The capital of the state of the Czech Republic is probably one of the most picturesque cities in Eastern Europe, and a very popular destination for tourists. Until as recently as 1989, Czechoslovakia was a communist state. But as the disintegration of the Soviet Union really increased after the fall of the Berlin wall, the so called Velvet Revolution transformed the country by abandoning communism.
It is hard to believe that only 25 years ago, most so-called westerners would not have able to freely or safely visit this magnificent city. Dating back to the 9th century BC it is today home to about 1.2 million people, but despite its size it is a very easy city to get around and acquainted with.
The best times to visit are either in late summer or early spring. Mid summer can be very hot and cities are not the most comfortable places in the dead of heat, so I would avoid this time of year. Also, winters can be very, very cold and snowy making it quite difficult to get around. On one occasion I visited in early March and there had been a light snow fall, but it was not so cold as to make it an unpleasant visit. At the same time this beautiful city was magically transformed with a layer of snow.
If you are planning a visit, then I would highly recommend taking in the following sites. To avoid rushing too much, I think that a good period of time would be 3 to 4 days, but it is possible in less.
Old Town Square
This is in my opinion one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe. One of the best things you can do is stand in the centre and take a panoramic view of the surrounding buildings. Whether you are interested in architecture or not, you will notice that there are so many different styles that cover both gothic and baroque periods.
Given the narrow nature of the streets of the old part of Prague it is quite a site to be standing in an open square of this size. There are three things I would suggest taking a closer look at. First, there is the Astronomical Clock which dates back to 1410 and is mounted to the wall of the OldTown Hall. Secondly, there is the Jan Hus Memorial statue, which really cannot be missed. Finally I would suggest taking a short rest in one of the many cafés to really take in the beauty of this square. There is actually a very nice place just opposite the Astronomical Clock, where on the first floor you will get much better views of it.
Crossing the Vltava river it is today closed to traffic so you can stroll along this bridge without having to watch out for rushing cars. Construction on this bridge started in 1357 and it took some 150 years to complete.
There are two very interesting things about this bride that really stand out when you first arrive. First, at the OldTown end of the bridge there is gothic style bridge tower, which is an iconic image of Prague. You can actually go to the top of the bridge tower for a better view over CharlesBridge.
The second thing you will notice as you walk along the bridge, are the 30 statues of saints and patron saints. You should be aware though, that the statues you see are actually replicas as the originals were getting weather damaged and therefore moved to the National Museum for exhibition. Personally, I had not noticed this until I heard a tour guide mention it.
Having walked across CharlesBridge you will have noticed the large castle that towers of the city. Since it was first built it has been home to Bohemian Kings, Holy Roman Emperors and Presidents of the CzechRepublic.
As its current state is a culmination of more than 1000 years of extensions and large scale repairs, it literally comprises architecture from every era of the passed millennium, including Baroque, Gothic and Romanesque. But not only is the architecture of the buildings what catches people's attention. It is also the ancient exhibits of medieval armour, as well as the Czech Crown Jewels.
You can literally spend hours just exploring the various churches, halls, palaces and gardens, and I would certainly advise not to be in a rush to go elsewhere. Once thing I would suggest is to take in the view of the castle from CharlesBridge after dark, as the castle is beautifully lit up.
This relatively small area of Prague is locally known as Josefov, and easier to find if you look for it under this name on sign posts. It first started to see a concentration of Jewish population some 1000 years ago, and during that time has gone through several periods of isolation and pogrom.
As far back as the 12th century it was an official walled ghetto for the Jewish population. At various stages in the city's history the Jewish population enjoyed more freedom and integration, which eventually resulted in a far less concentration in this small area.
Towards the end of the 19th century, a lot of the old Jewish buildings were destroyed at a time when Prague was being remodelled. But there are still a handful of old synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery, which are well worth a visit.
One interesting fact about the cemetery is that according to Jewish religious beliefs, Jewish graves and tombstones are not allowed to be removed. As the cemetery ran out of space, there was nowhere to expand to but up. This resulted in layers of soil being placed on top of existing graves, which eventually totalled 12 layers. This is why you see so many tightly packed tombstones.
Museum Of Communism
Somewhat ironically located next a symbol of capitalism, a McDonald's restaurant, this museum is home to many symbols of communist era Czechoslovakia. The artefacts on display provide a great picture of life behind the iron curtain, including daily life, politics and media.
It is not quite as good a display as the DDRMuseum in Berlin, but still worth a visit, just to see things that were very far out of reach from people on the other side of the iron curtain.