Prague is the capital city of the relatively small Czech Republic which lies in the heart of Europe, bordering Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland.
Prague (Praha) has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. No other European capital contains six hundred years of architecture so completely untouched by natural disaster or war. Prague's rich collection of Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance buildings has emerged unscathed from centuries of strife.
Prague has been called 'the Rome of the North'. Rome was built on seven hills, and Prague was built on nine hills: Letna, Vitkov, Opys, Vetrov, Skalka, Emauzy, Vysehrad, Karlov and the highest of all, Petrin. The mountains, forests and lakes surrounding Prague are enchanting and ideal for outdoor holidays as well as winter sports.
Central Prague is made up of four towns, joined together in 1784. The River Vltava (Moldau in German) divides the capital into two unequal halves: on the steeply inclined left bank, are Hradcany and Malá Strana (the Lesser Quarter). The more gentle, sprawling right bank includes Staré Mesto, Josefov and Nové Mesto.
Hradcany, on the hill, contains the most sights: the castle itself, the cathedral and the former palaces of the aristocracy. Below Hradcany, Malá Strana (Little Quarter), with its narrow eighteenth-century streets, is the city's ministerial and diplomatic quarter, with attractive Baroque gardens for all to enjoy. Over the river, on the right bank, Staré Mesto (Old Town) is a web of alleys and passageways centered on the city's most beautiful square, Staromestské námesti. Enclosed within the boundaries of Staré Mesto is Josefov, the old Jewish quarter, now containing only a few synagogues and a cemetery. Nové Mesto (New Town), the focus of the modern city, covers the largest area, laid out in long wide boulevards, the most famous of which is Wenceslas Square. These boulevards stretch south and east of the old town.
In the years since students took to the streets and the communist regime ended, Prague has enjoyed an unparalleled cultural renaissance. Amid Prague's cobblestone streets and gold-tipped spires, new galleries, cafés, and clubs serve "expatriates." Prague has somehow emerged as Eastern Europe's new Left Bank.
Prague Castle has stood on the hill overlooking the Old Town since the 10th century. The city grew around the castle over the centuries. A good way to begin exploration of the wonders of Prague is to take a ride on tram #22 for a free sightseeing tour of downtown Prague. From Vinohrady in the west, it will travel across the river, around several hair-pin bends, finishing up outside Prague Castle.
Then walk or ride the Royal Route downhill from Prague Castle, through Malá Strana (Lesser Town), and across Charles Bridge to Old Town Square. The crossing of the 1,700 foot span of the bridge is an adventure in itself! The bridge is lined with more than 30 sculptures and serves as a venue for performances of puppeteers and musicians. The trip retraces the route taken by the carriages of the Bohemian kings, with the difference that today the way is lined with galleries, shops, and cafés. Be sure to glance up on the hour as the Astronomical Clock of the Old Town Hall on Staromestské námestí comes to life with its procession of mechanical figures.
Take all the time you can to wander through the narrow winding streets of Staré Męsto (Old Town). This is the moment to be wearing a comfortable pair of broken - in walking shoes. The cobblestones and hills of Prague require that careful attention be paid to preparing the feet for the journey.
When it is time to rest, numerous cafés offering food, coffee, tea, and fine varieties of locally brewed beer are readily available. Another activity providing relaxation as well as a fascinating afternoon or evening, is a tourboat trip down the Vltava past the castles and palaces of the region. Some tours provide a meal as well. For the more adventurous, there is the possibility of a "do it yourself " boat tour via rowboat. Lanterns are added at night to create an aura of romance in and around the rented dinghies. Visitors to Charles Bridge after dark will encounter a lively scene, as musicians and street performers congregate to celebrate the night.
An afternoon with the family in the park at the site of the Citadel on Vyserhad also provides a break from the bustle of the city.
A 30-minute train ride south of Prague leads to the most visited Czech landmark in the area around Prague, Karlstejn Castle built by Charles IV in the 14th century to protect the Holy Roman Empire's crown jewels. This Romanesque hilltop fortress is of interest to adults and children alike.
Mozart experienced moderate success in Vienna, but he triumphed in Prague! Classical music still seems to be everywhere in the city. Tickets are reasonably priced, and the musical performances are superb.
Food in Prague is often based on Austro-Hungarian dishes. Specialties include bramborak, a potato pancake filled with garlic and herbs, and Prague ham. However, a wide range of culinary options exists. Among these are American, Italian, Lebanese, and Japanese cuisine.
Shopping is a favorite pastime also. Arcades under the buildings of Wenceslas Square, along the pedestrian only street of Na Príkope and also along Narodní tríada shoppers discover a variety of quality products ranging from books to antiques, to crystal. There are interesting craft shops on Karlova, near the Charles Bridge. Puppets and marionettes that are works of art can also be discovered in these areas.
The beauty and classical elegance of the buildings, streets, passageways and alleys of this "Golden City" will provide a colorful mosaic of memories that will remain long after the visit has concluded.