Prague is one of my favourite cities in Europe. Few places in the world are so rich in history and beautiful historical buildings. Known as the city of a hundred spires thanks to the countless churches that fill the city, Prague was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1992. Since then, the city is always thriving with visitors that come to the Czech capital to discover its wonders.
If you're visiting Prague for a weekend, this accessible city can be easily explored in a couple days. During my last trip, I spent the first day discovering the wonderful Old Town, exploring the immense Prague Castle and visiting the picturesque quarter of Malá Strana.
What to see in Prague: Day 1
The first stop in Prague has to be the Old Town Square, one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe and where you can find the impressive medieval Astronomical Clock of Prague, the oldest astronomical clock in the world still operating since the 15th century.
The clock is on the wall of the Old Town Hall and is composed of two main spheres: an astronomical dial representing the position of the Sun and the Moon, and a calendar dial with medallions that represent the months of the year.
Every hour on the dot, dozens tourist gather under the clock to enjoy the "Walk of the Apostles", a show of figurines of the apostles and other moving sculptures, including the Death, a rooster, or a Turk.
The impressive 69.5 meters high Clock Tower has been standing since the 14th century, and you can go to the top to enjoy one of the best views of the city.
Tickets are only 130kc per person (around €4.8), and the visit is definitely worth it. You can do most of the climb by elevator, which makes it much easier. On the way up, there's plenty of information about the history of the tower, how it was built and then reconstructed after being severely damaged during World War II.
The top of the tower is the perfect place to admire the Church of Our Lady before Týn, a gothic church that dominates the Old Town Square with its twin pointy spires.
If you look closely enough, you might notice that both towers aren't identical, with one of them slightly larger than the other. They represent the feminine and masculine sides of the world, one of the main characteristics of the Gothic style.
One of the most beautiful Baroque buildings in Prague is the St. Nicholas Church in the Old Town Square. It was built according to the design of architect Dilián Ignác Dientzenhofer after 1732.
The building is decorated with High Baroque statues of saints and by illusive paintings in the interior. The 19th-century chandelier is also unique - it is a present of the Russian tsar. The church belongs to the Czechoslovak Hussite Church.
In the middle of the square is placed the Jan Hus Monument, a religious reformer who challenged the corruption within the Catholic Church who now has become a symbol of the Czech independence.
Leaving the Church of Our Lady before Týn to the left and continuing straight through Celetná street, one of the oldest streets in Prague, I reached the Powder Gate.
The Powder Tower is one of the historically most important town gates standing near the castle moat. With a height of 65 meters, the king’s coronation ride began right there.
The gate with the tower was built at the Royal Residence by architect Matej Rejsek after 1475. It got its name because it once served as a gunpowder store. Its current neo-Gothic form dates from the second half of the 19th century
If you're visiting Prague during a Saturday, something to take into consideration is that most of the monuments in the Jewish quarter will be closed for Shabbat.
For this reason, even though the Jewish Quarter starts right next to the Powder Tower, I decided to cross the river and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Prague Castle and Malá Strana.
The easiest way to reach Prague Castle by public transport is either taking the Line A of the metro and stop at Malostranská or take tram number 22, which will leave you right next to the main entrance. Uber is incredibly cheap too, and to my surprise, a ride from the Old Town to the main entrance of Prague Castle will have a very similar price to the public transport. If there's more than one person in your party, taking an Uber might be actually cheaper than the metro.
Prague Castle is the most important cultural and historical monument in Prague. It is a stunning complex of buildings which has originated gradually as part of a royal residence already since the 10th century. Many documents of Czech statehood can be found here.
The country has been ruled from here for over one thousand years and up until today, as the Castle is home to the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic.
Tickets for the Castle can be quite expensive compared to other attractions in Prague. I went for the Circuit B, with a full admission price of 250kc (about €9). This circuit includes St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, St. George's Basilica and the Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower. You can also get Circuit A instead, which will give you access to some additional exhibitions.
The dominant feature of the castle is undoubtedly the St. Vitus Cathedral, originating as a Gothic building in the 14th century. Its history is closely linked to the residence of the Czech Kings. Gothic architecture replaced the original Romanesque rotunda and the early medieval basilica.
Countless valuable works of art are hidden inside. Among the most significant is the Chapel of St. Wenceslas or the Crown Jewels. The cathedral is also the final resting place of many sovereigns and patron saints.
Another very important building in the complex is St. George's Basilica, the oldest church inside Prague Castle, founded in the 10th century
The striking red façade and beautiful white prismatic towers contrast with a very plain interior of what was originally intended to be the burial place of the rules of that time, the Premyslid dynasty.
