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Prague, Czech Republic

Three Days in Prague

Day one: Orientation walk: Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square.

Day Two: Hradcany, Prague Castle, Mala Strana, St. Nicholas.

Day Three: New Town and some museums, or day-trip out of town.

Imagine a beautiful, ancient European city that looks like the 18th century never ended, with cobbled lanes and majestic old Baroque palaces, statues everywhere, fountains, gardens, a brooding castle on the hill, a river crossed by historic foot-bridge, and with no automobiles in the center to shatter the time-warp illusion. This must be Prague!

Capital of the Czech Republic, Prague is one of the most picturesque and interesting cities in Europe. Prague is one of the few major historic places on the Continent that was not damaged by either World Wars, so the well-preserved buildings you see are the real thing, not a reconstruction or some tourist bureau fantasy.

The “city of a hundred spires” will impress you with its soaring churches, fortified towers, and lavish baroque palaces. Its lively squares and avenues give the city a festive atmosphere which few can rival, and its concert halls, ballet and opera performances are world-class.

The Old Town, dating from the 13th century, is on the eastern side of the Vltava River, while the Lesser Quarter (“Mala Strana”), is across the river with many more baroque palaces and quiet cobbled lanes. Above it all, dominating the entire city, is Hradcany Castle -- formerly the residence of the kings of Bohemia and now headquarters for the president of the Czech Republic.

The country changed radically in November 1989, immediately after the Berlin Wall fell, with the student-led Velvet Revolution that created a democratic, free economy overnight. By December, Vaclav Havel was elected president. Travelers can freely explore Prague and enjoy the comforts of convenient hotels, restaurants and shops that have sprung up to accommodate the growing numbers of visitors. This city of 1.2 million has preserved its past, yet has eagerly joined the modern world as it throws off centuries of suppression. Prague has emerged from behind the Iron Curtain into a tourist destination equaling the other great capitals of Europe.

Prague is rapidly becoming a center of the arts for the entire region, with some similarities to Paris in the 1920s. A new kind of Left Bank Bohemian attitude is developing in many of its creative souls, and this presents many interesting facets to the visitor, from new galleries, to street performers, to expanded museums.

Prague is now welcoming visitors as never before. The economic revolution has led to great improvements in the physical condition of the city, for most of the monuments and historic buildings have been renovated and cleaned up to perfection. And yet, Central Europe has not yet been fully discovered by tourists, so while it can get a bit crowded during the peak season, there are ways to avoid being caught in the crush -- such as exploring some of the out-of-the-way neighborhoods described here and traveling during May or September rather than the peak of mid-summer. A golden moment in time has opened up for the enlightened traveler.

About two miles across, central Prague can be thoroughly explored on foot in three days, or less if you are in a hurry, with the occasional journey by tram to speed things along. This detailed itinerary will help get the most out of your visit.

Day one: Orientation walk:

Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square


The center of Prague is the Old Town Square, surrounded by beautiful 18th century palaces, with the glowering twin Gothic towers of the Tyn Church looming over the scene on one side and the high Clock Tower of the Old Town Hall on the other. Day and night, this square is always busy with people passing through or just hanging out. Many of the old palaces have been converted into restaurants, bars and cafes, with outdoor tables spilling onto the square. It’s nice for a drink and people-watching, but there are much better places for a meal, off the beaten track. Some of these cafes have barrel-vaulted cellars that were built a thousand years ago, so ask to have a look if you are curious about stepping back in time to the Romanesque.

The Old Town Hall’s Astronomical Clock has been putting on its show every hour for the past 350 years, with a dramatic display by the 12 Apostles who come marching past two windows on either side of the elaborate large clock. Watch for the golden rooster on top who finishes off the show with a big squawk. This two-faced clock not only tells time, but displays the phases of the moon, equinoxes, Babylonian time, painted seasons, the sun’s rotation around the earth, various saint’s feasts, zodiac signs, days and months.

