Day 1: Arrival, Pražský Hrad (Prague Castle)
Even jet lag can't dampen the allure of Pražský Hrad, so it is a perfect place to hit on your first day in the city. The castle’s ancient 17-acre property contains a slew of individual attractions conveniently linked by internal courtyards. The showstopper is St. Vitus Cathedral (wherein lie the remains of fabled Czechs like Charles IV and St. Wenceslas). But don’t forget to hit the Royal Palace and Lobkowicz Palace, too. Also worth a gander is Golden Lane: a row of crooked cottages, one of which was once occupied by Kafka. Diminutive to begin with, they look like dollhouses when compared with the supersize surrounding structures. Before calling it a day and descending from the castle, remember to take in the city view: aside from offering a photo op, it will also help you get your bearings!
Day 2: Josefov and Staré Město (Old Town)
Begin your day early in the Jewish Quarter. (Because it is best approached with a certain solemnity, arriving ahead of the tour groups is a definite advantage.) Here you will find Europe's oldest active synagogue—the Staronová, erected in 1270—as well as the Jewish Museum. Once you’ve seen the latter’s evocative exhibits and paid your respects at the topsy-turvy Old Jewish Cemetery, saunter over to Staré Město to explore its centuries-old—and certifiably touristy—tangle of streets. Prepare to linger around Old Town Square, ideally timing your arrival to coincide with the striking of the astronomical clock. Later you can retrace the "Royal Way" (so named for the kings who trod it) that links the square with the Powder Tower. The Municipal House, an eye-popping 20th-century addition to Staré Město’s medieval streetscape, is right beside it.
Day 3: Malá Strana
You shouldn't be surprised if the neighborhood you visit today looks vaguely familiar: after all, it has been featured in a glut of period movies, ranging from Amadeus to Van Helsing. Filmmakers come because its cobbled streets, beautifully preserved baroque buildings, and gorgeous formal gardens conjure up a long-ago time. Since the area seems to have a surprise at every turn, aimless wandering is Malá Strana's main pleasure; however, there is one site that deserves thorough investigation: St. Nicholas Church—an 18th-century beauty dedicated to Ol’ Saint Nick. If you choose to climb the 215 steep steps of the church bell tower, you can reward your aching feet afterward by resting in Vrtba Garden or taking an extended break in leafy Kampa Island Park before returning to Staré Město via the Charles Bridge.
Day 4: Day Trip Outside Prague to Kutná Hora
If you are ready for a break from the city. Kutná Hora—44 miles east of Prague—is a memorable destination for day-trippers. Rich deposits of silver put this town on the map in the 12th century, and the premiere local attractions are still tied to them. Chances are you will start your visit at St. Barbara's Cathedral, a divine Gothic sanctuary that was built with miners' donations. Afterward you can get the lowdown on mineralogy at the Czech Museum of Silver, then tour portions of an original silver mine and restored mint. (For a real heavy-metal experience, try coming in late June, when the town relives its glory days during the annual Royal Silvering Festival.) When in the area, it is also worth making a detour to suburban Sedlec to see the somewhat spooky Kostnice Ossuary, a bizarre church decorated with human bones.
Day 5: Travel South to Český Krumlov
For a vacation within your vacation, take an overnight trip to Český Krumlov in Southern Bohemia. Timeless is a word that is frequently used to describe this sublime spot—and little wonder. The architecturally coherent Old Town has a "long ago and far, far away" vibe due largely to a UNESCO World Heritage designation that protects hundreds of buildings in its historic center. When you factor in an enviable selection of hotels and restaurants, a river that embraces the town on three sides, plus that oh-so-atmospheric castle that overlooks it all, it is hard to imagine a more scenic town. The downside is that Český Krumlov can feel crowded, especially in high season. Nevertheless, you may escape the mob by exercising your options: try rafting on the Vltava River, mountain biking along marked trails, or hiking up to Hrad Krumlov.
Day 6: Head West to Karlovy Vary
Head back to České Budějovice and then westward in the direction of Plzeň—dropping in, perhaps to quaff a cold one in pilsner’s birthplace—before stopping in Karlovy Vary. This spa town (Karlsbad in German) is scooped out of a forest and framed by mountains, so it has a stunning setting. It is also loaded with charm, thanks to streets laced with baroque buildings painted in pastel Baskin-Robbins colors. Yet it’s the water (mineral-rich hot springs to be precise) that’s the star attraction here. Since therapeutic spas began popping up around them in the 1500s, a historical Who's Who has come to "take the cure." Find out what all the fuss is about by taking a drink and a dip; then towel off and retire to a Fodor's Choice hotel. One word to the wise: Book well ahead if you’re arriving in July during Karlovy Vary’s International Film Festival.
Day 7: Return to Prague
Depending on what time you get back to Prague, you might explore a new neighborhood or just rest up for a big night on the town. A tempting alternative is to indulge in some last-minute shopping, whether opting for upscale items on Pařížská Street or folksy mementos in Havelske Trziste. (Admit it. You’re dying to have one of those omnipresent Mozart marionettes!) Before bedding down, revisit the Charles Bridge for a final floodlighted look at Golden Prague. Although you'll be hard pressed to take your eyes off the illuminated castle in the background, do take a moment to search among the many statues that decorate the span for the one depicting St. John Nepomuk. It's the eighth on the right, and—according to legend—travelers who rub it are bound to return.
When traveling outside of Prague, always compare prices and timing of buses versus trains. Often, bus travel is both cheaper and more direct.
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