Prague

Full of fairy-tale vistas, Prague is beautiful in a way that makes even the most jaded traveler stop and snap pictures. The city is physically divided in two by the Vltava River (also sometimes known by its German name, the Moldau), which runs from south to north with a single sharp turn to the east.

Originally, Prague was composed of five independent towns: Hradčany (the Castle Area), Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter), Staré Město (Old Town), Nové Město (New Town), and Josefov (Jewish Quarter), and these areas still make up the heart of Prague—what you think of when picturing its famed winding cobblestone streets and squares.

Hradčany, the seat of Czech royalty for hundreds of years, centers on the Pražský hrad (Prague Castle)—itself the site of the president's office. A cluster of white buildings yoked around the pointed steeples of a chapel, Prague Castle overlooks the city from a hilltop west of the Vltava River. Steps lead down from Hradčany to the Lesser Quarter, an area dense with ornate mansions built for the 17th- and 18th-century nobility.

The looming Karlův most (Charles Bridge) connects the Lesser Quarter with the Old Town. Old Town is hemmed in by the curving Vltava and three large commercial avenues: Revoluční to the east, Na příkopě to the southeast, and Národní třída to the south. A few blocks east of the bridge is the district's focal point: Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square), a former medieval marketplace laced with pastel-color baroque houses—easily one of the most beautiful central squares in Europe. To the north of Old Town Square the diminutive Jewish Quarter fans out around a tony avenue called Pařížská.

Beyond the former walls of the Old Town, the New Town fills in the south and east. The name "new" is a misnomer—New Town was laid out in the 14th century. (It's new only when compared with the neighboring Old Town.) Today this mostly commercial district includes the city's largest squares, Karlovo náměstí (Charles Square) and Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square).

Roughly 1 km (½ mile) south of Karlovo náměstí, along the Vltava, stands what’s left of the ancient castle of Vyšehrad high above the river. On a promontory to the east of Václavské náměstí stretches Vinohrady, the home of Prague's well-to-do professional set. Bordering Vinohrady are the scruffier neighborhoods of Žižkov to the north and Nusle to the south. On the west bank of the Vltava lie many older residential neighborhoods and several parks. About 3 km (2 miles) from the center in every direction, communist-era housing projects, called paneláks, begin their unsightly sprawl.

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  • 1. Chrám svatého Víta

    Pražský Hrad | Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    With its graceful, soaring towers, this Gothic cathedral—among the most beautiful in Europe—is the spiritual heart of Prague Castle and of the...Read More

  • 2. Karlův most

    Staré Mesto | Building/Architectural Site

    This is Prague's signature monument, and worth the denomination. The view from the foot of the bridge on the Old Town side, encompassing the...Read More

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  • 3. Staroměstská radnice

    Staré Mesto | Building/Architectural Site

    This is a center of Prague life for tourists and locals alike. Hundreds of visitors gravitate here throughout the day to see the hour struck...Read More

  • 4. Staroměstské náměstí

    Staré Mesto | Plaza/Square/Piazza

    The hype about Old Town Square is completely justified. Picture a perimeter of colorful baroque houses contrasting with the sweeping old-Gothic...Read More

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  • 5. Starý židovský hřbitov

    Josefov | Cemetery

    An unforgettable sight, this cemetery is where all Jews living in Prague from the 15th century to 1787 were laid to rest. The lack of any space...Read More

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  • 6. Tančící dům

    Nové Mesto | Building/Architectural Site

    This whimsical building, one of Prague's most popular, came to life in 1996 as a team effort from architect Frank Gehry (of Guggenheim Bilbao...Read More

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  • 7. Veletržní palác

    Holešovice | Museum/Gallery

    The National Gallery's collection, Art of 19th, 20th, and 21st Centuries, remains the keystone of the city's visual-arts scene that it has...Read More

  • 8. Bazilika svatého Jiří

    Pražský Hrad | Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Inside, this church looks more or less as it did in the 12th century; it's the best-preserved Romanesque relic in the country. The effect is...Read More

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  • 9. Betlémská kaple

    Staré Mesto | Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    The original church was built at the end of the 14th century, and the Czech religious reformer Jan Hus was a regular preacher here from 1402...Read More

  • 10. Botanická zahrada

    Troja | Garden/Arboretum

    Not far from Prague Zoo, the public garden has a path that first takes you through a semidesert environment, then through a tunnel beneath a...Read More

  • 11. Celetná ulice

    Staré Mesto | Neighborhood/Street

    This is the main thoroughfare, which connects Old Town Square and Náměstí Republiky; it's packed day and (most of the) night. Many of the street...Read More

  • 12. Chrám svatého Mikuláše

    Malá Strana | Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    With its dynamic curves, this church is arguably the purest and most ambitious example of high baroque in Prague. The celebrated architect Christoph...Read More

  • 13. Clam-Gallas palác

    Staré Mesto | Museum/Gallery

    The work of Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, the famed Viennese baroque virtuoso of the day, is showcased in this earth-tone palace. Construction...Read More

  • 14. Clementinum

    Staré Mesto | Library/Archive

    The origins of this massive complex—now part of the university—date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, but it's best known as the stronghold...Read More

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  • 15. Cubist houses

    Vyšehrad | Neighborhood/Street

    Bordered to the north by Nové Město and to the south by Nusle, Vyšehrad is mostly visited for its citadel high above the river on a rocky outcropping...Read More

  • 16. Druhé nádvoří

    Pražský Hrad | Plaza/Square/Piazza

    Except for the view of the spires of St. Vitus's Cathedral, the exterior courtyard offers little for the eye to feast on. Empress Maria Theresa...Read More

  • 17. Dům U černé Matky boží

    Staré Mesto | Building/Architectural Site

    In the second decade of the 20th century, young Czech architects boldly applied cubism's radical reworking of visual space to architecture and...Read More

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  • 18. Franz Kafka Museum

    Malá Strana | Museum/Gallery

    The great early-20th-century Jewish author Kafka wasn't considered Czech and he wrote in German, but he lived in Prague nearly his entire short...Read More

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  • 19. Informační středisko

    Pražský Hrad | Information Center

    This is the place to come for entrance tickets, guided tours, audio guides with headphones, and tickets to cultural events held at the castle...Read More

  • 20. Jan Hus monument

    Staré Mesto | Public Art (Mural/Sculpture/Statue)

    Few memorials in Prague elicited as much controversy as this one, dedicated in July 1915, exactly 500 years after Hus was burned at the stake...Read More

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