On the left side of the clock is the entrance to the Town Hall Tower, which is definitely worth the small admission charge to climb the spiraling ramp that leads up about 200 feet to the viewing gallery.

From the top of this 650 year-old tower you get the best panorama of the Old Town, with its wonderful pattern of red clay tile roofs spreading out for a mile in all directions, providing a perfect overview of the routes you will be walking for the next few days. There are other rooms inside the Town Hall you can pay to visit if you are curious about seeing interiors typical of the buildings around the square. One of the offices of the Tourist Information service is also in the Old Town Hall.

Another sight to admire on the Old Town Square is St. Nicholas Church, a large white Baroque structure that generally hosts chamber music concerts in the evening -- so rather than pay admission to enter during the day, you might as well buy a concert ticket at the door and come back for the evening show.

The big statue in the center of the Old Town Square is the impressive Monument to Jan Huss, an important religious reformer who was burned at the stake in 1415 for warning the Catholic Church that it had strayed too far from the Bible and for criticizing the opulent decadence of church officials. Anticipating Martin Luther by a hundred years, Huss was a hero and martyr for the Czech people, who created an independence movement that has reverberated right into modern times.

It is always a delight to attend a classical concert in a Baroque church, for you get excellent acoustics and many artistic details for your eyes to dwell on. They say architecture is music frozen in stone, and there is no better place to appreciate that harmony than a church concert. There is a tiny green park with a snack bar, a few trees and some benches between St. Nicholas and the Clock Tower, if you would like a brief rest with a nice view of the square.

Wall-to-wall palaces around the square show off a range of architectural styles in a creamy blend of color harmony that displays the historical variations perfectly. See if you can tell the difference between the pointed Gothic, elaborate Baroque, even busier Rococo, rounded Romanesque, and more modern Art Nouveau. It is all there in front of you in a spectacular display that invites close examination, where you can discover hundreds of statues on the facades and appreciate 500 years of fine architecture with a sweeping glance.

The real star of the square is the old Gothic visage of the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, a symbol of the city with two pointed black towers sprouting with little turrets that make it look like slightly scary. To get inside the church you walk through Gothic arcades to the front doorway, which is set back from the main square, slightly hidden but easy to find. There is a typical mix of different styles in this church, started in 1365 but continually renovated over the years with some Renaissance and Baroque altars, pulpits, stained glass, paintings and statues.

Every direction leading out from the square will lead you to interesting neighborhoods, so you will find yourself coming back to this busy center often during your visit as you venture this way and that. Evenings are also lively on the main square, with all the cafes open, hundreds of people streaming along, several concerts happening nearby, and various street performers putting on a show. It is well lit and very safe, so be sure to come back at night to catch the fun.


The next most entertaining sight in Prague is the famous Charles Bridge, spanning the Vltava River (also called the Moldau). To get to the bridge from the main square just follow the crowd, heading west past the Clock Tower into the narrow, twisting Karlova (“Charles”) Street, which is the busiest and most congested pedestrian street in town. It is only four short blocks, with some confusing left and right turns, but join the flow of bodies and you will easily arrive at the bridge. Along the way many souvenir shops will tempt you with t-shirts, crystal, beer steins, little building models, puppets, wooden toys, jewelry and lots of other items, as you may prefer since this is the most touristy stretch in town.

The bridge is not only the best way to get across town, it is a destination in itself for the splendid views, the street musicians, and shopping from outdoor kiosks stretching across the 500 yard length. The bridge is very special, for it joins the two main historic sections of town, the Old Town and the Mala Strana across the Vltava River, with a graceful design that includes 30 bigger-than-life statues of saints. Construction began in 1357 during the reign of Charles IV, Prague’s most important king, and was finished 50 years later. The Baroque statues were added in the early 18th century, based on the work of Bernini at Rome’s Ponte Sant Angelo.Rather than crossing now, save the Mala Strana for tomorrow after your visit to Prague Castle. Do walk up the Bridge Tower on the Old Town side for a spectacular view over the rooftops and across the river.


