Prague, known as “the golden city of a hundred spires,” is one of Europe’s best preserved cities. The art and architecture alone are enough to recommend it to Europe-bound clients. Travel Agent recently spent five days in the capital of the Czech Republic. Here’s the lowdown on our trip.
Most of the important sites are in the historic Old Town, settled in medieval times. The centerpiece of Old Town is the magnificent Charles Bridge, named after King Charles IV and built during his reign in the mid-14th century. Crossing the Vltava River to connect Old Town and the Prague Castle, the current bridge was constructed in 1870 and runs 2,037 feet long. Decorated with 30 magnificent Baroque-style statues, the Charles Bridge is the gateway to Prague, an inspiring introduction to the city.
The next day we took a tour of old Jewish Quarter, provided by Wittman Tours. The three-hour, in-depth experience traces the Jewish population back to almost 1,000 years. We visited the Spanish, Maisel, Pinkas and Klausen synagogues, which now serve as exhibition spaces for the Jewish Museum with historical artworks, artifacts and documents. The high point of the tour was the visit to the Jewish cemetery, where we viewed the ancient, decayed tombstones in a peaceful garden.
The Spanish Synagogue is part of the Jewish Museum in Prague’s old Jewish Quarter.
Alphonse Mucha is the most celebrated Czech artist and his art works are considered national treasures. Born in 1860, Mucha rose to fame when he moved to Paris and designed theater posters for actress Sarah Bernhardt. His decorative Art Nouveau style of depicting beautiful female goddesses became world famous and graced paintings, murals, posters, advertisements and book illustrations plus jewelry, carpets and wallpaper. Mucha moved to Prague to pursue more serious artworks and his most accomplished work was the Slav Epic, a series of 20 gigantic paintings, each measuring approximately 20 X 26 feet and illustrating the history of the Slavic people.
Some of the best examples of Mucha’s works are at the Mucha Museum and The Municipal House. The former is home to more than 100 exhibits of paintings, photographs, charcoal drawings, pastels and lithographs, as well as personal memorabilia. Mucha was among several prominent Czech artists of the day enlisted to decorate the interiors of The Municipal House in the early 20th century; he was commissioned to decorate the circular salon of the Lord Mayor’s Hall.
Prague is also an important European center for classical music and opera, with dozens of venues selling affordably priced tickets. We lucked out and scored two tickets to Don Giovanni and felt even luckier when we were told the opera house was the same one where Mozart premiered it in 1787.
Hotel U Svatého Jana is a neo-Baroque-style hotel in Prague’s New Town.
Other must-see attractions are Prague Castle, Strahov Monastery Library and the Old Town Hall. The latter, according to Prague City Tourism, is one of the city’s most popular sites with more than 638,000 tourists visiting during the first nine months of 2016.
Instead of staying in the commercial chain hotels in Old Town, we opted to stay in New Town, away from the crowds. Set in a quiet neighborhood, 10 minutes away by tram from Old Town, Hotel U Svatého Jana is a neo-Baroque-style hotel and the former priests’ quarters of the St. John of Nepomuk church next door. Even though it’s a three-star hotel, our accommodations were very comfortable with spacious rooms, excellent front desk service and a hearty buffet breakfast. We paid less than 100 euros a night. We also appreciated how inexpensive food (we never spent more than 25 euros per person for a meal), transportation and attractions were in Prague.
There are also many fine four- and five-star Czech properties in Prague, and if your clients prefer a more familiar name in accommodations, several top brands are represented here, including Barceló, Four Seasons, Hilton, ibis, Luxury Collection, Mandarin Oriental, Marriott and Radisson Blu.