Located in Prague’s Hradcany neighborhood, Prague Castle (Pražský hrad), once the home of Bohemia’s kings, is today the official residence of the Czech Republic’s President and one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions. Originally built as a walled fortress around AD 870, the castle has changed dramatically over the years and contains examples of most of the leading architectural styles of the last millennium. Within the castle walls are a number of Prague’s most popular tourist sites, including St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, the Powder Tower, the Old Royal Palace, and the Golden Lane.
The largest castle complex in the world, this vast fortress requires considerable time to tour, but it’s time well spent (particularly rewarding are the excellent views over the Vltava River with the old town and its many beautiful spires in the background). Highlights include the Old Royal Palace’s main hall, the Vladislav Hall, so large it could be used for jousting tournaments, and staircases wide enough to allow mounted knights to use them. Be sure to also spend time in the Royal Garden, dating back to 1534 and home to a number of superb old buildings, including the Ball Game Pavilion, the Royal Summer House with its Singing Fountain, and the Lion’s Court.
One of the most recognisable old bridges in Europe, magnificent Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) boasts 32 unique points of interest along its 621-meter span. Built in 1357, the bridge has long been the subject of a great deal of superstition, including the builders having laid the initial bridge stone on the 9th of July at exactly 5:31am, a precise set of numbers (135797531) believed to give the structure additional strength. For added good measure, it was constructed in perfect alignment with the tomb of St. Vitus and the setting sun on the equinox.
A highlight of Prague’s New Town (Nové Mesto) district—an area that grew out of the city’s need to expand as it prospered—is the wonderful Wenceslas Square (Václavské námestí), home to the National Museum and numerous other architectural treasures.
Named after the patron saint of Bohemia, whose statue can be seen here, Wenceslas Square was created in the 14th century during the reign of Charles IV as a horse market and has since become one of the city’s most important public spaces, still used for demonstrations and celebrations alike.
Spread across some of the city’s most important architectural landmarks, the National Gallery in Prague (Národní galerie v Praze) is home to some of Europe’s most important art collections. The bulk of the collection is housed in the Veletrzní Palace (Veletrzní Palác), a relatively modern structure built in 1925 that holds the 19th- to 21st-century works. While there’s a strong emphasis on Czech artists, foreign artists such as Monet and Picasso are included, as are other art forms such as photography, fashion, applied arts, and sculpture.
Other notable works are held in the Kinsky Palace (Palác Kinskych), home to Asian art, art from the ancient world, and the gallery’s Baroque collections, and at the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, where you’ll find European art from the Middle Ages.
Finally, the splendid 17th-century Sternberg Palace (Sternbersky Palác) houses some of the gallery’s most famous pieces, focusing on European art from the Classical era to the end of the Baroque period and including important ancient Greek and Roman pieces; 14th- to 16th-century Italian masterpieces; and 16th- to 18th-century works by artists such as El Greco, Goya, Rubens, van Dyck, Rembrandt, and van Goyen.