Prague is a bustling 21st-century capital with a cityscape straight out of the Middle Ages.
What would Prague’s romantic river, the Vltava, be like without its swans? Find fanfares of these (finger-biting) beauties grouped near a landing on the Malá Strana side of the river (follow Cihelná street north from Charles Bridge). The swans look awesome when photographed with the bridge and Old Town in the backdrop.
Part natural, part man-made, the view out over the river, the bridges, and spires of the Old Town from the bluff at Letná Park is all wonder. Scramble to a giant metronome at the top, where an immense statue of former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once stood, and take in the splendor below.
The former royal hunting ground of Stromovka, north of the Old Town, is not a national park, per se, but it is the biggest patch of green in the city center. Enjoy the ponds, playgrounds, hiking trails, and even a little ferry boat north of the park, which transports families over the river to Prague’s zoo.
Remote Vyšehrad Citadel is the legendary locale where Prague was first prophesied in the 8th century and once served as a residence of Bohemia’s early rulers. These days, it’s mainly ruins and pretty parkland, with some surviving Gothic cellars, Prague’s oldest rotunda from the 11th century, and sweeping views over the river to Prague Castle in the distance.
The good news for those in search of UNESCO World Heritage sites: You don’t need to go far in Prague to find one. In fact, the entire historic center—on both sides of the river—is so perfectly preserved that it was granted UNESCO protected status in 1992. Prague doesn’t just have museums; it is a museum.
The city’s Jewish Quarter tells the story of eight centuries of Jewish life in the city tragically cut short by the Nazi occupation during World War II. The five surviving synagogues and Old Jewish Cemetery, however, are less a Holocaust site than an exposition of the richness here of Jewish life and culture. Don’t miss the cemetery.
Best Day Trip
Hop a bus for an excursion to nearby Kutná Hora. This old silver-mining center once rivaled Prague in wealth and has the architectural opulence to prove it—although most come here for architecture of a different sort. Namely, a chapel, the Sedlec Ossuary, fitted out with the bones of some 40,000 to 70,000 people. It's fascinating and creepy, and not just on Halloween.
Off the Beaten Path
Visitors routinely trace the Royal Route of former kings along busy Karlova Street (Karlova ulice), which leads to the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. That’s all good, except Karlova these days is clogged with cheap souvenir shops. Instead, wander off in any direction from Old Town Square to find quieter lanes and the historic vibe you came here to find in the first place.
Most Iconic Place
Prague-born writer Franz Kafka was so in awe of sprawling Prague Castle, he wrote a book about it (titled, well, The Castle). Commonly regarded as the world’s largest castle complex, the former seat of Bohemian kings is an ancient city in its own right, complete with the Old Royal Palace, St. Vitus Cathedral, spooky gargoyles, and beautifully landscaped gardens and vistas in all directions.
Most cities regard beer-drinking as a pastime, but here, it’s a passion. Czechs drink more beer per capita than any country on Earth. For proof, one need only peek into a traditional pub. The Golden Tiger (U Zlatého tygra) is a classic of the genre, but it is often overrun with visitors. The Black Ox (U Černého vola), near Prague Castle, has all the pub bona fides and usually a free seat or two. The Black Ox serves Prague’s own Staropramen beer, though locals tend to prefer Pilsner Urquell from the nearby Czech city of Pilsen.