Climbing to the Castle

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July 20th 2010
Published: August 2nd 2010
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Prague Castle

Day two saw us waking up rather early and absolutely exhausted. Feet hurting before we've even started for the day does not bode well when we'll be spending the whole day walking!

We managed to breakfast and get out of the hostel by ten and found our way to the metro. I will never understand why every country in Europe, apart from England, manages to have an incredibly simple and easy-to-use metro system.

And a ticket for unlimited public transport for the day (including all buses, trams, metro and the funicular railway) was a mere £4 - I love other countries sometimes!

Having given up on the idea of walking to Prague Castle (it looking far too far away despite the hostel owner's insistence that it could be walked in under an hour) and got the metro instead to the other side of the river. Even getting off at the castle metro stop we still found ourselves a good twenty minutes away from the castle.

Unfortunately that was a good twenty minutes up hill in the already scorchng sun so, pathetic as we are, we stopped at a cafe for a drink halfway up ostensibly for the view, in reality because we had realised that flip-flops were not the most sensible footwear choice.

Refreshed we carried on up the castle steps eventually at a (better) viewpoint and the castle gates with uniformed guards. The uniforms weren't half as bad as we had been expecting.

Apparently they were designed by the rather flamboyant costume designer who did the film 'Amadeus.' Still, I always feel sorry for guards when they have idiot tourists posing with them and testing their ability to stay still.

Through the gates we joined the multitude of tourists milling about the courtyards. Despite being called a castle, Prague Castle is actually more like a huge complex of buildings set around St. Vitus' Cathedral including a convent, basilica and the Old Palace.

We started in St. George's Basilica - one of the oldest religious foundations in Prague, dating back to 920 and housing the tomb of the basilica's founder Prince Vratislav.

Attached to the Basilica is the 10th century shrine of St.Ludmila - a Bohemian queen strangled by her jealous daughter-in-law whose bones are rather prominently on display in the chapel alongside rather beautiful Renaissance paintings.

Next stop was to St. Vitus Cathedral which, due to the fact that entry is free, seems to have a permenant queue halfway around it. The Cathedral is actually the only part of the 'castle' that looks castle-like.

Work started on the Gothic cathedral in 1344 but took nearly six centuries to complete. But even this was built on top of an 11th-century basilica containing the remains of several early Bohemian kings.

The queue went down over lunch so we decided to join the line. The most impressive thing in an otherwise rather dark and oppresive building was the amazing examples of stained glass.

We were quickly ushered around the cathedral and out another exit to make room for the next group so next we headed to the Old Palace. The 'castle' seems to have very little reasonn to it so we just headed from place to place.

The Old Royal Palace was once the seat of the Bohemian princes, founded in the 9th century and forms part of the very original core of Prague Castle.

Visitors enter throught the Vladislav Hall which once hosted the coronations, banquets and balls of the Bohemian princes.

Wall painting from inside St. George's Basilica
Even knights could enter with their horses via a specially constructed 'Rider's Staircase' with wide, low steps leading up from the courtyard. The Hall is now used for the election of the Czech President.

It also now houses replicas of the Czeh crown jewels - without a doubt the most hideously tacky things I have seen in my life! Probably stupendously expensive if the size of the jewels are anything to go by but looking more like something a five year old would make out of shiny paper!

The Ludwing Wing contains the offices of Czech Chancellery where the second Prague defenestration took place in 1618. Two Catholic Governors and their secretary were thrown out of the window. They survived thanks to a dung heap, even though some Catholics thought that it was angel’s intervention. A rather ignominious start to the Thirty Years' War!

We stopped for lunch (frequent food and drink being a prerequisite to being able to enjoy sight-seeing!) and then headed to St. George's Convent - the oldest convent in the Czech Republic, founded in 973 by Prince Boleslav II of Bohemia and his sister Mlada who became the first abbess of the convent.

The Abbess was always a member of the royal family and held the very prstigious position of being able to crown the Bohemian queen.

The convent was eventually abolished in 1782 and now houses the Czech Republic's collection of Bohemian Baroque art.

Golden Lane was sadly closed for rennovations so we decided to leave the Castle Gardens, as the weather wasn't looking wonderful, and continue down to St. Nicholas Church (stopping for ice-creams on the way.)

