With approximately 40 hours in Prague from the time we arrived at the hotel until the time we left, we saw quite a bit despite the brief visit. I highly recommend more days, but if this is all the time you have, you can take in some of the best sites in this lovely capital city of the Czech Republic.
First stop: The Castle Quarter and surrounding gardens
The Castle Quarter (or district), is a UNESCO world heritage site and includes the Prague Castle (the official residence of the president of the Czech Republic), St. Vitus Cathedral, the old Royal Palace, St. George's Basilica ,a picture gallery and the surrounding Royal gardens. The quarter is Prague's top tourist attraction, and for a very good reason. It sits on the highest point in Prague, and offers beautiful panoramic views of the city. We spent several hours taking in the views, walking the gardens and around the complex. The Cathedral, Basilica and surrounding buildings are quite beautiful. Some of the areas require you to purchase a ticket for entrance. We chose not to go on the tours since our time was limited and the lines were quite long (several hundred people in line to get into the Cathedral), but I'm told that if you have the time they are well worth going on. Tip: To avoid long lines and crowds, your best bet is to get to the Castle as soon as it opens.
There are several ways to get up to the district: taxi, a tourist bus or walk (the funicular train is currently closed). We chose to walk up. While quite steep, we (including my Mother who is over 80) took our time and made it up in about 20 minutes with no problem.
Instead of walking back down to Old Town, we got on the Hop On Hop Off bus, which not only gave us a bit of a rest but also gave us a nice overview of the Lesser Town area. Headsets gave us access to the recordings highlighting the top sites. Note: We were on the City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off bus. There is also a Hop On-Hop Off City Tour which offers three different routes in vans (versus just one on the bus). We got off at the starting point of the route, a short walk to Old Town Square.
The Old Town Square is a historic square located in the Old Town district of Prague, between Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge. It dates back to the 12th century, when it started out as a central marketplace for Prague. The architectural styles in the area are quite interesting, including Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque. The most famous sites in this area are the Old Town Tower and Astronomical Clock, Tyn Church and St. Nicholas Church. The clock was installed in the clock tower in 1410, and is the oldest working clock in the world. Tyn Church dates back to 1385 and is rumored to be the inspiration for Disney's castle. St. Nicholas is a baroque style church completed in 1735. St. Nicholas Church served as the Old Town parish church until it was replaced by the Tyn Church. In the 1620's it was handed over to the Benedictine order. From 1870 to 1914 it was used by the Russian Orthodox church and later it was given to the Czech Hussite movement. Today it serves as a church as well as a venue for classical concerts.
The square is surrounded by restaurants, cafes and pubs, and is a great place to grab a coffee, cold beer and a bite to eat, though the area can get quite crowded and can be expensive. We were in town on a Sunday in October and the square was very busy. Tip: Restaurants several blocks away from the square will be less expensive and less touristy, and may offer a better experience and meal.
The Charles Bridge is one of the most famous sites in Prague. Originally built between the 14th and 15th centuries, it was the only link between Lesser Town on the left bank of the Vltava River and Old Town until 1742. The bridge was known as the Prague or Stone Bridge until 1870, when it was renamed for King Charles IV who ordered the construction of the bridge in 1357.
Access to the bridge was protected by bridge towers, built on both ends. Two towers are on the Lesser Town side, the smaller one having been built to protect the Judith Bridge which was replaced by the Charles Bridge. Thirty statues line the bridge, many of which have interesting stories and history behind them. The Charles Bridge became a pedestrian bridge in 1950 and is almost always crowded with tourists and vendors. Despite the crowds the bridge is definitely worth visiting.
Hotels, restaurants and cafes can be found all around the Lesser Town side of the bridge. We stopped at Café Marnice for a pint of Czech Budweiser - a lovely spot and a perfect way to end our packed day of sightseeing. Our hotel, the Hotel Archibald, was a 2 minute walk from here. Perfect location.
We had a few hours the next morning before we had to take off, so we revisited the Charles Bridge area, sans the crowds, which yesterday (Sunday) were quite overwhelming at times. While there were still a large number of tourists in the area on Monday, we were able to move around the Bridge and other walkways far easier and more comfortably.
Prague is a lovely place to visit. One and a half days to see all the sites doesn't give it justice. But if that's all you have, it'll do! I'm looking forward to my next visit here.