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Sometimes, you visit a place that weaves its way under your skin. Something that you see or experience leaves such a lasting impression on you, that it somehow puts a kink in your DNA. It moves you, teaches you, and you know that there will always be a file labeled xyz in your brain. Well a visit to the Jewish Quarter in Prague did this to me. It broke me down a little, then put me back together, but slightly differently than I was. Iv spoken before about how I feel travel helped shape the person that I am today in this post, Why I Feel Travel Can Be The Key To Growth and Wellbeing. This trip to Prague has just placed another layer. Let me tell you all the wonderful things Prague has to offer, and why Prague is the city that changed me a little.
Prague has so much to offer, and depending on the time of year you go, you can find the city not as crowded as you may expect. I spoke to you about the basics of our trip in this post, Your Guide To Prague in The Autumn – The practical stuff, so in this post I will be letting you know about the things you can do to make the most of a visit to this gorgeous city. Bursting with history and culture, everyday was a school day for us. Im not going to give you our full itinerary, but I will share with you the things I think are a must do in Prague.
I had read up on the Jewish Quarter before arriving in Prague, so I knew that it was an area had a torrid history. In the 13th century, Jewish people were made to leave their homes, and made to all settle and live in one area. Over the years, Jews expelled from various other countries were made to live in this area, as they were banned from living anywhere else in Prague. During Hitler’s occupation, he wanted the area preserved as a kind of “museum of an extinct race”. The Jewish Quarter has six synagogue’s and these (except the Old-New Synagogue, which requires an additional ticket) form part of the walking tour or entrance only tickets that you can pay to do. We chose to do the entrance only tickets, which cost £12 each, as we wanted to go around at our own pace. You can read more about the options, walking tours etc here. You can also do walking tours which are free, and you just pay a tip to the guide. We didnt do one ourself, but saw lots of them going around. Lots of options of the free tours throughout Prague can be found here.
We went into 4 of the six synagogue’s, and the Pinkas synagogue, built in the 1500’s, was my undoing. As soon as you walk in, the walls are covered, a floor to ceiling memorial, with names. These names, all 80,000 of them, were the names of the Jewish victims from the area, killed in Nazi occupation. That in itself was a shocking visual representation, but up on the first floor was where I lost all my composure. The upstairs concentrates on the fate of the Jewish children. There were photos of some of the children that were kept under house arrest in the area, before being taken off to the camps, and drawings that they had created. In an effort to try to keep a little bit of normality and fun for the children (that were not allowed out during the day, could only go out for one hour of a night time and were all expelled from school) the children were encouraged to draw. The drawings spoke a thousand words. Drawings of children being torn from parents. Drawings of children praying at the gates of freedom. Drawings of children crying with arms outstretched. It was harrowing. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling as I went from picture to picture, feeling like I owed these innocents my attention to their work. My heart was breaking for these lost souls, but I felt strongly that I owed it to them to learn their story. I felt devastated, but also in awe of the Jewish people’s resilience and determination to never be made to not feel pride in their heritage. If you are on a cultural visit to Prague, I urge you to include the Jewish Quarter in your itinerary.
The Old Jewish Cemetery;
As one of the oldest Jewish burial grounds in the world, this too is a must see. The final resting place of up to 12,000 jewish people, the graves were sometimes 10 people deep as space was so very limited. Used as a burial ground between 1439 and 1800, it was the only place that Jewish people were allowed to be buried. Although its subject is obviously not the most uplifting, I found it to be beautiful, peaceful and incredibly poignant. As one of the most important parts of the Prague Jewish history, a visit to the cemetery is another must.
You cannot come to Prague without walking across the famous Charles Bridge. The gothic bridge straddles the River Vltava, and separates the Old Town of Prague, and the Lesser Town (Mala Strana). The bridge, built in the 1300’s, is iconic as the 30 statues that were added in the 17th century are all stunning and significant. Some are even meant to bring you luck if you rub them, and you will see some of the statue’s rubbed to a shine where so many people have a rub, hoping for a slice of the luck. There is also a tower at either end of the bridge, which you can pay to climb up and see the City from another viewpoint. I adored the bridge. We even got up at 6am one morning to go and see the City wake up from the bridge. It was so calm and peaceful and I think I fell a little in love with Prague that day.
Mala Strana is where you walk through to gain access to Prague Castle. This beautiful building, visible from almost anywhere in Prague town even on a misty, grey day, also has the breathtaking St Vitus cathedral at its heart. There are various options for touring the castle, depending on what you want access to. There are also a few options available including guides. We went for the ticket that allowed us access to everything, and it cost around £12 each.
The origins of the castle date back to 880, with various additions in the 10th and 14th centuries. It is said to be the largest castle complex in the world, and it is HUGE. It used to be the residence of Kings and Emperors, but since the 1900’s was used for presidents, before then becoming a cultural monument of Prague in 1962. The castle grounds is also where you will find St Vitus cathedral, and the well known Golden Lane. If you make the trip to the castle, I would advise going early to beat the queues. We went to the castle on the day that we got up for sunrise. A walk across Charles Bridge, then up the hill to the castle will take you maybe half hour. The hill is pretty steep, but you can stop half way for a cuppa, like we did…….
