The Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) is the largest castle complex in the world and was the first European castle I ever visited during my first trip to the Czech Republic in 1995. The Prague Castle sits high on the hill overlooking the town and dominates the skyline. From everywhere in the city, you can look up and see the spires of St. Vitus Cathedral rising above the castle complex, joined by the much smaller St. George’s Basilica. By day, the stones stand muted, but by night they are illuminated and Prague takes on its magical charm.
The massive Prague Castle dates back to before the year 900. The complex has 4 churches, 4 palaces, over a dozen buildings, a half-dozen gardens and one vineyard, for good measure. We opted for the “short visit” tour, which still took us the better part of two hours to complete. Sites on our tour included St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, the Golden Lane and Daliborka Tower.
For us, the two highlights of the visit were the St. Vitus Cathedral and the more intimate St. George’s Basilica. St. Vitus Cathedral may very well be my favorite cathedral in all of Europe. It has beautiful Art Nouveau stained glass windows and an eclectic architectural style – from a simple carved wooden crucifix to the ornate, over-the-top tomb of St. John of Nepomuk made of over two tons of silver supported by angels (not so much our style).
In stark contrast to St. Vitus Cathedral, the smaller St. George’s Basilica is understated, with simpler construction and decoration than its neighbor, which may have something to do with the fact that it’s also a convent. In the warmer months, St. George’s hosts concerts, and we have to imagine this would be a great venue for them. (For more on concerts on Prague, see our post: Is a Concert in Prague Worth It?)
The buildings on the castle grounds aren’t just religious. Vladislav’s Hall in the Old Royal Palace was the site of coronations and important government events for hundreds of years. Today you can see the large petal pattern on the ceiling for ornamentation. Leaving Vladislav’s Hall, you descend the Rider’s Staircase – a ramp built to allow knights to enter the hall on horseback.
Just a few steps away is Golden Lane, a line of half-timbered houses with the kind of medieval construction that people think of when they think of Europe. It reminded us of buildings in Colmar or Dinan in France. Franz Kafka lived on this lane for a time, but it’s now packed with tourists and can be extremely crowded in the summer.
Visiting the Castle Complex
Cost for the Short Visit tour is Kč 250. There is also an optional audio guide, which features the longest descriptions known to mankind (Kč 500 deposit). Also, since we were there off-season, the only place to return the audio guide was back up at the main ticket office, resulting in a rather long hike back up. We found the descriptions in the Rick Steves guidebook to be sufficient and we would have skipped on the audio guide.
Photography – You can only take photos inside the Palace and other Castle Complex sites with payment of Kč 50 for a “photo license” – which is a total racket. We did buy the pass but were never once asked by a guard for it and we took photos in front of all the guards.