A day is not enough to see everything Prague has to offer. But a day is enough to see the main sites. Everything depends on when you arrive in the city. I and my travel buddy Kelly arrived on a rainy Friday evening in October and left on Sunday, so we had a day and a half to enjoy the city. Our timing gave us the possibility to start our sightseeing early on Saturday and end late in the evening. That meant we could see more sites than usually possible with just one day. Prague is marvelous and I hope that someday I will have a chance to enjoy the city even more. In this article, you can find suggestions about the main sites and what to avoid, based on my recent short stay.
The History of Prague
Prague has been continuously inhabited since 4000 BC but the city’s territory started developing in the 6th century when the Slav tribes settled on the stretch of the Vltava river that passes through Prague. In the 9th century, the main attraction, the Prague Castle was built and it has been rebuilt and widened during the centuries. Right now it’s one massive complex that might take you a while to fully discover.
Prague also likes to mention their favourite king Charles IV (1346-1378) as much as possible. During his reign, Prague grew into a metropolis and his time is remembered as the Golden age of Prague. Most of the landmarks are connected with king Charles. For example Charles University, Charles Bridge and St Vitus Cathedral. He is still regarded as the father of not only Prague, but the whole country.
If you are going to enjoy the city you will have to brush up on your history. Especially concerning the Church-reform movement and the Hussite revolution. The Hussites were the church-reformers, led by Jan Hus. Because of his conviction and death, a nationalist revolution sparked in Bohemia in the 15th century. And the majority of the Czech Republic lands were Hussite until Roman Catholicism was reimposed in the 17th century.
The fun part of Prague is that for some reason they liked to throw people out of their windows and the term ‘defenestration’ was coined. These defenestrations had bad consequences. The First Prague Defenestration was one of the major triggering events for the Hussite Wars and the Second Prague Defenestration started the Thirty Years’ war. So don’t throw people out of windows! It might end badly.
You can see and hear a lot of facts about that time. For example you can see the defenestration window in the castle, but you can also visit Vitkov Hill, which has a massive bronze statue for Jan Žižka, the commander of the Hussite forces during the Hussite Wars.
Prague really likes their other celebrities too. If somebody asks for famous Czechs you can say the name of the tortured 20th-century writer Franz Kafka and the painter Alphonse Mucha. Attractions have been built around their presence in Prague. If you are interested in Art Nouveau and the life of Franz Kafka, then check out their respective museums.
The Petrin Tower
One of the first things we did in Prague was enjoy the beautiful view from Petrin tower. It helped us to get a glimpse of the size of the city and to see the metropolis in a new light. Coming from Estonia, a city with a population of 1,2 million (as much as my whole country) is something remarkable to see from above. The tower is 60 m tall, but it sits at the summit of Petrin Hill which ads a little extra to the view.
Petrin Tower looks like a mini version of Paris’s Eiffel Tower and has a lift for the elderly and disabled, but it costs extra. So I don’t recommend going there if you can’t climb stairs. For us, it was a little chilly to go to the top, because it was October and windy. But you don’t have to worry about the wind because the viewing platform at the top is a closed platform.
Because of the beautiful sunny morning, we could also enjoy the autumn-coloured park all around the Petrin Hill when walking to the tower. Autumn is one of the best times to visit Prague. The city looks beautiful but the weather is unpredictable so be prepared.
The Prague Castle
This is the main tourist attraction in Prague and when we went there we saw a massive line to get in. And that wasn’t the ticket line as you would expect. It was the line to pass the security gates. If you want to get inside the complex, I recommend going there as early as possible. Because we didn’t want to wait in line, we decided to leave the castle for Sunday. When we arrived at the gates at 9 o’clock on Sunday we were lucky and got in quickly. So if you plan on visiting the castle, adjust your plans so you have to wait as little as possible. The ticket office is inside the complex itself and you can buy a ticket for different sites in the castle.
We took a ticket for circuit A which had in the price the St Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, exhibition “The Story of Prague Castle”, St George’s Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower, Powder Tower and Rosenberg Palace. The full admission is about 13.5 EUR (350 CZK) and the discount for students was 6,8 EUR (175 CZK). And to be honest, you will get a lot for your price. The main attractions are the cathedral and the exhibition of the Prague Castle. But I recommend checking the opening times for St Vitus Cathedral and plan your trip accordingly because they are opening the Cathedral at 12 o’clock on Sunday. But usually, it’s open from 9 to 17.
