We are often asked when a good time is to go to Prague. When’s the weather at its best? Are the winters tolerable? Will there be snow at Christmas time? Prague is appealing in every season and has lots to offer throughout the year. Below are some of our tips based on what might be important to you.
Old Town Square
The heart of Prague’s historical center is the Old Town Square. It has been beautifully restored and it is a good place to start your Prague visit. You will find the Gothic spires of the Týn Church towering over the square and the statue of reformer Jan Hus, and the Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Hall on the opposite side of it. Personally, we don’t think that the hourly display of the 12 apostles on the Astronomical Clock is worth a wait longer than five minutes, but some may disagree.
You will not regret a climb to the top of the Old Town Hall tower. The view of the square and beyond is spectacular.
You can buy a ride in a horse-drawn carriage that starts and ends on Old Town Square. The carriages are lined up near the white St. Nicholas Church and a 20-minute ride costs around 800 – 1,000 CZK per carriage (seats four people).
Around Old Town Square
Wander the streets leading off the square – the grand Pařížská, the charming Týnská that leads to Ungelt, the ever-busy Melantrichova that will take you to Wenceslas Square… Walk down Celetná to the Powder Tower, one of the historical entrances to the Old Town. Connected to the tower is the exquisite Municipal House, Prague’s Art Nouveau gem.
The Jewish Quarter (Josefov) is not far from Old Town Square and it would make sense to visit it in connection with your tour of the Old Town. The Jewish Museum administers the following sites: the Maisel Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Klaus Synagogue, and the Ceremonial Hall. The Old-New Synagogue is the oldest working synagogue in Central Europe.
Walk across the Charles Bridge on your first day because you may want to do it again. We recommend strolling across it at night to enjoy the magnificent view of the Prague Castle all lit up. Also, at night the crowds will be smaller. Keep in mind that during the day you can climb the towers on both sides of the bridge. We especially recommend the one on the Old Town side for wonderful views of the bridge and the spires of the Old Town. Read more on our Charles Bridge page.
The Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) was founded around 880 by prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid dynasty. The first stone building in the castle area was the Church of the Virgin Mary of which only remnants can be seen today. In the 10th century, St. George’s Basilica was founded and the first Czech convent was established there – St. George’s Convent, which now houses a gallery. St. Vitus Rotunda, also from the 10th century, was replaced by St. Vitus Basilica in the 11th century, and it is where St. Vitus Cathedral stands today.
Starting in the 10th century, the Prague Castle served as the seat of Czech princes and later kings, and the seat of the Prague bishop.
The Prague Castle experienced one of its greatest periods during the reign of Charles IV (1346-1378) when it became the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor. The Royal Palace was rebuilt, the fortifications were strengthened, and the construction of St. Vitus Cathedral was initiated, following the style of Gothic French cathedrals of the time.
The expansion of the Castle continued during the reign of Charles’ son Wenceslas IV, but the Hussite wars (1419 – 1437) and the subsequent decades during which the Castle was abandoned lead to its deterioration.
King Wladislaw Jagellon moved into the Castle after 1483 and the complex grew once again. New fortifications and guard towers (the Powder Tower, New White Tower, and Daliborka) were built. The Royal Palace was further remodeled and expanded by the grandiose Wladislaw Hall, one of the first demonstrations of the Renaissance style in the Czech lands.
By the time the Habsburg dynasty took over the Czech throne in 1526, the Renaissance style was in full swing in Europe. The seat of power moved to Vienna and the Prague Castle served mainly for recreational purposes. The Royal Garden was built and entertainment sites such as the Belvedere and Ballgame Hall were added in the 16th century. The Cathedral and Royal Palace were modified. New residential buildings were built to the west of the Old Royal Palace.
The reconstruction of the Castle culminated during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II who became Czech king in 1575 and moved his court back to Prague. He wished to turn the Castle into an elegant center of power that would attract foreign artists, scientists and diplomats. The north wing of the Palace and the Spanish Hall were added to house the emperor’s vast collections of art and science.
The Prague Defenestration of 1618 initiated a long period of wars during which the Prague Castle was damaged and looted, rarely serving as the seat of power.
The last large reconstruction of the Castle took place in the second half of the 18th century when it took on a style of a chateau. However, the seat of power was again in Vienna and the Castle continued to deteriorate.
In 1848, emperor Ferdinand V moved to the Prague Castle. The Chapel of the Holy Cross on the Second Courtyard was rebuilt and the Spanish Hall and Rudolf’s Gallery were remodeled.
With the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918, the Prague Castle welcomed the first president of independent Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Some needed remodeling was commissioned to the Slovenian architect Josip Plečnik. The construction of St. Vitus Cathedral was finished in 1929.
After 1989, many areas of the Castle were made accessible to the public for the first time in history, including the Royal Garden, Ballgame Hall, the south gardens, or the Imperial Stables. Today, the Prague Castle is the seat of the Czech president and the most important National Cultural Monument of the Czech Republic. A number of priceless art relics, historical documents, as well as the Czech Crown Jewels are stored there.
The above historical information is based on the Czech language version of the official Prague Castle website.