Prague (Praha in Czech) is one of the world's most beautiful cities. Sometimes called the "City of a Hundred Spires," the capital of the Czech Republic is well known for its ornate "Prague Gothic" and Baroque architecture. It is also a wonderful city of shops, cafés, restaurants and art galleries.
Prague's beauty and cosmopolitan atmosphere have made it one of the prime tourist destinations in Europe. During our August visit, it was sometimes impossible to walk through the narrow streets – or cross the landmark Charles Bridge – as competing bus loads of visitors jostled to get past one another.
For the visitor, Prague can be divided into three areas: Old Town (Staré Mĕsto) and the nearby Jewish Quarter (Josefov); Prague Castle and the nearby Lesser Quarter (Mala Strana); and New Town (Nové Mĕsto). The slide show above shows highlights from each of these areas. For more detail, select one of the pop-up slide shows listed below.
Prague has a long and colorful history. By the 14th century, many of the landmarks seen today were already in place, including the popular Charles Bridge and the dramatic Church of the Virgin Mary Before Týn. Prague was the capital of Bohemia and King Charles IV was also the Holy Roman Emperor. During the next century, however, Prague became involved in the Hussite Wars, an effort by the Catholic Holy Roman Empire to subdue Czech noblemen in other areas that fell under the reformation zeal of Jan Hus. The Czechs were defeated in 1620 and for the next 300 years were ruled by the Hapsburgs. During this period, Prague became a German-speaking city and lost much of its influence to the Hapsburg capital of Vienna.
After World War I, and the fall of the Hapsburg Empire, Prague became the capital of the new country of Czechoslovakia. The city was largely undamaged during World War II, but soon thereafter Czechoslovakia fell under the control of the Soviet Union. During its years behind the Iron Curtain, Prague's charms were virtually unknown to travelers from the West. In the mid-1960s, Prague became the center of Czechoslovakia's attempt at political reforms and a cultural reawakening that came to be known as the "Prague Spring". This movement, however, did not find favor in Moscow and in August 1968, Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops invaded the country and restored repressive Communist leaders.
Two decades later, however, massive nonviolent student demonstrations began in Prague’s Wenceslas Square that eventually led to the downfall of the Communist regime. In December the writer Václav Havel, a dissident and non-Communist, was named by parliament to be the country’s new president. The transition to non-Communist rule occurred so peacefully that it came to be known as the "Velvet Revolution". Not long after the Velvet Revolution came the "Velvet Divorce". In January 1993, Czechoslovakia divided into the separate and independent countries of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This transition too was accomplished peacefully.
After Prague's emergence from Soviet domination, tourists quickly rediscovered the city. It is easy to see why!
Old Town and Jewish Quarter (Josefov): Old Town (Staré Mĕsto) contains many of Prague's most famous tourist attractions, including Old Town Square, the Church of the Virgin Mary Before Týn, the astronomical clock, St. Nicholas Church (one of two in Prague), the Powder Tower and a plethora of shops, cafés and restaurants. The nearby Jewish Quarter includes several historic synagogues and cemeteries, plus a moving memorial to Czechs killed in The Holocaust. (16 Photos) [Preview This Slide Show]
Prague Castle and Mala Strana: Across the Charles Bridge from Old Town lies the Lesser Quarter (Mala Strana). It is interesting to walk through the narrow streets and eventually up to the imposing Prague Castle and St. Vitus's cathedral that dominate the skyline on this side of the Vltava River. (9 Photos) [Preview This Slide Show]
A Walk in Prague: Along the Vltava River and throughout the center of Prague, there is much to see beyond the famous historic landmarks. The city is replete with outdoor art – both traditional and modern – grand old buildings and even some interesting new ones. (16 Photos) [Preview This Slide Show]