Lucinda Housley takes a walk through the twisting streets of the Czech capital, and tracks down some of the finest specimens of Baroque architecture in central Europe
1. The Old Town Square
What better place to start your tour of Prague than in the bustling heart of the city, the Staromestske Namesti? The outdoor café lining the square’s perimeter and side streets make the perfect place to take in the sights and history. Be at the Gothic-style Old Town Hall at the turn of the hour as the astronomical clock’s assorted figures intricately announce the new hour. Turn around to see the square’s most impressive building, the twin-spired Tyn Church. Built in the 14th century, it is best viewed from a distance as the houses and buildings around it obstruct a great deal of the base. From there, make your way over to the north end of the square to see the Jan Hus monument. Erected in 1915, this is a tribute to the Czech national hero and renowned preacher who was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415.
2. Charles Bridge
When you’ve finished exploring the Old Town Square, head southwest on Karlova Street to the Karluv Most (Charles Bridge, pictured). For more than 400 years, this bridge was the only link across the Vltava river connecting Prague’s New Town and Old Town. The city’s most famous sight, the Charles Bridge is lined with more than 30 elegant Baroque statues, which are sandwiched between two impressive Gothic towers. The views across the Vltava are breathtaking. To avoid the crowds and vendors, stroll across the bridge before 9am or after sunset. Before you reach the Bridge Tower leading to the new town, exit down the stairs to your left to take in peaceful Kampa Island. Have a bite to eat at one of Kampa’s riverside café and take a quiet boat ride across the river for a welcome respite from the bustling city.
3. St Nicholas Church
After you cross the Charles Bridge into Mala Strana, “the Lesser Quarter”, walk west on Mostecka until you reach the town square, Malostranske Namesti. The towering St Nicholas Church, completed in 1735, is easily Prague’s most notable example of Baroque architecture. The church belongs to the city and is the largest of all Prague’s Jesuit-founded churches. Pay 50CZK (£1.20) to enter the church and see the vast frescoes, the towering church organ once played by Mozart, and many intricately gilded statues. The colourful fresco inside the 70m-high dome of the church shows the Celebration of the Holy Trinity, and is a must see. For views across the Charles Bridge, climb the bell tower (April-October daily 10am-6pm and November-March Saturday and Sunday only, 10am-5pm).
4. Prazsky Hrad and St Vitus Cathedral
From St Nicholas Church, make your way up the hill on Nerudova Street to Prazsky Hrad, the largest castle in Europe and the seat of the President of the Czech Republic. Definitely worth a visit are the beautiful St Vitus Cathedral and palace grounds, but these can get busy, so to avoid the crowds, make your way to the cathedral and castle before mid-morning or in the late afternoon. Adventurous sorts should climb the steep 250-plus stairs to the top of the cathedral, where a truly stunning panoramic view of the city awaits you. Catch your breath and notice the twin spires of the Tyn Church, the green dome of the Lesser Town’s St Nicholas Church, the many bridges stretching across the Vltava river, and the Eiffel-like Petrin Tower, nestled in the nearby hills. If you are in the Castle Quarter around lunchtime, be sure to see the changing of the guard at noon, an elaborate display of ritual and fanfare from the Hradcanske Namesti to the castle courtyard. The castle is open daily April-October 5am-midnight, November-March 6am-11pm – a three-day ticket to all the main sights is available from the main information centre inside the third courtyard, and will cost around £5. If you are going by tram, alight at Malostranska or Hradcanska stops. Visit hrad.cz.
5. Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the Rudolfinum Concert Hall
Located in the historic Josefov, or Jewish Quarter, on the edge of the Vltava River, the Rudolfinum concert hall is one of Prague’s most glorious venues. Built in 1876 and once home to the Czech parliament, this neo-Renaissance concert hall is today best known for hosting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. The Rudolfinum’s 1,100-seat Dvorak Hall hosts regular afternoon and evening concerts year-round, with tickets from 440CZK (£10). Avoid the street vendors who sell tickets to nightly concerts, and purchase directly from the Rudolfinum, or from the Via Musica ticket outlet near the Old Town Square in the alley next to Tyn Church. To book tickets call +420 227 059 227, or visit rudolfinum.cz.