I arrived at Prague taking a night train from Budapest, Hungary at the ungodly hour of 4 o’clock in the Czech Republic traveling to the capital. The entire railway station is practically a ghost town. It was a little eerie and then frustrating that the ATM was not working correctly and just spitting my card back out …no thanks, good luck and welcome to Prague, not quite the first impression of Prague I wanted to have. Fortunately, there was another ATM from another bank in the building, and finally, some Koruna (crowns) came out of the ATM. Now finding a cab was the next problem because we could not find a single cab waiting in the station pick up zone that early in the morning. So thinking out of the box, we decide to haul our suitcases outside the station and found another cab zone with a large Mercedes waiting for rides. We quickly pile in and quickly ride into the dark streets and then enter a highway. In a short time, we arrive at the edge of the Old Town and the driver stops in front of our hotel. Everything is deadly quiet outside, and I’m really hoping that our hotel can either serve us an early breakfast, let us hang out at the lobby or better yet, let us check in early at 5am in the morning.
Good news, the hotel check in is open and the manager is very gracious about our early arrival and offers us an open room that early in the morning. I am so grateful for this and crash instantly on the oh so comfortable bed for a few hours. Afterwards, I take a really nice long hot shower to shake off the uncomfortable night train from Budapest to Prague and relaxing before getting my first impression of Prague.
Time to explore Prague city and attractions
Hotel check in and a guided tour
Our hotel Clement, is conveniently located in the historic central district with just a short walk to Prague’s main square, called Staroměstské náměstí. This expansive square has been in existence since its founding in 1230 and is filled with so many spectacular monuments and stunning architecture. We book a local guide with Prague City Tourism to take us on a tour of some of the main attractions in the city starting with the main square. The first thing you notice is the impressive town hall and tower towards the middle of the square. I find out the tower has stunning views of the entire city that I will show you below and it really is amazing!
The main town square of Prague
The town square has always been the center of life in medieval Prague as a place for gatherings, events, market days and daily social life. Our guide takes us into the old town hall now converted into a museum, welcome center including some unique sections of the building we get to explore on the tour. Finished in the 1380, it was a representative building serving important cultural and social gatherings. We check out the various assembly rooms, the tall main tower overlooking the square, a small chapel used to pray before assembly of the various guilds and government people doing business, the backside of the astronomical clock, and finally an extensive cellar underground that covers the town hall and many other adjacent buildings throughout the old town. It’s a wonderful first impression and a highlight of what to do in Prague and the old town.
There is a huge clock tower that you can now take an elevator ride up to the observation area to enjoy the views of the city. Even though the visits are timed for the elevator ride up the tower, there is plenty of time to check all the magnificent views of the entire city. It just seems like an endless sea of red tile roofs all over Prague with some key monuments peeking out above loved the old central district of the city. Everything looks so immaculate that it almost looks like a miniature model city from above the clock tower.
The sprawling medieval square below are filled with visitors in the early morning hours until late in the evening when the square is filled with street performers and the cafes are sprawled out into the square and open late into the night. The looming church over the main square is the church of Our Lady before Tyn. The guide tells us that this gothic three nave structure was built in 1365 on the ruins of an old Romanesque church. The interior of the church is mostly done in the ornate baroque style with the main baroque altar representing the suffering of Christ. The exterior twin bell towers were built consecutively in the 15th to 16th centuries. When you do visit the main square, make sure that you do take the opportunity check out the beautiful interior details and baroque altar.
Prague’s Mala Strana
Up at the tower, our guide points out the major landmarks from above including Prague castle and cathedral (below). Located across the Vltava river is the Mala Strana (Little Quarter) and has many of the important medieval monuments that became part of the Bohemian kingdom. The guide shares that during Charles IV rein in 1316-78, Prague for the first time and was the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of Bohemia. From his rule, the city was the ruling center of Bohemia and the entire medieval Holy Roman Empire and one of the most important cities of its time in all of Europe.
Czech glass used in the Old Town Hall
Checking out the astronomical clock
While touring the inside of the town hall, I learn more about the wonderful astronomical clock with rotating animated sculpted figures. This clock was one of the first timepieces created in all of medieval Europe and is a main draw for visitors seeing the main square and the hourly clock animation show. During the visit, we are able to get close to the rotating figures behind the timepiece and take photographs of them. They are almost made in human scale, so it really is impressive seeing the details up close.
