Travel is a big part of our early retirement plans, so I thought I would start a Friday morning summer series on a number of places that we have enjoyed visiting and would recommend.
We have good friends that are originally from the Czech Republic and they hosted us on our first overseas trip there about 12 years ago. It was a fantastic visit and really opened our eyes to Eastern Europe.
A few friends of ours are considering taking trips there for their first early retirement trip, so today I thought I would share five of our ‘must see’ highlights in Prague, in the Czech Republic (or Czechia – as people are starting to call it now).
The city of Prague is sometimes described as the “Paris of Eastern Europe”. Largely undamaged in World War II and practically mothballed by the USSR during the Cold War, the city is a Baroque wonder with amazing sites and history. The city is the political, cultural, and economic capital of the Czech Republic and with about 2 million people in the metro area, the 14th largest city in the European Union. Prague was founded as the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia, the home to several Holy Roman Emperors during the middle ages, controlled by the Hapsburg Monarchy, and later served as the capital of Czechoslovakia during WWII and the USSR-dominated Cold War era.
Here are FIVE of our favorite sights in Prague:
1. Prague Old Town Square & Astronomical Clock
This medieval square is the historic center of Prague and offers a mix of Gothic buildings from the 1400s, and newer Baroque buildings. Towering 80 meters above the square is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn – and the onion-domed St. Nicholas Church. Perhaps most noteworthy is the Old Town Hall, which features an astronomical clock that was first installed in 1410. It is the third oldest astronomical clock in the work and the oldest one still in operation.
The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still operating. The complicated gears of the clock are set in motion every hour when the doors open and small figures (including the grim reaper) move around with chimes to mark the time. In the evening, the 600 year old clock comes to life with a Disney-like video-mapping production.
2. Charles Bridge Crossing The Vltava River
The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, laid the first stone for this medieval bridge in 1357 on the 9th Day of July at 5:31 in the morning, creating the pattern 1-3-5-7-9-7-5-3-1 when the date is spelled out. It is a Gothic bridge, with towers at each end. The pedestrian-only walkway is lined with 30 statues and friezes, some worn shiny by good luck seekers.
3. Prague Castle & Cathedral of St. Vitus, Wenceslas, and Adalbert
St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and most important Roman Catholic church in the Czech Republic and stands in the middle of the Prague Castle complex. Built in the 1300s, It sits high a top the city, adjacent to the Czech Capitol and government buildings. It contains the medieval tombs of many Bohemian Kings and Holy Roman Emperors, along with the Czech Crown Jewels, which are only displayed to the public every 8 years. The most ornate and sacred place in the cathedral is the Chapel of St. Wenceslas, which houses relics of the ‘Good King’. Behind the cathedral is a colorful lane of small houses called “Golden Lane” that includes the house of the author Franz Kafka.
4. St. Wenceslas Square
Near the Old Town Square is St. Wenceslas Square – it is the city center of Prague and a key commercial district, cultural area, and the traditional site for public gatherings, celebrations, and demonstrations. It is here that the Czech people rose up – hundreds of thousands of them – and called for independence from the USSR during what became known as the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It is lined with hotels, offices, retail stores, and restaurants. The square is named for St. Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia and is part of the historic center of Prague, a UN World Heritage Site.
5. Karlstejn Castle
Founded in 1348, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV personally supervised the construction works and interior decoration of this medieval castle complex, designed to protect the crown jewels of Bohemia and religious relics. It is located high on a promontory, about 18 miles south of the center of Prague. There are many rooms and grand halls that can be toured at Karlstejn and extraordinary views of surrounding area and small town that lines the lane at the base of the castle. Kids will love the lofty stairs and ramparts that surround the castle!
In closing, Prague is a colorful city very rich in history and incredibly well-preserved. It rivals Western European cities for its exquisite beauty and is easy to get around in. These five sights are just the beginning … there are many exceptional museums, parks, and other attractions to visit in Prague.
If you haven’t yet been to this part of Europe, you could combine it in a trip to Munich, Berlin, Vienna, or Budapest. Including 2-3 nights in Prague would be a worthwhile stop on your FIRE travel list and sights you will not forget!
Image Credits: MrFireStation.com