Have you ever wanted to explore European cuisine? Explore a castle or two? Tread in palaces where royalty have trod? And do all this while on a luxurious boat? With your kids?! That's right, I s...Read more
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Home to about 1.2 million people, Prague is a cosmopolitan city in the heart of the Czech Republic and has a long history as one of the cultural, artistic and political centers of eastern Europe. The beautiful city is set in central Czech Republic and offers visitors a stunning landscape of green forests, rolling hillsides and the blue Vltava River that flows for about 20 miles directly through the city.
Prague is also home to a great array of pristine architectural styles and presents a stunning collection of well-preserved buildings. Some of the styles scattered throughout the city include Baroque, Art Nouveau, Renaissance, Cubist and Neo-Gothic. As the political center of the country, Prague is the seat of the Czech Government and houses of Parliament in addition to various national television stations and other media outlets, including Radio Free Europe. The area is also an educational center for much of eastern Europe, and hosts over 10 universities and colleges, including Charles University, one of the oldest universities in Europe.
The city is divided into four general areas: on the left side of the Vltava River is Hradčany (home of Prague Castle), below the castle is Lesser Quarter, across the river from Lesser Quarter is Old Town, and to the south of Old Town lies New Town. Hradčany is known for the magnificent Prague Castle and surrounding palaces, churches, and halls that are great for exploring. Visit Lesser Quarter for a medieval feeling, complete with narrow, winding streets and 9th-12th century buildings. Old Town Square is the highlight of Old Town, and was once the main central market for the small settlement of early Prague. Finally, New Town is (fittingly) the "newest" part of the city, with much of its construction dating back to the 14th century. New Town also is home to popular Wenceslas Square - a horse market when it was originally built, it now accomodates various shops and businesses and is a popular gathering place for demonstrations and celebrations.
Valid passport needed for entry
Czech (English is spoken by some)
Prague, Czech Republic, is a city of stunning physical beauty. The capitals of many other European nations were flattened or heavily damaged during World War II, but Prague survived intact.
Thanks to Prague's role as a focal point of culture and commerce for nearly a millennium, it retains evidence of the many nationalities that have influenced and sometimes dominated its course in history. Gothic and baroque spires, art-nouveau facades and even cubist structures reflect a crucible of German, Italian, Flemish and Bohemian artistic movements. At one time the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and at another the citadel of the Hapsburgs, Prague sustains a reputation as a vital political, cultural and economic center.
This is especially true since the 1989 bloodless Velvet Revolution swept out communism. Tourists and foreign expatriates continue to descend on the City of a Hundred Spires, although those hoping to see evidence of its totalitarian past may be disappointed to find that Prague has very much become a cosmopolitan Western capital. Gone are the days of standing in line for bananas in Spartan, communist-style grocery stores; instead, expect to see people standing in line for a dressing room at the Swedish clothing-store chain H&M.
Although the city embraces innovation, Prague's old-world appeal has been steadfastly preserved. Thick river fogs, arched stone bridges, mysteriously lit alleyways and other charming scenes linger around almost every corner. If you slip away from the main tourist scene, you'll likely stumble upon a bakery offering freshly baked brown loaves from 200-year-old recipes, or a lively political debate in a Hapsburg-era hospoda (pub). For many, Prague carries on as it always has.
Sights—The Charles Bridge; Old Town Square with its candy-colored buildings and spires; Prague Castle and its 1,000-year-old St. Vitus Cathedral; the cliff-top fortress of Vysehrad; Wenceslas Square, the commercial heart of New Town; the ancient synagogues and graveyard of the Jewish Quarter.
Museums—The old-masters exhibit at the baroque Sternberg Palace; the city's best collection of foreign and domestic modern art in the National Gallery Center of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Veletrzni Palace.
Memorable Meals—Venison with cranberry cream sauce and views at Bellevue; brunch on the terrace of Palffy Palac; a tasting menu at Cotto/Crudo, the region's first restaurant to earn a Michelin star; lunch cooked by the country's most famous chef at Cafe Imperial.
Late Night—Jazz at the cozy AghaRTA Jazz Centrum; hanging with the beautiful people at Radost FX; the down-to-earth Chapeau Rouge bar; sampling Czech wine at Vinograf.
Walks—A romantic afternoon in Stromovka Park; a stroll on Petrin Hill; the walk from Obecni Dum to Prague Castle.
Especially for Kids—Boat rides on the Vltava River; the playground and wildlife at Zoological Zahrada; Sea World's massive aquarium and interactive exhibits; conquering Bludiste's mirror maze.
