Prague

prague

Simply put, Prague is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. An evening stroll across the Charles Bridge—as the sun sets behind the castle and the last rays are reflected by the Old Town’s golden spires—has become one of those European “musts.” And who can forget the beer?

Hradcany (Castle Area)

The Castle district is known for being the seat of Prague Castle, and its sights can easily take up most of a day. St. Vitus’s Cathedral, which sits in the castle proper, with its buttresses, gargoyles, spires, and towers, looms high over the area. The history of Prague is irrevocably intertwined with that of the castle, which was founded in the 9th century. At night, floodlights light up the area, giving the impression to riverside onlookers that the castle is floating above the city.

Josefov (Jewish Quarter)

The history of the Jewish Quarter’s ghetto is revealed in the Old Jewish Cemetery, packed with thousands of tilting headstones, and in the synagogues that still dot the neighborhood. The Old-New Synagogue, constructed around 1270, is the oldest in Europe. The Jewish Museum, which comprises five different buildings, has collections of Eastern European Jewish property confiscated and preserved. Today art nouveau structures have replaced the former ghetto buildings, and some of the city’s finest can be had along Parízská Street.

Mala Strana (Lesser Quarter)

The “Lesser Quarter” is full of winding cobblestone streets and baroque buildings, including numerous foreign embassies and stately palaces, virtually untouched since the 18th century. Go left and you will find sculpted house signs, which are works of art in their own right; go right, and you will be greeted by a statue of a saint holding a golden staff at the entrance to a church. For a break, look for one of the many gardens that are tucked into the neighborhood.

Nove Mesto (New Town)

To this day, Charles IV’s building projects are tightly woven into the daily lives of Prague citizens. His most extensive scheme, the New Town, is still such a lively, vibrant area you may hardly realize that its streets, Gothic churches, and squares were planned as far back as 1348. When Prague was fast outstripping its Old Town parameters, Charles IV extended the city’s fortifications. A high wall surrounded the newly developed 2½ square km (1½ square mi) area south and east of the Old Town, tripling the walled territory on the Vltava’s right bank.

Stare Mesto (Old Town)

On a sunny summer weekend, Old Town Square will be so packed with revelers you might think a rock concert was coming up. The 15th-century astronomical clock, which is on one side of the town hall, has a procession of 12 apostles that make their rounds when certain hours strike. From another side, the Church of Our Lady before Týn’s Gothic spires and the solid gold effigy of the Virgin Mary keep watch over onlookers.

Prague Sights

The backbone of Prague is the Vltava River (also sometimes known by its German name, Moldau), which runs from south to north with a single sharp turn to the east. The city was originally composed of five independent towns that today represents the historic district: Hradcany (Castle Area), Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter), Staré Mesto (Old Town), Nové Mesto (New Town), and Josefov (Jewish Quarter).

Hradcany, the seat of Czech royalty for hundreds of years, centers around the Prazský hrad (Prague Castle). A cluster of white buildings yoked around the pointed steeples of a chapel, the Prague Castle overlooks the city from a hilltop west of the Vltava River. Steps lead down from Hradcany to the Lesser Quarter, an area dense with ornate mansions built for the 17th- and 18th-century nobility.

Karluv most (Charles Bridge) connects the Lesser Quarter with the Old Town, which is hemmed in by the curving Vltava River and three large commercial avenues: Revolucní to the east, Na príkope to the southeast, and Národní trída to the south. A few blocks east of the bridge is the district’s focal point Staromestské námestí (Old Town Square), a former medieval marketplace laced with pastel-color baroque houses. To the north of Old Town Square, the diminutive Jewish Quarter fans out around a wide avenue called Parízská.

Beyond the former walls of the Old Town, the New Town fills in the south and east. The name “new” is a misnomer—New Town was laid out in the 14th century. (It’s only new when compared to the neighboring Old Town.) Today this mostly commercial district includes the city’s largest squares, Karlovo námestí (Charles Square) and Václavské námestí (Wenceslas Square). Roughly 1 km (½ mi) south of Karlovo námestí, along the Vltava, is the ancient castle of Vysehrad high above the river.

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