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Thirty years ago, Prague was a mystery to travelers in Europe; now, however, it is one of the most popular destinations on the continent, drawing about 4 million visitors each year. Prague offers a compact city center, a fascinating centuries-long history with splendid examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Art Nouveau architecture. There are also scores of palaces, churches, and squares in Prague, delicious local Czech beer and food for reasonable prices. Here’s a look at the top tourist attractions in Prague:
10. Municipal House
The Municipal House is a beautifully ornate building right next to the Powder Tower in the old part of town. Bohemian Kings used to rule the countryside from this art nouveau classic where operas and plays are now held. The building has a dramatic entrance with a concave mural depicting classic works of art. Inside, you’ll find sculptures from some of the most renowned artists of past centuries.
9. Powder Tower.
One of the original gates into Old Town, this tower was first built in the 11th century. During the 17th century, the tower was used for storing gunpowder, which is where it gets its name. The royal route, the coronation route of the Bohemian kings, started at the tower. Inside the tower is a spiral staircase with 186 steps leading up to the gallery where visitors can get a great view of Old Town.
8. Dancing House.
Prague is known for its centuries-long span of architectural styles, with the end of the 20th century exemplified by the deconstructivist building Dancing House. This remarkable structure contains both dynamic and static elements and resembles a female dancer swaying in the arms of her male partner. Located on the bank of the Vltava River, Dancing House is a private office building except for a restaurant on the 7th floor, the Celeste, which is open to the public.
7. Tyn Church.
The Church of Our Lady before Tyn graces the Old Town Square. Among the most well-known attractions in Prague, the church’s Gothic towers soar 260 feet into the sky and can be seen from all parts of the city. Like many other Prague churches, the site’s original building was an 11th-century Romanesque church built for foreign merchants who came to Tyn Courtyard for trade. The present church was constructed in the 14th century, although the roof, towers, and gables came years later.
6. Mala Strana.
On the other end of Charles Bridge from Old Town Square lies the Malá Strana or Lesser Town district. Baroque architecture is the rule in Malá Strana, although its history dates back to 1257 when it was founded as a royal town. The Baroque St. Nicholas Church and the extensive Wallenstein Palace dominate the area. Surrounding Lesser Town Square are pubs, shops, restaurants, and international embassies, housed in grand old Baroque buildings. Towering over Malá Strana is Prague Castle, which can be reached by a hike up a picturesque street.
5. Wenceslas Square.
One of Prague’s two main squares, Wenceslas Square is a shopper’s paradise. Set off as Prague’s horse market by Charles IV in 1348, Wenceslas Square is more of a boulevard than a traditional square. Much of Czech’s 20th-century history happened in Wenceslas Square as political movements and gatherings met at the statue of St. Wenceslas to parade down the square. The place is central to most of Prague, as Old Town Square and Charles Bridge are but a five-minute walk away, and all three metro lines meet in the square. The square is home to the grand National Museum and the Prague State Opera.
4. Old Town Hall.
You can find the Old Town Hall right in the heart of old town Prague. You’ll know you’ve found it by the gathering crowds at the base of its gothic tower where every hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. the 12 Apostles appear on the astronomical clock. The appearance only lasts a moment, but the crowd will roar with applause for the amazing mechanical show. It’s made all the more impressive by the fact that this building was first established back in 1338 and served as the seat of the old town administration.
3. Prague Castle.
Towering above the city is Prague Castle, more of a sprawling complex than a single defensive building. The castle buildings span centuries and consist of a royal palace, several churches, defensive towers, royal stables, and magnificent gardens. Prague Castle began as a wooden fortress with earthen bulwarks. By the 11th century, it included a royal palace and the 14th century saw the beginning of St. Vitus Cathedral. The cathedral in the castle complex is a jewel in Prague’s crown, a superb example of Gothic architecture.
2. Old Town Square.
Located between Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge, Prague’s Old Town Square is often bursting with tourists and locals in the summer. Czech’s long history is exemplified in the medley of architectural styles in the superb buildings around the square. Soaring Gothic towers that rise from Tyn Cathedral contrasts with the Baroque style of St. Nicholas. Entranced visitors wander through the square, stopping for a spot of people-watching at one of the outdoor cafes or studying the square’s central statue of Jan Hus, church reformer and martyr.
1. Charles Bridge.
Connecting Old Town and Lesser Town over the River Vltava is the 600-year-old Charles Bridge, Prague’s most iconic landmark. King Charles IV commissioned the bridge in 1357, replacing an older bridge that was destroyed by a flood in 1342. Thirty Baroque statues line the sides of the pedestrian bridge along with vendor’s stalls, musicians and performance artists. A bustling, busy area, the bridge is rarely empty of people, although seeing it at dawn or in the evening will mean fewer crowds. Prague Castle, looming above, is lit at night and provides a dramatic vista that enchants all visitors.