Whether admiring the stunning architecture or dipping into a quirky absinthe bar, the beautiful medieval city of Prague is perfect for exploring on foot. It’s probably the best way to experience the city, as I discovered recently when I took my first trip to the Czech capital. Sure, there’s an easily navigable and efficient metro system, but for those who like to walk, there’s nothing like pounding the streets to become intimately acquainted with the city’s neighborhoods.
Walking also offers more of a sense of the city as a whole. Rather than being mysteriously transported underground and emerging from the depths of the earth, you know exactly how you got to your destination. To make the prospect of a stroll through Prague even more appealing, all main attractions are within striking distance of one another. So put on your walking shoes and lose yourself in the cobbled streets of this fairy tale city.
Start your stroll at the north end of Wenceslas Square, where the impressive National Museum overlooks the wide street lined with shops and restaurants. In addition to a scattering of international chain stores, you can’t miss the many enticing candy shops and tempting patisseries that will become a familiar sight as you explore the city. While on the subject of sweet treats, don’t leave Prague without sampling a delicious chimney cake. The ‘chimney’ is created using multiple layers of dough baked in an oven, covered in cinnamon sugar, and served hot, crammed with ice cream or luscious flavored fillings.
Walking south, you will find yourself amongst the Baroque and Gothic buildings of the Old Town Square. Crowds gather around the star of the show, the world’s oldest working astronomical clock. The narrow alleyways surrounding the square are a delight to explore, and strolling through the ancient streets is akin to being transported back to a bygone era. For lunch, take a break in a traditional bar and check out the classic Czech favorite, roast pork knuckle served with dill pickles, horseradish, and mustard. Wash it down with a local beer or perhaps even a glass of wine – ignore the skeptics, Czech wine producers are making giant strides these days, and there are some extremely palatable bottles to choose from.
Experience a mystical world when visiting the tiny, but spellbinding Alchemist House, Speculum Alchemiae, a few minutes walk from the square. In one of the oldest houses in the city, visitors enter underground tunnels through a secret doorway hidden in a bookcase. Only discovered in the great floods of 2002, the tunnels lead to laboratories used by alchemists to conjure up magic potions back in the day.
Tucked between Old Town and the Vltava River, the Jewish Quarter, Josefov, is home to six synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery. The historical neighborhood, which dates back to the 10th century, has remained remarkably intact considering the horrors that it has endured. It is thought that Hitler intended to create a ‘Museum of the Extinct Race’ after the war, and consequently, Jewish artifacts throughout Europe were plundered and transported to Prague. The area’s survival is a testament to the Jewish communities throughout the ages. There is much to see, and if you have time, it’s worth taking a tour to learn about the Jewish Quarter’s harrowing history.
Continue through the labyrinth of bustling streets to the most iconic sight in the city, Charles Bridge. Built in 1357 and stretching across the river, the bridge has thirty Baroque sculptures, most of which are replicas of the 17th-century originals. The pedestrianized bridge links Old Town with Mala Strana, the site of Prague Castle. The bridge is always full of life as tourists stroll in both directions, street musicians entertain the crowds, and vendors sell jewelry, paintings, and souvenirs.
Prague Castle towers above the streets of Mala Strana and is the largest medieval castle complex on the planet. It’s made up of grand palaces, great halls, Gothic churches, and landscaped gardens. These days, the Czech president lives there, and it’s one of the most popular tourists attractions in the city. Elsewhere in Mala Strana, there are plenty of picturesque streets to explore. Head to Lennon Wall, a vibrant graffiti-adorned symbol of peace, started when someone created an image of the Beatles after his murder in 1980. Have a cocktail at the nearby Wall Pub and take in the Beatles memorabilia that decorate the walls.
Don’t forget to swing by a few of the interesting sculptures found in Mala Strana. Check out the slightly sinister giant crawling babies by sculptor David Cerny at Kampa Park. Also worth a look is the memorial to the victims of communism, a haunting image of a group of men walking down steps, each at a different stage of decay. On a lighter note, look out for thirty-four yellow penguins along the riverside. Created from recycled plastic bottles, they send an important message about plastic waste and the environment.
Returning across the bridge, turn right and stroll along the river. The magnificent colorful buildings on the riverside are Baroque in style, and many of them have ornate exterior features. In contrast to Prague’s abundant traditional buildings, the city’s most remarkable modern architecture stands out conspicuously. Known as ‘Fred and Ginger’ due to its resemblance to the Hollywood stars, it was designed by Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunic in collaboration with Frank Gehry.
Head to Tyn Yard, a three-minute walk from Old Town Square. It’s impossible to miss the sight of a green devil standing outside one of the city’s most unique watering holes – The Green Devil’s Absinthe Bar. Descend the steps into a 14th-century cellar formerly inhabited by a blacksmith. Brimming with creepy curios everywhere you look, it’s dark and dingy, but the ambiance is unique. There are over one hundred types of absinthe to choose from, and drinks are prepared table-side with a flamboyant flair. A perfect way to round off an enthralling stroll through the diverse and captivating city of Prague.