Sure, you probably know all about the Old Town and the New Town, and you’ve done your homework on the Charles Bridge. But do you know the significance of that numerical inscription on the Old Town Bridge Tower? What about the Allegro Restaurant? Do you know what’s so special about Vinarna Certovka, the street just west of the Franz Kafka Museum?
Here, you’ll find little-known facts about what makes Prague such a special city. From the solar phenomenon that occurs on the Charles Bridge to the unique history of the Jewish Quarter, here are 10 things you didn’t know about the Czech capital.
The Beer Capital of the World
You’re probably familiar with German beer halls, and everyone who visits Dublin knows to stop into a local pub for a pint or two, but did you know that Prague is also world-famous for its beer? The Czech Republic consumes more of the bubbly beverage per capita than any country in the world, which may be due in part to the fact that the beer there is cheaper than water. Its capital city offers an exciting array of bars, breweries, beer halls, and even a museum that pays homage to hops, offering 30 craft Czech beers on tap. Ninety-seven percent of Czech beers are made in the Pilsner style (originating in the region of Pilsen), producing a light, bottom-fermented beer that’s sure to whet your palate.
While you won’t struggle to find a bar or brewery, make sure to check out Klasterni Pivovar, a restaurant at the Strahov Monastery not far from the Prague Castle that offers a diverse beer menu. Also notable is the U Fleku Brewery, which has been in business for over five centuries and seats 1,200 people across its eight beer halls.
The Largest Castle in the World
Covering almost 753,500 square feet (70,000 square meters), Prague Castle holds the title of largest castle complex in the world. Don’t believe us? Just ask Guinness, that little book of world records. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the complex dates back to the ninth century AD and contains over 700 rooms spread out across a massive series of palaces. If you visit, you can take a guided tour, but if you don’t, make sure to use a map or you may get lost!
The Jewish Quarter Survived WWII
Also known as Josefov, the Jewish Ghetto between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River serves as a somber reminder of a sad and harrowing history. Though it now houses a brilliant museum and many upscale restaurants and shops, it only survived WWII when, in a moment of twisted fortune, Hitler himself decided to preserve the neighborhood as a “Museum of an Extinct Race.” It is even believed he planned on retiring there. Today, boasting six spectacular synagogues, the Jewish Quarter stands as a testament to the long and embattled history of the Jewish people in Prague.
The Charles Bridge Palindrome
Charles IV laid the foundation stone for his namesake bridge at 5:31 a.m. on July 9, 1357. The significance of this moment? It’s a numerical palindrome (read the same backward as it is forward) — 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 7, 5, 3, 1 because medieval timekeepers would’ve recorded the year first, followed by the day, month, hour, and finally, minute. The Holy Roman Emperor was a big believer in numerology, and, taking the word of his royal astrologists, he believed that beginning construction at this precise moment would imbue the structure with extra strength. The bridge was completed 42 years later and, perhaps thanks to astrological assistance, remains as sturdy as ever. The palindromic sequence can be seen carved into the Old Town Bridge Tower on the eastern side of the river.
The Narrowest Street
Tucked away in Mala Strana, Prague’s oldest neighborhood, Vinarna Certovka is just like any other pedestrian walkway. It connects two main roads. It’s made of cobblestone steps. It has street lamps that illuminate it at night. It even features a traffic light to inform you when it’s safe to cross. The only catch? It’s 19.6 inches (49.8 centimeters) wide. Located just west of the Franz Kafka Museum, the narrowest street in Prague stretches 32 feet (9.75 meters) and has become a bit of a tourist haven, as people pause to take photos squeezed between the two walls. Don’t linger too long though; there are always people waiting in line, and they can’t exactly pass easily!
One of the World’s Most Beautiful Marathons
Most cities run a marathon, but few rival the ancient beauty of the route traced by Prague’s. Starting and ending at Old Town Square, the stunning race guides you through a medieval city built by Emperors to serve as the capital of Europe. Throughout your run, you’ll pass historic wonders such as Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge and you’ll run along the banks of the picturesque Vltava River. Plus, the route is rather flat, so as far as marathons go, it’s one of the least taxing. If running is your thing, there are few better ways to enjoy Prague’s old-timey splendor than by running the marathon.
The Babies of TV Tower
The Zizkov TV Tower, a Soviet-era television tower looming over the city skyline is hard to miss — less due to its height than the fact that there are 10 babies crawling on it. Don’t worry — the babies aren’t real. In fact, they’re giant black sculptures designed and created by Czech artist David Cerny. Imbued with a childlike curiosity, the faceless babies dot the sides of the tower, appearing to crawl up and down it. Known for his bizarre and provocative works (in 2013, he floated a giant purple middle finger on the Vltava River facing the Prague Castle), Cerny originally designed the babies as a favor for a friend at City Hall, but they were so well received they were kept as a permanent installation and can also be found at Kampa Park.
Starting annually on May 12, the Prague Spring International Music Festival celebrates the outstanding artists, symphony orchestras, and chamber music ensembles of the world. The festival, generally centered at the Rudolfinum Concert Hall on the banks of the Vltava River, offers around 50 concerts every year that excite fans of big orchestras and contemporary music. In 2018, American conductor Keith Lockhart will lead the Czech Philharmonic in a festival that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia.
First country in post-communist Eastern bloc to receive Michelin star
Receiving a coveted Michelin star (awarded to the best restaurants in the world) is no small feat for anyone. But when you’re trying to do so in an Eastern bloc country that, culturally, is decades behind due to years spent under the influence of a Communist regime, you’re only adding to the difficulty. But in 2008, almost 20 years following the fall of the Communist governments, Allegro, a stellar eatery situated in the luxurious Four Seasons hotel, became the first restaurant to do just that. Unfortunately, Allegro, which was led by Italian chef Andrea Accordi, is no longer around; it’s been replaced by Cottocrudo, an Italian restaurant that, as of now, has no Michelin stars.
The Charles Bridge Summer Solstice Phenomenon
While the Charles Bridge is brilliant at any time of the year, sunset during the summer solstice yields an extra spectacular view. If you stand at the base of the Old Town Bridge Tower during sunset, the sun will pass St. Vitus Cathedral and illuminate the chamber holding the Czech crown jewels. It will then set above the tomb of St. Wenceslas before emerging from the apse of the church to “set” a second time. If you want to see the annual phenomenon, make sure to arrive at the bridge by 8 p.m.
Cover Photo by Lee Key