We visited Prague for three days just before Easter and we were overwhelmed by the festivities, the town’s deep history and unmissable gastronomy on offer.
A great place to start a visit to Prague is the Old Town Square. The square is a central point of the city and features buildings of abundant architectural styles including the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn, one of Prague’s most recognizable building. The church towers stand at 80 meters high and can been seen from many parts of the city.
The Old Town Hall is another wonderful Gothic structure in the Square that makes Prague a historian’s heaven. Initially built in 1364, the building has seen many extensions and work done over generations making it truly unique and one of Prague’s most photographed buildings. Doors are open to visitors who wish to explore the three floors and the beautiful internal decoration.
Prague holds a central market in Old Town Square two times a year at Easter and Christmas, and they put on a wonderful display with their Easter themed decorations.
The market offers a wide variety of food, drinks and crafts, all displayed on traditional wooden stalls decorated in the festive colours of Spring.
The culinary selection at the market ranges from international sweets to steamy hot meat and vegetables that are sold by the gram.
The square comes to life at Easter time and many people flock to the market from all over Europe. It is a perfect spot to start exploration of the Czech capital and one of the most festive places to spend Easter in Central Europe.
** TOP TIP – AT THE MARKET, FOOD IS GENERALLY CHARGED BY WEIGHT AND THE PRICE YOU SEE USUALLY ISN’T THE PRICE YOU PAY. THE FINAL PRICE CAN EASILY EXCEED EXPECTED COSTS FOR A SIMPLE DISH, BE SURE TO GET A PRICE BEFORE YOU HAND OVER ANY CASH **
One of Prague’s most famous attractions, Prague Orloj, is a medieval astronomical clock located on the side of the Old Town Hall. This is the oldest operating astronomical clock in the world and has been functioning since 1410. It shows no signs of stopping after a little over 600 years.
Crowds in their hundreds gather to watch the clock’s show every hour, The Walk of the Apostles. Moving figures mechanically come out of the clock depicting the Apostles and a skeleton that represented The Reaper. The Reaper strikes the time on the right of the horologe.
Although the mechanical performance is not the most spectacular thing you will ever see, it is a significant part of the city’s rich history.
Nicholas of Kadaň in collaboration with the astronomer Jan Šindel first built the clock in 1410. Hanuš, an old town locksmith, reconstructed the mechanics in 1490, making the timepiece work on the pendulum system. The horologe clockwork eventually failed due to lack of resources skillful enough to maintain the piece at the time. After Hanuš died, the horologe stopped completely. It wasn’t until the years 1552-1572 that Jan Táborský of Klokotská Hora repaired the clock and this was to be the last time any work on the actual clockwork was executed. No amendments have been made since these changes apart from the external appearance. The only repairs that were made were after World War II when the original figures were damaged beyond repair> They were replaced by Vojtěch Sucharda’s charming statues that are still present today.
Three units make up the horologe in total: The Moving Figures, the Astronomical Dial and the Calendar Dial. All parts represent the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and other more complex astronomical details.
The figures are set in motion on the stroke of every hour by a very complicated mechanism dating back to the 14th century. Death the Reaper on the right of the horologe starts to move first and other figures follow during the show that lasts around 2 minutes.
The Astronomical Dial displays a medieval perception of the Universe with planet Earth in the middle. The blue circle on the dial represents the sky above the horizon, the brown circular section represents the sky below it.
Latin words ORTVS (east) and OCCASVS (west) are purposely written above the horizon, and AVRORA (dawn) and CPEPVSCVLVM (twilight) below.
A Zodiac ring surrounds the central features which depicts the stars in the sky and the two clock hands represent the ‘Sun and the Moon’.
The outer circle displays Old Czech Time, the circle with Roman numerals shows CET (Central European Time) and the inner circle displays Arabic numerals showing the ‘Babylonian Time’.
Considering the limited resources available at the time the clock was built, the length of the hour differs on the clock according to the season, being longer in the summer and its mechanical sophistication makes it the only Astronomical Clock in the world able to display accurate seasonal differences.
The calendar dial is made up of twelve medallions that represent the months of the year alongside their zodiac signs. A rotary outer circle describes every single day of the year.
The Prague Old Town symbol sits in the centre of the dial.
The current date is subsequently indicated at the top of the clock.
When we visit a new city for the first time, we always sign up for a free walking tour. Due to a surge of tourism in Prague over the last 15 years, there were many walking tour groups to choose from. We were not left disappointed after choosing SANDEMANS New Europe Tour Group.
The Free Tour of Prague is 3 hours long with a lunch break in the middle and starts at the Old Town Square in front of the Cartier shop.
The tour gives a spectacular overview of Prague from the main tourist sites to the secret stories and buildings that you would likely know nothing about unless you were told.
The tour had a great musical influence focusing primarily on classical genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Mozart had great historical connections with Prague after his music wasn’t well received by the people of his home town, Vienna. Prague responded with great enthusiasm when his opera The Marriage of Figaro was played in the city for the first time. It is said that some musicians in Prague contributed to pay Mozart’s way to Prague so he could hear their rendition of his opera.
