Prague is a city whose medieval charm is equally matched by its contemporary brilliance. From the Old and New Towns on the eastern banks of the Vltava River to the historic Mala Strana region across the Charles Bridge, the narrow cobblestone streets and winding alleyways of the Czech capital can feel overwhelming at times. If you need help planning your itinerary, we’ve compiled a list of the most fascinating sights and areas around the city.
Covering almost 70,000 square meters, this magnanimous complex is the largest ancient castle in the world. A fantastic fortress looming over the city center and featuring gardens, galleries, and historic buildings that house Prague’s greatest cultural artifacts, Prague Castle is a must-visit for anyone exploring the city. As you roam the historic grounds, take time to appreciate the Art Nouveau stained glass and the mesmerizing spires of St. Vitus Cathedral that feel right out of a fairy tale.
St. Vitus Cathedral
With its symmetrical spires and intricate facade that becomes illuminated at nightfall, the exterior of St. Vitus gives off a somewhat menacing vibe. But inside, it’s a place of beauty. The largest church in Prague is festooned with stained-glass windows, masterful paintings that stretch to the ceiling, the stunning silver sarcophagus of Saint John of Nepomuk, and an ornate chandelier that shines down upon the breathtaking space. Whether you’re looking to pray, take photos, or simply enjoy a quiet moment of reflection amid the fantastical city, make sure to stop by St. Vitus.
Old Town Square
Prague is a magical city, and the Old Town Square is the beating heart from which its relentless charm is generated. Surrounded by the Old Town Hall, Charles Bridge, and the double spires of Tyn Cathedral, this cobblestone common provides a spacious area in which to sit and enjoy the bustle of the city. Make sure to check out the Astronomical Clock, which towers over the southwest corner of the Square. If you’re fortunate enough to be in town during December, don’t miss the lavish Christmas Market held here, and during the weeks leading up to Easter you can check out the festive Easter Market as well!
The Astronomical Clock
Though it’s watched over Prague’s Old Town Square for over six centuries, this charming medieval timekeeper still attracts hordes of locals and tourists every hour for its automated performance. They arrive, cameras ready, eager to watch the fascinating performance, a mechanical procession of Apostles and figurines signaling the passage of time. An extraordinary feat of meticulous craftsmanship, the clock tower stands as a testament to the city’s enchanting, old-world charm. Climb the Astronomical Clock tower for a stunning view of Tyn Cathedral and the city sprawl beyond.
Church of Our Lady before Tyn
A Gothic cathedral with formidable twin spires, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn stands at 262 feet tall (79.9 meters) and overlooks the quaint Old Town Square. Though the two towers appear symmetrical at first, one is actually slightly taller — nicknamed Adam and Eve, they serve as architectural representations of the masculine and feminine sides of the world. It is believed that Walt Disney drew inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle from Tyn Church, and whether or not that’s true, the cathedral still serves as a marvelous architectural sight.
Old Town Hall
Established in 1338 as the seat of the Old Town administration, Old Town Hall stands across from Tyn Church. Its main Gothic tower features the famous Astronomical Clock (or Orloj), but there’s much more to this historic complex. You can sign up for a guided tour which will take you through the five houses, regal halls, and lavishly decorated rooms that offer a glimpse into the medieval charm of centuries past.
Named for the king who commissioned it in 1357, this stunning architectural feat spans 16 arches, crosses the Vltava River, and connects Prague Castle with the city’s Old Town. It’s more than just a footpath; as day breaks, musicians, vendors, and tourists alike make their way to the cobblestone crossing, jostling for space to gaze out across the city and enjoy the breeze and sunlight reflecting off the water below. Picturesque at any time of the day, the bridge is bathed in golden sunlight at the break of dawn and shrouded in a wonderfully eerie mist at nightfall.
Also known as Josefov, the Jewish Ghetto between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River serves as a reminder of the city’ sad and harrowing history. Beginning in the 13th century when they were ordered to vacate their homes and settle here, the Jewish people of Prague have faced horrid treatment and conditions. In a moment of twisted fortune in the 1900s, Hitler himself decided to preserve the neighborhood as a “Museum of an Extinct Race.” Today, boasting six spectacular synagogues (including the Spanish Synagogue), the Quarter stands as a testament to the long and embattled history of the Jews in Prague.
There are over 12,000 crumbling headstones packed into this 15th-century cemetery — but that number only scratches the surface. Stacked 12 deep in some spots, it’s believed that over 100,000 Jewish individuals have made this place their final resting spot, a crowded haven of graves covered in ivy and toppling over one another. Like the entire Josefov Quarter, this somber spot was spared during the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, and visitors today can pay their respects through tours offered by the Jewish Museum.
John Lennon Wall
Imagine all the people … writing messages of love and peace on a city wall. That’s exactly what they’ve done in Mala Strana just west of the Old Town Square. During the Communist regime that ruled prior to the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the Beatles frontman became somewhat of a hero to the Prague youth who were dismayed by the suppression of free speech and who latched onto his message of hope and love. They began decorating the wall with graffiti of Lennon and his lyrics and, despite plenty of attempts to whitewash the wall, they continued festooning it with symbols of peace. Today it remains an ever-evolving monument to free speech and non-violent revolt. If you visit, feel free to bring along a bottle spray paint and add your own message.
More of a boulevard than a square, Wenceslas Square acts as a contemporary alternative to the charming Old Town Square just five minutes away. Named after Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, the square is filled with shops, hotels, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, it’s a hub of activity, an ideal destination for a night on the town. The social and cultural center of the capital, this square culminates in the austere neoclassical facade of the Czech National Museum and plays host to a variety of festivals and demonstrations throughout the year, including one of Prague’s extravagant Christmas markets in December.
The Dancing House
Set against the Gothic and Baroque styles that dominate the architecture of the city, the twisting, leaning towers of Prague’s ultra-modern Dancing House stand out, to say the least. Designed by architects Vlado Milunic and Frank Gehry and constructed in 1996, the unique building was inspired by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, American icons who danced across movie screens in a series of Hollywood musicals. Today, the building hosts a variety of art exhibits, and the easily accessible roof boasts one of the loveliest views of the city. The eccentric, undulating design also serves as a sort of yin and yang, representing the country’s transition from a Communist regime to a parliamentary democracy.
Erected on the western side of the Vltava River as a miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower, the Petrin Observation Tower stands only 197 feet (60 meters) tall, not even a quarter of the height of the original in Paris. That being said, from its perch atop the apex of Petrin Hill (1,043 feet, 318 meters), the tower provides a staggering view of the city to the east. Take the 299 steps to the top to enjoy the breathtaking sight — you might even spot Snezka, the highest peak in the country, off in the distance.
Also known as the Powder Gate, Powder Tower is one of the original 13 gates separating the city’s Old and New Towns. A sturdy and massive Gothic tower, it was initially intended as a welcoming entrance to the city as opposed to a defensive structure. Today, its dark spires and ornate structural designs continue to loom over newcomers looking to enter the Old Town.
While Prague’s Old Town and New Town sit on the eastern banks of the Vltava River, Mala Strana, or Lesser Town as it’s known, sits across the Charles Bridge on the western side. A hillside region characterized by smaller, historic neighborhoods, narrow lanes, and Baroque Palaces, the area includes points of interest such as the John Lennon Wall, Franz Kafka Museum, and St. Nicholas Church.
Cover Photo by Alejandro Cruz