Nov 05

Prague Castle and beyond – a quirky view

by in Blog trip, Culture, Europe, History

To visit to Prague in autumn is a real treat.  The city zings with colour, the thermometer has dipped from the heat of high summer and the chill of winter is yet to arrive.   Looking down from a gently sloping hillside, tall trees show off a melange of rich shades that would make Joseph’s coat of many colours look pastel by contrast. The misty early morning fog hints of damp leaves and the snow to come. From beer halls the smell of gently simmering goulash melds with a yeasty, lagery brew that entices visitors off the busy streets to savour hearty Czech cuisine with its proliferation of dumplings of every kind.

Misty Prague

  Prague Castle, a glorious mish-mash of buildings from many centuries of regal development,  oversees the city from its vantage point above the Vltava River.  When I visited it just happened to be about the busiest day in the castle’s 1,000 year history! It had been closed for 3 days as there were various events to celebrate Czech Independence day (October 28th) so the world and his wife who’d come for the weekend, were all trying to get in at the same time.  Fortunately our guide Martina was able to use her contacts to get us into the Old Royal Palace via the back door.  And, in spite of the crowds, it was possible to imagine the old kings of Bohemia entertaining their guests with tournaments on horse-back in the enormous medieval Hall.  Nearby is the 3rd floor window where the famous Defenestration of Prague took place – the very lucky Catholic Regents managed to land on a pile of manure and escape unharmed.

Golden Lane

Our Castle tour included the newly restored Golden Lane.  The name supposedly came from the city goldsmiths who lived there; Prague’s most famous literary son, Franz Kafka stayed with his sister at Number 22.  The Lane has lost some of its simple charm as the eager visitors crowd into the chic shops and the carefully preserved cottages no longer give any real feeling of the hovels that used to house castle workers.

Mucha window

Unmissable in every sense of the word is imposing St Vitus Cathedral, surely one of the world’s longest building projects, having been started in the 14th century and finished in 1929.  Again there were huge queues to get in (highly recommend NOT visiting on a Sunday as it is closed for morning service and gets VERY busy afterwards) but the gorgeously illuminated stained glass windows could still be seen in all their glory.  However, one of the loveliest windows, the Slavic saints by famous Czech Art Nouveau artist Alfons Mucha, is actually painted not glass.

Strahov Library

A short walk away is the Strahov Monastery, home to the Premonstratensians, an order of ‘canons regular’ founded in 1120 by St Norbert.  It has a huge collection of rare books, including exquisite miniature illuminated manuscripts, but it is the two lovely libraries that bring visitors from all over the globe – and there a lot of globes there too …  A quirky must-see is a really weird-looking black creature which turns out to be some wag’s idea of what a dodo might have looked like.

Opposite the Monastery is a small micro brewery, Klasterni Pivovar Strahov, run by a very passionate Czech who gave us a tour and explained how the monks originally brewed here from the 14th century and how proud they are to be continuing this tradition.  We had an excellent meal – even the dumplings were divine (I’m not usually a huge fan) and I can highly recommend the Emperor beer …

Klasterni Pivovar beer & meal

Our final group outing was to Konopiste Castle, less than an hour’s drive from the city. It’s a fascinating Baroque chateau with a strong hunting theme. Its most famous owner was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assasination stated WWII. Find out more about our visit to Konopiste Castle here.

We stayed at the Majestic Plaza Hotel which is situated just off central Wenceslas Square and, according to the journalists, has a very good nightclub. Many thanks to bmibaby and Czech Tourism for organising a really enjoyable break and a special thank-you to Rosie for hosting the trip.

For more things to see and do on a break in Prague read here.

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16 Responses to “Prague Castle and beyond – a quirky view”

  1. From Claire:

    Going in December, can’t wait it looks amazing!

    Posted on November 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm #
  2. From Barry:

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Zoe. It reaffirms why I must get to Prague one day. The history, the archtecture, the culture. I also crave seeing the grottos, something that would appeal to a dark horse like me. And the microbrewery has definately got a potential customer.

    Posted on November 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm #
  3. From Zoë Dawes:

    Sure you will love it Claire 🙂 The architecture is so varied and there’s a great vibe to the city. Check out the Black Theatre //www.thequirkytraveller.com/2011/05/prague-top-black-theatres-shows if you get time.

    Posted on November 5, 2011 at 8:54 pm #
  4. From Zoë Dawes:

    You’d love the city Barry – it has so much to offer and because it is NOT in the euro is still relatively cheap!

    Posted on November 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm #
  5. From Cathy Sweeney:

    Love this post! I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be going there in December (not sure yet). Prague has been on my bucket list for ages. Thanks for the tips!

    Posted on November 5, 2011 at 8:57 pm #
  6. From Lynne Gray:

    You’ve done it again Zoë! Brilliant post and you’ve made it so magical, it has to go on the bucket list 🙂

    Posted on November 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm #
  7. From Zoë Dawes:

    Do hope you can get there Cathy – it truly is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. I first visited during Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 – here’s some more QT tips! //www.thequirkytraveller.com/2010/12/prague-5-quirky-things-to-do

    Posted on November 5, 2011 at 9:43 pm #
  8. From Zoë Dawes:

    Cheers Lynne – we had an excellent media trip and it was good fun travelling with the journalists and finding out more about their world. The trip was organised by bmibaby who’d laid on a really interesting weekend. Flying from East Midlands was a doddle. (So much less hassle than Manchester!) Highly recommend you make a trip there one day …

    Posted on November 6, 2011 at 3:24 pm #
  9. From Annie Weir:

    Hi Zoe. What a fab article and it brought back happy memories of my visit there in the year it split from Slovakia (1993?) I took a photo similar to your first one (orange rooves, bridge and river) and my mum copied it as an oil painting for my step-daughter who was living there at the time. You have made me want to go back. Thank you. Annie

    Posted on November 6, 2011 at 4:43 pm #
  10. From Zoë Dawes:

    What a lovely momento of the city Annie. I do hope you get to return soon Annie – it has probably changed quite a lot since you were there – mostly for the best I think 🙂

    Posted on November 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm #
  11. From Lucie:

    Hi Zoe,

    thanks for this good article! I just got back from Prague yesterday. The castle area is so nice, with all those old streets and painted houses! I also visited the Kafka Museum – as a fan I could not miss it – it costs about 6 euros but it is worth it for people who are interested in this author. If you don’t know anything about this books, then it may be boring.

    The communism museum is also very interesting. You can find it in the same building as a casino, which is a bit weird. The visit is short but interesting. Apparently there are something like 260 or 270 museums in Prague in total so a lot more to see!

    Posted on November 23, 2011 at 11:26 am #
  12. From Zoë Dawes:

    Sounds like you had a good time Lucie 🙂 The Communism Museum sounds – quirky. We didn’t get in to the Kafka Museum as it was closed, but thought the statues of the 2 guys having a wee was hilarious!! Guess we need to return to see at least a few more of those museums …

    Posted on November 23, 2011 at 11:36 am #

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