In addition to the tombs of the Premyslid rules, you can also visit a crypt from the 12th century, as well as the Chapel of St. Ludmila, where the first Czech Christian martyr was buried.
I continued my visit at the Old Royal Palace. The palace used to be the seat of the Bohemian kings until the 16th century. Originally, only the Czech princesses lived here, but it became the main residence of the king from the 13th century.
The building originates from the 12th century but has been remodelled during the centuries, mixing multiple styles, mainly Gothic and Renaissance.
One of the most important areas inside the castle is the Vladislav Hall, where many important political events take place, including the presidential elections. Just next to the hall is the Bohemian Chancellery, scene of the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618.
Compared to other European palaces, such as Versailles in Paris or the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the interior of the Old Palace is extremely disappointing. Even though the historical importance of this palace is undeniable, don't expect a rich or pompous interior, as there isn't too much left of the original decoration and most of the rooms are pretty much empty.
Photography inside the palace is forbidden unless you purchase an additional licence.
One of my favourite parts of the castle complex is the Golden Lane. The street created at the end of the 15th century, when the emperor of the time gave some space to the castle marksmen who guarded the new fortification that had just been created on the northern side of the palace.
Due to the lack of space, the marksmen had to build very small houses for them and the rest of their family. Those houses have been occupied during the centuries by all kinds of people, including artists, clerks and rich men. One of the most famous inhabitants of the Golden Lane was the Czech writer Franz Kafka, who used to live in the house number 22.
Nowadays, inside the houses you can find little craft stores, bookstores, and even an armoury exhibition. Many of the houses have reproductions of what the buildings used to look like centuries ago.
The excessive amount of tourists that you will find there at all times can sometimes make it hard to enjoy what could be the most charming lane in the world. Nevertheless, the Golden Lane is still one of my favourite spots in Prague.
The castle is located on top of a hill, offering great views of Prague. During my visit, I wasn't very lucky with the weather and the sky was quite cloudy, but the views were still stunning!
Walking down the hill from the castle, I reached Malá Strana, one of the districts of Prague located on the left bank of the Vltava river.
Up until the 19th century, Prague consisted of 4 separate towns: Hradčany (Castle Quarter), Malá Strana (Lesser Town), Staré Město (Old Town) and Nové Město (New Town).
Malá Strana originated when European and Czech nobles moved there after a merchant settlement burnt down in the 16th century.
The heart of this quarter is Malostranské Náměstí, or Lesser Town Square, where the Church of St. Nicholas is located. Prague actually has three different St. Nicholas churches. The one in Malá Strana dates from the 18th century and is the largest church in Prague founded by the Jesuits.
Many tourists tend to skip Malá Strana, going from Prague Castle straight to Charles Bridge and on to the Old Town without stopping in this picturesque quarter.
I was very surprised at the incredible architecture in Malá Strana. All buildings are a mixture between the medieval constructions of the Old Town and the Art Nouveau buildings around Josefov, making it a very distinctive and picturesque area of the city.
The quarter definitely deserves a visit, as it has a more unique feel than the overcrowded Old Town. Malá Strana is filled with beautiful cobbled streets and endless shops, churches and gardens to explore, as well as a great variety of pubs and restaurants.
There's no better place to finish your first day in Prague before continuing exploring the Jewish Quarter of Josefov, Charles Bridge and the New Town or Nové Město during your second day!
All opinions are my own.
Where to eat in the Old Town and Malá Strana
Location: Na Perštýně 345/7, Staré Město, Prague 1
This restaurant dates back to the 15th century, when it first opened as a brewery. It is located right next to a hotel with the same name.
Located in the historical centre of Prague, it's very easy to reach if you're visiting the Old Town.
The restaurant specialises in traditional Czech food, and also has a great variety of local beer. If you try the duck with bread dumplings, you won't be disappointed!
Location: Celetná 11, Staré Město, Prague 1
Maybe not the most traditional option, but this Italian restaurant just around the corner from the Old Town Square has some of the best food that I've tried for a long time.
The service was also excellent, and even better, prices were ridiculously cheap considering the quality of the dishes. They have a great wine menu for very reasonable prices as well.
I ordered the gnocchi with dried ham, broccoli and smoked almonds and it was delicious!
Location: Lázeňská 286/6, Malá Strana, Prague 1
Plný Pekáč is the perfect place to try traditional Czech cuisine in the Malá Strana quarter. The restaurant is located in an old bath house from the 14th century.
Hidden on a side street just off Charles Bridge, this restaurant is a great option if you want to escape the tourist traps and taste some of the best traditional dishes from the Czech Republic for less than €5 per person.
Their speciality is the Czech goulash served in bread; you can't leave Prague without trying this very typical dish!