Prague was originally settled by Celtic tribes in the 2nd century BC before being pushed west by Slavic tribes coming from the East. The oldest stone remains were however found in Prague castle, which date from 800AD when Prague began to emerge as the political and cultural powerhouse that it eventually became.
Merchants from all over Europe settled in Prague in the 10th century, and it notably became an important Jewish settlement. The oldest working synagogue in Europe, built in 1270, still stands in the Josefov district. The first mention of Prague in written text was from Ibrahim ibn Yaqub, a Jewish traveller who lived in Prague in the mid to late 10th century.
By the 14th Century Prague was the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor, under King Charles IV, who ordered the building of Novo Mesto (new town) next to the Old Town, and the Charles Bridge to replace the previous one destroyed by flooding, and to connect Prague Castle and Mala Strana to the right bank. King Charles laid the first stone on the 9th July 1357 at 5:31am. We know the exact time because it is carved into the stone in one of the towers. Astrologers chose this time as the best time to start building a bridge. Judging by how the Bridge has survived so many periods of war, floods and literally millions of tourists, we can only conclude that they got it right.
King Charles also founded the University in his name, now the oldest in Eastern Europe, and began the construction of St Vitus Cathedral with Prague Castle. He died in 1378 to be taken over by his son King Wenceslas, who presided over a tumultuous period in Czech History involving religious prejudice and a reaction against the perceived corruption of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless Prague continued to grow as a merchant city.
The Habsburg Dynasty became rulers in 1526 under Ferdinand I who, as Catholics divided the population causing the Thirty Years War leading to the removal of Ferdinand II who was replaced by a Calvinist, Frederick V. Prague saw a brief decline in this period but after being occupied by Swedish and Saxons, it saw an improvement again but only after a great fire in 1689 and a plague in 1713.
The end of WW1 also saw the end of the Habsburg Dynasty and the birth of the Czech Republic with Prague as its capital, by now a major European city with a population of 800,000. Hitler marched into Prague in 1939 leading to the deportation its Jewish population. After WW2 Prague was unfortunate to be under the political influence of the Soviets, and the “Prague Spring” of 1967 led by Alexander Dubcek led to Soviet invasion. It remained communist until 1989 and the Velvet Revolution. It split from the Slovak Republic in 1993.
Czech Airlines no longer fly from the UK, so you have the choice of BA, Easyjet or Ryanair. You may also want to consider Wizzair, but only as a last resort.
Arriving in Prague
A taxi transfer into the city centre should cost you no more than £25 or so and would take about half an hour. Alternatively the Airport Express bus service leaves from outside both terminals at Prague Airport costs about £2.50 and takes you to the Central Station or Praha Hlavní Nádraží, which is worth visiting from an architectural standpoint. From here you can reach Wenceslas Square by in about 10minutes or the metro system can get you to where you want to be.
Note the Czech Republic is not in the Euro zone, it trades in Koruna.
Prague is a city with endless tourist opportunities, but most us only spend a few days, at the most, there on any single visit. The route consists mainly of walking out of your hotel towards Old Town Square, Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, but if you plan your visit you may find a lot more to Prague and still make the most of the sightseeing.
Let’s start with the essentials, it is almost inevitable that you’ll come across Charles Bridge (Karulov Most) just by following the tourists, but do you know that the first stone was laid by King Charles IV himself? Get there early to avoid the crowds, preferably before 9am, or earlier the better. The photo was taken at 7am, by the way.
Old Town Square / Astronomical Clock
The centrepoint of every visit to Prague is Old Town Square, the Town Hall and the Astronomical Clock, the oldest working example in the world. Crowds gather at Midday, everyday, to watch it in action. If you want to hang back, you can always grab a coffee at one of the cafe’s and restaurants surrounding the square.
Prague Castle sits on the site first used as a settlement in Prague in the 2nd Century BC, it is the seat of power, and the home to one of the city’s most important cathedrals, St Vitus. The view from Prague Castle across the right bank and over Charles Bridge is stunning. You can walk all day around the UNESCO-listed streets and fortifications.
St. Vitus’ Cathedral
Within the walls of Prague Castle, this Gothic masterpiece was built in 1344 and contains the tombs of various Bohemian kings as well as Holy Roman Emperors. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague.
At the very heart of the city is Wenceslas Square, where the Velvet Revolution of 1989 took place. At the top is the National Museum, at the other end the Old Town and all it has to offer. Look out for Art Nouveau buildings like the Hotel Evropa and the Hotel Ambassador. 750 metres long, it was first built in 1348 by King Charles IV as part of his plans for the New Town of Prague.
Vlatava River and its Bridges
The Vltava runs 30 km through Prague under its many bridges, including Charles Bridge. It flows into the River Elbe in Melnik, and then on through Germany. Its flooding caused the destruction of the Charles Bridges’ predecessor, as well as flooding the wole city of Prague in 2002. Take a river cruise from in between Charles and Manusov Bridges.
At one time Prague was the populous Jewish city in the world, mainly during the 15th and 16th centuries, punctuated by expulsions by the Habsburg Dynasty. Visit the Jewish Cemetery, the Synagaoge with its Hebrew Clock and the Josefov old town hall.
John Lennon Wall
This wall played its part in the fall of communism because young people wrote subversive comments to the regime in the 1980’s. Since then it has grown in popularity and is a must visit for young visitors to Prague. It’s in the Mala Strana District.
Franz Kafka’s Prague
Visit the old home of this literary genius, next to St Nicholas’ Church in the Old Town Square. It’s free to the public with a shop inside selling books and other relevant objects.
St Nicholas’ Church
Situated in the Old Town Square, this Hussite Church is occasionally used for classical concerts. It is built in the Baroque style, and has a Baroque organ once used by Mozart himself while on a visit to Prague.
Once used as a storage facility for gun powder, the Powder Tower is one of the few walls to Old Prague remaining. It used to be connected to the Royal Palace.
Where to stay in Prague
**** Ambassador Zlata Husa
The Hotel Ambassador Zlata Husa has one of the best positions in Prague: right at the bottom of Wenceslas Square, the heart of the city. The Old Town Square is just 5 minutes walk away, and the Charles Bridge another five minutes. It is classified a five star hotel, an Art Nouveau building with a large bar in the lobby.