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In Prague, a passel of past beauty

Czech Republic city is steeped in architectural marvels from centuries past

Prague has been described as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, where storefronts meet cobblestone streets, merchants sell handmade goods and locals meet at street cafes and beer gardens for beloved Czech beer all under the watchful eye of Prague’s famous medieval towers.

Prague’s rich history begins in the 10th century, when it began to grow into a bustling stopping point for foreign trade. It is hard to find a comparable city that holds so many rich layers of history and architecture spanning the Middle Ages to the Renaissance to Baroque to Art Nouveau and more.

Central Prague is divided into five distinct districts: Old Town, New Town, Prague Castle, the Jewish Quarter and the Little Quarter. Visitors to Prague can easily navigate the central area by foot. Each turn opens a portal to history and a new architectural site at which to marvel.

One stroll along the Vltava River and it’s easy to see why the picturesque Charles Bridge has inspired so many artists and writers through the centuries.

Along the Charles Bridge, tourists stop for photos near 30 statues of saints spanning the length of the bridge flanked by artisans selling trinkets, jewelry, paintings and handcrafted items. Taking a dinner riverboat cruise or hopping on a boat tour just to sit on deck and drink Czech beer is a perfect way to take in the scenery of the artery of the city.

The Charles Bridge was the only bridge connecting the Old Town with the Little Quarter until 1741 and offers breathtaking views of Prague Castle majestically perched upon a hill. Commissioned in 1357 by Charles IV, the Charles Bridge is flanked by the Old Town Bridge Tower, one of Prague’s most recognizable and well-preserved Gothic towers in the city.

The Old Town Bridge Tower was built in the 14th century and offers spectacular views of the Little Quarter and Prague Castle. The city offers a ticket package to tour its towers, and the experience is well worth the money if you’re feeling adventurous. The tight spaces and small staircases can be overwhelming at times but the artifacts on display and different vantage points of Prague help illustrate the rich history of the city.

Visitors crossing the Charles Bridge into quaint Little Quarter can hike up the hill, passing small shops and churches along the way before reaching the grand Prague Castle. The castle has been in existence since the ninth century and has been transformed throughout the years with Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-classical styles to name a few. The office of the current president of the Czech Republic is housed here.

Although impressive, the castle facade and Royal Palace aren’t the most eye-catching structures inside the walls. St. Vitus’ Cathedral stands as a monument of a thousand years of history and houses the tomb of St. Wenceslas, Bohemia’s patron saint, encased in jewels and gold.

A short walk past the cathedral lies the Golden Lane, a row of tiny homes that were occupied by castle guards in the late 1500s and goldsmiths in the 17th century. The homes were continually occupied until the 1950s when the remaining occupants were moved and the houses were restored to their original condition.

Art lovers can visit the Picture Gallery of Prague Castle, St. George’s Covenant, the Sternberg Palace and the Lobkowicz Palace before leaving the Prague Castle.

Prague’s Old Town boasts one of the best preserved town squares in the world; little has changed throughout its history. Many famous church facades like the Church of Our Lady before Tyn and the Church of St. Nicholas flank the Old Town Hall including the Powder Gate dating back to the 11th century when it was one of 13 medieval entrances to the city. Markets and street food vendors are abundant in the area and sell anything from kolaches and pastries to sausages and traditional Czech food.

The most popular sight in the square is the 603-year-old Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Hall. The clock depicts the Earth and the movement of the sun and the moon through the zodiac ring. Each hour, a procession of 12 figurines depicting the 12 Apostles peer out one by one before the clock chimes. Take a trip to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower for gorgeous views of the square and vibrant street life.

Once you’ve taken in a tour of the clock and tower grab a beer at a street cafe nearby. Sure, it might be a tourist trap, but the views of the clock, the people watching and the amazing architecture surrounding you make it worth your while.

Czech people and their love of beer can be traced back to 993, when Benedictine monks brewed a batch. Beer drinking is serious in Moravia and Bohemia, and it’s widely known that Czechs consume more beer than any other country in the world. Those wanting an authentic beer hall and a true Bohemian experience must navigate their way through Prague’s alleyways and side streets to visit the city’s oldest brewery, U Fleku, said to have begun operations in 1499. Once inside, the warmth of a familial gathering (including a singer and accordion player) embraces as visitors are ushered in next to strangers.

U Fleku offers only one kind of beer — strong and dark — and it’s served by stout men and women carrying trays full of beer steins. Visitors should be ready to drink since patrons don’t technically order beer. A server makes the rounds and will immediately slosh one down each time a glass appears half-empty, leaving a penciled tally on a scrap of paper. Traditional Czech food like dumplings and sausage are available to help soak up the alcohol.

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