Prague is a walker’s city that invites detours and digressions, so this next section will bring you to an area of quaint back streets that are perfect for exploring, just south of Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square. Within this area you will be deep in the old city, but away from the tourists, so it makes a perfect place to meander. The whole neighborhood is ideal for the aimless stroll, offering the perceptive traveler an opportunity for immersion in 18th century architecture and town planning. Shoppers will find small stores with local crafts, clothing and antiques.

You are now entering a fascinating labyrinth of quiet narrow alleys, little squares, charming old buildings, unique shops, inexpensive restaurants and less tourists. It does help to have a map and a decent guidebook to navigate, but the best way to get around is just follow your nose, then turn whichever way looks more interesting. There are numerous tunnels and mid-block passages through buildings and courtyards that can lead to quiet glimpses of behind-the-scenes life in the city.

Starting from Charles Bridge, notice the Clementinum, a large group of buildings on the left side, with courtyards, towers, chapels, and unfortunately, many locked doors. Built in the mid-16th century, this was headquarters for the Jesuits, who were leading the opposition against the Reformation, which had already converted 90 percent of town to the Protestant faith. For the next 200 years the Jesuits expanded their influence, and this building complex kept growing into the second largest structure in town, after the castle. There is no easy public access, but you can walk around through some of the courtyards and barrel-vaulted corridors. There are frequent concerts in the small Chapel of Mirrors, so you could check the schedule and buy your tickets while here. From the Clementinum, cross Karlova street and head south into a maze of streets including Aneska, Retezova, Liliova, Jalovcova, Naprstkova, Karoliny, Betlemska, Skorepka and Zlata.

There are simple little restaurants in this neighborhood with amazing bargains, because you are out of the tourist section and more into local territory. The cost of living for a Prague native is much less than European averages, but prices in the tourist restaurants and nice hotels are as high as you would pay at home -- so try a quiet local place for lunch. Czech cuisine is based on meat, potatoes and dumplings, but if you would like a lighter meal, look for Country Life, a vegetarian cafeteria on Melantrichova, a block south of the Old Town Square. One of the most interesting blocks near here is the large open market along Havelska, with many stalls selling souvenirs and produce stands for the locals.


This afternoon walk the neighborhood just east of the Old Town Square, which is best entered through a little alley to the left of Tyn Church. This will bring you to the Tynska neighborhood with two streets of that name and the large Ungelt courtyard, another peaceful inner space connected to the streets by pedestrian arcades. These are some delightful places, with cobblestones underfoot and quiet old buildings around you. Continue to the church of St. Jakob (St. James), a large Gothic church with an amazing Baroque interior, covered with elaborate statues of saints and angels. It is the second longest church in Prague, after the main cathedral you will see tomorrow at the castle.

Continue walking the back streets three more blocks to Namesti Republiky, a large square with several notable institutions and a metro station. Prague’s largest department store, Kotva, is here in an ultramodern building four stories high and filled with nearly anything you could want -- but it’s more fun to shop in the little stores and sidewalk stands all over town. The Pariz Hotel is here, a good place to stay, or dine in its attractive Art Deco restaurant, or just have a drink in its trendy cafe.

Across the street you cannot miss the huge Municipal House, one of the cultural centers of Prague, featuring a major concert hall and an excellent restaurant, all set in the most dazzling Art Nouveau building in town, with a golden mirrored prismatic exterior, topped by several incongruous domes.

Music is one of the great delights of a visit to Prague, with probably more concerts every night than any other city in Europe. You will see the hawkers in costume all over town passing out leaflets promoting various performances, and tables set up by church doors touting their shows, but for a comprehensive listing visit the Tourist Information office. One of the best concert halls is just around the corner, the famous Estates Theater, where Mozart conducted the premier of Don Giovanni.

