Home to a tapestry of distinct architectural styles, Prague owes its majestic skyline to its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque ancestry. While a settlement has existed here for over a thousand years, it wasn’t until the 14th century, under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, that the city truly began to flourish — rapidly becoming the third largest city in Europe (behind Rome and Constantinople).
Given its position on the Vltava River at the centre of continental Europe, Prague has been involved in some of the biggest political, cultural and economic events in European history, including the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, World War II and the post-war communist era. Naturally, these events have gifted the city an enviable cultural legacy, and helped shape its distinct traditions and mesmeric heritage.
Today, Prague stands as one of Europe’s most beautiful capital cities, with much of its historic center being a designated World Heritage Site. The city’s myriad of cultural attractions, including Prague Castle, Old Town Square and the opulent Jewish Quarter, make it a charming destination to explore on foot, and the perfect place for a little cultural enrichment during a luxury river cruise with Scenic.
Prague boasts more cultural wonders than is possible to enjoy during a single visit, a fact demonstrated by its standing as Europe’s fifth-most-visited city. Here are a few of the must-see landmarks and attractions to enjoy during your stay in the city.
Where else to begin your tour of Prague’s heritage highlights than Prague Castle, the former residence of the great kings of Bohemia? Towering high above the charming neighborhood of Hradčany and the glossy waters of the Vltava, this beautiful walled castle dates back to the 10th century, and contains most of the leading architectural styles from the past millennium — providing a kaleidoscope of historic design and color.
Contained within the imposing walls of the castle are some of Prague’s most esteemed landmarks, including St. George’s Basilica, St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, the Golden Lane and the Powder Tower, revealing a colossal depth of history. This is one of the largest ancient castles in the world, requiring more than a day to explore it fully. But take it from us, it will be time absolutely well spent.
Of all the ornate bridges to criss-cross the Vltava, linking Prague’s left and right bank, the Charles Bridge is the most arresting. One of the oldest bridges in Europe, the Charles Bridge was originally constructed in 1357, and has barely changed over its 700-year history — impressive, given the city’s turbulent past. It’s thought construction began on the bridge at exactly 5.31am on the morning of the 9th July 1357, with the digits ‘135797531’ found embedded in the bridge’s original stonework.
One of the most unique aspects of the Charles Bridge is its collection of fine statues, the majority of which depict prominent figures from the Holy Roman Empire and some of the country’s most revered saints, including John of Nepomuk. As well as fine architecture, the bridge also offers some of the most enchanting views of the Vltava and its distant banks.
The Old Town Square
The Old Town Square sits at the historic center of Prague, boasting some of the city’s finest 11th-century architecture. UNESCO protects this entire quarter on account of its historic significance, and on viewing many of the buildings it’s not difficult to see why. The Old Town Square is home to Tyn Church and the Clementinum, as well as the majestic Old Town Hall whose 15th-century Astronomical Clock is one of the must-see highlights of the city.
Prague’s Old Town Square is a melting pot of culture and heritage, where every building oozes medieval charm and character. Every prominent architectural style from the last thousand years appears around the square’s perimeter, and the opulent Jewish Quarter is just a short walk away.
One of the most colorful and fascinating neighbourhoods in the city, Prague’s Jewish Quarter dates as far back as the 12th century, and has spread from the walls of the castle to the Josefov district. For centuries this entire neighbourhood was regarded as a slum, and it wasn’t until the 18th century, when its timber-framed houses were replaced by beautiful Art Nouveau apartment buildings, that the neighborhood emerged as one of the most fascinating in all of central Prague.
Blessed with a wealth of restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as a number of shops and boutiques, the Jewish Quarter is popular with locals and tourists looking to enjoy the culture of this distinct neighborhood. Josefov is also home to the prestigious Jewish Museum, one of the most significant structures dedicated to the Jewish faith in Europe.
The Strahov Monastery and Library
The Strahov Monastery and Library is the most opulent and beautiful of Prague’s Baroque buildings, and features some of the oldest examples of Baroque design on the continent. From its imposing gateway and churches to its truly majestic twin libraries; every inch of Strahov is bedecked in the intricate motifs and design flourishes which came to typify Baroque design during the 15th century — lending the monastery a sense of ornate prestige unmatched by Prague’s other historic treasures.