Prague has been known as the "city of a thousand spires" for good reason: as you glance over its 1,100-year-old skyline, you'll be rewarded with splendid views of lovely domed churches and soaring old towers that combine to make Prague one of the world's architectural gems. Everywhere you look, fine examples of Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, and Art Nouveau styles dot the city, providing a dramatic contrast to the sturdy old Prague Castle.Possessing one of the best-preserved historic city centers in Europe, the narrow laneways of Prague's delightful Old Town open up onto spectacular squares, each home to well-preserved historical buildings just waiting to be explored. Must-sees include the famous Charles Bridge over the Vltava River, the splendid Jewish Quarter with its old synagogues, and, of course, the city's many historic churches.
1. Prague Castle
Located in Prague's Hradcany neighborhood, Prague Castle (Pražský hrad), once the home of Bohemia's kings, is today the official residence of the Czech Republic's President and one of the city's most visited tourist attractions. Originally built as a walled fortress around AD 870, the castle has changed dramatically over the years and contains examples of most of the leading architectural styles of the last millennium. Within the castle walls are a number of Prague's most popular tourist sites, including St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George's Basilica, the Powder Tower, the Old Royal Palace, and the Golden Lane.The largest castle complex in the world, this vast fortress requires considerable time to tour, but it's time well spent (particularly rewarding are the excellent views over the Vltava River with the old town and its many beautiful spires in the background). Highlights include the Old Royal Palace's main hall, the Vladislav Hall, so large it could be used for jousting tournaments, and staircases wide enough to allow mounted knights to use them. Be sure to also spend time in the Royal Garden, dating back to 1534 and home to a number of superb old buildings, including the Ball Game Pavilion, the Royal Summer House with its Singing Fountain, and the Lion's Cour
2. Charles Bridge
One of the most recognizable old bridges in Europe, magnificent Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) boasts 32 unique points of interest along its 621-meter span. Built in 1357, the bridge has long been the subject of a great deal of superstition, including the builders having laid the initial bridge stone on the 9th of July at exactly 5:31am, a precise set of numbers (135797531) believed to give the structure additional strength. For added good measure, it was constructed in perfect alignment with the tomb of St. Vitus and the setting sun on the equinox.
3. Wenceslas Square
A highlight of Prague's New Town (Nové Mesto) district—an area that grew out of the city's need to expand as it prospered—is the wonderful Wenceslas Square (Václavské námestí), home to the National Museum and numerous other architectural treasures. Named after the patron saint of Bohemia, whose statue can be seen here, Wenceslas Square was created in the 14th century during the reign of Charles IV as a horse market and has since become one of the city's most important public spaces, still used for demonstrations and celebrations alike.
4. The National Museum
Fresh from a seven-year-long renovation, the National Museum (Národní Muzeum) in Prague is spread across a number of locations and houses numerous important collections representing a variety of fields, with literally millions of items covering mineralogy, zoology, anthropology, and archaeology, as well as the arts and music. The entomology collection alone numbers more than five million specimens. The oldest museum in the Czech Republic, it was established in the early 1800s before moving to its current location in 1891.
5. The Clementinum and the National Library
The Clementinum (Klementinum), one of the largest collections of historic buildings in Europe, is home to the National Library of the Czech Republic. These beautiful Baroque buildings were originally part of a Jesuit College, and later came to house the Jesuit book collection, as well as the collection from the Karolinum. The library eventually became the property of the state after the Jesuits were expelled, and the Clementinum became a public library in 1782 shortly after being constituted as the National Library.
6. The Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock
The historic center of Prague, the Old Town (Staré Mesto) is where you'll find the splendid Old Town Square (Staromestské námestí), one of the best places to begin exploring the city. Here, you'll find the Tyn Church and the Clementinum, along with numerous other fine old churches, as well as splendid old architecture dating back as far as the 11th century, while the Jewish Quarter, Josefov, is just a short walk north.
7. St. Vitus Cathedral
Situated within the grounds of Prague Castle, the Roman Catholic St. Vitus Cathedral (Katedrala St. Vita) is the Czech Republic's largest and most important Christian church. Seat of the Archbishop of Prague, it's also home to the tombs of numerous saints and three Bohemian kings. Founded on the site of a Romanesque rotunda built in AD 925, the cathedral was started in 1344 and took more than 525 years to complete, resulting in a mix of modern Neo-Gothic and 14th-century Gothic styles, along with Baroque and Renaissance influences (be sure to keep an eye out for the impressive gargoyles adorning the exterior of the cathedral).
8. The Church of Our Lady before Týn
One of Prague's most recognizable buildings is the Church of Our Lady before Týn (Kostel Matky Boží pred Týnem), often abbreviated to simply Týn Church. Unmistakable for its twin 80-meter-tall spires flanking each side of the building (each supporting four smaller spires), its main entrance is through a narrow passage past the houses obscuring its façade.