Prague remains one of my favorite cities I’ve ever visited. The city’s vibe, architecture, history, food, and people captured my imagination in a way only a few others have. Maybe Istanbul and Lisbon, and that’s about it!
I spent a day in Prague probably…9 years ago? (So these pics are OLD, and yet still pretty awesome.) And I’ve been obsessed with the idea of returning ever since. In fact, it made my list of 10 places I’m dying to visit in 2018, the only return place on the list. So if you’re wondering what to do in Prague with just 24 hours, I’ve got just the thing for you!
Like many cities, you can accomplish a ton in just a day, so here are 9 things to do with a day in Prague!
#1 – Make an early start at St. Wenceslas Square
As a non-Christmas celebrator, this name makes me giggle because it makes me think of this Love Actually scene (go ahead and watch, I’ll wait…). Which *also* makes me giggle every time I see it because of Hugh Grant’s face when the other guy starts singing.
But I digress…the square is really more of a big, broad boulevard rather than a traditional square. It’s named after the patron saint of Bohemia, and has witnessed many major historical events for the Czech people in the last few hundred years in particular. From revolution, to the creation of the new Czech Republic, to the announcement of the fall of Communism, St. Wenceslas Square is where the Prague people gather. At one end is the imposing National Museum and statue of St. Wenceslas himself (he of Christmas carol fame).
The square/boulevard is lined by bright buildings, shops, and cafes. As you walk down, make sure to take note of a couple historical details. There’s a small memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc, students and anti-Communist rebels killed in a police attack during student demonstrations against Communism in 1989.
#2 – Head over to the Old Town Square
Continue on from St. Wenceslas Square and you’ll eventually hit Old Town Square, which is incredibly charming. There are a few major things to see here, in addition to just soaking up the atmosphere. Bonus points for visiting around Christmas and Easter, when there are amazing markets that would make the medieval folks jealous.
First, the super pointy Gothic roof of Tyn Cathedral (a.k.a. The Gothic Church of Our Lady of Tyn, which is a way cooler name if you ask me) jumps out at you. You can also see St. Nicholas Church on a different side of the square, a very different architectural style.
Then you have Prague Orloj, the famous astronomical clock on the tower of the Old Town Hall. Installed in 1410, this is the third-oldest in the world, but the oldest one that is still functioning, so it draws huge crowds ever hour when it chimes and all the little pieces move and parade. [2018 note, it’s currently undergoing renovations but should be back in business by October 2018] You can read more about what makes astronomical clocks so amazing here, and if you’re visiting to watch the clock chime, keep an eye and a hand on your belongings, as that kind of crowd is a haven for pickpockets.
Standing at the other end of the square is a large statue of Jan Hus (yahn hoos), one of the most important figures in Czech history. Something that many people don’t know is that the Czech people were at the forefront of the Reformation.
Jan Hus was an early teacher of Reformist doctrines in the early 1400s, with many followers in Prague—to the point that the Pope denounced the whole city. He was eventually burned at the stake by the Catholic church for heresy in 1415, leading to a Protestant rebellion called the Hussite Wars (eventually defeated by conflicts between the rebels themselves).
There are also 27 white crosses embedded in the pavement right in front of the town hall, a memorial to martyrs beheaded by the Hapsburgs.
#3 – Soak up the ambiance at Charles Bridge
Just a short walk from the Old Town Square is perhaps the most iconic Prague landmark, Charles Bridge. Crossing the Vltava River and connecting Old Town and Lesser Town (rude!), construction on the bridge started in 1357 and finished in 1402. One of my favorite random facts is that egg yolks were mixed into the mortar to strengthen the construction (!!!!).
I mean…I guess that worked out for them? I mean, it’s still there…
If time allows, I’d highly recommend trying to visit the bridge at an off-time as well, such as very early in the morning. The crowds on Charles Bridge can be fairy overwhelming, but you’ll pretty much have it to yourself at dawn. The view of Prague Cathedral is stunning on a beautiful day, and one of the things I find most fascinating is how crammed the bridge is with architectural and historical details.
All told, there are 30 saintly statues decorating the sides of the bridge—replicas, as the originals are in a museum for safekeeping. This gentleman (first pic below), St. John of Nepomuk, was a Czech martyr who was executed by being thrown over the side of the bridge, and he’s quite shiny from being rubbed constantly (said to bring good luck).
#4 – Prague Castle
Speaking of views, once you’ve crossed the Charles Bridge, hike on up to Prague Castle for some history, drama, and views. Home to Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, and several other buildings, this is an absolute must even on a short visit. Walk through the (very violent) gates and you’ll have a massive castle complex to explore.
St. Vitus Cathedral is pretty amazing…I’m a total sucker for this style of Gothic buttresses. It’s the largest and most important religious building in Prague, and hosts not only religious services but has been the home of many coronations over the centuries. Make sure to step inside to see, among other things, the very cool stained glass.
