We began our first backpacking tour in Europe by unravelling the streets of Prague. While this trip was rather spontaneous, the city didn’t disappoint us. With its medieval bridges, cathedrals, gold-tipped towers and domes, Prague has been mirrored in the surface of the Vltava River. A city that was practically untouched by the World War II, the historical centre of Prague continues to mesmerize its guests with its cobbled lanes, courtyards and countless number of church spires. Although Prague was built in the shadow of the 9th Century, the city is modern too, with a vibrant range of music, culture and fine art, enough to quench the thirst for adventure of an independent traveller.
Traveling the City
The worst part about traveling in a city like Prague is that there is tons to see in a limited span of time. With just 72 hours to cover one of the largest cities in the continent by foot, the task seemed impossible. Luckily, we came across a Czech student union that offered student-travelers a “free walking tour,” that was led by a student-guide, across the landmark sites in Prague. Thanks to the walking tour, we could cover some of the most important places in the city in sync with our travel schedule. Additionally, we learned a lot about the historical significance that lay behind the buildings.
Prague has often been mistaken to be an historical city (Read: Boring!), owing to its ancient bohemian architecture and the time period in which it was founded. However, When Charles VI ruled the city, he ordered the building of the New Town. Many of the main attractions in the city today dated back to that age. This synergy of the old and the new makes Prague stand out from among the rest of the cities in Europe. We soon realised that the city’s new generation preserves its past in the same way as it cherishes its present.
The Old Town
In Europe, the most important sights are in and around the city centre. The city centre is where the Old Town Square is situated, marking the beginning of the city’s old town. What cannot be missed in the old town square is the magnificent Astronomical Clock, popularly known as the ‘Prague orloj,’which was used to calculate the positions of the sun, the moon and the stars in addition to the time of the day. The striking features of this clock are the inner rings of the clock marked by zodiac signs that indicate the position of the sun on the ecliptic and the four animated features (two on either side of the dial) namely the vanity and the miser on the left and the skeleton along with the turk on the right. We were lucky to witness the moving figures in action, once the skeleton rang the bell after every hour.
The Old Town Square is a home to many other historical sights namely the Prague Castle, which is the biggest and the most ancient castle in the world and stands tall like a dream, giving a panoramic view of the city to all those standing on top of the castle. The changeover of Presidential guards is a sight that should not be missed.
What is equally captivating is the Charles Bridge, that connects the Old Town to the New Town and which is bustling with artists sketching their new muse or musicians playing Mozart’s famous tunes in the aisles of the bridge. What really mark its beauty, are the dynamic sculptures constructed on either sides of the bridge, the most interesting being that of the John of Nepomunk.
The Tynn Church, with its mysterious Gothic architecture has inspired many to visit this part of the old town. On closely observing the twin churches, we realised that the church on the right was narrower than the one of the left, since it was destroyed by lightning and could not be reconstructed in the same manner as its twin church. However, the unsymmetrical architecture has inspired a number of architects from across the world to visit the Tynn churches. What make the churches look impressive are the two powerful spires that make them visible from all over Prague. In the insides of the baroque structures are decorated with paintings and one of the oldest pipe organ in Europe. Ahead of the Tynn churches lies the sculpture of the Czech priest and reformer, Jan Has, who was incarcerated by the orthodox Greek Church for fighting against slavery.
While the people of the Czech Republic are understood to be unpatriotic, the memorial statute built in the honour of a university student named Jan Palach, resembles quite the opposite. If the legend is to be believed, this young student played a major role in the fight for Czech independence, by setting himself ablaze right on top of the Prague Old Clock. His death gave rise to protests, which acted as a precursor to the Velvet Revolution.
The Old Jewish Cemetery and Spanish Synagogue, with its beautiful interiors, make for a solemn visit. Before exiting the Old Town, don’t forget to visit the statute of the famous Franz Kafka, right in the middle of the Dunsi Street, inspired by one of his short stories, ‘Description of a Struggle.’ A picture with the legendary Kafka statute is said to bring luck, so don’t forget to take a click! Additionally, one may visit the Kafka Museum right across the statute which hosts some of the most memorable works of the spirited writer. And lastly, to all the John Lennon fans out there, the famous “Lennon Wall,” will make you cry.
The New Town
The New Town, might not be as breath-taking as the Old Town, but surely is a colourful part of Prague. That is because there is nothing particularly spectacular about the new town. It is modern, vibrant and a host to multifarious exhibitions of art, culture and music. Nevertheless, the famous Vyšehrad Castle is worth a visit. For those who appreciate scenic beauty, the Vyšehrad is your paradise. For all the history lovers, there exists the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul as well as cemetery, where the most famous people in Czech history are buried. Other sites that can be visited around the New Town are, The Czech National Museum, The Neo Renaissance styled-National Theatre, The Charles Square and the Wenceslas Square.
The Chata of Prague deserves a mention. These are small cottages, with sloping rooftops made of red bricks that are built by the locals themselves. You will often find a small garden adjacent to the house, where families grow fruits and vegetables. What is intriguing about the Chata is the fact that every family in Prague prefers to build their cottage in a similar manner. So when you visit Prague, don’t be amazed by the sight of parallel red rooftops!
Living in the City
The advantage of traveling young in a place like Prague is that you get to enjoy the best at the cheapest rates. That’s exactly what we experienced staying at Prague’s most highly recommended youth hostels, ‘Clown and Bard.’ With a lineage tracing back to 1995, Clown and Bard might look ancient, but has a vivacious, young-spirited troop of staff members. And the best part is that they are a mixed pot of locals who share similar aspirations as we did, but who live their lives to the fullest! You will find them attending to their guests, religiously, during the day and painting the town red by night. With clean, pretty rooms and a welcoming, vibrant staff, you couldn’t ask for more in a beautiful city as this. So, if you ever visit Prague and happen to check into “Clown and Bard,” don’t miss their pub crawls. It is one hell of an experience. While, “Clown and Bard” tops the list, you will definitely come across a myriad bunch of hostels that are equally outstanding, so don’t worry.
All in all, Prague is that one city in the whole of Central Europe that will sweep you off your feet. A complete package of the old and the new, Prague is that one place that has something in store for everyone. So the next time you’re in Europe, make sure that Prague tops your bucket list!
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