Beautiful stained glass and painted ceilings of the Old Town Hall chapel
Underground cellars of the Old town square
The downstairs cellars to the town hall are fascinating and huge. They also seem to be connected to many other cellars of the entire old town and medieval past. Not totally cellars, I find out that these cellars were the original ground floors to many establishments around the old town. The guide tells us that when the New town was developed, the excess dirt was placed surrounding the areas of the old town to elevate it from the Vltava river to prevent any flooding from happening to the old town. Eventually many of these cellar rooms were closed off and almost forgotten until recently when a variety of interest in the old town and cellars created new tours underground.
Walking through the various sections of the city, you can’t help but look up everywhere at all the stunning architecture created in different styles and time frames. Covering several periods ranging from Medieval, Gothic, Beaux arts, classical renaissance to modern Polish and Stalin influences, it’s all dazzling to see so much variety and almost perfectly maintained structures. Walking around each district in the old town, you get to see a rich architectural history with such beautiful details in the doorways, portals and even the façade decorations of the various buildings – including the images below with magnificent details.
Prague’s Jewish Quarter
We tour through the neighboring Jewish district in Prague next to the town hall and the area is now converted to chic promenades with all the trendy designer names and boutiques. Further down from the shopping promenades are the main areas that contain more of the Jewish monuments and synagogues along with the Jewish cemetery being one of the most well preserved monuments of Prague’s Jewish town. I find out there are 12,000 gravestones but they do not account for all the true amount of people interred in the cemetery.
Vltava river waterfront area
We finally make it to the main river that divides the city, called the Vltava river. We walk close to the shoreline and finally come across to the Rudolfinum which is a Neo Renaissance style building that is the major concert hall that houses the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. There are also many galleries within the building where daily concerts are held of classical music masters of the day including Chopin, Vivaldi, Strauss and Beethoven.
Fronting the Rudolfinum is the Vltava river which separates Prague’s Old Town to the Mala Strana with the Bohemian castle and cathedral on one of the peaks overlooking the new town. It is also a wonderful place to explore this new district of Prague but I will save it for another post on the rest of the city which really is filled with amazing treasures and landmarks. I’m so glad that I had read this post from the Venturist on nine things that you much eat and drink in Prague. I ended up looking for and trying almost everything on the list except the Pho which I can get where I live in San Francisco. We were able to check off quite a few of these fun things to do in Prague list which I had researched earlier on cool things to do and we had a busy and full day touring the entire city.
Accommodations in Prague
Well it really has been a full day touring Prague and I’m ready to crash for the night. Fortunately, we are staying in the city center just outside of the old town at the Hotel Clement. Really it is the ideal location in a very quiet corner of the city but very close access to the main square and many of the important tourist zones and neighborhoods worth visiting.
I’m really fond of boutique hotels that go the extra mile and this was just the perfect stay in a luxurious room with a gorgeous view of the old city and some of the major monuments close by. Our room on the top floor had all the privacy and yet wonderful setting with a balcony to enjoy some private time and views of the city.
A large spacious and well appointed room with bright and large windows and a doorway to an outdoor balcony. There is a large office area and chair with a flat screen TV if you prefer viewing from the bed or office set up. The room is decorated in bold, black, white and red graphic colors and tastefully done in color blocking to give the room energy and a contemporary vibe even though it is an older classical building. Other nice features include free and fast wifi, satellite TVand upgraded Gevalia coffee service.
The bathroom is spacious and modern in neutral colors with nice shower and separate hand shower attachment. You get a full line of bath amenities including plenty of plush towels available in a storage rack and a hair dryer.
A very friendly and attentive staff, the front desk, operator service and breakfast service went above and beyond making each guest was taken care of and were always available to answer questions or help in any way. The breakfast service was exceptional and very well taken care of with quality food, great variety and maintaining the buffet service.
Overall our stay at the Hotel Clement was perfect for the location, beautiful room and wonderful breakfast service. To find out more details about the hotel, you can visit their website here.
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Thank you to Prague city tourism and Prague tours for hosting me on this visit and tour of the city, all opinions and thoughts are my own.