We had five days in Prague and yet we found ourselves accidentally seeing most of what we wanted to see in just one day of walking. Prague is not a very large city!
I know people who swear by big bus tours (which I just don’t understand) and by personal tours led by locals (which makes much more sense to me), but Chandler and I like to set our own pace & visit our own sites.
So if you’re interested in taking your own solo walking tour or simply want to live vicariously through photos, keep reading:
We started with a walk to the National Museum of Prague (Nárdoní Muzeum). Excited by our timing, we had just learned that the museum had been under construction from July 2011 and had just reopened on October 28, 2018. Additionally, the museum would be free for the rest of 2018 and we had arrived on December 29th.
The walk to the museum took us through Wenceslas Square, home to historical events and demonstrations such as: the proclamation of an independent Czechoslovakia in 1918; the Prague Uprising against the Nazis in 1945; and the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
We had read some recent reviews questioning if the wait time for entering the National Museum was worth the experience. However, we didn’t get the chance to decide for ourselves. We arrived at the museum when it opened, and already, the line stretched halfway around the building itself.
While Prague was much warmer than either Budapest or Vienna had been, it was still a winter day and – free or not – we did not want to spend the next few hours waiting outside. We decided to wait until the New Year and pay for our visit instead. In the end, it never happened, and I’m still reading reviews about people regretting wasting their time (in line) and money on visiting the museum. Everyone agrees that the building is spectacular but the temporary exhibits seem to be lacking.
Surprised by our additional free time, we decided to continue our walk.
We made our way (15 minutes) to the Old Town Square to take in the town hall, the gothic church, the Christmas market, and, of course, the astronomical clock. We happened to be there at the hour and I’m so glad of the timing. Every review said to be there and watch the clock change hours. Having done so, I can tell you: Don’t. If you get there at 2:30, don’t wait until 3:00. Very little happens. If you want to see an impressive hour change, go to Munich.
I’m not saying don’t visit the clock – it’s beautiful even while standing in a sea of about 500 other tourists. Installed in 1410, it’s the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still operating. But it’s just as impressive at 9:14 as 3:41 as 12:00. And there are probably a lot fewer people around at 9:14 or 3:41!
We made our way through the crowds and over to the Christmas market. Having previously confirmed Christmas markets don’t hold that much appeal for us, it wasn’t long before we were headed to our next site.
Nearby Old Town Square (5 minutes) is Josefov, the Jewish Quarter. The area is both beautiful and melancholic. First mentioned as a Jewish Quarter in 1096, this UNESCO heritage site survived Nazi occupation because Hitler wanted to preserve it as a “Museum of an Extinct Race.”
The neighborhood is known as the birthplace of Franz Kafka. It is also home to six synagogues (one is 13th-century, four are 16th-century, one is 19th century), a town hall, a ceremonial hall, and Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery (15th- to 18th-century).
We chose to view the monuments and synagogues from the outside. Tickets to the Jewish Museum in Prague include a visit to everything except the Old-New Synagogue, while tickets to the Prague Jewish Quarter include everything.
The Old-New Synagogue (pictured below) is quite expensive, while the rest are not, however, each building had lines 50-100 people long. If you go at a less touristed time (i.e. not over New Year’s or in the summer), I would highly recommend taking the time to visit these incredible monuments.
From here, we weaved through the streets as we made our way to Mánes Bridge (10 minutes from the heart of the Jewish Quarter). An excellent spot to view the Charles Bridge from and a convenient way to cross the river if you don’t want to battle tourists taking photos on the Charles.
The best part of this short walk was the incredible architecture (found throughout Old Town) – it was one of my favorite spots in the city.
The walk also took us past the Rudolfinum Concert Hall, which is located on the east bank of the river. The Neo-Renaissance building is home to the Czech Philharmonic.
The Charles Bridge is even older than the astronomical clock in Old Town. Construction on it began in 1357 and was finished in 1402. The only means of crossing the river until 1841, this “solid-land” connection made Prague important as a trade route between Eastern and Western Europe.
Before making our way to the bridge itself, we took a detour through the Malá Strana neighborhood. Points of interest include the Wallenstein Palace, St. Nicholas Church, and the famous statue of the Holy Infant Jesus of Prague.
We, however, were there to see the Lennon Wall (10 minutes from the Mánes Bridge). A normal wall until the 1980 assassination of John Lennon, it has been filled with Lennon-inspired graffiti and Beatles’ song lyrics ever since an unknown artist painted a single image of Lennon there.
Today, the wall represents love and peace and is owned by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, who allow the graffiti to continue on the wall:
We continued our loop and made our way to the Charles Bridge (4 minutes). Decorated by an alley of 30 statues (all of which have been replaced by replicas), this is the one time in my life I wish I owned a drone. Never before have I been in a crowd with so many other people. I thought the sites in Rome were bad, but the Trevi Fountain’s got nothing on the Charles Bridge.
Ten meters (33 feet) wide and I couldn’t take more than two steps without bumping into anyone. I’m amazed I got any good photos at all. But the statues were interesting (though the originals are in the National Museum) and to be honest, crossing the bridge felt like something you have to do (clearly everyone else felt the same way!).
Back in Old Town, I couldn’t help but take a few more photos of the architecture and statues. Chandler chose to photograph the crushing crowds. It’s always fun to see what catches someone else’s eye.
As we made our way back to our Airbnb for a quick snack, we passed underneath the Man Hanging Out sculpture, also known as the Seven Foot Tall Sigmund Freud. Found on Husova Street between the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square, we had finished our loop.
The sculpture was made by Czech artist David Černý. More than one person has called the police to report an attempted suicide, however, the sculpture is a statement about intellectualism in the 20th century and Černý’s uncertainty about it.
Before dinner that night, we decided to trade in our walking shoes and take the tram to Staropramen. The second largest brewery in the Czech Republic, Chandler had become a fan during our previous two summers in Switzerland.
We decided to walk one tram stop away so that we could take a peak at the Dancing House, but along the way, we found ourselves under two additional floating statues. Located at the intersection of Na Zborenci and Odboru in Prague’s New Town is Man Hanging From An Umbrella – a statue to honor the memory of Alphonse Mucha, a Czech artist. But right across the street is what I’ve decided to term Woman Hanging From An Umbrella – since I can’t seem to find any information about her.
We spent the rest of our time in Prague looking up, but these were the only statues we found. Only a few minutes away, however, was the Dancing House. Also known as Fred and Ginger, it is really the Nationale-Nederlanden building on the Rašínovo Nábřeží.
Built in 1996, the house stands out among the Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings in Prague. Then Czech president, Václav Havel, avidly supported this project, hoping that the building would become a center of cultural activity.
I don’t know about that, but it was fun to look at.
And then we were off on our first tram of the day. To Staropramen, where the beer tastes like…beer. Founded in 1869, I’m not really sure why you’d go here except for nostalgic reasons – you can get the beer anywhere in the city – but it was one of the quietest places we went in Prague.
That is, until a Chinese tour group of about 30 people showed up. And while it was thoroughly entertaining to watch them take a stereotypical amount of selfies, complete with selfie sticks, we didn’t stick around much longer.
Exhausted and ready for dinner, there wasn’t much left to our day. Our other four days in Prague were filled with museums, cathedrals, and drinking. But I’ll leave all that to another blog.
If you find yourself in Prague and you’re wandering around, I hope you find this list helpful. We certainly enjoyed the itinerary!