Franz Kafka was born in Prague to a middle-class Jewish family, in what was then…
Dominating the skyline of Prague is Prague Castle which has been an important symbol of the Czech state for more than a thousand years. It was founded in the 9th century and became the seat of Czech rulers and later presidents. The castle, one of the largest complexes in the world, is made up of historical palaces, offices, church and fortification buildings, gardens and picturesque spots. It covers an area of 18 acres (45 hectares). From the castle and surrounds there are spectacular views across the whole of this amazing city.
A brief history of the castle …..
Although the history of the castle dates back to the ninth century, it didn’t always look as it does today. The first construction (of which only ruins remain) was the Church of the Virgin Mary, built around the year 870.
A few decades later, St. Wenceslas and his father added two other religious buildings within the grounds: St. George’s Basilica and St. Vitus Cathedral, which has since become the final resting place of many Bohemian kings. St. George’s Basilica is perhaps best known for being the setting of many organ and classical music concerts.
Over the next few centuries, the complex grew at a speedy pace. Several structures, including a palace, were built in the 12th century and then renovated and expanded 200 years later. The castle itself was abandoned for many decades, even though the churches and forts around it were still in use. It wasn’t until 1485 that work started again; this led to the addition of fortification towers and the construction of Vladislav Hall.
After a massive fire in the mid-1500s, Prague Castle was restored again, only to be severely damaged during the Bohemian Revolt and succeeding battles – and then looted by the Swedes in 1648 as part of an ongoing war.
In 1918, the castle became the seat of the President of the Czech Republic. Modern presidents reside in the New Royal Palace, also located within the grounds and one of the few buildings not open to visitors.
Perhaps one of the darkest nights in Prague Castle’s history was the night of March 15, 1939. After occupying Prague, Adolf Hitler spent the night at the castle, proud of his new acquisition. Hitler left the city soon after, and SS General Reinhard Heydrich stayed behind in charge of the castle. In 1942, Heydrich was attacked and eventually died, as part of Operation Anthropoid.
For our visit, we had a limited amount of time so we decided to do the Cycle B tour which took in St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower. We had decided to get to the Castle early which turned out to be a great choice as we were able to walk straight up to the ticket desk and start our visit. An hour later we passed by the ticket office again and the queues to get in were well outside the door and snaking down the courtyard.
1. ST VITUS CATHEDRAL
Our first stop was to visit the imposing St Vitus Cathedral, which can be seen from almost everywhere within the castle compound. It is the most identifiable edifice of the castle when looking up from the city of Prague below.
This Cathedral has hosted coronations and burials of many Czech kings and Queens and is the final resting place of several saints, sovereigns and archbishops.
The cathedral is the third church on the site. Around 925 Prince Wenceslas founded a Romanesque rotunda which was later converted into a basilica. In 1344, Charles IV started the construction of a Gothic Cathedral which is in large part, with a few additions here and there, what we see today.
We entered the Cathedral through the portal in the western façade and were totally absorbed by the spectacular stained-glass windows. Not being particularly religious the symbology of the images on these windows are lost on me – but I could not help but be mesmerized by the beauty of the brightly coloured glass, even on what was an overcast day, as the light flooded into the cathedral’s nave. The windows were created by a number of renowned Czech artists of the early 20th Century. Among these designs, in the third chapel, is a window which is the work of the celebrated art nouveau artist, Alfons Mucha, depicting the lives of Sts Cyril and Methodius. This window was a particular favourite of ours.
2. THE BASILICA OF ST GEORGE
From the cathedral, we moved deeper into the castle complex passing through several more courtyards and visiting a dungeon at the base of one of the towers.
Despite many renovations and alterations over the centuries, the Basilica of St. George (Bazilika sv Jiri) – the oldest religious structure in the castle complex – has managed to retain its attractive Romanesque form.
While there’s been a church on this site since the early 10th century, the current structure with its twin towers dates to the mid-12th century, while its fine façade was added in the 17th century.