Be prepared to fight the massive amounts of tourists there. You have to constantly keep moving, because of the narrow roads and paths in the palace complex. There might as well be a few traffic jams because of the tour groups. Also there are a lot of coffee shops and restaurants in case you get hungry. It took us about 4 hours to see all the sites so pack yourself a lunch if you don’t want to buy from the expensive restaurants. There are benches where you can sit and enjoy the view of the city and eat what you have brought with you.
If you want to skip the tourist trap, just buy a ticket to the cathedral and the Royal Palace and you should get the main idea of the complex. That will save you some time to enjoy other sites. But the cathedral and the Royal Palace are a must-see. The cathedral was especially breathtaking.
The site that I also recommend to skip is the Golden Lane. It’s a row of miniature houses in the castle complex. The houses were interesting, but a big part of the Golden Lane showcases different kinds of armours and you even have a possibility to buy swords that were forged by modern blacksmiths. For me, it was pointless of showcasing something just to sell a sword to a tourist.
The Jewish Quarter
Jewish sites for me are always interesting because of my roots (I am Jewish from my mother’s side). A unique attraction in the district is the Old Jewish Cemetery which is among the oldest Jewish burial grounds in the world. The oldest grave should be from the 15th century and the whole area truly has a unique feeling to it. I never thought that you could put so many tombstones on top of each other.
But don’t go there on Saturday, because of Shabbat, the Jewish rest day. Shabbat starts with Friday’s sunset and ends with the sunset on Saturday. We went there on Saturday and to our surprise, it was closed. But on Sunday it was opened again. But for some strange reason, everybody was waiting in line at the entrance to the cemetery to get their tickets. Please don’t waste your time waiting in line. The Information and Reservation Centre where you can also buy the tickets to all of the Jewish sites is located around the corner of the Jewish cemetery and there wasn’t any kind of line for tickets. And because there aren’t any signs that are mentioning the opportunity of buying a ticket, everybody was waiting in line right at the entrance to the cemetery. With the ticket from the information centre, you can go in directly without waiting and it will save you more than 30 minutes. The address for the information centre is Maiselova 38/15.
And a tip for men is that your head has to be covered when you enter the Jewish sites. They will give you a kippah (traditional Jewish cap) on the entrance to the cemetery, but if you don’t want to wear it (it might be uncomfortable for some), you can always bring your own hat.
From the Jewish Quarter it’s about 5 minutes of walking to the Old Town Square which is one of Prague’s most popular sites. You can see the oldest astronomical clock on the side of the Old Town Hall and visit the Church of Our Lady before Týn.
Near the square, you can find Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and a Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments. My suggestion is to skip them. They are not worth it. The Wax Museum figures don’t look similar to the originals and you can use your time so much better than seeing a bad wax copy of Tom Cruise or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Franz Kafka Museum
For me, Kafka reminds me of the mandatory reading during high school. I didn’t like his books then, but they have grown on me with time. His writing is original and different and the museum reinvigorated my interest in the writer. The museum doesn’t have a lot of personal items. It mainly focuses on explaining the background of the artist’s life. How he lived, how did Prague look during his lifetime and about his relationships with women – all of these themes are explored. But the museum is not so interactive. It mainly consists of reading the information that is provided. So if you are travelling with kids, it will not be the best museum for you. But definitely worth a visit if you are interested in the writer. And compared to Prague Castle, it’s not as touristy and it took us about an hour to enjoy the museum.
A walk around the Old Town
I think that should be enough museums for a day. If you plan everything correctly and start walking around 8 or 9 o’clock you will manage to visit all of the mentioned attractions with enough time to find a place to eat and have a cup of coffee along the way.
My recommendation is to start with the Prague Castle then go to Petrin Hill for the view, continue to the Kafka museum and cross the river to the Jewish Quarter. Everything is within walking distance but because of the cobblestoned streets, I really recommend good shoes. You can cross the river via Charles Bridge. The gorgeous pedestrian bridge that was built in the 14th century features bronze statues that everybody wants to have a selfie with. The bridge is always full of tourists and beggars so it might be a little uncomfortable to pass it. If you are walking in this area I also suggest seeing the Lennon Wall which is located near Charles Bridge. It is a wall filled with John Lennon inspired graffiti and even though the police have attempted to paint over the wall it has become an interesting tourist attraction filled with song lyrics from the Beatles.
I hope that this article will make your stay in Prague a little more enjoyable. But if possible, don’t stay for only one day. Travelling is all about enjoying the city and not rushing it.