Standing next to the Municipal House is the Powder Tower, another ominous Gothic fortification. Pay the admission and walk up this tower for wonderful views over the clay-tile roofs of the Old Town. Two fascinating streets leading out from this tower and worthy of a detailed exploration are Celetna and Na Prikope. They are both for pedestrians and lined with shops, bars and restaurants, so you could spend the remaining hours of your afternoon right here strolling up and down. Celetna has some of the oldest buildings in town, its Gothic structures embellished with elaborate Baroque faces, while Na Prikope has some contemporary architecture mixed with the old, and a very helpful Tourist Information office that can help with all your travel needs, like tours or accommodations, and can also provide a complete list of all the concerts happening for the next few days.


You can spend the entire day on the other side of the Vltava River, exploring the huge castle and the old sections of town all around it. It is a mile uphill from the Old Town, so rather than walk there, take tram #22, and get off one stop beyond the castle entrance, when you reach the Strahov Monastery, marked by a statue of astronomer Johannes Kepler. Or you could cover the castle itinerary on a standard bus tour (see listings).


Here you will find the two most beautiful library rooms you have ever seen, richly decorated with paintings and statues from ceiling to floor, their shelves lined with precious books.

Founded back in the 12th century, the complex has grown over the years to include a church, cloister, monastery, research institute, museum, disco, restaurant, and most of all, the library. The two rooms that will delight your eyes are the Theological Hall, and especially, the Philosophical Hall, with an amazing Baroque ensemble of carvings, ceiling murals, gilded frames and inlaid wooden architecture that meld into a most stimulating experience. It is well worth the small admission charge, and camera fee if you want to take pictures.

Leave the libraries and walk right around to a terrace with a spectacular view over the vineyards to the city down below. Return to the open yard next to the monastery and walk through some gates to a small staircase tunnel that will lead you down to Pohorelec, near where you got off the tram. This street is the heart of Hradcany, formerly an independent town associated with the castle, now one of the most historic areas of Prague. You will enjoy walking along through the open arcade past the cute little shops and restaurants, ending up at Cernin Palace, a huge building that is home to the Foreign Ministry. Across the way, for the truly devout, is a pilgrimage church called Loreto, with a reproduction of the Virgin’s house from Nazareth.

Walking downhill towards the castle, you will come upon several more wonderful old palaces, some of which are open as museums. The Schwarzenberg Palace is covered with illusionist “sgraffito” geometric painted designs, in an Italian style that has been adapted into a special Prague motif found elsewhere in town. The palace contains a museum of military history with coverage through World War I. Across the square is the Archbishop’s Palace, and in the middle, an impressive Plague Column, from 1726.

The true art lover might consider a visit to the National Gallery, in Sternberg Palace just behind the Archbishop’s home, but the collection cannot compare to the great museums of Europe. There are a variety of famous artists, including Brueghel, Durer, Goya, El Greco, Dutch Masters, French Impressionists, Picasso and other cubists, but the Swedes stole most of the great pieces back in the 17th century.


This is where the city began, with foundations that reach back to the ninth century. Primary sights in the castle are St. Vitus Cathedral, the Royal Palace, and Golden Lane, all of which should keep you busy for a couple of hours, or more if you want to see every nook and cranny.

Tour Castle with local guide

Additional Castle sights include the Picture Gallery, with a collection of mostly Czech painters and some Old Masters, and a historical museum in the Lobkovicky Palace towards the back of the castle grounds. Behind the cathedral is an older church, the Basilica of St. George, built in the heavy Romanesque style a thousand years ago. All buildings in the complex are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

St. Vitus Cathedral takes its place as one of the great Gothic churches of Europe, with vast pinnacles soaring high above the huge nave, 400 feet long and 200 feet wide, the largest church in town. Built over a 600-year period and not completed until early in the 20th century, this church has accumulated a variety of beautiful art treasures, including Renaissance and Baroque tombs, paintings and statues. A special chapel encrusted with jewels contains the crypt of St. Wenceslas, the patron saint of Prague. Remember “Good King Wenceslas” from the Christmas tune? Well, he was a prince, not a king, and ruled for just 16 years until 935, when he was assassinated on the way to mass by his brother, Boleslav the Cruel, who then exterminated most of his other rivals.

