Prague: Top 15 Sights

Image courtesy of Prague City Tourism

Prague is a city that can best be described as both romantic and magical. The colour of the stone, the way the light bounces off the water, the cobblestone streets- all lend the city an air of mystery and romance. However, Prague is also a city bustling with cafes and students, and prides itself on its offering of music and art. I'll be covering some of Prague's cultural offerings in a different post, but today is all about the sights that make even the most experienced tourist's jaw drop. If you see nothing else in the city, make sure you see these. The sights below are listed in no particular order.

Prague: Top 15 Sights

1- Charles Bridge:

Quite possibly one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Charles Bridge is the oldest bridge in Prague. Started in 1357 by Charles IV, it was completed in 1402. The 30 famous statues of saints that line the bridge were added much later, between 1683 and 1938, and added an additional layer of interest to the already famous structure. The bridge is a popular tourist spot, so for the best experience consider heading over early in the morning or late at night, when there are fewer people. The bridge looks best under the softer lighting conditions anyway.

The illustration below from Planetware gives a great overview of the points of interest along the span of the bridge.

2- Prague Castle

The Prague castle is a must-see, but don't expect to see it all in one day. It dates back to the 9th Century, and has been expanded upon and rebuilt over the centuries. The largest ancient castle in the world, it's so large that entry tickets are valid for two days. Unless you're a serious history buff, you may want to do a bit of advance research and narrow down your visit to a few areas of most interest to you. Click here for the city of Prague's overview, which separates the castle into its different areas and offers a concise overview of each. Don't miss the spectacular panoramic view from the castle, as it is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. If you have children, the changing of the guard can be a great way to keep them interested.

3- Jewish Quarter (Including Museum & Cemetery)

Prague has a rich Jewish history, much of it preserved within the Jewish Quarter of the city. The Cemetery dates back to the 15th Century, with more than 12000 gravestones still standing. The Jewish Museum is one of the oldest continuous-running Jewish museums in the world, established in 1906. It contains many artifacts from the synagogues that were destroyed during the destruction of the Jewish Ghetto in the city. The museum is housed in a variety of locations around the quarter, including the cemetery and several synagogues. Over 40000 artifacts are on display in total. Since the museum is set across so many different locations, different ticketing options are available for specific locales or a comprehensive one that covers entrance to each location once over a 7 day period. 

4- Old Town Hall & Astronomical Clock (Staroměstská radnice s orlojem)

The Old Town Hall dates back to 1338, and although some parts have been destroyed over the years, the historical halls, Gothic tower, and underground areas remain intact and are open to visitors. The halls often house art or other exhibits, and are accessed through a Gothic doorway. Climbing the tower provides a fantastic view over the city, and is open until 10pm.

The clock is the true show-stopper, however. Designed to showcase the movement of the celestial bodies first before the movement of time, the intricacy of the clock is breathtaking. Since an astronomical clock must be designed based on the placement of the celestial bodies at that particular site, they cannot be transported and are only accurate in their specific location. The clock also includes sculptures of the apostles, which appear each hour. Not to be missed.

5- St. Nicholas Church (Malá Strana)

This church dates back to the 1700s, and is in the Baroque style. It is most well-known for the gorgeous paintings in the cupola and the impressive chandelier. It also boasts a tower that provides spectacular views over the Old Town of Prague. Music lovers should try to attend one of the many classical music concerts held in the church on a regular basis.

6- Tyn Church

One of the most splendid churches in the city, it features a Gothic exterior that was built between the 14th and 16th centuries. however, the interior was redone at the end of the 17th century in the Baroque style. There is a gallery that features Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque religious works of art, and the oldest organ in Prague. A truly unique church in many ways.

7- Municipal House (Obecní dům)

The Municipal House was built in the early 1900s, and is considered one of the best examples of Art Nouveau architecture and design in Prague. The interior is widely considered more impressive than the exterior, with its various lounges, pubs, and restaurants all decorated in the Art Nouveau style. It is also home to a large concert hall, where one can explore the interior while also taking in some local culture. Paintings, stained glass windows, and murals all contribute to the beauty of the building. Take a tour or simply frequent one of the pubs or restaurants and soak in the atmosphere.