We skipped the church interior due to the queues and made our way to the 80 metre high church bell tower. This we got into free with the Prague Card so, despite having climbed up and down steps seemingly all day, we decided to go for it.

This involved stone steps giving way to increasingly rickety wooden ones prompting me to have a panic attack halfway up following my inability to work out how the (admittedly very creaky) wooden stairs were attached to the stone walls.

Finally arrived at the viewing platform (reassuringly solid stone) before heading even further up to the very top of the tower which, during the Soviet occupation, was used as a viewpoint to spy on Prague. At the very top was a tiny room for a Soviet lookout to live with 360degree panoramic over the area.

Once we'd exhausted ourselves climbing the church tower we continued down the hill to our final stop, the Charles Bridge.

We arrived at the bridge to find our Prague Cards gave us access to the Bridge Tower Museums as well. Never one to turn down a freebie we decided we'd make a quick stop only to find this involved yet more climbing - five storeys worth on wooden steps.

Quite a cool little museum though although the poor people dressed up in ridiculous guard outfits would agree!

Beautiful views over Charles Bridge although it was absolutely packed with people. You could climb right the way to the top and come out on the roof for yet another panoramic view of the city.

Petrin Hill

After a visit to the Charles Bridge we thought we might as well do all sights that involved panoramic shots of the city in one go and so headed off to find the tram to Petrin Hill. That we managed easily enough although we were omewhat confused by the tram that had no way of paying the driver, no conductor and no machine to put money in.

We got off slightly concerned that we'd just ridden the tram without paying until we realised the travel tickets we had bought that morning included the trams and local buses as well.

No-one seemed to be around checking people had tickets though so I can only assume the system works by levying VERY heavy fines on anyone who does get caught out by a spot check.

We took the funicular railway (also included on the travel card) to the very top of Petrin Hill (the walk up not looking too appealing this late in the day) and made our way through the beautiful Rose Garden to the Stefanik Observatory (yet another place free with the card.)

Petrin Hill was delightfully summed up in the guide book as the place 'where pagans once sacrificed to theeir gods and medieval monarch executed their enemies.' Fortunately it is now far more of a relaxing haven for viewing the city from above.

The Observatory is a small museum, not something we would pay to go in but a lovely addition when it's free!

The main attraction is the double refractor made by Zeiss in the main observation dome through which one can observe the stars, or, if daytime, the sun. Which is exactly what we did, with Venus thrown in for good measure.

Leaving the Observatory we headed for the Observation Tower, the thing that had been getting into our photos all day from other viewpoints.

I'm not sure who thought it would be a great idea to build and exact replica of the Eiffel Tower and stick it in the middle of Prague but it does look a little odd (not that the original is much more asthetically pleasing.)

We figured we might as well truly exhaust ourselves today so we trudged up the 299 steps to the top, 60 metres up. The view was certainly worth it as the sun was just beginning to set over the city giving it a glorious golden glow.

It was surprisingly quiet for high summer so we had a leisurely photo session from the top of the tower and then ambled down to have a rest in the rose gardens.

As we had the cards we figured we'd best make use of them so we also went to the Mirror Maze on Petrin Hill (yes, we are children!) Fortunately we weren't the only adults in there.

The Maze also hosted a giant mural depicting the Battle for Charles Bridge against the Swedes in 1648. Apparently the maze was originally part of the Prague Exhibition Grounds from 1891 - part miniature castle, part random children's entertainment!

We headed back down in the funicular and finally found out how the system works - there were guards doing spot checks for tickets at the foot of the hill. We ended up walking all the way back to the Charles Bridge as we couldn't find a tram stop and metro stops seem to few and far between in Prague.

After catching the end of the sunset at Charles Bridge we managed to stumble to the closest metro station (even then it was twenty minutes away) and finally collapsed in the hostel absolutely exhausted and certainly not ready for another day of foot-punishment tomorrow!

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


St. Nicholas ChurchSt. Nicholas Church
St. Nicholas Church

From Petrin Hill lookout

7th August 2010

Love the sunset photo on the bridge. The photos really would make anyone want to visit this city.

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