Standing in front of Prague’s Old Town Hall Tower (Old Town) gazing at the astronomical clock, I felt I had literally been transported to old Bohemia a few centuries back. The clock is not just historically significant but symbolic as well—the figures of Vanity, Greed, Death and Pagan Invasion stand beside the clock and on the hour, Death rings the bell and we see the 12 Apostles parade past while nodding to the crowd.
Prague is a city that’s quite unlike the others in Eastern Europe. In the Bohemian heartland, the Czech Republic’s capital has always been considered an architectural delight as the city showcases everything from Cubist, Baroque and Romanesque to Gothic and Art Nouveau work.
With centuries of history behind it, the Old Town Square too has seen many events throughout history including uprisings and executions but today it plays host to Christmas fairs and serves as a venue to watch sports matches. There are historical buildings around the square house cafés, restaurants, art galleries, gift shops and churches too.
I made my way to the most famous Baroque church in the city, the St Nicholas Cathedral (1770) where Wolfgang Mozart had performed on the church’s gigantic organ. The interiors are an eclectic mix of art from Bavarian painter Cosmas Damian Asam, sculptures by Antonin Braun, altars designed by Dientzenhofer and a stunning chandelier from Russian Tsar Nicholas II. This cathedral is considered a Baroque masterpiece and it truly stands up to its reputation.
The city is also known for its rich musical and dance heritage and the Prague Opera House has classical music concerts, opera and ballet performances throughout the year. But you’ll also find performances in places of worship like St Jilji Church, St Clement’s Cathedral, St George’s Basilica, St Salvator Church and the Spanish Synagogue. Unlike other European cities, the tickets for these are extremely affordable and pocket-friendly.
The most significant landmark here is the 9th century Prague Castle which is the largest castle complex in the world and towers over the quaint city. Some of the areas inside can be accessed free of charge while others require a ticket. Interestingly, the castle is like a settlement in itself—there are royal residences, churches, gardens and more. The hidden treasures I discovered here are the Golden Lane, St Vitus Cathedral, Rosenberg Palace and St George’s Basilica. The Prague Castle moat is open during summer and is a beautiful walking trail that’s not to be missed.
One of the things you learn on your trip here is that it’s not just Germany that’s famous for beer but so is the Czech Republic! I didn’t indulge in the famous Prague Beer Tours but the city is dotted with mini-breweries where you can grab a quick mug. The Pilsner Urquel is the most popular but you can treat yourself to others like Budvar, Kozel, Velvet and Kelt. The one beer I would stringly recommend is that at the Strahov Monastery, which is the only monastery in the world that makes beer. The 13th-century brewery (which has been renovated) here has about 10 types of St Norbert beer and they all have distinct flavours. Some seasonal beers are also made like during Christmas and these are rich, malty and warm.
Being an avid reader, following the trail of Franz Kafka was on my must-do list when I decided to head to Prague for a holiday. Crossing over the renowned Charles Bridge, I first headed to the Franz Kafka Museum where you get a glimpse into his life in Prague as a Jew, his writings and can pick up interesting memorabilia. The house where Kafka was born is next to St Nicholas’ Church and you’ll find a plaque honouring him here. There are several other homes he lived in as well like 16 Dlouhá and his sister’s house in the Castle District which you see. Few of the cafés he visited remain today but the Café Louvre still stands as well as The Grand Hotel Europa (formerly Hotel Erzherzog Stefan) where he held a reading. However, the official monument of Kafka is on Dušní Street in the Jewish Quarter.
The Jewish Quarter or Josefov was actually a ghetto since the Jews were confined to this area. Today, only some of the original buildings remain like the six synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery. In fact, to the north of Prague is the Theresienstadt concentration camp and ghetto which people can visit. This is a stark reminder of what the Jews went through during the Nazi regime.
As I walked the streets of Prague exploring every nook and corner, I found that it was so easy to get around. I armed myself with a three-day transportation pass and hopped onto the trams, buses and metro very seamlessly. Given that you can find a variety of delicious Czech eats like Palačinky (crepes), Trdelnik (chimney cakes), chlebíčky (sandwich), smažený sýr (deep-fried cheese) and grilled sausages, as you walk around, you’ll never starve. Though if that’s not your style, there are plenty of Italian, European, Asian and even Indian restaurants too. However, I was really happy feasting on chimney cakes, gelatos, apple strudel and Kolache (pastry with fillings) on my holiday as I explored this gem of an Eastern European city.