8-The Strahov Monastery and Library

The Monastery, founded in the 1140s, is one of the most important architectural buildings in the country. At one point it was larger than the Prague Castle. It has been built and rebuilt several times, in different styles, including Gothic, Baroque, and Classical. It was seized during the Communist period, and only returned to the Premonstratensian Order after the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Some points of interest include the Baroque Theological Hall, the Classical Philosophy Hall, and the Strahov Gallery with its collection of Gothic, Rudolfian, Baroque, and Rococo art. The Library contains approximately 200 000 volumes, frescoed ceilings dating back to the 18th century, and earth and astronomical globes.

9- Wenceslas Square

Built in the mid-1300s in New town as the city expanded, Wenceslas Square boasts the National Museum and the statue of the city's patron saint, Wenceslas. The square is a popular cultural and shopping destination in the city for both locals and tourists alike. It's a great place to people watch, to find hotels and restaurants, and also to do some shopping. A great place to visit by day or by night.

10- The Dancing House

If you enjoy modern architecture, this is a nice change from the more traditional buildings found across the city. Built in the 1990s by architects Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry, the Dancing House has been lovingly nicknamed "Fred and Ginger" after Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers due to its resemblance to a dancing couple. Aside from admiring the facade of the two towers, one stone and one glass, visitors should make their way to the rooftop restaurant for good food and fantastic 360 degree views over the city.

11- The National Theatre (Národní divadlo)

Not only is this building centrally located on the banks of the river and gorgeous to look at, it's also home to some of the city's top opera, ballet, and classical music performances. It first opened in 1881, and then reopened in 1883 after a fire destroyed much of the original building. The interior is lavishly decorated in gold and contains painting from some of the Czech Republic's 19th century masters. Take a tour of the facility, or book tickets to see a performance.

12- The National Museum (Národní Muzeum)

The National Museum is spread out over a series of locations across the city, each with a different focus and set of exhibitions. It's worth taking the time to learn about some of the exhibits available, as the collection is extensive and encompasses a variety of topics from anthropology to zoology. However, the main building was damaged in attacks both in 1945 and 1968, and is currently undergoing restoration and will not reopen until 2018. There are buildings dedicated to music and composers, art, technology, archaeology, and much more that are currently open to the public, and spread out across Prague.

13- The National Gallery (Národní galerie v Praze)

Much like the National Museum, the National Gallery collection is housed across a number of significant landmark buildings in the city of Prague. The Veletrzní Palace houses the main collection, but other collections are found in the Kinsky Palace, convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, and the Sternberg Palace. While heavy of Czech artists, there are also works of art from masters of French, Spanish, Italian, and other traditions. The collections is not limited to paintings, but also includes sculpture, artifacts, photographs, and other mediums of expression.

14- The Clementinum & the National Library

The Clementinum is one of the largest building complexes in Europe, built between the 16th and 18th centuries. Visitors are permitted to visit certain parts of the complex via guided tours. One of the highlights of the tour is the Astronomical Tower, which dates back to 1775 and offers wonderful views over the city. The Library Hall stuns in the Baroque style, with frescoes along the ceilings and historical artifacts.

For book-lovers like myself, the main attraction is the National Library, which houses a copy of every book published in the Czech Republic. The library contains more that 6 million books, many historically significant, including the Latin Coronation Gospel Book, dating back to 1085.

Finally, the Mirror Chapel with its mirror installation is often host to concerts, but can also be seen as part of the tour when no concerts are taking place.

15- Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí)

The old town square is probably the one you've seen in the photographs of Prague, and it is one of the city's most important, dating back to the 12th century. Surrounded by picturesque buildings and several important monuments such as the Astronomical Clock, the Old Town Hall, the Tyn Church, St. Nicholas Church,  and several more, it is the perfect starting point for exploring the city. Don't miss the memorial stones embedded into the floor of the square for the 27 Czech lords executed in the 1600s, or the marker for Prague's meridian.

Photo Gallery

Prague really does have a mystical, magical quality to it, that comes through in photographs of the city. I will be posting a gallery of my own photos when I return from my trip, but I wanted to share some photos of the city in this post. The City of Prague has a great tourism site, and it includes a wonderful gallery of photos to inspire future visitors.

The following photographs are used courtesy of Prague City Tourism.