Walk Across Prague
by Rick Steves
Known as the "Golden City of 100 Spires," Prague boasts a fairytale medieval Old Town, historic churches and synagogues, and perhaps Europe's largest castle. A good way to introduce yourself to the city, its layered past, and its resilient people is with a walk across town, starting on lively, urban Wenceslas Square, weaving through the atmospheric Old Town, and ending at the picturesque Charles Bridge.
Huge Wenceslas Square, lined with great buildings and loads of history, is the focal point of Prague's modern, New Town Quarter. It's named for King Wenceslas, the "good king" of Christmas carol fame, sitting astride the big equestrian statue at the top of the boulevard. The statue is a popular meeting point among locals, who like to say, "I'll meet you under the horse's tail."
Wenceslas Square has been center stage for much of modern Czech history: The creation of the Czechoslovak state was celebrated here in 1918. An inspiring memorial here commemorates Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, two college students who set themselves on fire in 1969 to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of the Czech Republic the year before. Twenty years later, giant crowds converged on the square, jingling their key chains and chanting, "It's time to go now!" in the lead-up to the peaceful overthrow of the communist government.
The Czech people have a rousing enthusiasm for blowing raspberries in the face of authority -- even voting to name a fictional comedic character, Jara Cimrman, as their "Greatest Czech of All Time" and devoting a museum in Prague to his "life." From the 14th-century rebel Jan Hus (who challenged Church corruption roughly a century before Martin Luther) to the flashes of revolt that sparked the 1989 Velvet Revolution against communism -- the Czechs have maintained a healthy disrespect for those who would tell them how to live their lives. (Remembering the mediocre jobs the communists assigned them, Czechs quipped, "They pretended to pay us; we pretended to work.")
From the bottom of Wenceslas Square, it's a short walk down skinny, tourist-clogged Melantrichova Street to Prague's quaint, compact Old Town Quarter. On the way you'll pass the wonderful open-air Havelska Market, a thriving hotbed of traditional-though-touristy Czech culture. Here you can browse for handcrafts, including fun "kitchen witch" marionettes meant to hang in your kitchen for good luck.
Whether in a crowded market, restaurant, or taxi cab, be aware of your surroundings -- Prague is awash in pickpockets and con artists. Wear your money belt; pay with cash instead of a credit card at restaurants; and find out the going rate for taxis before you get taken for a ride.
A couple of blocks from the market is the Old Town Square, surrounded by gloriously colorful buildings in a diversity of architectural styles: Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Art Nouveau. Chief among them is the towering
A short detour up the uniquely tree-lined Parizska ("Paris") Street leads to the poignant Jewish Quarter, with museums, synagogues, and cemeteries. For me, this is one of the most powerful collections of Jewish sights in Europe.
Parizka ends at a bluff that once sported a 100-foot-tall stone statue of Stalin. Torn down in 1962, it was replaced in 1991 by a giant ticking metronome, its concrete base now favored by skateboarders who love to film themselves "skating at the Stalin." From oppression to counterculture, Prague has come a long way.
Back at the Old Town Square, Karlova Street (and a gaggle of tourists) zigzags down to the river to one of my favorite places for a stroll -- the Charles Bridge. Under the communists, this pedestrian-only bridge crossing the Vltava River was empty, its big Gothic towers and statues of saints coated in black soot. Today it's a celebration of life, with a festival of artists and musicians all along its length.
If you were to continue across the bridge, you'd reach the charming Little Quarter, and beyond that, the Castle Quarter, topped by the massive, must-see Prague Castle. A visit to the castle complex, with its quarter-mile stretch of churches, courtyards, and palaces spanning a thousand years of Czech history, can fill the better part of a day.
The mythical founder of Prague -- the beautiful princess Libuse -- named her city "Praha" ("threshold"). The Czechs have always been at a crossroads of Europe -- between the Slavic and Germanic worlds, between Catholicism and Protestantism, and between Cold War East and West. Despite these strong external influences, the Czechs have retained their distinct culture ... and their enviable ability to find humor in life's challenges.
Parague's Local Guides:
Hiring a guide in Prague is smart -- compared to Western Europe, they're twice as helpful for half the price (about
Where to stay in Parague:
You'll pay more to stay in the Old Town, but for many travelers, the convenience is worth the expense. Pension u Medvidku has 31 comfortably renovated rooms in a big, rustic, medieval shell (www.umedvidku.cz). Green Garland Pension has a warm and personal feel rare for the Old Town (www.uzv.cz ).