The cathedral’s stained glass collection features some original golden Gothic windows around the altar, and 20th century windows in the nave, including an Art Nouveau section by Alfons Mucha, whose museum you could visit tomorrow, and a large Rose Window on the façade. Don’t miss the 2-ton silver tomb of St. John Nepomuk, covered with angels carrying his soul heavenward, designed by Fisher von Erlach of Vienna.

Emerging from the front doors, take a left and walk to the far corner of the courtyard for the best view looking back at the cathedral. It is so huge and surrounded by so many buildings, there is no perfect view -- but this is your best shot. (Photo hint: angle your camera diagonally to fit the big subject in your frame.) Notice the pointed arches of three large doors on the side, called the Golden Portal, which had been the main entrance until the nave was extended in the 19th century. To the right is the Royal Palace entrance.

There is one spectacular room inside the Royal Palace that makes the price of admission worthwhile, Vladislav Hall, built in late Gothic style 500 years ago, with an amazing rib vaulted ceiling that spans the 200-foot length of this huge chamber. It is a most important space, where kings have been crowned and other great ceremonies held. It was used for indoor jousting tournaments that featured knights on horseback battling with each other, and functioned as an indoor market and gathering place for the public. There is not much else to see inside the palace, except for a nice view from the terrace over the lower town, into which you are about to descend.

The final attraction at the Castle is Golden Lane, a row of cute little houses in a quaint back alley of the grounds that were once occupied by royal alchemists, who kept trying to turn lead into gold. They never succeeded, but did make progress towards the development of modern chemistry. Unfortunately, this lane is always ridiculously crowded with other tourists, so the atmosphere is hectic – and, as in all crowded tourist destinations, watch out for pickpockets, who love this kind of pandemonium.


After you have finished the castle the best thing to do is exit from the back gate and walk downhill to Mala Strana (“Lesser Quarter”) a most historic neighborhood that feels like a peaceful little village from times gone by. You have a choice of two different staircases, but if you take the easy route straight down the Old Castle Steps, you will reach the edge of Mala Strana in ten minutes. Or you could veer right, walking back towards the front of the castle through the pleasant Garden on the Ramparts, which offers more views over the town, to a different staircase that will deliver you straight into the center of Mala Strana.

Mala Strana is less than a square mile so you can see much of it in the afternoon. Like the Old Town across the river, many of the buildings here go back to the Gothic period, with most of the exterior designs completed during the Baroque era, so they are beautiful to look at. It has remained pretty much the same for the last 400 years, making this an intact jewel, a time capsule of what cities looked like so long ago.

One nice route could take you through in a half hour, past St. Nicholas Church and onto the Charles Bridge, then across to the Old Town -- but you would miss out on the special charms, so slow down and cover the territory.

Start out with the Wallenstein Garden, a block from the foot of the Old Castle Steps, after turning right on Pod Bruskou and Valdstejnska. The garden is a green oasis with fountains, statues, a Rococo pavilion, and benches to rest upon, all arranged with the formal symmetry of the Renaissance. Best yet, it is free, and on the way into the heart of the district.

Follow the tram tracks along several bends in the Letenska road to arrive at the back of St. Nicholas, then walk around and enter this amazing, early 18th century church -- but prepare yourself for a dazzling, dizzying display of architectural pyrotechnics! It is the most Baroque display in a very Baroque city, so the Dientzenhofer clan of artists really had to ratchet up the effects to impress their jaded townsfolk.

