Yes, much of travel is on pause now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t PREPARE. Planning helps you hit the ground running once restrictions lift and confidence resumes. Plus, half the fun is the anticipation of taking off to far off lands. Travel dreams do not fade; we WILL get back in the air and on the road. We will make new memories. As a Travel Agent, I will be here to help you navigate this new travel landscape and make sure your trip goes off without a hitch. After the New Year, there will be a surge in pent up demand and travelers will start transforming those dreams into realities.
Last fall, I visited Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and “the heart of Europe.” Enough can’t be said about visiting Europe off-peak – less crowds and cooler weather. Prague is an architecturally and spiritually rich city. At dusk, the lights come on and this “city of a hundred spires” glows with countless gold tipped church towers. Prague is best enjoyed on foot: evening strolls through narrow streets and cobblestone lanes lead to courtyards and quiet nooks lit by gas-filled streetlamps.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city center reflects all European architectural styles: Renaissance, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism, Empire, Art Nouveau, and Czech Cubism. It’s a truly magical compilation of cathedrals, church domes, bridges, and ancient synagogues. Here are a few ideas to kick off the planning, but no matter when you travel, don’t forget to check websites for opening dates:
Prague developed over many centuries as the crossroads of Christian and Jewish Cultures. Visit Church of Our Lady Victorious where pilgrims from around the globe come to pray to the famous Infant Jesus of Prague for protection. Take a stroll to Wenceslas Square to see the statue of St. Wenceslas, the main Czech patron saint and symbol of Czech statehood.
In the early 11th century, Jews began settling in Prague, an important center for religious and social life for the Jewish community. The Jewish Quarter dates to the 13th century when Jews were ordered to vacate their homes and settle in one area. Embark on a Jewish Settlement tour to bear witness to their history and persecution.
The Old-New Synagogue, with its massive brick gables, is one of the oldest surviving synagogues in Europe. Visit the Pinkas Synagogue to view its walls hand-scribed with the names of more than 80,000 Czech Jews who were killed under the Nazi regime. Also on display are the emotional drawings by Jewish children interned at Terezín concentration camp where most perished. Walk through the Old Jewish Cemetery composed of layers upon layers of 12,000 tombstones — Jews were only allowed burial in this one small city block.
The Prague Castle refers to the entire complex of churches, towers, courtyards, and monuments. Since the ninth century, it has served as the seat of the Czech Republic President. Watch the ceremonial changing of the guards; stroll through Vladislav Hall with its magnificent Gothic vaulting; visit the Romanesque-style St. George Basilica. Climb the Old Castle steps and wander through the interiors of the Old Royal Palace. Enter Gothic-style St. Vitus Cathedral and marvel over the Crown Jewels and then descend to the Palace’s Baroque Gardens below and stroll down winding paths to “Lesser Town” along the banks of the swan-filled Vltava River.
Old Town Hall & Astronomical Clock:
Established in 1338 as the seat of the Old Town administration, the complex’s most famous feature is its beautiful Gothic tower and uniquely adorned astronomical clock. Every hour watch the “Walk of the Apostles,” the procession of twelve wooden figures circulating through the gilded clock’s mechanisms.
Fans of Czech classical music will immediately think of Dvořák– his symphony was played when American astronauts first landed on the Moon. Music and Prague are intrinsically entwined – large festivals are held annually but chamber groups can be enjoyed year-round at Smetana Hall, Liechtenstein Palace, and a multitude of churches and synagogues. The Estates Theatre is home to opera and is where Mozart personally conducted the “Marriage of Figaro” in 1787.
Walk the Charles Bridge:
There’s no more famous shot than a picture of Charles Bridge with the silhouette of Prague Castle in the background. This half a kilometer-long stone bridge hosts 31 Baroque statues and is flanked by two stately towers.
Prague produced some of the most important writers of the 20th century: Jan Neruda, Milan Kundera, and Franz Kafka to name just a few. Kafka, author of The Metamorphosis, among other auspicious works, spent most of his life in Prague – his literary legacy is well-preserved in the excellent Franz Kafka Museum.
Typical Czech cuisine should not be missed: Czech beer, Moravian wine, spicy goulash, roast duck, beef with dumplings, wild game, homemade cheeses and sausages can be enjoyed at the many brew pubs and dining rooms sprinkled throughout the city. Try U Modré Kachničky, housed in a romantic 16th century baroque townhouse, and Kampa Park offering amazing views of the Charles Bridge from its riverside terrace. But there is also plenty of international choices too: V Zátiší for contemporary Indian fusion and La Finestra In Cucina for authentic Italian cuisine.
Go back in time at the Augustine Hotel:
This enchanting luxury hotel is deeply rooted in Prague history due to its interconnection with a 13th century Augustine monastery that remains active to this day, run by the friars of the Augustine order who also happen to have produced their own beer since 1352. Baroque-style St. Thomas Church offers special insidery tours for Augustine hotel guests only. Climb through a hidden door connecting the hotel to the monastery and gain insight to the life of the monks who serve as caretakers and guardians of the church and the ancient library housed within.
Day trip to Cesky Krumlov:
Located in Southern Bohemia, this fairy tale semi-island town is home to the second largest castle in the Czech Republic. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Dukes of Krumlov ruled this town for over 400 years, transforming it into one of the most picturesque towns in Central Europe.
Bring home a memory:
Since the 14th century, Bohemian garnets have been treasured for their healing properties and remain a popular Prague purchase. Bohemian crystal and art glass in a rainbow of vibrant colors are transformed into gorgeous hand cut vases, goblets, and chandeliers in classic and contemporary designs. Visit boutiques Moser and Preciosa for high end designs, or for more affordable but equally exquisite pieces, visit the factory store of Caesar Crystal Bohemiae.
Itinerary Tip: Pair a visit to Prague with a visit to Berlin: they are only four hours apart by train. To read my recent article on Best of Berlin, click here.
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Additional panoramic photo credits: Felix Mittermoier, Julius Silver, Jeshoots, Pierre Blanche