Travel

Travel Spotlight… Prague, Czech Republic

Just try and not be charmed by the ‘City of a Hundred Spires’.

3 months Discovery Channel

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Architecturally-speaking, Prague is one of the most beautiful and singular cities in the world. Divided into a New Town and Old Town, the names may betray the shifting history of the city, but in truth both contain riches modern and ancient. Whether it’s shopping, art, culture, or… beer that inspires your visit, below are some of the many highlights of this wonderful city.

QUICK TRAVEL TO-DOS

See: The John Lennon wall is a mecca for Beatles fan; covered with artwork inspired by the late singer, as well as lyrics and quotes.
Eat: The Trdelník, or chimney cakes, are a must for those with a sweet tooth; basically a donut-like tower with a gooey centre and a nutty texture.
Drink: Beer Bike Prague does what it sounds like: shows you the sights of Prague while you sip Czech beer and are transported by bike.
History: Josefov is a stark reminder of the tragedy of history.
Adventure: Go flyboarding, and be jetted across the water – it’s easier than it looks, and just as fun
Shopping: The easy-to-navigate square mile of Old Town Square contains a number of fashion, antique, and book stores.
Art & Culture: The DOX Centre for Contemporary Art is oddly modern and cutting-edge, considering its ancient surrounds

PRAGUE CASTLE

Prague is nicknamed the City of a Hundred Spires for a reason – it contains some of the most breathtaking old cathedrals in the world. The most impressive of these is Prague Castle, which is the largest ancient castle in the world, dating from the 9th Century and sprawling over 70,000 square metres. If you wish to be humbled by human history and endeavour, this is the place to visit: Romans emperors, kings of ancient Bohemia, and medieval empresses have all called the castle home at various periods throughout the centuries – and for a touch of mystery, the legendary Bohemian Crown Jewels are still kept within the castle, in a hidden room. The castle is one of the country’s major tourist destinations, with close to two million visitors taking in the grandeur each year.

LIVING HISTORY

An odd blend of bleak Jewish history and modern-day high-end shopping, Josefov was the former Jewish quarter, and was heavily ghettoised after the first crusade, towards the end of the 11th century, when the Jewish population were literally walled into the village. There are still sombre signs of the area’s bloody history, and although a lot of the ancient stone structures have been annexed, you don’t have to try hard to imagine the oppression that took place in this rather claustrophobic space.

On a happier note, if you are a lover of the culture, science and history of free thought in the 20th Century, you should head to the Cafe Louvre. The unassuming building was the main hang of philosophical giants such as Albert Einstein and Franz Kafka, and continues to house local artists, writers, scholars and students – who slowly sip coffees, eat the delicious range of cakes and pastries, and work on changing the world. This is the closest thing to the Parisian cafes that housed the Lost Generation that you’ll find in Prague.

Image credit | YouTube

KEEP TIME IN OLD TOWN

Old Town Square has been the main public square of Prague since the 10th Century, and is a marvel of architectural beauty, public planning, and proof positive that some ideas simply cannot be improved upon with the benefit of technology and time.

Despite its ancient standing, the market square is still bustling with life, with musicians busking, various pop-up market places depending on the time of year, and beautiful statues overlooking the square. If you look down, however, you can see the Prague Meridian: a brass strip embedded in the cobblestone that was used in the 17th Century as a marker of noon: the shadow of the towering Marian Column lines up with the Meridian at exactly 12pm.

Keeping on the subject of keeping time, the Prague astronomical clock is one of the most beautiful and morbid fixtures of Old Square. Mounted on the wall of Old Town Hall, the clock dates back to 1410, and — according to legend — if locals are neglectful regarding its upkeep and the clock falls into disrepair, the city will crumble into chaos. A pretty great reason to keep that thing ticking!

NEW TOWN

From the beginning of the 20th Century onwards, Old Town Square fell out of favour with local merchants, and Wenceslas Square in New Town became the main centre of commerce, which also dragged along much of the city’s cultural community.

This is where you will do most of your shopping in Prague, and — depending on when you happen to visit — you may find yourself in the midst of a public ceremony, celebration, or a political demonstration. Due in part to the prominence (and shape) of the Old Town Square, the naming of Wenceslas Square is a misnomer: it’s more of a slopping rectangle, a boulevard if you will. Follow it up the slight incline and you’ll be met by the Czech National Museum – a must for history buffs or those simply wishing to put their surroundings in context.

Posted by Nathan Jolly | Images sourced from Shutterstock