“Prague Understands me” Mozart once said, and judging by the current standing of the town, they certainly did. There are now many historical buildings across the city that are purely dedicated to classical music and the arts. The Free Tour of Prague goes by the Estates Theater where Mozart conducted the 1787 premiere of his famous opera Don Giovanni. We were shown the windows of the theater where Mozart probably stood as he wrote pieces of the classic.
A hollow faceless statue sits outside the theater and local legend says if you photograph this statue with a flash you will see a face on the photograph afterwards. As you can see, we didn’t capture a face but it was certainly an interesting part of the tour!
For those not able to go inside the theater, there is an image of the seats inside just across the road from the theater and many tourists were taking ‘selfies’ making it look like they had been inside.
There were so many musical venues in Prague, our only regret was not seeing a concert. The mighty Divadlo Hybernia was hosting Swan Lake while we were in town.
One of the most internationally renowned arenas for the Czech Symphony Orchestra is featured on the tour, the Rudolfinum.
The House Café opened for 10 years following the building’s opening in 1911 and closed it’s doors for an astonishing 80 years. It has now reopened it’s doors to the public and is one of Prague most visited cafes, The Grand Café Orient.
The House of the Black Madonna was pointed out to us on or tour as it stood beautifully in the heart of the Old Town. The building symbolizes Czech contribution to the cubist movement. Famous Czech architect Josef Gočár designed the building during the height of cubism and cubic designs extended from the external structure to furniture and glass inside the building.
Keeping the theme of the arts, we passed by the Municipal House, a former Royal Palace that was once home to the King of Bohemia. The decoration outside the building is spectacular, true Art Nouveau style.
The statue of Jan Hus was pointed our to our tour group, this is a significant part of Prague’s history and the Protestant movement of the sixteenth century.
The Powder Tower wasn’t far from the municipal House, another one of Prague’s wonderful Gothic structures.
The Tower was built with a purpose of being an attractive entrance into the city. It dates back to the 11th century and currently separates the Old Town from the New Town.
The Old New Synagogue is the oldest surviving medieval synagogue of twin-nave design dating back to 1270. The unique name is said to derive from Hebrew עַל תְּנַאי (al tnay) meaning ‘on condition’ which also sounds like ‘old-new’.
Local legend has it that angels brought stones from Jerusalem to help build the Synagogue in Prague ‘on condition’ that they are returned, when the Messiah comes.
According to Jewish folklore, the body of Golem, an anthropomorphic being created from clay or mud, resides in the attic of the Old New Synagogue. During World War II, the Gestapo apparently spared the building from destruction and did not enter the attic for fear of retaliation by the mystical being. In the current day, the attic is not open to the general public.
Our tour took us by the glorious Kinský Palace, built in Rococo-Stucco style, it stands out in bold pink and white colours.
The building was once a palace for the Kinský noble family and now operates as a museum.
Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was a novelist and short story writer who is widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature. The cafe offers regular Czech cuisine with pictures of one of Prague’s most treasured gems.
As well as its rich history, Prague also offers a newer spin on older buildings and legends associated with the city. Take the Franz Kafka Cafe:
We passed by the Absintherie, which is a newly built shop, bar and museum offering over 60 different kinds of Absinthe. The door way is green, the primary colour associated with Absinthe after the alleged feeling of consumers who have claimed to see green fairies after consumption.
A darker part of the free walking tour took us to The Jewish Quarter where we were told the Nazi regime arrived in 1939. Within a year of the Nazi occupation, most Jewish businesses were seized and life for the Jewish community became segregated, restricting them to the Ghetto ,while over 100,000 were ‘deported’ during the Holocaust. According to statistics, over 70,000 did not survive the ‘deportation’ tallying Jewish deaths in the Czech land to 250,000. Since liberation in 1945, the Jewish community has slowly recovered to become a cultural and interesting neighborhood to visit.
One of the most interesting parts of the tour for us was seeing the Old Jewish Cemetery. Our tour guide pointed out the cemetery as we passed by, showing an elevated area of gravestones that were heaped close together with minimal space between them.
The cemetery continually struggled lack of space. Jewish culture does not allow abolishing old graves so new layers of soil were heaped up on any available areas in the cemetery and as many as twelve layers now exist.
The free walking tour of Prague ends by the Vltava River offering a great view of the Charles Bridge. The bridge really is one of the most unusual in the world being constructed in 1357 and lined with a continuous alley of 30 baroque-style statues.
The bridge was constructed to connect the Old Town with Prague Castle and was built as an important connection for trade between Eastern and Western Europe.
The Castle has been a seat of power since the 9th century and is now home to the President of the Czech Republic. It is the largest ancient castle in the world and the Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside.
Tourists can visit the castle complex and tour the historical buildings within the castle. Tickets are available here.
Whether you are visiting Prague for Easter or investing some time in the area any time of the year, there are an abundant of activities that Prague has to offer. Be aware of tourist scammers, restaurant ‘service fees’ (unstated additional costs), know where to go and enjoy one of the most history-rich cities in the world.