Prague is composed of 22 administrative districts, although historically it was divided into 10 districts, which are still used when referring to cadastral areas within the city. These districts stretch across seven hills, centered on the broad Vltava River (known as the Moldau in German). Each district's boundaries are printed on city maps, and Praguers will refer to them when giving directions.
The central district, Prague 1, includes the areas known as the Lesser Quarter (Mala Strana) on the west bank of the Vltava River, and the Old Town and New Town (Stare Mesto and Nove Mesto) on the east side of the river. These areas of Prague 1, along with portions of Prague 2, comprise what is often called the centrum, or city center. The centrum contains the main tourist attractions, most major businesses, many hotels and restaurants, and the banking district.
The city also boasts several attractive districts for residential life, business and, consequently, tourism, thanks to the top-flight bars, restaurants and shopping. These areas include Prague 3 (Zizkov), with its landmark television tower; Prague 5 (Andel), home to multiplexes and malls; and Prague 7, site of the lovely Letna Park.
Seventeen bridges cross the Vltava River. Karluv Most, the oldest and most spectacular bridge, is known by visitors and natives alike as the Charles Bridge. It connects the Lesser Town's quaint streets with those of the Old and New Towns and is for pedestrians only.
All addresses in this report include the district number in parentheses.
The first Slav settlements near Prague date from the late sixth century, but it wasn't until about AD 880 that the ruling dukes built Prague Castle. During the following centuries, Prague became an important center for Christianity in the Czech state, and the monarchy began to take notice of the emerging town.
Shortly after coming to the throne in 1230, King Wenceslas I began fortifying an area in Stare Mesto (Old Town). His successor, King Otakar II, was responsible for fortifying what today is known as Nove Mesto (New Town). The two areas were not officially unified until 1287. The reign of Charles IV in the 14th century brought much construction to the city: Universities were established, the cathedral was erected, and work on the Charles Bridge began. The population also soared, making Prague the largest city in central Europe.
Subsequent centuries brought busts and booms, conflicts and uprisings as the region came under the control of the Hapsburgs' Austrian empire for more than five centuries. One of Europe's first civic rebellions against Catholicism occurred early in the 15th century when priest Jan Hus delivered services in Czech instead of Latin and condemned the collection of payment for absolutions. He was burned at the stake in 1415, but his actions foreshadowed Martin Luther by two centuries.
It was not until the early 19th century that support for the National Czech Movement arose. After the 1918 armistice of World War I, Czechoslovakia became an independent republic under the modern Czech hero, former President Tomas G. Masaryk.
But all was not settled with the new country. The 1938 Munich Agreement ceded one-third of Czechoslovakia's territory to Germany, and Hitler invaded soon after. Following World War II and the murder of thousands of Czechs by the Nazis, the territory was returned and Czechs of German descent were expelled. Communists won the 1946 elections, and in 1948 the party established totalitarian rule and came increasingly under Soviet influence.
Emerging visions of democracy, known as Prague Spring, were crushed by a Soviet invasion in August 1968, and it wasn't until the late 1980s that communism was finally defeated. Vaclav Havel, a dissident, playwright and darling of Western politicians, became president in 1989. In 1993, the long-considered separation of Slovakia and the Czech Republic became official. After the peaceful split, Prague became the capital of the new Czech Republic. In 2003, Havel was replaced by his archrival, Vaclav Klaus, and in 2003, Milos Zeman became the first directly elected president of the Czech Republic. The country became a member of NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.
Overlooking the river and Old Town, Letna Park once held a gargantuan marble statue of Stalin and a few of his hardworking Communists, measuring 164 ft/50 m tall and weighing in at 17,000 tons. It was unveiled on 1 May 1955. A few years later, Stalin was denounced by Nikita Khrushchev, and the statue was destroyed with 1,764 lb/800 kg of explosives and 1,650 detonators. Today, the same spot features a metronome that ticks from west to east, as if looking at both the past and the future.
Prague is home to the largest ancient castle in the world (construction began around 870), and it is still in use today.
The Czech Republic has more than 2,000 preserved castles and chateaus—more per square mile than any other country in the world.
If you want to live like a local, you must drink the beer; it has been an institution in Prague since AD 900. In 2003, the annual beer consumption per person was 160 liters. The Czechs have maintained the highest per capita beer consumption since the country came into being in 1993, with an average of 141 liters per capita in 2018.
Until World War II, Czechs drove on the left side of the road. Hitler changed it to the right when he invaded the country in 1939, and it was never changed back.
The Czech Republic can claim as native sons the inventor of the sugar cube, the man who discovered fingerprints as a form of identification, and the scientist who first classified human blood into four groups.
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