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Prague City Trip - Mala Strana, Castle

Prague Castle
Prague Castle


PRAGUE DAY 2: Mala Strana, Hradčany

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There's no better way to begin a day in Prague than to walk across the Charles Bridge — the earlier the better. Try to beat the merchants who set up shop on the bridge a few hours after sunrise. Built in 1357 (the Baroque sculptures were added a couple of centuries later), this medieval pedestrian bridge is the unofficial center of the city.

Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge

Across the bridge is Mala Strana ("Little Quarter"), which offers a day's worth of strolling up its gentle hills (and occasionally not so gentle) and narrow streets. Kampa Island, just to the left of the Charles Bridge where it reaches the Mala Strana, offers a wide square where you can relax and see several old mills, including Sova's Mill, which now houses twentieth-century art.

Keep an eye out for Kampa Park, one of the city's most famous restaurants. Their Pumpkin soup with black trumpet mushrooms makes a great lunch, but the real attraction is the riverside location with views of the Charles Bridge. It's enchanting enough to attract celebrity diners like Mick Jagger, Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen. For a cheaper option, Baráčnická Rychta Restaurant serves traditional Czech pub grub.

Don't pass Saint Nicholas Church, whose powder-blue dome dominates the district's skyline, without going inside. A product of the Counter-Reformation, when Austria took back Bohemia during the seventeenth-century religious wars, the church is adorned in a loud mix of Baroque-era statues, cherub paintings and shiny gold objects.

St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral

Spend the rest of the day exploring Prague Castle. From the castle base (in front of Saint Nicholas Church), you'll discover a number of ways to reach the castle gates. We recommend climbing the gently sloping Nerudova Street, with its charming shops, pubs and restaurants lining each side.

Prague Castle (Hradčany, in Czech) is not what you'd call a traditional medieval fort. Austrian Empress Maria Theresa had it redesigned in the late eighteenth century, making it into a complex of churches, museums and government offices (including the president's). The first stop should be St. Vitus Cathedral, the towering Gothic house of faith that pierces the city's skyline. The crypt is worth a look, as is the cathedral bell tower, although it does require climbing 297 stone steps in a narrow, spiral staircase. Behind the cathedral, Golden Lane, remains a must-see, but you'll need to arrive early for any hope of photography without throngs of tourists. Franz Kafka lived at No. 22 for a while in 1917.

The aristocratic interior of Pálffy Palace
The aristocratic interior of Pálffy Palace

After you've finished the castle, exit back through the main gates, pass through the square, and head up Loretánské street until you reach the historic U Černého Vola (at the Black Bull). This might be the most authentic Czech pub experience in the city, especially with the house draught Velkopopovický Kozel, brewed in a small village near Prague.

A day in Mala Strana is not complete without eating at the eighteenth-century Pálffy Palace. The old aristocratic setting of the restaurant makes every diner feel like royalty, regardless of the Central European menu. Reservations are recommended, and get a table on the terrace if weather permits.

Continue to Day 3


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(Updated: 06/06/13 SG)


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