Everything seems to move in this enormous display of curves that mesmerize, murals that trick, statues that seem to be marble but are not, with a smooth flow of architecture that holds it all together, surmounted by the highest dome in town, 230 feet overhead. Lavish adornment covers the pulpit and side chapels, wonderful columns soar upward, painted arches blend with real corners so you don’t know what is real. This is the Jesuits at their Counter-Reformation best, with Italian style converted into a Bohemian rhapsody.

Emerging back into the daylight, have a look straight up at the façade to appreciate the convex and concave lines, based on the work of Borromini in Rome. Walk across the square to the far corner for the best overview of this huge church -- then for another treat, climb the church’s bell tower for a spectacular view over the city. Don’t let the small admission charge discourage you. You also pay a few dollars to enter the church, for it is now considered a museum, and well worth it.

There are more adventures awaiting you in Mala Strana. For an extended look at the old section, take a half-mile loop walk up Nerudova Street, then down a staircase to a narrow downhill lane that leads past several embassies, including our own, and delivers you back to St. Nicholas. Or skip that diversion if you are tiring. Hunger pangs? There are a couple of inexpensive sandwich shops along Karmelitska.

Walk towards Charles Bridge on Mosteka, a busy shopping street, but take a quick left into a very quiet section along Misenska Street, a pleasant old curved lane. Turn right at the end and pass under the bridge through a magical arch that leads you to Kampa Island, a most peaceful place. The small Na Kampe square has a garden in the middle with benches and trees, surrounded by old palaces, with some tourists passing through, but mostly locals hanging out.

Keep walking straight through to the lush green park of Kampa Island, sometimes called “Little Venice” because of the canal that runs alongside, with cute waterfront houses. It is refreshing to be out of the city for a moment as you stroll through the lawns, under a canopy of trees, listening to birds chirping. An old water wheel still turns on the side of an abandoned mill, which is your signal to cross the little bridge over Devil’s Creek and return to the mainland.

By now it’s time to find a nice restaurant and enjoy a leisurely meal. You are in luck because one of the best in town is nearby on Nebovidska Street, The Blue Duck (U Modré Kachničky), which Frommer’s calls their “favorite restaurant in Prague,” although it is relatively expensive. There are three small dining rooms, each with its own pretty décor, excellent service, and of course, delicious traditional foods. It is best to call ahead for reservations, as they are very popular (see listings). An excellent alternative for outdoor dining is Kampa Park restaurant on the water’s edge with a postcard river view of Charles Bridge and Old Town.

After dining take a stroll across the Charles Bridge and continue on to the Old Town Square, which will be booming with activity until the wee hours. Hopefully you have already lined up tickets for a concert, so you can cap off this stimulating day with some marvelous music. Along with the numerous classical venues, you can often find traditional Czech folk music and dance performances, especially in the Theater of the Municipal Library (phone 420-20684-0102) on Marianske nam, one block west of the Old Town Square.


By now you have seen most of the important sights of Prague, but there is more to explore in this historic city, especially in a large section founded in 1348, but still called the “New Town.” When Charles IV, the greatest of all Bohemian kings, expanded the defensive walls to encompass this new section, Prague instantly became the second biggest city in Europe after Paris.

The main sights in the New Town are Wenceslas Square, the National Museum, Charles Square, and some interesting little side streets. This section has a mix of new and old buildings, so the illusion of living in the past is not as strong here, but there are still many wonderful places of interest.

Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square is a major landmark in the shape of a wide boulevard stretching one half mile, lined with shops, restaurants and hotels. It has always been an important gathering place, such as during the peaceful democratic revolution in 1989, when it filled up with nearly the entire million population of Prague. It is always busy, from the Old Town end filled with outdoor shopping stands, upslope to the National Museum, proudly anchoring the other end.

The sidewalk craft vendors open early, so browse around for a while at this lower end of the square, and then, if you have any interest in Art Nouveau, walk one block over to the Museum of Alfons Mucha, Panska 7, open from 10-6 daily. He was the master of early 20th century poster art, typically featuring beautiful faces surrounded by swirls of dreamy flowers. There is also an interesting video display about his life, and an excellent gift shop in the lobby.