3. DALIBORKA TOWER & THE DUNGEONS
At the eastern end of the Golden Lane stands a round tower, shrouded in legend. Dating back to 1496, the tower, which served as a prison until 1781, is named after its first inmate – Dalibor of Kozojedy. In addition to the dungeon with its monumental vaults, there is a circular opening in the floor through which offenders were lowered into the oubliette with the help of a pulley. The Daliborka Tower is part of the Prague Castle guided tour.
4. GOLDEN LANE
Our next stop on our tour was the ever-popular Golden Lane, a picturesque street of colourful houses inside the grounds of the city’s castle. Today, there is a single row of houses but there were originally two lanes of houses across the street from one another. Built-in the 16th century, the houses originally served as dwellings for the castle guards.
Fast forward to the 19th century, and all the houses on one side of the street were demolished, leaving only the ones that are still seen today. At the time, the houses weren’t technically part of Prague Castle, so they served as homes for poorer individuals, who remained in the buildings until after World War II. After the war, the street was integrated into the castle and the houses repainted in the colours they are today, then converted into small shops and showrooms.
Some of the houses have been decorated with furniture, artefacts and items that represent different eras. There are goldsmiths’ work areas, small cinema rooms and even tiny bedrooms and living areas.
Golden Lane is often referred to as the ‘street of alchemists’. Despite the legend, however, the houses were never occupied by the king’s alchemists. Emperor Rudolf II of Austria (who eventually moved to live permanently in Prague) did have alchemists living in the castle, but they occupied rooms inside the main structure, rather than living in the tiny houses of Golden Lane. Rudolf’s alchemists did most of their work inside the Mihulka Tower, which sits on the northern side of the castle.
The name ‘Golden Lane’, however, is not completely arbitrary, as in the 17th century, the royal goldsmiths lived on the street.
At one point and another through history, Golden Lane has been home to a number of famous figures. Perhaps the best known is Prague native Franz Kafka, who lived in number 22, his sister’s home, for almost two years.
Amateur film historian Josef Kazda lived at number 12. Kazda is best remembered for saving thousands of films and documentaries from the Nazis during World War II. While the Nazis were destroying films and other national treasures, Kazda hid copies in his house – and even organised small screenings in secret – a big feat, considering how tiny the Golden Lane houses were, and still are.
Nobel Prize-winning writer and poet Jaroslav Seifert lived on Golden Lane in 1929, but his house was one of the ones that were demolished.
5. THE OLD ROYAL PALACE
The Old Royal Palace is one of the oldest parts of Prague Castle, dating from 1135. It was originally used only by Czech princesses, but from the 13th to the 16th centuries it was the king’s own palace. At its heart is the grand Vladislav Hall and the Bohemian Chancellery, a scene of the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618.
The Vladislav Hall (Vladislavský sál) is famous for its beautiful, late-Gothic vaulted ceiling (1493–1502) designed by Benedikt Rejt. Though around 500 years old, the flowing, interwoven lines of the vaults have an almost art nouveau feel, in contrast to the rectilinear form of the Renaissance windows. The vast hall was used for banquets, councils and coronations, and for indoor jousting tournaments – hence the Riders’ Staircase (Jezdecké schody) on the northern side, designed to admit a knight on horseback. All the presidents of the republic have been sworn in here.
A door in the hall’s southwestern corner leads to the former offices of the Bohemian Chancellery (České kanceláře). On 23 May 1618, in the second room, Protestant nobles rebelling against the Bohemian estates and the Habsburg emperor threw two of his councillors and their secretary out of the window. They survived, as their fall was broken by the dung-filled moat, but this Second Defenestration of Prague sparked off the Thirty Years’ War.
At the eastern end of the Vladislav Hall, a door to the right leads you to a terrace with great views of the city. To the right of the Riders’ Staircase, you’ll spot an unusual Renaissance doorway framed by twisted columns, which leads to the Diet (Sněmovna), or Assembly Hall, which displays another beautifully vaulted ceiling. To the left, a spiral staircase leads you to the New Land Rolls Room (Říšská dvorská kancelář), the old repository for land titles, where the walls are covered with the clerks’ coats of arms.
