Modern leap into the past

Prague in the Czech Republic is often referred as the Golden City because of the many old buildings. It's a modern, trendy city in a remarkable decor, with a surprising amount of legends.

 The Czech capital on the Moldau River gets the name Golden City for its rich history. There are countless buildings in baroque, gothic, jugendstil or brutalist style to visit.

The city has hardly had to deal with wars or natural disasters and Prague has notably few new building developments in the centre. Narrow streets, impressive squares and small towers. The small towers are the decor of a modern, trendy city, with a surprising number of legends. 

The city feels like one large open-air museum. The Royal Route is famous, with the Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock, the Small Side, the Charles Bridge and the Prague Castle, which the Czechs are rightfully proud of. However, Prague particularly illustrates how smoothly the past flows over into current life. There are many bars, restaurants around the city and there is a vibrant nightlife.


The Clementinum is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. ©Mattes Ren

The world-famous Clementinum consists of several buildings. This former Jesuit college in Prague now includes the National Czech Library. It is considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. where it can get very busy during the day and especially on weekends and holidays.

Read my tips for Clementinum

Astronomical Clock

The Astronomical Clock in Prague.

It is one of the greatest attractions of Prague, but few people understand how the Astronomical Clock works. The clock indicates five different kinds of time: 

  • the local time in Prague
  • the time, measured in a division of 12 ‘hours’ between sunrise and sunset, the so-called ‘unequal hours’; from day to day these will be longer or shorter, provided that the period between sunrise and sunset is different every day
  • the time, measured in a division of 24 hours, indicating how long the sun is away from the moment (24) of setting, also referred to as the Bohemian or Italian hours
  • the position of the sun in the zodiac
  • the star time

It’s not really easy, but if you take your time to look into this a bit more, you will be able to see when the sun will set and how long it will stay light today. Every hour, Christ and His apostles come out, which often creates waiting lines of tourists.

Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral and St. George Basilica

If you walk around the Prague Castle, you will notice the different building styles belonging to the era the relevant section was built in. This largest castle in the world, took a total of 600 years to be built. Therefore you can clearly see Roman as well as Gothic influences and Classicism in and around the castle. Some of the influences (Gothic, late-Gothic and Viennese classicism) can be seen in the St. Vitus Cathedral, while the St. George Basilica is a prominent Roman monument.

Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge in Prague.

This is by far the most famous bridge in Prague. The Charles Bridge from 1357 connects the Old City with Malá Strana, or the Little Side. And the famous pedestrian bridge is more than five hundred meters long. The bridge tower on the south side is considered one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in the world.

The Powder Tower and Charles Bridge are the only remains of Vyšehrad, Prague's second castle. Go early in the morning when it is nice and quiet, or catch the (busy) sunset. But the colours of the sky make up for it. Ideal for photos, although you are never alone.

Golden Lane

The Golden Lane at Prague Castle is certainly worth a visit. But the best time for a stroll is in the evening. When streetlights create a yellow glow on the small houses. The many shops add to the ambiance even if there is little left of the legend. 

It is hard to imagine King Rudolf II once ordered alchemists to produce gold out of metal here. The famous author Franz Kafka used to live at number 2 for some time. His former home is now a Kafka bookstore and museum.

Prague Castle

The famous Prague Castle at night.

If you walk around the Prague Castle, you will notice the different building styles belonging to the era the relevant section was built in. This largest castle in the world, took a total of 600 years to be built. Therefore you can clearly see Roman as well as Gothic influences and Classicism in and around the castle. Some of the influences (Gothic, late-Gothic and Viennese classicism) can be seen in the St. Vitus Cathedral, while the St. George Basilica is a prominent Roman monument.

Old Town Square

The Old Town Square in the centre of the city dates from the 10th century. Some of the houses on the square still date from the 13th and 14th centuries. You can tell by the Romanesque or Gothic ornaments. In the center of the square is a statue of Johannes Hus, the priest and confessor at the Royal Court is seen as one of the founders of the Reformation. For attacking Catholic authorities, Hus died at the stake. The statue of sculptor Ladislav Saloun was erected on July 6, 1915, exactly 400 years after his death.

Church of Our Lady before Týn

The Church of Our Lady before Týn in Prague.

This church from 1365 is particularly notable for its two towers of over eighty meters. It is not the first church built in Prague. There was already a Romanesque church here in the 11th century, which was replaced by an early Gothic church around 1256. The current church is built in late Gothic and early Baroque style.

The work took a long time. The south tower did not complete the structure until 1511. In 1679 the church was almost gone ina major fire. Much of the façade was later restored. The Church of Our Lady before Týn is also the final resting place of the famous Danish astrologer Tycho Brahé.

Powder Tower

The story behind Prague's Powder Tower is special. This Gothic-style tower dates back to 1475 and was funded by the citizens. Simply because of an increased tax on wine. The warehouse for weapons and gunpowder is 65 meters high.

