Mother of cities. Golden city. City of a hundred spires. Heart of Europe.
Prague should be nicknamed the city of nicknames. Each name captures a different aspect of its essence, and its blend of so many identities — both old and new — gives the city its distinct, one-of-a-kind appeal.
The magnificent beauty of the Czech Republic’s capital is, quite simply, breathtaking. With rolling hills and winding lanes, accented by a wealth of architectural styles, it is no wonder Prague has quickly become one of the most sought-after destinations, ranking No. 6 on the list of most-visited cities in Europe. Prague escaped relatively unscathed from World War II, in contrast with other European cities, and its pulse remains as vibrant as ever. With so many of its original buildings intact, it presents an aura other European cities lack.
Prague has had a turbulent history, marred by the uprising of the craftsmen, the pillage of the Jewish quarter, the Thirty Years’ War and a great fire. After World War I, Prague was chosen as the seat of the newly formed Czechoslovakia. Escaping complete obliteration during World War II, Prague nonetheless found itself under the control of the Soviet Union.
In 1989, Prague was the site of political upheaval that changed the face of the nation. The Velvet Revolution, which began with a student demonstration on Nov. 17, 1989, eventually led to the end of communism in the country. Czechoslovakia split in 1993, becoming Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Prague took its place as the capital of the modern-day Czech Republic.
Today Prague is a bustling metropolis and home to 1.2 million people. As I wandered the cobblestone streets, I found it hard to believe the old buildings, steeped in history, were just a façade for a truly modern city, but Prague has perfected its blend of new and old.
Regaled as one of Europe’s cultural centers, Prague was designated the 2000 European City of Culture, one of only nine cities to hold that title. It was also named a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1992.
Praha, as the city is known in Czech, loosely translates to “doorstep.” The name is fitting — it is the largest city in the Czech Republic and serves as the doorstep of the country, welcoming tourists and industries from around the world. Prague’s location at the heart of the continent — it has always enjoyed its position at the crossroads of major merchant routes — also opens the city to new opportunities as a main entry into Europe.
As the heart and soul of the Czech Republic, Prague attracts about one-fifth of the nation’s investments. Many companies choose the city for their European headquarters because of its ideal location within Europe and on the Vltava River.
Since its origins, Prague has been known for its traditional industries in food, textiles, printing and wood processing. Perhaps as a result of its deep commitment to science and technology, the city is also known for its machine-building and technology, specifically aircraft and diesel engines, oil products, electronics and chemicals.
It is evident tourism is one of the city’s leading industries; about half of the national income is derived from tourism. Its increasing popularity has made Prague a hotspot for the film industry, with a number of films being shot on location in the city. As more attention shines on the eastern European city, its booming tourism industry continues to grow.
Always a notable center for academics, learning and science, Prague has become a hotbed for ideas and research and is home to a number of colleges, universities and research centers and institutes. One of Prague’s most revered sites, the Astronomical Clock, is a homage to the visionary nature of its people.
During my time in Prague, I was in awe of its quaint beauty, intrigued by the history in its landscape. Strolling through the winding streets, perusing outdoor markets or sitting in a café drinking in the atmosphere, I felt trans ported back in time.
As indicated by its numerous nicknames, Prague is a versatile destination, but one fact remains constant: Prague continues to thrive, with an eye on the past and a vision clearly set on the future.
There is no lack of things to see and do, and visitors will marvel at what awaits in this magnificent city. Spend time wandering Old Town (Stare Mesto) and New Town (Nove Mesto).
At the forefront of the city’s history stands Prague Castle (Hradcany, tel 420 224 373 368), the most popular tourist attraction in the country. You can pass hours discovering the fascinating details of the castle and its grounds, including the Black Tower; the Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslas and Adalbert; and the Palace gardens. Prague Castle is the largest medieval castle in the world and is currently home to the Czech president. Catch the changing of the guards every hour at the castle gates.
While at Prague Castle don’t miss a meander down the Golden Lane, the former home to castle workers and goldsmiths. Inhabited through World War II, these dwellings were home to some of Prague’s great minds, including Franz Kafka, author of the quintessential book on existentialism, The Metamorphosis. Kafka made his study at house No. 22. Today, the area is filled with boutiques and galleries.
The Old Town Astronomical Clock (Staromestské námestí 110 00), an example of Czech Gothic technology, comes to life every hour on the hour between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Small statues of the twelve apostles appear, flanked by a skeleton, a Turk, a miser and a figure representing vanity. Once all the apostles have appeared, a cockerel crows and the chimes ring. The clock tracks Central European Time, Old Czech Time, Babylonian hours and stellar time.
Wander past Charles Bridge (Karlova 2, tel 420 728 674 247) and check out the 20-plus statues adorning Prague’s oldest bridge. Wenceslas Square, in New Town, was the site of the Velvet Revolution’s first meeting. Jewish Town is home to the Old-New Synagogue (Pariska and Cervena streets), the oldest surviving synagogue in central Europe and the world’s oldest working synagogue. Jewish Town is home to five other synagogues and the Jewish Museum (U Stare školy 1, tel 420 221 711 511).
Info To Go
Ruzyne International Airport (PRG) is the city’s largest hub. Traffic congestion can make driving in the city unpleasant. Opt for public transportation using the Prague Metro or funicular system. Many independent drivers offer taxi services but are notorious for overcharging; use the city’s major taxicab companies. The two international train stations are also viable options.
Alchymist Grand Hotel & Spa
Steps from the Astronomical Clock and Old Town Square but tucked away in a cobblestone alley, the property blends old and new. Tržište 19, tel 420 226 201 910 $$$$
Corinthia Hotel Prague
Situated on the edge of the city, this hilltop locale offers guests breathtaking views of Prague. Kongresová 1, tel 420 261 191 111, $$$
Golden Well Hotel
Ideally positioned at the foot of Prague Castle, the hotel brings luxury to the city’s historic center. Zlate Street, tel 420 257 011 213, $$$$
Feast on traditional Czech cuisine with a twist or a variety of international dishes, all in view of the Charles Bridge. Cihelna 2b,tel 420 296 826 103, $$$
Sample the renowned cuisine of Chef Marek Purkart, the country’s first chef to win the Michelin Bibendum award twice. Novotného lávka 9, tel 420 277 000 777, $$$
Critically acclaimed as one of the best restaurants in the city, Bellevue serves up fine food with great views. Sme tanovo nábr 18, tel 420 222 221 443, $$$
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