There is no question. Prague is one heck of a romantic city. Its Old World, charismatic mix of architectural gorgeousness, vibrant nightlife, idyllic riverside venues, cozy parks, cityscapes embellished with graceful swans, intimate cafes…and, well, about 200,000 other tourists (but who is counting) mold Prague into a bucket-list-must-do for any European adventure.
Though I was a little disappointed in the sheer number of tourists backlogged in the streets of the Old Town and along Charles Bridge- especially the flag waving tour groups and obnoxious gangs of segways- I loved Prague. Ideally, I think the city practically begs to be shared and enjoyed with a special someone; a partner with whom to stroll hand-in-hand with along the Vltava River, share a hot wine while wandering through the Old Town, or snuggle with while enjoying music in one of Prague’s many jazz bars.
But…Prague is just as lovely for a single, wanderlust soul as she can travel at her own pace, people watch till her heart’s content, and have nobody to remind her just how many delicious double chocolate truffles she has already consumed at 11:00 a.m!
I started my Prague adventure with an extra strong Czech coffee (muddy and without milk) and headed out in the direction of Prague Castle. As my hostel was way on the other side of town, I first had to amble through the fabulous and atmospheric Stare Mesto, also known as Prague’s Old town. Here, the cobblestone streets are narrow, winding, and amply crowded. Souvenir shops, pasty vendors, and trendy crystal showrooms clog the alleyways, but it is worth the struggle of “crowd surfing” to admire the city’s colorful and awesome architecture. And to buy one of said pastries.
Winding alleys eventually lead to the Old Town Square, one of the best places in the city to simply sit back and do some serious people watching. I like to do a bit of eavesdropping and listen to the different languages surrounding me. Plus, the square’s backdrop is pretty amazing too. The beautiful Tyn and Saint Nicholas churches line the square while the famous astronomical clock sits off to the side. When the hour bell rings, a parade of apostles and a bell ringing skeleton pop out to play and do a little routine. The JanHus Monument, erected in 1915 to commemorate the icon’s execution, occupies the middle of the square and offers a ring of benches to rest weary feet.
From the Old Town Square, the crowds head across the Charles Bridge toward the western banks of the Vltava River and the remarkable Prague Castle. Built in 1357 and graced by 30 statues dating back to the 18th century, a stroll along the Charles Bridge is itself a memorable moment. Jazz quartets, jewelry designers, painters, artisans, dreamers, and flocks of cooing pigeons round out the sensory experience. It is worthwhile to hang out on the bridge’s railings and watch the world go by. Ferries glide beneath, sweethearts cuddle for selfies, and music floats on gentle breezes. Though highly encouraged, I did not visit the Charles Bridge before dawn in order take to popular sunrise photos. I just couldn’t get up and hike to the bridge at that hour of the morning.
Along the bridge, there were several groupings of “lovers locks.” I see these everywhere in Europe! Apparently, couples attach a lock on a bridge, fence, or gate and then throw away the key to symbolise their unbreakable love. Cute idea, but I wonder if one half of the couple comes back to cut off the lock should the relationship fail?
The Prague Castle is probably the number one destination for most tourists. And for good reason! From the castle’s vantage point lording over the city, visitors have access to overwhelming views of Prague. It is well worth the steep climb just for the photo opportunities.
While taking photos of cityscapes, I stumbled upon an artist busy at work. I would have liked to buy the finished product, but he wasn’t ready to sell just yet.
Like many of Poland’s castles, it is free to roam around the grounds of Prague Castle, but tickets must be bought to further explore inside St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, and other sites on the castle grounds. My favorite gothic gem was St. Vitus Cathedral in the middle of the castle grounds. The church’s facade is absolutely covered with gargoyles, flying giants, and other magnificient carvings.
Another highlight for many (not necessarily for me) is to watch the changing of the guards take place outside the palace walls everyday at noon. It is really just some pomp and silly fanfare, and I actually enjoyed watching the throngs of tourists more than the ceremony itself.
Following the stimulating action at the castle gates, I left behind the castle grounds and strolled through the Little Quarter to Kama, a broad park along the Vltava River with ducks, swans, and heaps of hugging/kissing couples. After all, this is one of Prague’s most “romantic walks.”
The rest of my time in Prague was spent revisiting my favorite places for more photo snapping, coffee dwelling, chocolate sampling, and people watching. In the evenings, I went out with friends from my hostel, grabbed a few wines/beers, and listened to fantastic jazz music. That’s right Chicago fans, Prague is stepping up in the world for offering great jazz venues! I also found some fantastic running paths through the city and along the river. One day, I should add links and maps to all my favorite running paths around the world for other runners/explorers out there.
Prague for the lazy: Or….instead of wandering around with only a guidebook (or Rick Steves audioguide) for company, there are several free tours offered in Prague. That’s correct! Free walking tours are actually offered in many of Europe’s big cities. Though tips are expected, a walking tour is the perfect way to learn some history and orient yourself with the main attractions before setting off on yoru own. For example, in Prague, your tour would certainly include the main sites such as the astronomical clock, Charles Bridge, Jewish Quarter, New Town, and Prague Castle. Most tours begin in the Old Town Square and last betwen 2.5 – 3 hours.