By Jim Ferri
Few cities in Europe are as stunning as Prague in the Czech Republic. And there are many things to see in Prague because it provides you with 600 years of stunning, original and authentic architecture, all untouched by war. You can see many historic places on a walking tour of the city, as well as on day trips from Prague. For a short walking tour of Prague follow the map of Prague below.
It’s so stunning that it’s long been a hot spot for Hollywood directors seeking authentic Old World ambiance. If you’ve seen Amadeus, Les Misérables, Mission: Impossible, The Bourne Identity, and other films, you’ve already had a sampling of the city.
Whether you’re a director or a traveler, you’ll find many things to do in Prague, which is a very affordable city. Here are the best things to see in Prague on a walking tour. For tips on the best restaurants and hotels, using public transportation, and how to get from the airport into the city, see Prague: Getting Around.. For tips on good day trips from Prague, see below.
What to Do in Prague: Start at Old Town Square
There are many things to do in Prague, especially in the Old Town. You’ll find that the heart and soul of the city are Old Town Square, one of the most beautiful public squares in the world. It’s the best place to start your walking tour of the city.
The huge square was initially a vast marketplace that somehow has remained pretty much untouched since the 10th century despite numerous foreign invaders and World War II.
On the north side of the square is the Gothic Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. Look closely, and you’ll see that the church’s architects made the south tower larger than the north one, the custom of the time. Directly across from it is the magnificent Town Hall.
Like most city squares, it’s a stage for an ever-changing cast of characters, including musicians, protesters, vendors, and others. The buildings that surround it are a pleasant hodgepodge of architecture, including Rococo (Kinsky Palace), Baroque (St. Nicholas Church), and Gothic (Tyn Cathedral). Adding to the pleasing architectural cacophony is a row of small Renaissance-style houses.
A Map of Prague for a Short Walking Tour of the City
This map of Prague depicts a walking tour of the main places mentioned in this article. It is interactive; press +/- to enlarge it or make it smaller. It can also be viewed, and the route followed, on your smartphone.
The Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock
Follow your map of Prague and continue your tour of the city by walking to the southern side of the square to the Old Town Hall, which is famous for its medieval Astronomical Clock (on the map of Prague you’ll see it is around the corner from the square). It’s both beautiful and ingenious, a 15th-century mechanism that not only tells time but also shows the movement of the planets around the earth, the sun, and the moon via signs of the zodiac.
Every day, on the hour, small statues dance, bells ring, and cocks crow above the crowd that gathers to watch the little spectacle. Grab a beer or glass of wine at one of the nearby cafés as you await the top of the hour. Even in winter it’s comfortable in the cafes since area area heaters keep everyone relatively warm.
The Prague Jewish Quarter
Behind Town Hall is Josefov, the old Prague Jewish Quarter, dating from the 12th century, a place where writer Franz Kafka spent most of his life.
On your walking tour of Prague you’ll see it’s a beautiful area today, although it was razed at the end of the 19th century after many Jews had left and the area had turned into a slum. It was replaced with a bourgeois district, preserving only four synagogues. One is the Maisel Synagogue, a few blocks north of Town Hall, with a collection of Jewish silverwork. Further up the street are the Jewish Town Hall and the 13th-century Old-New Synagogue (Staronová synagóga). It’s the oldest in Europe and is still used for religious services.
Nearby is the Old Jewish Cemetery. First used in the 15th century, the cemetery was one of the few places available for burial of Prague’s Jews. When it ran out of room graves were added on top of one another; today it’s estimated that about 200,000 are buried here, even though the final burial place took place in 1787.
Cross the Charles Bridge for More of the Best Things to See in Prague
Prague is a very walkable city and a short walk from the Jewish Quarter or Old Town Square you’ll find the famous Charles Bridge.
Follow the route on your Prague map and continue your tour of the city by crossing the bridge. The Charles is a 600-year-old, 1700 foot-long Gothic-cobblestone-bridge, built by King Charles IV. Lined with Baroque statues of 30 religious figures, it’s one of the most famous bridges in the world, one of the most popular, and one of the best things to do in Prague. As you might expect, more often than not it’s crowded with tourists, musicians and all sorts of vendors and buskers.
