Unlike many of its neighbors, the Czech Republic hasn’t adopted the euro and still uses its native koruna (Czech for “crown”) as it has since 1993.
In the Czech language, female last names traditionally take on the gendered ending “a” or ova.” For example, famous tennis player Martina Navratilova took her last name from her stepfather, Milos Navratil. Czechs are so accustomed to this linguistic rule that they often apply it to foreign names, which is why visitors might see books by J.K. Rowlingova, or a movie starring Audrey Hepburnova.
This fortress looks down on the city from the hill where it has stood in one form or another since the ninth century. Viewed from a distance, it’s easy to mistake the towering St. Vitus Cathedral for the entire castle, but it’s actually the centerpiece of a much larger complex.
After a modest hike up the hill, visitors can watch the hourly changing of the guard before entering a series of courtyards that lead to St. Vitus Cathedral. This Gothic skyscraper took 600 years to build, finishing in 1929. Inside, members will find the tombs of St. Vitus (patron saint of Bohemia, actors, and dancers, among other things) and Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. Outside, members should tour the Old Royal Palace, which once hosted indoor jousting.
Named for King Charles IV, the Charles Bridge has spanned the Vltava since 1357. It connects Old Town with the Lesser Quarter, which makes it extremely easy to visit—members can cross it while walking from Prague Castle to Old Town, or vice versa. Those who have more time to spend on the bridge can also visit one or both of the towers at each end.
The bridge provides stunning views of the city and the river, but its 30 bronze sculptures are the real highlight, with each telling a story. For example, one depicts the martyr St. John of Nepomuk with a star-spangled halo. Legend holds that the saint was thrown from the bridge to his death after refusing to reveal secrets to the king; his tomb is one of many that can be seen inside St. Vitus Cathedral.
Members interested in more recent history should visit Wenceslas Square in the appropriately named New Town quarter, southeast of Old Town. Important events in Czech history have frequently touched the square, culminating with mass demonstrations there during the Velvet Revolution that led to the fall of the Communist government in 1989.
The square is much longer than it is wide, sloping upward toward a massive bronze statue of St. Wenceslas that has long been, and still is, a rallying place for protestors of all stripes. The square is also bordered on this end by the National Museum, which is worth visiting for its beautiful interior alone, not to mention the tens of thousands of artistic, historical, and scientific items on display.
Prague’s Jewish Quarter was once home to the city’s Jewish population, which wasn’t allowed to live outside its walls until the 18th century. Though the old ghetto’s housing has since been replaced, most of the community’s important buildings have survived. That includes:
Other highlights include the High Synagogue, Spanish Synagogue, Maisel Synagogue, and Franz Kafka’s birthplace.
Prague is where author Franz Kafka was born, spent most of his life, and was buried. That makes it easy to trace his life, starting with his birthplace at the intersection of Kaprova and Maiselova streets. Though the house is gone, a sculpture commemorates the spot at what is now called Franz Kafka Square. In Josefov, a statue of the author riding atop an empty suit stands outside the Spanish Synagogue.
From there, visitors can cross the Charles Bridge and visit the small Franz Kafka Museum, before heading to Prague Castle. At the castle’s northeast end is the medieval Golden Lane, a row of colorful houses where Kafka rented No. 22 between 1916 and 1917. To complete the span of Kafka’s life, visitors can take the Metro to the New Jewish Cemetery in the Vinohrady district to see Kafka’s final resting place.
Ready to explore Prague?
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To the American ear, the word “goulash” may bring to mind bland Eastern European fare ladled out of an enormous stock pot. That impression couldn’t be further from the truth: Goulash is a hearty and flavorful stew, with the most common Czech interpretation containing plenty of beef, onions, and spices.
It’s often served with a side of bread dumplings, another term that can be confusing for visitors. Rather than a dough pocket stuffed with a filling, bread dumplings are more like a baguette-shaped matzah ball cut into slices. These dumplings are a staple of Czech cuisine, and no visitor should leave without having them at least once.
Whether you’re looking for dessert after dinner, or just a snack while exploring during the day, there’s never a bad time to get a trdelník (pronounced “tur-DELL-neek”). This sugary pastry is traditionally made by wrapping dough around a cylinder and baking it above an open flame, which gives it its trademark coiled spring shape. Most trdelníks are coated with cinnamon, though some vendors offer additional toppings like chocolate and jelly.
Prague’s streets have plenty of trdelník vendors, so it’s not hard to find one when the mood strikes. For a more gourmet experience, many brick-and-mortar bakeries have their own take on the pastry as well.
Prague’s inner city is wonderfully walkable, but sometimes walking isn’t an option. Prague’s Metro is clean, fast, and reliable, with three lines that conveniently cross one another in Old Town. A few things to keep in mind:
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Source material provided by 2016 AAA Europe TravelBook. For more information, see the 2016 AAA Europe TravelBook published by AAA Publishing.
1“Top 100 City Destinations Ranking,” Euromonitor International, January 2016.
224/7 Member Care is provided by Allianz Global Assistance, AAA’s preferred travel insurance provider. 24/7 Member Care is not travel insurance.
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