Oh Prague, Prague!
I have not stopped thinking about this majestic city located on the banks of the Vltava River.
Yes, I am one of those who cannot stop praising the beauty of Prague. If you have been, you will understand.
The thing is that you do not have to put a lot of effort or spend large amounts of money to appreciate the colorful buildings, lively plazas and imposing towers. On a short walk, you will bump into these.
What not to like about that?
For many, the search for the magic starts in Old Town. This was the area settled during Medieval times for strategic and economic purposes. We are lucky to have the remnants of what was once surrounded by a moat and wall.
The Old Town is very popular among visitors. That means large crowds are going to be moving in and out the area during the entire day.
Just keep this in mind: do not be discouraged by the masses. There are loads and loads of history concentrated in this part of Prague. The last thing you want to do is take some pictures of the area and move on. NO! You want to savor the soul of Prague by paying attention to the details.
In this post, I am going to give you a lot of ideas on what to see on Old Town. The Josefov (Jewish Quarter) is part of original settlement but I am going to cover it in a separate post.
Get ready because your tour of Old Town starts now!
Prague Old Town Square
Have you heard the saying stating that all roads lead to Rome? Well, in a similar way, in Prague, seems like roads lead to the Old Town Square.
This large plaza is considered the heart of the city as it is where the most recognized monuments and sighs reside. It has become the preferred gathering and people watching spot.
The following are located within the square limits:
The Church of Our Lady before Tyn
One of Prague’s most recognizable buildings is the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, usually abbreviated to simply Tyn Church. Unmistakable for its twin 262 feet (80 meter) tall spires flanking each side of the building (each supporting four smaller spires), it has been the main church in the area (nowadays known as Prague 1) since the 14th century.
Many visitors have problems finding the entrance to the church. Just walk toward the houses in front of it and you will find the narrow passage that leads to the door.
And, keep in mind the Ungelt Courtyard, dating to the 11th century, is located behind the church. You can rest your feet at one of the restaurants or cafes.
Jan Hus Monument
The square’s center is home to a statue of the religious leader Jan Hus. Many people may not recognize his name but he was a key figure in the Bohemian Reformation, a movement that had great influence over Protestantism.
The Hussite Wars started after Hus was burned at the stake for his beliefs. Before his death, Hus predicted his teachings would rise from the ashes in a hundred years. They sure did because after that period and a couple more years Martin Luther revolutionized Europe.
St. Nicholas Church
This Late-Gothic and Baroque church housing a Hussite Church is another beautiful structure to admire in Old Town.
Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall is one of the most noteworthy monuments of Prague.
The Gothic Tower was built in 1338. City rulers kept expanding the hall by buying different houses and connecting them (in one way or another) to the “main” structure. That is why what we have today may look unusual or non-cohesive.
It is possible to climb the tower. I would suggest you take the time to do this since the views from the top will show you what Prague is all about. You have 360 views of red roofs, colorful facades and the modern parts of the city popping at the distance. Some of the best photos of the city are taken from here.
Likewise, the Old Town Tower holds one of the city’s biggest treasure, its astronomical clock.
An astronomical clock has mechanisms and dials presenting information such as the relative positions of the sun, moon, constellations and planets. Several examples exist in the world but we can safely say the one in Prague’s is the most famous one.
The central part of the clock dates to 1410 (can you believe that?). It is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one in operation. How the clock operates is beyond the scope of this post. However, I can assure you the mechanism is an accurate piece of art (and math).
The calendar and the gothic sculptures were added in 1490. The calendar has a name per day of the year. That is right! It was designed to help parents name their children.
At the hour, the Apostles move in processing and other moving figures (like the skeleton representing death), twist and turn.
Many people congregate to see the figures moving. You may think it is cheesy or touristic but keep in mind this clock is 650 years old (and survived WWII and you have the opportunity to see it working).
Memorial to Martyrs
Next to the Old Town Hall, you will find 27 crosses marked on the pavement. They commemorate the men who were executed on the spot by the Habsburgs (after a Bohemian Revolt against the Empire).
This pedestrian street connects the Old Town Square with the Powder Tower. I love the fact that the street is named after the bread rolls baked here during the Middle Ages (so cute!).
Several historic houses can be found on the premises. Look for the Three Kings, White Lion, Black Sun and Vulture houses (where they got these names?). The House of the Black Madonna has a celebrated Cubist façade.
The Powder Tower
This is one of the original 13 city gates. For a small entrance fee, you can climb to the top.
The Prague Municipal House is widely considered one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau in the city. Built in 1912, this splendid civic building is also home to one of Prague’s most important (and largest) concert venues, Smetana Hall, and boasts numerous striking features. Tours are available.
The bridge over the Vltava connects the Old Town to the Lesser Town. It construction started in 1357 and was commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (who was Czech). The bridge is known by its two towers and its many Gothic sculptures.
Some of the best views of the city can be observed from here. It is an ideal spot to watch the sunset. Artists, musicians and vendors line the bridge.
This complex of historic buildings is currently used as the National Library of Czechia.
The most notable space on the complex is the Baroque library hall, often included on lists of the most beautiful libraries on the world. The library can be seen as part of a guided tour. Check exact details since tours are not guaranteed, at the moment, due to legal disputes.
Photo used under Creative Commons License
Close to Old Town
These two attractions are not technically in Old Town but are close enough (and on my mind, they deserve a visit).
Jindrisska Tower (or Henry’s Tower)
Jindrisska Tower has an altitude of 222 feet (67.7 meters), which makes it the highest separate belfry in Prague. The tower itself was built in 1472 and it has three big bells. It serves as a restaurant, exhibition space and viewing platform.
Jubilee Synagogue (or Jerusalem Synagogue)
This gorgeous building is an explosion of color. It is the youngest and largest synagogue in Prague and it was built at the beginning of the 20th century in an Art Nouveau styles with tons of Moorish influences.
Walk the Streets
I have discussed all these brilliant spots but part of the charm of the city is on those beautiful streets lined with one impressive building after another. Uff, that was one of my favorite aspects of Prague. Once you have seen the must, relax and go on a stroll. Get lost if needed!
I hope you have enjoyed this tour of Prague’s Old Town as much as I did. If you have been to the city, please let me know of your favorites or suggest additions to the list.
- This tour of Old Town can be done with very little money. I will recommend paying to climb to the top of the Old Town Tower (you cannot miss those views). Based on your budget, you can decide if you want to climb more towers or enter the Klementinum or Synagogue
- I learned a lot about this part of town thanks to a free walking tour. Those are an excellent option for those looking to learn about history and architecture. Please, present an appropriate tip at the end
- I have said it like 3 times. Old Town is touristic. The prices on this area are high and the quality of some services is not the best. You may want to ask around for recommendations. The good places are a little out of the way (but within walking distance)
- Do not expect stellar service on this side of town. With the maddening crowds, you are going to find waitresses and waiters with a rough attitude. Be patient and do not let this ruin your mood. Remember you have the option to leave if things do not look right when you enter a restaurant
- Beware of pickpockets and scammers
Have you been to Prague’s Old Town? What are your favorite sights?
Ready to pin? Let’s do this!