As one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, it’s not easy to decide which is Prague’s most iconic building. From the unique Dancing House beside the Vltava to the television tower, with its unusual baby sculptures, there are no shortage of interesting places to see in the Czech capital. The Charles Bridge is arguably the most popular place in the city, but look a little further – and higher – and you’ll see the Prague Castle towering over the Old Town, perhaps the single most beautiful structure in the whole city.
The castle dates from the 9th century, and like the country at large, has had a tumultuous history. The Basilica of Saint George and the Basilica of St Vitus were both founded in the tenth century and the castle has been home to various monarchs, presidents and rulers, including the occupying Nazi leadership during World War Two.
There are a few ways to enjoy Prague Castle. Most will tell you to walk over Charles Bridge, but if you do this, make sure to go when (if possible) the crowds are low.
Charles Bridge gets very busy, particularly in the summer, and the walk across can be more frustrating than enjoyable, as vendors try to wheedle you into buying trinkets and gifts.
Better yet, take a stroll through the lovely Kampa park instead. Small and beautiful, Kampa plays host to festivals and concerts in the summer, and at other times many locals can be found sunbathing and relaxing on the grass with a picnic. It also has a couple of nice restaurants, sculptures by renowned artist David Černý and Mlýnská kavárna, a mill which has been converted into a pub, cafe and restaurant, and a great place to spend an hour or two.
From there, it’s a long but not unpleasant walk towards the Prague castle. Along the way, you’ll notice Petrin Hill, which can be either climbed or ascended via the funicular. I’ve done, and enjoyed, both. The funicular ride is both cheap and fun, while the climb is immensely satisfying, if a little difficult on the legs. At the top, the views are stunning.
Once at the castle, you can either get a guided tour or stroll through the grounds at your leisure. Certain parts are restricted to tours, such as the museum, so decide how much of the history and context you want to get from your visit before visiting. For those who have never been before, it’s probably the best way to go, as there are a number of interesting details that you’ll likely miss out on if you walk around without a guide.
One of the best factors about Prague Castle – and Prague in general – is that it can be enjoyed year round. The views from the top are spectacular whether the city is blanketed in snow or bathed in sunshine, making it one of the best places to visit in the city regardless of when you visit.
Overall, there is no one way to enjoy Prague Castle, but if there is one thing you really should do, it’s watching a Changing the Guard ceremony. Taking place every hour, the ceremony sees the castle’s guard change position and is worth it for the formality and fanfare with which the occasion is afforded.
From the Prague castle, it’s a pleasant stroll back down towards Malostranska, with its winding, cobbled streets, antique shops and interesting museums. Pick up a Trdelnik (sugared bread with cinnamon) on the way, but make sure not to leave without taking a few pictures of the castle from afar. It’s quite the sight.