St Vitus cathedral;
I think I will always remember the moment I walked into St Vitus. It. Is. Stunning. Breathtakingly stunning. You know I am a fan of architecture if you have been with me for a little while, and this was everything! This gothic church is the most important church in the whole country, as its grandeur and detail hints at. It contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings and holy Roman Emperors. Visually, the outside of the cathedral is beautiful, interesting and almost princess like. Inside, it has so much going on within it that I would be here until next month telling you all the details. It is an absolute must to go to if you are in Prague. Again, going early should mean that you are not over whelmed with crowds. Visit the cathedral first before continuing round the castle as it gets very busy as the days goes on. To fully enjoy the interior I would allow at least an hour.
The tiny houses on Golden Lane were built to house the servants and defenders of the castle. The houses were occupied right up until WWII, and famous writers have been known to live there, hoping to spark creativeness and inspiration. The 16th century homes all have a story to tell and I loved looking into each one. The houses are all numbered, and some of the residents were a fortune teller, Madame de Thebes in number 14, (arrested by the German Secret Police and killed during interrogation) a Red Musket solider in number 13, house number 12 had a basement area that was used as a prison, and one of the first houses in the lane was inhabited by an “alchemist” that was commissioned to make an elixir of youth! I loved walking down the lane, and the tiny houses gave a great insight into how the people of earlier centuries lived.
Walking across Charles Bridge is obviously free, but there a a few other things that wont hit the pocket, but are worth doing. Just walking around the streets looking at the architecture made me happy! There is so much detail in the buildings! You also have some hidden artist’s work arund the city. Look up as you walk around!
Mala Strana is the part of Prague at the other end of Charles Bridge. Known as “Lesser Town” Nik and I really liked it over this side. It was a lot calmer, and it felt very quaint and traditional. It also is where you will find the ever changing Lennon Wall, the Infant Jesus of Prague and the river bank where all the rivers swans congregate. I was making friends as you can imagine. (Snow White, thats me, with my animal friends)
The Lennon Wall is a wall that is a tribute to the late John Lennon, and was started after his murder. People come to the wall to pay their respects and it is covered with drawings, song lyrics, tributes and fantastic graffiti. It is ever changing as layers of drawings and painting are on top of each other.
You also have the church of Our Lady Victorious that houses the famous Infant Jesus. This 16th century statue attracts people that make the pilgrimage to see it and pray with it, from all over the world. We were slightly in awe of it as it really feels like it has a presence.
Another trip we made while in Mala Strana was to the Strahov Monastery, which is still a serving monastery and resided in by monks. The monastery is absolutely beautiful, the grand room and library especially, and home to a fantastic selection of religious art and artefacts. The art has a lot of history behind it. Much of the art is slowly being clawed back by the monastery, as the collection was stolen from them over the years, by several countries and leaders. The monastery has about 3/4 of its collection back now. The historic garments on display blew me away with the work that must have gone into them. Just beautiful. You will also be able to try some amazing blueberry larger here. Brewed on the premises, by the monks, I could have happily stayed all day supping that. its blueberry, a super fruit, got to be good for you hasn’t it???
Old Town Square;
This is where Nik and I spent a lot of our time, and it is gorgeous. Home to the Astronomical Clock, you will see crowds gathering at the foot of the clock around every turn of the hour. This is because when the clock chimes the hour, the clock puts on a mechanical display that in the middle ages, was considered one of the wonders of the world. I must admit to being a little underwhelmed by the performance, but the 600 year old clock itself is a work of art.
You also have the beautiful, fairy tale Church of our Lady before Tyn in the Old square. This church is another beauty, and again, famous in any photo you see of Prague. Another gothic building, the church was started in the 14th century, but not finished until the 16th. It is beautiful and it was my husbands favourite landmark in Prague. If you want to go inside the church, have a look at the opening hours fairly early on in your trip as the hours its open are quite random. It is beautiful though, so worth a look inside.
I literally could go on all day about things to do in Prague, but I am sure if you are still here, you are in need of a cuppa or something. I think I could visit Prague again, for the same amount of time, and still not get to do all the things that I would like to. That is the thing with a mini break isn’t it, so little time but so, so much to do! We had an amazing trip, and honestly think if you are thinking of going to Prague, all the things I have mentioned should be somehow popped onto your list.
So, thats it. My sum up of the fabulous things to do in Prague. I came home from Prague a little different. I feel an overwhelming desire to learn more about the Jewish people, and why they have been so persecuted throughout the years. I want to learn more of their customs and religion. I feel that visiting Prague reminded me to aways show tolerance, kindness and love to everyone. I left Prague a better person, and as the saying goes,
“travel is the only thing that you can spend money on that makes you richer”.
Never have I felt that more keenly. How about you, have you experienced something that you felt changed you a little? Have you visited any of these places in Prague? Is Prague on your wish list to visit? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.