Are you enchanted by ancient castles? Have you always wanted to ramble the elegant halls and massive walls of royal buildings? Then you must visit the Czech Republic, home to more than two thousand castles, chateaus,
and villas. The capital city, Prague, and the surrounding area offer some of the most exquisite of these, and some of the finest architecture you will see in Europe. Of course, our free walking tour of Prague Castle
is the best way to explore this particular jewel of the capital, but there are more castles in Prague worthy of your visit too. It wasn’t easy, but we’ve picked five castles in Prague (well, one is just outside of) that any self-respecting castle-fanatic must see.
Prague Castle (Prazsky hrad)
Without any doubt, you can’t miss Prague Castle when you are here. Everyone’s favorite Castle is located on top of the hill, a perfect place for a picturesque panorama of the city skyline and countless charming photo opportunities for both the amateur and professional photographer. The first building (The Church of the Virgin Mary) of the Prague Castle was built in 870. During the following centuries, the castle has been extended drastically, and today it is known to be the largest ancient castle complex in the world with nearly 70,000 square meters (750,000 square feet). It displays every architectural style of a thousand years including Gothic, Romanesque, Renaissance, baroque and mannerism. The castle presents a myriad of compelling places; palaces, towers, halls, churches, beautiful gardens, numerous other buildings and hidden nooks & crannies for you to discover. The castle complex is often quite busy, and you could end up lining up for hours to see the different buildings and exhibitions. So we suggest you book your walking tour in advance to make sure you actually see
this beautiful place, the Prague Castle.
Vysehrad, the “Castle on the heights” or “upper castle”, got its name from its majestic hilltop location overlooking the Vltava River. It isn’t as busy with visitors as Prague Castle, but is equally as beautiful and provides an impressive overview of the surrounding area. Vysehrad is associated with many fascinating stories and legends, one of which is related to princess Libuše who predicted the future greatness of Prague in one of her prophecies. Vysehrad is a gem for architecture-lovers; built and remodelled over 800 years, the castle and its buildings consist of Romanesque, Gothic, Neo-Gothic and Baroque architectural styles. You will find an exciting mix of plain brick ramparts, bastions and gates, and the magnificent neo-Gothic Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul. And a tip for those who visit Prague at the end of the year: Vysehrad Castle is the perfect place to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The park is crowded with locals and tourists drinking, having fun, and setting off firecrackers and fireworks.
Waldstein Palace and Garden
If you have explored Prague city enough already on free tours, have been to so many museums, parks and buildings that you can’t even tell the difference between them anymore, or just want to escape the crowds to chill and relax a bit, then the Baroque style Waldstein Palace and its grandiose gardens are the perfect place for you.
The palace is now the home of the Czech Senate and it is free to enter, you can even go inside and stroll around the beautifully furnished rooms at weekends. However, the most attractive feature of Waldstein Palace (which really IS beautiful!) is its surroundings. The large Baroque garden is well maintained, with lots of flowers, big trees, neatly groomed bushes, charming fountains, and fish ponds with plenty of fish and ducks. If you are lucky, you can see elegant peacocks strutting around, showing off their tail feathers to the fortunate visitors. There are plenty of photo opportunities around the garden too, for example, you’ll find pretty pavilions in every corner, superb for romantic snaps.
A very interesting highlight of the garden is the Dripstone Wall. Created by stalactite-like rocks, at first sight, the viewer might find it frightening as it appears to be made of numerous small skulls, but closer inspection reveals the less sinister, unique rock formation. Rumor has it that vigilant spectators can discover secret passages through the wall, so maybe you’ll be the first to find the mysterious corridors.
The beautiful 19th
century Neo-Renaissance Žofín Palace is located on the Slavonic (or Žofín - Sophie’s) Island on the Vltava River. It got its name from the Archduchess of Austria (Princess Sophie - or Žofie in Czech, - the mother of Emperor Franz Joseph I). The Palace always was and still is a very important social and cultural center of Prague. The famous Czech composer, Antonín Dvořák, gave his first concert here in 1878. Today, it’s home to balls, conferences, concerts, and meetings throughout the year.
Visiting the island is itself a worthy pleasure, as the surrounding area is stunning and a suitable home for the graceful building. If you want to get the ‘full-royal-experience’, have a nice meal or afternoon tea with some delicious cake at the Palace’s restaurant with a charming river view.
The last castle on our list is just outside of Prague. However, if you have enough time, it is definitely worth making the short trip to visit it.
You can take a 40-minute train ride to Karlštejn towards
the southwest and walk up the hill to the Castle (wear comfortable shoes!). You will find many
souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants along the road, so you can rest a bit if you get peckish or want to recharge.
The castle, which was founded in 1348, was the residence of the Czech king and Roman emperor Charles IV. It was also home to the imperial crown jewels, holy relics, and royal archives. It was built in Gothic and later rebuilt in Renaissance style. The Imperial Palace, the Marian Tower, the Chapel of the Holy Cross and the 60-meter-high Great Tower are just some of the highlights you will see when you visit this magnificent building complex.
Karlštejn Castle is a popular tourist destination for a reason. It is not only grandiose, well kept and beautiful but also has historical significance. Pay attention to your tour guide, and learn more about it! (No private visit possible! Tours are in Czech and English).
No matter whether you are a modern prince or princess, a photo-guru, an architecture-lover, a world traveler, or someone from the neighbourhood - if you like beautiful old buildings, regal edifices, and historic castles, each of these charming buildings is waiting to be discovered during your trip to the Czech capital. Ask your Prague free tour guide for more info about these and other castles worth seeing, they can even mark them for you on your Prague map and give you key local insider tips and recommendations.