The Vltava River neatly divides Prague, almost to beckon, “Hey, spend a day on each side.” Check the Czech weather forecast to decide where to start. If you have a day of inclement weather, make it your Castle day, as there are plenty of indoor sights, including the Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica and Golden Lane. A sunny day? You will enjoy the Old Town sights more. It doesn’t matter which side of the river you explore first. Make plans, then be flexible.
Our hotel is in New Town, a good starting point. From here, Tram 22, like the night bus in Harry Potter, will transport us to another world. We leave the trappings of bustling New Town behind as we cross Legii Bridge to the left bank and wind our way to the top of the Castle grounds at the Royal Garden. It’s a 20-minute journey for only about $1, yet the result is priceless.
Our first stop inside the Castle complex is the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral. It is immense and inspiring. The beautiful stained glass tells stories of the nearly 1,000 years from beginning to completion. You could easily spend a half-day strolling through the Palace and other sights.
Speaking of sights, there are numerous vantage points for extraordinary views back across the river to Old Town and the rest of Prague. There’s a reason it can be called “city of a hundred spires.” Compared to the fate of many European cities, Prague escaped World War II relatively unscathed.
Walking down from the Castle we discover Lesser Town (aka Mala Strana), whose picturesque cobblestone streets offer a quieter vibe than tourist-filled Old Town. Finally, we reach the iconic pedestrian-only Charles Bridge, probably the most photographed landmark in the city, after the Castle.
I love this story: In 1394, a priest in Prague, named John, refused to tell the king about any transgressions the queen may have confessed to him. Well, John wound up meeting his death and the king had him dumped off the Charles Bridge at night. The story is depicted in a painting inside St. Vitus Cathedral.
But behold! Suddenly the sky filled with bright stars and the townspeople found his body floating down the river. His ability to “hold his tongue” earned him sainthood. And today, at the spot on the bridge where he was tossed over, you can make a secret wish, while you rub his statue. I hope mine comes true!
I learned the story of St. John from our private guide, Marketa, who runs Caput Regni. For the upscale traveler, nothing quite takes the place of a private guide who has lived through the turbulent Czech history and can bring to life events, such as the Velvet Revolution (and whose answers to your unending questions really makes you smarter about a place and its culture). Books and blogs simply can’t replace the human interaction. And a personal guide from a small agency clearly beats those “free” big walking tours. I highly recommend Marketa, whom we used for a couple of days.
That’s our Prague in the rain story. St. Vitus Cathedral and the Castle (the largest fully operating castle in the world) and the walk down and through Lesser Town can consume most of a day. But there is so much more to this city. On the other side of the Vltava River, across the Charles Bridge, is Prague’s Old Town. Check out my post!
Some tips. We used Prague Airport Transfers from the airport to the city, a private car and a nice chat with a friendly local Czech. We stayed at the Sheraton Prague Charles Square in New Town, convenient to trams and walking distance to the Old Town.
Combining a quick trip to Prague with a visit to Budapest? Read my post about how to see Budapest in two days.
Have any comments? If so, I would like to hear from you. Simply comment at the bottom of this post.
A Prague-raised private guide is worth the money.
Our suite at the Sheraton Charles Square, an interesting restored building.
Private car transfer from airport to city.
Excellent trams and metro are easy to use and cost only about US$1.
Food, hotels — compared to other European cities, Prague is quite reasonable.
Eats: Cicala Trattoria, Fish & Chips 21 Dlouha, Restaurace Jama.
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