The bridge marks its ends with two magnificent towers, with statues on each arch, which will be introduced soon. The east tower of the Bridge, Old Town Bridge Tower, was also built by Peter Parler. Its arch contains a net vault that was the first of its kind in Bohemia.
For over six centuries, the bridge witnessed important historical events, from John of Nepomuk being thrown into the river Vltava from the bridge by the order of King Wenceslaus IV, to the heads of 27 Czech noblemen being hung from the bridge’s east tower during the Thirty Year’s War, to the damage of the west tower during the invasion of Swedes, to the changes of traditional gas lamps (the only bridge in the world illuminated by gas lights).
Today, millions of visitors come to this bridge and walk on it annually, it is an impressive walk between Prague’s Old Town and Prague Castle. The pedestrians can check out the hawkers, street performers, buskers, and artists, they can also climb the two towers at the end of the bridge (at the same time, it is also a notorious place for pickpockets).
Peter Parler is an important German-Bohemian architect and sculptor in the 14th century. He was inherited the architectural DNA for being born from the Parler family of master builders. Along with his father, Heinrich Parler, Peter is one of the most important and influential craftsmen in the Middle Ages. Most of the landmarks in Prague were created by him while he was living in Prague, namely, Old Town Hall, Church of Our Lady before Tyn, Old Town Bridge Tower, Saint Vitus Cathedral, and Charles Bridge. His Late Gothic design has made a mark and his works can also be seen in Strasbourg, Cologne, and Nuremberg.
Statues on Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge features 30 statues, one on each of the balustrades on two sides of the bridge, and these various saints, and patron saints venerated at that time, are the highlight of the bridge. However, many of these statutes are damaged over centuries and so they are replaced by copies. Some of the originals are now moved to the National Museum and Vyšehrad, where the statues were produced at the beginning of the 18th century.
Statues on the south side of the bridge
1.1 Statue of St. Ivo
1.2 Statues of saints Barbara, Margaret, and Elizabeth
1.3 Statue of the Lamentation of Christ
1.4 Statue of St. Joseph
1.5 Statue of St. Francis Xavier
1.6 Statue of St. Christopher
1.7 Statue of St. Francis Borgia
1.8 Statue of St. Ludmila
1.9 Statue of St. Francis of Assisi
1.10 Statue of Saints Vincent Ferrer and Procopius + Bruncvík column
1.11 Statue of St. Nicholas of Tolentino
1.12 Statue of St. Luthgard
This statue is probably the most valuable statue on the bridge. It was created by Braun and it was completed in 1710.
The statue depicts the blind saint kissing the wounds of Jesus. It is an emotional piece of art.
1.13 Statue of St. Adalbert
1.14 Statues of Saints John of Matha, Felix of Valois, and Ivan
1.15 Statue of St. Wenceslas
Statues on the north side of the bridge
2.1 Statue of the Madonna attending to St. Bernard
2.2 Statue of the Madonna, Ss. Dominic and Thomas Aquinas
2.3 The Crucifix and Calvary
2.4 Statue of St. Anne
2.5 Statue of St. Cyril and St. Methodius
2.6 Statue of St. John the Baptist
2.7 Statue of Saints Norbert of Xanten, Wenceslas and Sigismund
2.8 Statue of St. John of Nepomuk
This is the first statue added in 1683. John of Nepomuk Jan Nepomucky was thrown into the river in 1393 by the order of King Wenceslas IV and was canonized in 1729.
So, why he was thrown into the Vltava? For being the confessor to the Queen of Bohemia, the priest was put in a peculiar position as the King was infuriated and asked the priest to reveal what the queen had confessed. After the priest refused to do so, the King ordered him to throw him into the river. In the 18th century, John of Nepomuk was revered as a martyr for the sacred secrecy of the confessional – he is a symbol of the church’s resistance to encroachment from monarchical states. The saint is presented on the bridge as a bearded capitulary with five-star glory, standing on a tripartite base. The location of the statue is believed to be the spot where he was thrown into the water.
There are legends about this Statue of St. John of Nepomuk: Place your left hand at the base of the statue and make a wish, and your wish will be granted. Rubbing the queen and dog at the base panels will bring good luck. While it’s yet to be proved, it was for sure a common practice for everyone that these panels have a distinguishable golden sheen.
2.9 Statue of St. Anthony of Padua
2.10 Statue of St. Jude Thaddeus
2.11 Statue of St. Augustine
2.12 Statue of St. Cajetan
2.13 Statue of St. Philip Benitius
2.14 Statuary of St. Vitus
2.15 Statue of the Holy Savior with Cosmas and Damian
Castle District Walking Tour
After crossing the Charles Bridge, walk up Nerudova Street to the Castle. There are a number of cafes, shops, and boutiques to explore along the way. Grab a bagel at the Bohemia Bagel, or have breakfast at the U Tri Pstrosu.
In the Mala District, the Petrin Tower is a 60-feet tall tower on Petrin Hill that is based on the structure of the Eiffel Tower. The tower offers a breathtaking view of Prague after climbing the beautiful 299 stairs. Below, check out the Church of Lady Victorious, the Church of Saint Thomas, and the Vojanovy Gardens.
The castle district can be easily explored on foot. In fact, the city offers a “name-your-own-price” walking tour for visitors to learn more about the landmarks. Visitors are also welcome to plan their own tours.