He had to protect the royal palace of Wenzel IV in the old town. It has been restored several times, after being shot at by the Prussians in 1457, among others. But it never exploded. The powder has now made way for exhibitions.

Strahov Monastery

The library of Strahov Monastery.

This 800-year-old monastery is famous for the Theology and Philosophy Hall, which houses no fewer than 130,000 books. In the Literary Museum you'll see many Bibles in all languages, as well as various banned writings. Note the frescoes on the semicircular ceilings. Also nice is the guestbook, which features names like Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton. You can find it on the highest hill in Prague. 

National Museum

The National Museum displays the role of this part of Europe in history. Which was an important role, although not many people are aware of this. One prominent person was Maria Theresia, the Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia. The museum is on Wenceslas Square. Look also at the beautiful palace that the museum is located in.

National Gallery Prague – Kinsky Palace

The former palace used to be a school, where the well-known writer Franz Kafka was taught. Kafka attended the school that used to be located in this palace. From the balcony of this palace, communist leader Klement Gottwald announced the coup d'état in 1948. The palace dates from 1765 and was built in Rococo style. It is now an annex of the National Gallery and is located on the east side of the square.

Dancing House

Dancing House in Prague.

The Dancing House is one of the most striking modern buildings in Prague. This office building was nicknamed because of its strange shape. It was built between 1992 and 1996 by the Czech Vlado Milunić and the Canadian Frank Gehry. According to locals, the building resembles the dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, famous from many 1930s and 1940s films.

Troja Château

This extravagant house of Count Václav Vojtìch Šternberg dates back to the 17th century. It was built with only one purpose: to impress the Habsburgs who held sway at the time. The villa is richly decorated with baroque ornaments. That includes a large statue of Olympus and a richly decorated staircase.

The showpiece is the Great Hall where the Habsburg dynasty is painted. The gardens have a French look and are in keeping with the élan of this house. Troja Château is now part of the City Museum.

St. Nicholas Church

The St. Nicholas Church can be found in 3 places in Prague. Worth a visit is the St. Nicholas Church in the Old Town. This church was built between 1732 and 1735 to a design by the architect Kilián Ignác Dientzenhofer.

The Baroque-style building is dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Myra, a 4th century bishop. This church is located on the northwest side of the Old Town Square.

Wallenstein Palace

This is the palace of Albrecht von Wallenstein, Commander in Chief of the Imperial Army. He had it built between 1624 and 1630 with the aim of even surpassing Prague Castle. According to legends, he even wanted to become king of Bohemia. The immense hall with the image of Wallenstein himself on the ceiling, as Mars, the God of War, is famous.

The gardens around the palace are laid out in a sleek Baroque style. In these gardens you can also find bronze statues of the Dutchman Adriaen de Vries. The palace occupies a large part of the north of Mala Strana.

Wenceslas Square

This square is located to the east of the Old Town Square. Wenceslas is one of the most important families in Prague. Who still knows everyone today. Wenceslas I was a grandson of the first Duke of the Czechs, Boriwoj I and his wife Ludmilla. Wenceslas I (also often called Vaclav) ensures that Bohemia becomes part of the Holy Roman Empire.

However, in 935 Wenceslas I was murdered by his brother Boleslav. Ludmilla and Wenceslas are later canonised. This square has a noisy past. Student Jan Palach set himself on fire after the failure of the Velvet Revolution. At the end of 1989 this square was full of protesters.

John Lennon Wall

A musician at the John Lennon Wall.

It is an ultimate expression of ideals at the time of the communist regime. In the 1980s the former Republic of Czechoslovakia was under control of the former USSR. Following the murder of John Lennon in 1980, an ordinary wall transformed into a living call for peace and love. People from all over the world have filled the wall with graffiti inspired by Lennon and with lyrics from Beatles-songs. A very impressive statement. You can find it on Kampa Island.

Old New Synagogue

This synagogue was built in 1270, making it the oldest in Europe. Incidentally, it was not the oldest in Prague, but the Old Shul was destroyed in 1867. This is one of the first Gothic buildings in Prague, which, despite the many persecutions of the Jews over the centuries, is relatively undamaged.

And now it is still used by many Jews from the Josefov district. Inside the synagogue are the remains of the golem, a legend about a kind of Jewish servant made from river clay. The famous 16th-century Rabbi Yehuda ben Betsalel Löw is said to have made the golem to protect his worshipers.

Old Jewish Cemetery

The Old Jewish Cemetery is located near the Old New Synagogue in Josefov. It was used from 1478 to 1786 and is, among other things, the resting place of Yehuda ben Betsalel Löw. Due to the lack of space, the graves here lie over and over each other. And Hebrew signs can be seen everywhere. Estimates vary, but some scientists believe that at least 100,000 people must be buried in this small cemetery. Today the cemetery is part of the Jewish Museum.

Royal Route

It is by far the most popular route of Prague. It passes all the famous sites scattered across the town. It is best to leave early in the morning, to avoid the bigger crowds of tourists. Start at the Powder Tower in the east and walk by the Municipal House, the Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock, across the Charles Bridge to the St. Nicholas Church, to end up at the wonderful Prague Castle. It’s an intriguing route which can easily keep you occupied all day. As long as you have time for a walk, go for it.