In summary …
- Get to the castle early to avoid the crowds
- There are a number of options for tours of the huge castle complex. It is worth researching and deciding what you want to see before arriving
- Don’t try and drive to the castle – parking is really hard. Walk, take a taxi or use public transport
- Plan on spending 3 plus hours in the castle – it is big!
Planning your visit to Prague Castle
|Summer Tourist Season (April 1 till October 31)||Winter Tourist Season (November 1 till March 31)|
|Prague Castle complex:||6.00 – 22.00||6.00 – 22.00|
|Historical buildings:||9.00 – 17.00||9.00 – 16.00|
|St. Vitus Cathedral:||Mo – Sa: 9.00 – 17.00; Su: 12.00 – 17.00||Mo – Sa: 9.00 – 16.00; Su: 12.00 – 16.00|
A number of the exhibits including Prague Castle Riding School, Imperial Stables, Theresian Wing, Royal Summer Palace), The Treasure of St Vitus Cathedral and the Castle Gardens open at 10:00 daily during the summer months. Prague Castle is closed on 24 December (except the cathedral)
There are a few different options for touring Prague Castle. If you have nothing to spare you can simply enjoy the place by walking the grounds for free. To explore the castle fully does require you to spend money – but it is relatively inexpensive compared to many of the tourist attractions around Europe. The tickets are valid for 2 days.
There are three main tour options, and then additional places you can decide to visit for an additional expense. If you do everything you can easily spend the whole day visiting the castle.
The three general tour options are:
Prague Castle – Circuit A
St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, exhibition “The Story of Prague Castle”, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower, Rosenberg Palace
Prague Castle – Circuit B
St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower
Prague Castle – Circuit C
Exhibition “The Treasure of St. Vitus Cathedral”, Prague Castle Picture Gallery
|Type of ticket||Full Admission||Discount *||Family admission*|
|Prague Castle – Circuit A||CZK 350||CZK 175||CZK 700|
|Prague Castle – Circuit B||CZK 250||CZK 125||CZK 500|
|Prague Castle – Circuit C||CZK 350||CZK 175||CZK 700|
|Exhibition The Story of Prague Castle||CZK 140||CZK 70||CZK 280|
|Prague Castle Picture Gallery||CZK 100||CZK 50||CZK 200|
|Powder Tower||CZK 70||CZK 40||CZK 140|
|Exhibition The Treasure of St. Vitus Cathedral||CZK 250||CZK 125||CZK 500|
|Great South Tower with a View Gallery||CZK 200||–||–|
*Discounts: youths aged 6 – 16, secondary school and university students in full-time study until 26,
seniors past 65 (inclusive)
** Family Admission: 1–5 children at the age of under 16 with max. 2 adults
There are guided tours available, for an extra fee, in many languages or if you prefer you can opt for an audio guide which lasts for about 3 hours. The price for the audio guide is 350,- CZK/device per 3 hours.
Other useful information
As can you imagine things can get quite busy at the castle so I recommend getting there early as possible, especially in the summer months.
When entering the Prague Castle complex, visitors are subject to security checks.
There is a ceremonial Changing of the Guard, including a fanfare and the flag ceremony daily at 12.00 in the first courtyard. In between time, the guards change at the Castle gates on the hour from 9.00 to 18.00
Photographing of Interiors is allowed only without flash or a tripod and is prohibited in some exhibitions including The Story of Prague Castle, The Treasure of St Vitus Cathedral and in Prague Castle Picture Gallery.
The best way to reach the Castle is undoubtedly walking there, but as you will have worked out by now this means going uphill! The easiest way is to go from Old Town square over the Charles Bridge. On the side of Lesser Town pass by St. Nicholas church and go up Nerudova Street, which will bring you to the main gate of Prague castle at the first courtyard. The second route takes you from the Charles Bridge to the Malostranská tram stop to the Old castle steps.
You could alternatively take a taxi or be more cost-conscious and jump on a tram; numbers 22 and 23 will take you to a stop close to the castle.
Probably the least preferable choice is to drive as parking spaces around the castle are extremely limited.