The area around the castle, due to being on a hill, is also chock-full o’ awesome views. You can see Charles Bridge down there and the Old Town Square just beyond that. Gives you a feel for how close together things are.
#5 – Lunch and a view at Strahov Monastery
Even further up the hill you’ve got the very cool Strahov Monastery. Our visit was over two half-days, so we did this the first day and the Castle the second, which was dumb. This will be easiest if you visit the castle first and then just head on up the way to the monastery.
Since we were coming here separately, I remember us riding the tram/metro but we couldn’t figure out for the life of us which stop was ours, or how to signal to make it stop…we ended up riding the train up and down the hill a couple times. Finally we gave up and got out and hiked up the hill on our own. I’m sure the locals were cracking up at our confusion.
Founded in 1140, the monastery complex has a famous library of medieval manuscripts, churches, various famous halls, frescoes, a gallery of paintings, and much more. However, I’d read the reviews here to see if it’s what you’re looking for…we didn’t pay to go inside, and opinions vary about whether it’s worth it.
What my mom and I enjoyed was the restaurant and brewery that’s a part of the monastery. It wasn’t crowded the day we went and we were STARVING, so sat down on the patio for some delicious food and (in my case) dark beer.
Also, the view does not suck. Similar to Prague Castle, there are all sorts of awesome viewpoints to look at various parts of the city from above. Despite it being a gloomy day when we visited, I loved all the red roofs and spiky landmarks.
#6 – Enjoy the food and beer!
I mean…look at that! The food in Eastern Europe in general is very much to my taste, and Prague’s cuisine was awesome.
I ate my bodyweight in palačinky, the Czech pancakes that are kind of crepe-like and usually topped with things like fruit, ice cream, and whipped cream (though can also have savory fillings). The one below had a plum or prune topping and I adored it. There are a lot of foods that are German- and Austrian-like as well (schnitzel-adjacent, potatoes, dumplings, etc.), but I liked Prague’s take on them a bit better. Since we were only there a short time, here’s a list of other Czech foods you have to try.
And of course, delicious beer, as the Czech Republic is known for its beer.
#7 – Drink in the colorful and intricate architecture
Rather like one of my other favorite cities, Lisbon, I totally loved Prague for its commitment to bright colors and intricate, fanciful details in the buildings. Like any old city, there are all manner of different styles, but you’ll see a lot of Gothic and Baroque, as well as Romanesque and Art Nouveau (and of course some Communist as well).
#8 – Take a walk through the Jewish Quarter
Located between Old Town Square and the river, Prague’s Jewish Quarter (Josefov) has a rich and (obviously) disturbing history. It dates back to the 13th century, when the Jews in Prague were required to leave their homes and relocate to a small area in the city. They were banned from living elsewhere in the city, and so the neighborhood (later known as the Jewish Ghetto) got more and more crowded over the centuries. Due to a number of factors (including the fact that Hitler decided to preserve it as a “Museum of an Extinct Race”), Prague’s Jewish Quarter escaped the worst of the war destruction and is the best-preserved in Europe.
As you wander the streets, you’ll be able to see six different synagogues, a number of historic buildings, and the statue celebrating writer Franz Kafka, who was born here.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Terezin concentration camp was on the outskirts of Prague, and you can take a memorial tour. I definitely would have done this to learn more about events during World War II if I’d known about it, so wanted to mention. You can learn more here.
#9 – Time permitting, a few extras
As I mentioned above, we really spent two half-days here, and so we ended our first evening a little on the outskirts. First, we took the funicular up to the top of Petrin Hill. But we couldn’t really see anything without paying more to go to the top of the tower (which looks like a small-scale Eiffel Tower), so this was kind of a womp womp.
But as we came down the hill around sunset we stumbled upon the Memorial to Victims of Communism Who Survived. I’d actually wanted to see that but when we’d looked for it earlier I couldn’t find it. So getting lost FTW! The memorial shows statues of men increasingly broken down and destroyed, and is very powerful. I highly recommend going to see it if you get the chance (and you can read a lot more about it here).
We ended up taking a long way back to the hotel, but we did swing by the famous Dancing House, sometimes affectionately called “Fred & Ginger” (apparently the locals don’t like this as much, but I’m a huge Fred & Ginger fan and so can’t help myself). I am so thoroughly charmed by this building, built in 1996, and it’s definitely worth a swing by if you’re in the area.
So we’ve achieved a lot in our 24 hours! Prague is amazing and you could spend a few days or a week there, but even just one day is worth your while. If it’s helpful, we stayed at Hotel Lunik, and were happy the experience.
Other 1-day city adventures you might like:
- A 24-Hour Immersion in Jerusalem
- A Guide to 2 Days in Dublin
- How To See The Best of Istanbul In A Day
- 10 Tips for 24 Hours In Lisbon
- A First-Timer’s Guide to Florence, Italy
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