Thursday, August 29, 2013

Top 11 places in Prague to visit for FREE!

Old Town Square Prague

Prague can easily compete as the most beautiful city in Europe, especially for those who have gone past the charm of Paris. For its Baroque, Gothic and art nouveau architecture, much more the colorful culture and history drawn from its former Bohemian glory, I should say a trip to Europe isn’t complete without a visit to the Czech capital. 

But like its European neighbors, a visit to Prague could entail costs. Sure, food and accommodations can be a tad cheaper compared to other European destinations, but being the tourist magnet that it has become, prices in Prague have somehow skyrocketed over time.

Budget travelers, however, need not spend a fortune just to enjoy this beautiful city. In fact, you can check out some if not most of Prague’s main attractions for FREE!

As what I did in Paris, Rome and Granada, I’ve joined free walking tours organized by Sandeman (my free walking tours of Rome and Granada, however, were organized by other groups). Like my experiences of free walking tours in Paris as I detailed in my entry, "Paris on Foot," that in Prague proved to be very informative and entertaining. It may have been a tiring three-hour walk, but as I’ve said before, it's better to bear the sore feet: buildings are mere concrete and paint if not for its rich history.

Here are some of the most popular sights in Prague that can be visited out without shedding a crown, in no particular order:

1. The Wenceslas Square
At first glance, Wenceslas Square looks like a long boulevard marked with the equestrian monument of St. Wenceslas (patron of Bohemia), flower beds in the middle, and retail shops on either side. But as you move farther from the National Museum going to the direction of the Old Town, you'll see a number of well-preserved, beautiful art nouveau buildings, counting among them the Wiehl House and Hotel Evropa, among many others.
art nouveau building
One of those cute art nouveau buildings at Wenceslas Square.

2. The Old Town Square
I should say the Old Town Square is the center of universe in Prague. It really used to be, with the Old Town Hall bearing the beautiful Prague Astronomical Clock located there. Other main attractions at the Old Town Square include the Gothic, fairy tale castle-like Church of Mother of God in front of Tyn and the Baroque St. Nicholas Church. If you happen to sit down at the benches located around the statue of Jan Hus -- a known religious who was burned at the stake in 1415 for heresy – bask at the elaborate and colorful art nouveau buildings around the square, the facades of which are decorated with paintings reminiscent of those in Germany. The rows of these buildings are a sight to behold!

Old Town Square, Prague
Old Town Square, Prague.

3. Church of Mother of God in front of Tyn
For an Asian like me, this church rises above rows and rows of art nouveau and Gothic buildings in the heart of Prague appear like a Disney fairy tale castle. Unlike other Catholic churches where patios are very welcoming, the main entrance to this church is concealed by a row of shops.

Church of Mother of God in front of Tyn, Prague Astronomical Clock
A view of the Church of Mother of God in front of Tyn from the Prague Astronomical Clock.

4. The Prague Astronomical Clock
The clock tower of Prague, known locally as Prazky Orloj, is one of the places and attractions in Prague that shouldn’t be missed. I highly suggest that you should see the clock strike 9 in the evening to see every piece of this clockwork in action! What’s there to see? Read my post about the Prague Astronomical Clock.

Prague Astronomical Clock
Prague Astronomical Clock.
5. The Dancing House
One of the most amazing structures that I’ve ever seen are those made by Frank Gehry. For the unconventional shapes and designs of Frank Gehry edifices, these architectural works have become tourist attractions by themselves, and the Dancing House in Prague is not an exception. Originally called Fred and Ginger as this resembles iconic dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Gehry designed this building in tandem with Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunic. It stands out in a neighborhood of Gothic and Baroque buildings for its – should I call it modern or post-modern? – design. I guess the cloudiness during my visit to Prague makes a night view of this building far better. This building is now used by several multinational companies.

Fred and George Dancing House Prague
The Dancing House at night.
6. Prague Castle
The Prague Castle is the seat of the government, the office of the kings of what was known as Bohemia, the Holy Roman Emperor, Czechoslovakia and now the Czech Republic. It is a conglomeration of practically all architectural styles. A trip to the castle would reveal not just the castle itself but also a gothic church (which reminds me of the Dom in Cologne) known as St. Vitus Cathedral, and other structures at the public portions of the castle grounds. I wasn’t able to enjoy this UNESCO World Heritage Site as I was pressed for time to see the other attractions around. It is possible to enter the castle. Check out the information HERE.

Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral
Not exactly my best photo of the castle grounds. Just wanna show you guys the nice painting at the facade of St. Vitus Cathedral, located at the grounds of the Prague Castle.

7. Sto. Nino de Praga
 Whether you are Catholic or not, a visit to the shrine of the Sto. Nino de Praga is a must. Sure, it’s just a statuette with historical importance associated with miracles. A visit to this place, however, is worth your time. Check out my entry HERE to find out why.

Santo Nino de Praga
Santo Nino de Praga.

 8. Charles Bridge
 The Charles Bridge is also one of the must-see attractions of Prague. Connecting the Prague Castle and the Old Town through the Vlatva River, the stone bridge is lined by 30 baroque-style sculptures, the most popular of which is probably the one that bears St. John of Nepomuk’s cross, where visitors make a wish! The bridge is supported by three tower bridges. Notice the details of the tower bridge on the Old Town side! Be forewarned, though, that Charles Bridge is always teeming with tourists. Try to come early if you want the bridge all to yourself.

Tower Bridge, Charles Bridge, Lesser Town, Prague
The tower bridge at the Charles Bridge leading to the Lesser Town.
9. Estates Theatre
Known to Czechs as Stavovské divadlo, the Estates Theatre’s claim to fame is its being the only surviving venue where musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has performed. Mozart was said to have performed a world premier of one of his operatic works here. From outside, it’s free. But if you happen to watch a performance inside, bask at the beauty of its interiors! Outside is a statue made to remember Mozart.
Estates Theatre, Prague
The Estates Theatre, or you may just call this the "Mozart Theatre."
10. The House of the Black Madonna
This place, also within the Old Town, is said to be the first ever structure designed in cubist school of art. But what fancies me here is the statue of the Black Madonna hung at the gable. Time was when people couldn’t read or write, and so they used images or statues like the Black Madonna as street markers, so our guide said. Interesting, isn’t it? Entrance to the museum inside the House isn't free. I'm guessing the coffee shop at this house isn't cheap, but I guess a good story to tell your grand kids would be, "Granny just had coffee at the first cubist building in the world."

House of the Black Madonna, Prague
The Black Madonna.

11. The Metronome
It takes 260 steps to get to the metronome (yes, I myself counted it!) but when you get on top, you’ll only see the gigantic mechanisms of the metronome itself. That said, you only go up there for the breath taking view of the Vlatva River and the nearby Old Town.

River Vlatva, Prague
I can't promise anything breath-taking at the metronome itself other than this view of the River Vlatva.

Tip sheet:
- It is possible to tour around the Old Town and surrounding areas for three hours, albeit a hurried one. I suggest a two- to three-day stay in Prague so that you may have time to enter the Prague Castle, visit the Santo Nino de Praga, and spend more time in other attractions.

- Sandeman's free walking tour of Prague can be availed by meeting up with the guides by the Prague Astronomical Clock. For schedules, check out Sandeman's Website.

- Anything that you buy close to the Old Town is expensive! For instance, Czech ham sold beside the Old Town Hall can be bought elsewhere around Prague for half the price! 

- Foreign exchange can also be quite expensive at the Old Town. I found a generous forex trader at Opletalova Street, which is a couple of blocks from Wenceslas Square.