Like the Schwarzenberg Palace, the exterior of the palace was designed by an Italian architect in the 16th century. The protruding stones are a stunning visual effect that distinguishes itself from the buildings in the surroundings. Now, the palace is transformed into a National Gallery, the three-story exhibition rooms showcase hundreds of late-Renaissance Bohemian and Baroque-style artworks. The Sternberg Palace is a Baroque-style architecture, constructed by the order of Vaclav Vojtech. The building is now an extension of the National Gallery, showcasing ancient Greek and Roman artworks. On its first floor, visitors can see German and Austrian paintings; on the second floor, visitors can find artworks by Goya, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, El Greco, and more. If you have more time, explore further to the Loreto Church, Martinez Palace, and Strahov Monastery. The Monastery is located in the west of the district. The building is a library with books on Philosophy and Bible study. The Philosophical Hall is extravagant and it’s filled with wooden bookshelves from bottom to top. The collection has fifty thousand books, including books written by Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma. The Theological Hall has an earth and astronomical globes on both sides of the hall.
Starbucks Prague Castle
Starbucks Prague Castle is ought to be one of the best Starbucks in Europe with a stunning view! While the cafe is located on the roadside, most visitors pass this Starbucks on their way to Prague Castle and it is impossible to miss. The sitting area is a terrace at a viewpoint that offers a stunning view of the city all the way to the old town. Grab a coffee and take a moment to soak in the beauty of Prague.
Prague Castle is built in the 9th century on the castle hill of River Vltava’s west bank. Being the imperial residence of the county, it’s been the political and economic center. The site has undergone various expansions and renovations for centuries, covering an area of 45 hectares, with a palace, 3 cathedrals, and a convent inside the castle ground. Today the castle still plays a role in government institutions.
The visit to the castle begins at the Matthias Gate, a gate connecting the castle courtyard which was constructed in 1614. This is one of the oldest Baroque-style architecture in Czech, named after the Holy Roman Emperor Matthias of the House of Habsburg.
Changing the Guard Prague Castle
The Changing the Guard ceremony is a highlight of your visit to the castle and it happens at noon every day, in the first courtyard. The formal handover is carried out with fanfare and banner exchange.
Check out the guard, as they are composed of a brigade of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic, they can be seen in honor guards and ceremonial functions.
Moving on to the first courtyard, the Picture Gallery was originally a stable, it was later refurbished as a gallery and a chapel – one of the oldest in the castle. The gallery showcases a collection of German, Italian, and Dutch classical artworks between the 16th and 18th centuries. The gallery was ransacked in the Thirty Year’s War, yet it still has over 4,000 pieces of treasures.
Heading the Old Royal Palace behind Saint Vitus’s Cathedral, this is the imperial residence of the Bohemian Kingdom. It has three stories, and at the entrance, it is the Vladislavsky Hall. The Gothic-style extravagant hall was constructed between 1486 and 1502, and it was a venue big enough for mounted archery arrow shooting performances. The upper deck of the palace features the emblems, records, and portraits of the emperors and noblemen in the past.
Same as the one in the Old Town, the Powder Tower is an important guard post. Alchemists lived here as appointed by the emperors to research how to turn lead into gold. Today, the tower is a showroom of medieval art pieces and artifacts of astronomy and alchemy.
Saint Vitus Cathedral
If Prague Castle is a giant, multi-layered, scrumptious, and delicious cake in the center of Prague, Saint Vitus Cathedral is basically the centerpiece at the top layer of this cake. The cathedral is a striking building in the castle that stood out from every angle, and it is definitely one of my favorite cathedrals in the world.
The cathedral actually took 7 hundred years and several architects to build – the cathedral itself embraces architectural elements from different eras. The east side of the cathedral was completed in Gothic style, and the construction was paused due to Hussite Wars (Bohemian Wars). The west side of the cathedral resumed in the 19th century, and the church was completed in… 1929. This is the largest cathedral in Czech, and the exterior was mainly the work of Matthias of Arras and Peter Parler. When Peter arrived in Prague in 1356 at the age of 23, his immediate assignment was to take over the construction site at St. Vitus Cathedral, which had languished since the death of Matthias of Arras in 1352. The cathedral features chambers and chapels, stained glasses, monuments, and sculptures that would take at least a day to appreciate.
At the back of the cathedral, the Church of Saint George is one of the oldest and a fine example of Roman-style architecture. This is the second oldest church in the castle and the church showcases beautiful frescos, together with a dome-shaped top. It has the best sound effect for being one of the performance venues of the Prague Spring International Music Festival.
Christmas Market in Prague Castle
If you are visiting Prague during Christmas, there are Christmas stalls set up in the area between Saint Vitus Cathedral and the Church of Saint George. Have a taste of the local delicacy and have a seat behind the church and admire the beautiful architecture. Another great Christmas market is right in the center of the Old Town Square, find out more about the best Christmas markets in Central Europe and visit them like a local.
The Golden Lane is a popular spot between the Church of Saint George and the Toy Museum. Number 22 on this lane is famous for being the former residence of Kafka. The lane was the residence of servants and craftsmen but later turned into a slump in the 19th century. The houses are restored as shops in the 20th century, with an exciting diversity of souvenirs and handicrafts.
Moving on to Saint George’s Convent, was a Bohemian convent, transformed into a barrack in the 18t century. Today, it’s an art gallery, showcasing Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque artworks of Czech artists from the 14th to the 17th centuries.
The Toy Museum is an interesting museum at the end of the castle, showing dolls, toys, and figurines collected from different eras. Moving out of the building complex, the Royal Garden is an open ground that was constructed in the 16th century. While it has been damaged and restored several times, the original Renaissance architectural elements remained, including the Ball Game Hall built in 1568, designed by Bonifaz Wohlmut.