Best time to visit the Czech Republic
Peak tourist season in the Czech Republic coincides with the summer months when temperatures are pleasantly warm and humid with occasional thunderstorms. Between May and September the Czech Republic is at its busiest with major festivals held at this time to benefit from the good weather.
The early spring months of March and April can be unpredictable when it comes to the weather. The winter snows are beginning to melt and temperatures begin to rise above freezing but it can still be quite chilly with strong winds. The autumn months of October and November can be equally as unpredictable with temperatures starting to drop although the countryside comes alive with colour.
Winters in the Czech Republic are cold, cloudy, icy and wet with freezing temperatures. It’s still possible to visit most of the country’s monuments though opening hours are reduced.
Vegan dining ideas
1. VEGAN’S PRAGUE
Vegan’s Prague is found in a 16th-century building near Prague Castle on Nerudova street. It is a narrow building with the restaurant located on the first and second floors (second and third floors for my American friends), which are accessed with a steep and winding staircase. There is no elevator so disabled access is almost impossible.
Our favourite areas in the restaurant were the top floor, with its sloping roof, and from there the terrace which has a spectacular view across to Prague Castle.
The top floor room has exposed beams with simple furnishings and gets ample light from the numerous skylights that have been put into the roof.
The outdoor terrace is simply the best place to be. It is small and intimate, with only about four tables, so you will have to be lucky to get a table there.
Located close to the historic Old Town Square in Prague, Forkys is a vegan bistro with international recipes, serving breakfast until 11 am, then burgers, kebab, hot dogs, bowls, and a daily menu. This is a great place to grab a quick bite to eat, with great energy to boot. I loved the wall at the entrance that lists all the famous people who have been vegan, dating from ancient Rome to the present day.
Small takeaway health food bistro in the city centre since 2017. The menu is based raw vegan and cooked vegan cuisine. Serves lemonade, smoothies, milkshakes, raw spreads on sourdough, veggie wraps, summer rolls, salads, and raw desserts.
Where to stay
1. U PÁVA
For our stay in Prague, we wanted to stay close to the city centre as we planned to walk everywhere. After looking around on hotel booking websites I decided to book a room at U Páva – which means ‘At the Peacock’ in Czech. The hotel is ideally placed to explore the surrounding markets, museums and historic buildings of Mala Strana, but it’s also just a 15-minute stroll across the bridge to the Old Town. It is only a 10-minute walk to Prague Castle.
U Páva is an intimate four-star hotel, located right next to Charles bridge, offering 26 romantically inclined rooms in a historical building, parts of which date back to the late 15th century.
2. BOAT HOTEL MATYLDA
For something more unusual you should consider Boat Hotel Matylda.
Lying at anchor on the Vltava river in the centre of Prague, 0.6 miles from the Charles Bridge and a 10-minute stroll from the Charles Square
Standard double rooms are situated on the original Matylda boat. This boat also has a bar and the well-known restaurant with a summer terrace serving Italian cuisine. The other rooms are to be found on the newer Klotylda boat.
Each of the cabins on the two boats features an elegant interior design with hardwood floors. Some have their own private balcony and dark leather armchairs.
The Boat Hotel is situated in the vicinity of the famous Dancing House, right next to the tram stop Jiraskovo namesti and 1,000 feet away from Karlovo namesti metro station.
3. CHARLES BRIDGE HOSTEL & APARTMENTS
For the more budget-conscious the Charles Bridge Hostel and Apartments is a good option
Charles Bridge Economic Hostel is a small boutique guesthouse located in the very heart of the historic centre of Prague, right at the Charles Bridge. All important sights are within walking distance of the property. The building comes from the 14th century and belongs to protected cultural heritage.
Rooms and dorms are fully furnished and have been recently remodelled. A kitchen is located on all floors and inside all private rooms. Bedsheets, linen, towels and toiletries are provided free of charge.
Charles Bridge Economic Hostel provides free tours daily at 6 pm, as well as a free Ghost Tour. Luggage storage is available for free. The laundry facility and dryer is available for an extra fee.