Start by storming the castle. From the outside, the gilded gates and gothic spires of Prague Castle (Hradcany Square) in the capital city of the Czech Republic are what every child imagines a European castle should look like. From the inside, you’ll get a view of the city below fit for a king (or a queen). Two hundred years ago, a trip to the castle meant you’d run afoul of royal authorities. Today, the only problems you’re likely to encounter are the crowds of tourists inside.
To avoid them, visit the Loreta (Loreta Square), a walled baroque sanctuary next door. Its hidden chambers and stained-glass chapels include what is believed to be a replica of the Virgin Mary’s house, masked skeletons and a treasury filled with silver and jewels that hve survived the pillages of countless marauders through the ages. You can also rest in the castle gardens, just to the left of the Loreta, where lush lawns and shaded lanes are quiet and peaceful, even during the height of tourist season.
Once you’re feeling well rested, head down the Old Castle Steps (you’ll be following, in reverse, the coronation path of the Czech kings). Take a right at the end of the staircase and cross the Vlatva River via the Manesuv Bridge. You’re now in Josefov. Once the bustling Jewish quarter of Prague, it’s now a lasting memorial to the 77,297 Czech Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Their names and the dates of their disappearances cover every square inch of the walls of the Pinkasova Synagogue (Siroka 3). Nearby is the Old Jewish Cemetery (Siroka 3), where more than 12,000 stones lie above at least 100,000 graves dating to the 15th century. Take the tour and hear about Rabbi Low, a teacher so wise that at his death, legend has it the very stones of the Old Jewish Cemetery moved aside to make room for his grave. Some say that Rabbi Low’s most famous creation, the monstrous, man-shaped Golem of Prague, may still be hidden at the Old-New Synagogue (Cervena 2) across the street.
It’s a quick jaunt from Josefov to Prague’s Old Town Square, the city’s heart and soul since the 10th century. Astronomer Tycho Brahe is buried here, Kafka grew up in part of the Old Town Hall, and Soviet tanks rolled across the square in 1968 to end the “Prague Spring.” If you arrive on the hour, note the orloj, the astronomical clock on the face of Old Town Hall, as it moves through its hourly dance representing the movements of the planets, the Apostles and even Death. The legend that the 15th century clock’s creator was blinded so that he could never make another may not be true, but you’re unlikely to see anything like it anywhere else. If you miss the hourly performance, don’t despair – the square abounds with outdoor cafes where you can watch the horse-drawn carriages and street theater, listen to political debates, and sip a Pilsner Urquel while waiting for the next one. Don’t forget to try the ice cream!
As the clock’s chimes fade in the distance, it’s time to end your day in Prague with a sunset stroll across the Karluv Most, or Charles Bridge, Prague’s most famous landmark. Built in 1400, the bridge includes two towers, more than two dozen statues of saints from the 15th century to the 20th, and a stunning view of Prague Castle. The oldest statue depicts St. John of Nepomuk, patron saint of the Czech people. Many believe that those who rub the bronze plaque beneath the saint’s statue will someday return to Prague. With so much of the city left to explore, you’ll want to be one of them.
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