It is well worth a walk to the top of Wenceslas Square, where you will find the National Museum, built in the late 19th century in a heroic neo-Renaissance style. Its collections are quite antiquated, but for those interested in geology, insects, stuffed animals and Czech ethnology, go ahead and visit. Most of the information is not in English, so you will have to use your imagination to figure out what you are looking at. However, it is definitely worth entering the lobby area to appreciate the spectacular staircase and rotunda, which you can see without paying the $2 admission -- and there is a perfect view looking down along Wenceslas Square from here, with a decent café on the terrace offering light snacks. You can also appreciate the majestic statue of Wenceslas on his horse at this end of the square.

From here it is only a six-block downhill walk to Charles Square, a large green park in the midst of the New Town. This is not the most exciting walk in town, but it does give a view of typical residential neighborhoods, and for the beer-drinkers, there is a big reward. Of course, you find excellent beer all over town, but there are certain beer halls that are historic institutions, such as U Fleku, one block beyond Charles Square, at 11 Kremencova. They have been brewing their own dark beer here since 1459, in a delightful setting with several rambling indoor rooms and a shady outdoor garden with large communal tables, accompanied by a couple of oompa bands to help things flow.

Finally, you might be interested in seeing the old Jewish section of town, called Josefov. From Charles Square you could walk the mile north through the Old Town, or better yet, take a tram for 30 cents. Not much is left of the Jewish Quarter, which was a victim of urban renewal in the early 20th century, but there is the famous Old Jewish Cemetery, the second-most visited landmark in town, with 20,000 burials, twelve-deep in a one-block area. The other attractions are the Old-New Synagogue, reputedly founded in 1270, and the Jewish Town Hall, with its Hebrew clock that runs backwards.

That covers all of Prague. You can now see why UNESCO protects this amazing collection of wonderful old historic buildings as a World Heritage Site. For the time remaining this afternoon, you could go back into the Old Town for more wanderings, shopping, eating, drinking and catching up with anything you missed.


Prague prospered as capital of the powerful province of Bohemia. During the 14th century it became the Continent’s largest city after Paris, with the first university in central Europe (1348) and a thriving economy that supported cultural developments of great style and quality. Religious wars in the 15th and 17th centuries created great turmoil, yet Prague continued to grow in wealth and power. For three centuries it was an integral part of the Hapsburg Empire, second only to Vienna in importance. Austrian nobility, with their elaborate Baroque tastes, built up Prague and left behind many wonderful treasures. Today the palaces that line the main square and side alleys of the Old Town display this entire historic span, with their Baroque facades, Gothic interiors, and ancient Romanesque cellars.

Not much has changed during the past 200 years, resulting in one of the largest collections of well-preserved old buildings in Europe. “Modernization” was thankfully limited to the graceful innovations of art nouveau at the beginning of the 20th century, found in dozens of elegant buildings around the center. Economic stagnation under the Communists following the Second World War was unfortunate for Czech society, but fortuitously it preserved the old buildings by default, since there was no money to knock them down and build anything new. The city is a jewel intact, a time capsule glistening with castles, palaces, medieval old-town neighborhoods, and many fascinating sights that offer a glimpse of the past.

Cesky Krumlov

An alternative plan for this third day is to take a day-trip into the countryside and visit some of the very charming small towns of the region, especially Cesky Krumlov, the most perfect of all Czech villages. It has a castle on the hill of course, and an Old Town surrounded by a long bend in the Vltava River -- so scenic, it could be worth sitting on a bus for six hours. It does take about three hours to get there on a guided bus tour, or longer by train, so plan to spend the whole day on a package trip that would also visit a few other lovely towns along the way, like Ceske Budejovice, where Budweiser beer was first brewed.