Praguers love marionettes and if you want to see something interesting after you reach the castle side of the river, follow the map and turn left and walk under the bridge to a street on your left. There you’ll find Marionety Truhlář, a marionette shop at U Lužického sem. 5., Malá Strana. Drop in, and you’ll find a large variety of marionettes – beautiful and whimsical knights, animals, fairies, all sorts of things – hanging from the ceiling, walls and every conceivable spot.
They’re incredibly well crafted but, as you might suspect, not cheap. Still, though, you’ll likely find it fascinating.
Prague Castle and Royal Palace
Follow your Prague map and continue along U Lužického sem on your tour of the city, the street on which the shop is located, and you’ll reach Prague Castle in about 15 minutes. If you set out for the castle from the other side of the river, you can reach it via Tram #22.
When you reach it you’ll realize that it’s not one castle, but a vast complex of buildings, about the size of seven football fields. In fact, it’s the largest castle complex in the world.
Once home to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, the fairytale-looking complex includes churches, gardens, alleyways and the Royal residence, making it the largest ancient castle in the world. Inside its walls are the Old Royal Palace (the seat of Bohemian kings since the 11th century), St. George’s Basilica (the city’s most beautiful Romanesque monument) and numerous other buildings, including the beautiful St. Vitus Cathedral.
Much of the castle complex is free (although you must purchase a ticket to view the interiors), and the guards change every hour, with special fanfare at noon.
The Cathedral, with its distinct spires easily seen from all over the city, is the focal point of the castle complex.
St. Vitus Cathedral
No walking tour of Prague would be complete without a visit to St. Vitus Cathedral. Before you enter, however, first walk around to its right side to see the “Golden Portal,” that originally was the main entrance. It was named for the beautiful 14th-century Venetian mosaic of “The Last Judgment” above it, it’s still used as an entrance on special occasions.
Inside you’ll find one of the most spectacular churches you’ll see anywhere. When I first entered, I stood for a moment in total awe, just absorbing the beauty of its Art Nouveau stained-glass windows. Few people realize that Art Nouveau was introduced during the church’s construction; although work on the cathedral began in 1344, it wasn’t completed until 1929.
In addition to the magnificent windows, the church is also the repository of the Crown Jewels of Bohemia and the remains of Good King Wenceslas. From here you’ll want to follow your map of the city back to the Old Town Square.
After our walking tour of the city, much of it in the warren of little streets in Old Town, we walked over to the Municipal House, a place two shopkeepers told us we shouldn’t miss. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the city. From the Old Town Square just follow your Prague map and walk down the street to the right side of the church on the square.
Built 1905–1911, it remains the most beautiful Art Nouveau building in Prague, thanks to restoration in the 1990s after decades of neglect during the Communist era, despite it being where Czechoslovakia was declared an independent state in 1918. You’ll find few places like it anywhere in Europe, or the world, for that matter.
At its heart is the beautiful Smetana Concert Hall, home to the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. But it was its exuberant Art Nouveau restaurants and bar that really caught our attention.
In the basement, we found Plzenska, a beautiful Old-World Czech beer-hall-style restaurant with tile walls and stained glass windows. Next to it was the American Bar, a real old-style American bar where they’ll whip you up a Manhattan, Gin Fizz or another cocktail of choice. It’s the oldest bar in the Czech Republic and, it claims, the second oldest in Europe.
But the real standout of the Municipal House was the elegant restaurant Francouzska, a veritable dining museum of Art Nouveau exuberance, serving French, Czech, and International cuisine.
Day Trips From Prague
More things to do include the many good day trips from Prague you can take.
One of the most popular day trips from Prague is to Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in southern Bohemia. About a two-hour drive south of the city, it’s a town of winding lanes, cobbled streets, and Renaissance buildings. Above it all stands Cesky Krumlov castle, a fairytale chateau pasted on a rocky hill in the middle of town.
Below the castle, the Vitava River makes a dramatic horseshoe slice right through the middle of town. Hollywood couldn’t have designed it any better. Get Your Guide, a reputable and respected tour company, offers day trips from Prague to this beautiful city.
Another good day trip from Prague is to Pilsen, about 1½-hours by train or bus from the capital. Pilsen is the birthplace of beer, the #1 reason for its popularity, and tours of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery are a favorite.
There’s much more to do in Pilsen, however, than just tour the brewery. You’ll find its Old Town beautiful and the Pilsen Techmania Science Center a treat for kids (and some adults, as well). If you love wine and bubbly, visit the Stary Plzenec-Bohemia Sekt plant outside the city.