Restaurace u Provaznice ("By the Ropemaker's Wife") has all the Czech classics (tel. 224-232-528). U Medvidku ("By the Bear Cubs") started out as a brewery in 1466 and is now a flagship beer hall of the Czech Budweiser (tel. 224-211-916).
Getting Around Prague:
You can walk nearly everywhere. But after you figure out the public transportation system, the Metro is slick and the trams are fun.
Prague Tourist Information:
Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, is bisected by the Vltava River. Nicknamed "the City of a Hundred Spires," it's known for its Old Town Square, the heart of its historic core, with colorful baroque buildings, Gothic churches and the medieval Astronomical Clock, with a popular show. Completed in 1402, pedestrian Charles Bridge is lined with 30 statues of saints.
- Cities Where Tourists Spend The Most
- South Africa Comes Alive in Durban
- China Comes Alive in Nanjing
- 6 Must-Know Spring Break Vacation Tips
- How Travel Will Change
- Most Hashtagged Tourist Destinations
- Most Instagrammed European Attractions
- Airlines Most Likely To Lose Your Luggage
- Most Hashtagged Cities On Instagram
- Going on Your Own RV Travel Adventure
- Budget-Friendly Spring Break Vacations
- How to Maximize the Joy of Travel
- Gearing Up for Adventure Travel
- Taking the Kids to NYC for the First Time
- 10 of the Most Haunted Places in New England
- Napa Winery's Garden, A Year-Round Place Of Culinary Inspiration
- Beyond Wine: Sonoma's Chill Food-And-Drink Scene Keeps Growing
- Kenyan Eco-Huts Attract Tourists & Cash
- Top 10 Airlines: In-flight Internet
- Most Hashtagged Cities On Instagram
- Planning Your European Vacation Itinerary
- Europe's Best Public Squares
- The Peninsula Paris at a Glance
- Chateaux-Hopping Near Paris
- The Artistic Draw of France
- Alsace: Europe's Cultural Hybrid
- Languedoc: France's Hidden Corner
- France's Burgundy: Wine, Barging, and Beyond
- Nice: Capital City of the French Riviera
- Vibrant Vienna
- Another Golden Age for Amsterdam
- Berlin Germany Reborn
- Germany's Ultimate Christmas Market: Nutcracker Sweet
- Germany's Undiscovered Erfurt
- Denmark: Going Beyond Copenhagen
- 10 Great European Seaside Escapes
- Beyond Barcelona
- The Allure of Cordoba, Spain
- A Blitz Tour of Madrid
- The Joy of First-Time Cruising
- Italy: Visiting Vesuvius and Pompeii
- Italy's Civita di Bagnoregio: Jewel on the Hill
- Northern Tuscany: Volterra and San Gimignano
- Italy's Cinque Terre Revisited
- Despite Changes Venice Still Charms
- Sleeping Alternatives: Bunking with the Locals
- The Queen's English: Brilliant and Baffling
- Walk Across Prague
- Taking Europe Slow, With Limited Mobility
- Exploring the Past thru Europe's Folk Museums
- Road Trip: Driving in Europe
- O'er the Ramparts: Castles in Great Britain
- Cheers to Britain's Oldest University Towns
- England's Past Comes Alive
- East London: Early Winner in the Olympics
- Norway: From Peaks to Ports
- Photography Tips for Vacation Travelers
- Tips for Riding Europe's Subways and Buses
- The Best and Worst of Europe
- European Bed and Breakfasts
- Finding Great Art in Europe's Smaller Museums
- Digital Maps Make Navigating Europe a Breeze
- Croatia's Past Lives On in Modern-Day Split
- Mixing Cruising with Independent Travel
- Enjoying Europe on a Big-Bus Tour
- Time Travel on Rome's Ancient Appian Way
- Germany's Rhine River: Raging with History
- Great Sights in Dresden Germany
- Making The Most of Your European Vacation
- Going Local in Europe: Easier Than You Think
- Avoiding Lines: The Long and the Short of It
- Preparing For Your European Adventure
- Thrill-Seeking Vactions in Europe
- Mykonos: A Greek Island Treasure
- The Bright Side Of Greece
- The Cobbled Charms of Cesky Krumlov
- Europe: Cruising Through the Back Door
- Pack Light, Even for a Cruise
- What's New in France
- What's New in Great Britain
- What's New in Italy
- Literary London Celebrates Shakespeare
Article: Copyright © 2018, Tribune Media Services Inc.
Vacations & Travel "Walk Across Prague"