Spring Festival

The inhabitants of Prague really celebrate the Spring season. There are many music shows, both indoors and outdoors. The festival started in 1952 and aims to give young performers an opportunity to present themselves. It opens on May 12th, the day that Czech composer Bedřich Smetana died. It usually ends in early June.

Petrin Mountain and Petrin Lookout Tower

The view from Petrin Mountain.

Petrin Park is a green haven in the city. On top you will find the Petrin Lookout Tower. Sometimes jokingly referred to as the small Eiffel tower. Indeed the 60-meter high tower is a look-alike, but it is particularly famous for its view of the city. The tower was built in 1891 in honor of the national exposition. You can climb Petrin hill yourself, but you can also take the tram to go up.

Black Tower

The dark history of Prague is visible in the Black Tower. It's even written on the wall. The scribbles are of the prisoners who have spent their lives here. You can still see them in some places, so look on the walls. It’s one of many conspicuous characteristics of the tower that stems from 1135. It’s name is not from the past however, but was given to the building after a fire had blackened the walls. The Black Tower is still part of the Prague Castle.

The island Kampa

Kampa is a peninsula in the Moldau river, less than a kilometer in length. It is located right in front of the Malá Strana (Little Quarter) district. This is a nice place to go for a stroll amid the picturesque houses and the remarkable, English-style park. Especially at sunset you will see many couples in love walking here. The island is easy to reach by the famous Charles Bridge. From the bridge there is a staircase leading to the island.

Church of Our Lady Victorious

The Church of Our Lady Victorious and The Infant Jesus of Prague is an extraordinary sight. Many residents stand before the ‘Infant Jesus of Prague’ calling for a miracle. For parents who are very ill, or towering debts or other types of problems people may sometimes be faced with. Around the statue in the Maria de Victoria church a lot of gifts are spread out, many of which are jewels. The church was built in 1611 and the statue has been here since 1613.

The statue is alternately dressed in one of 39(!) robes, specially made. Even Maria Theresia of Austria embroidered a robe with gold thread for the Infant Jesus. The church (and the statue) are in Malá Strana.

Beer tasting at U Fleku

U Fleku in Prague.

Beer is part of the Czechs. The relatively unknown U Fleku is one of the oldest beer breweries in the Czech Republic. They have been producing beer the traditional way since 1499. You can learn more in several ways, like on a brewery tour. But U Fleku also has a restaurant and bar as well. The stories are literally on the wall here.

Besides this, Prague has plenty of nice pubs you can visit, where you will find the slightly better-known Urguell and many other types of beer. Go ahead and have a taste.

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History of Prague

There is a remarkable history behind the name Prague – Praha in Czech -, as supposedly is a derivative of the word práh, which means threshold. These thresholds were used everywhere in the Moldau River in the past. The water cascades down these thresholds with a lot of noise, giving the city an extraordinary character. At least, this is the version of the first Czech historians. The famous Austrian author Gustav Meyrink thinks differently. He said it is not a coincidence, because Prague is threshold between this life and the next. And in this city the transition is much quicker than in other places.

In fact, this part of the Czech Republic has been inhabited much longer. But it is not until long after the Bronze Age that the city gains any significance. Actually it is not a city, but the Prague Castle. This enormous building was built in the year 880, constructed for the purpose of protecting Bořivoj I. He is the oldest sovereign of the Přemysliden, who ruled over the Bohemian Empire from the 9th century until the 14th century.

A city and castle in ons

The castle gradually grew into a city. Within the walls, various Christian churches were built at the end of the 9th and through the course of the 10th century. On the banks of the Moldau (currently called Malá Strana), small settlements arose and Prague slowly grew to become the political and economic centre of the country.

The beauty of Prague.

The city gradually grows in the centuries that follow. Remarkably enough it is shielded from wars, large fires and other natural catastrophes. However in the 20th century, the capital of the former Czechoslovakia is the scene of political confrontations. On 25 February 1948, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia seizes political power. 

After twenty years, the population held mass demonstrations against the oppression, leading to the Prague Spring. The revolt was knocked down by the government with extreme force, aided by the Soviet Union and neighboring countries like Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. In 1989, when the Berlin Wall was taken down, Czechoslovakia was also released from communist rule.

Prague flourishes yet again. Even though after 1992 it was no longer the capital of Czechoslovakia, but only of the Czech Republic. It does not alter the fact the Gothic Age, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo and modern day life are intertwined.

Visiting Prague

In Prague it is difficult to choose what to go and see. The city has countless characteristic houses, squares, churches, palaces and obviously, the fortresses. The centre is compact, all the sights to see are no more than 2.5 kilometers apart, which is ideal to start your own quest into the history of this city. It is not necessary to see everything; perhaps ‘catching’ the atmosphere is what is most important. This is quite possible to do on a city trip.