If there’s one thing European cities do better than cities anywhere else in the world, it’s their historic town squares. You can eat a fabulous meal, catch a performance at the theater, visit popular sights, and shop your little heart out in any number of cities around the world, but only in Europe can simply walking into a city’s main square instantly transport you back in time. The cobblestone streets, the horse-and-carriages, the carefully preserved architecture, just the general European-ness of it all – it made my history-loving heart happy to visit many of these historic squares during our years traveling in Europe. I fell in love with quite a few, but if I had to pick just one favorite, it would be the beautiful Old Town Square in Prague.
A UNESCO world heritage site, the history of Prague’s Old Town Square dates all the way back to the 10th century. Back then, the Old Town Square, known simply as the Big Square, was the beating heart of the city where goods were sold and traded. Today, along with Prague Castle, the Old Town Square is more like the beating heart of Prague’s tourism industry, but there is still a lot of history (and a ridiculous amount of European charm) to be discovered here.
If you’ve got an afternoon to spare in Prague’s Old Town Square, here are five great ways to spend your time.
VISIT THE CHURCH OF OUR LADY BEFORE TÝN
Set amid a row of multicolored houses, the Church of Our Lady before Týn looks like it was plucked straight off the pages of a fairytale before being placed in its prominent position in Prague’s Old Town Square. In actuality, it took the better part of a century to build what has become one of Prague’s most recognizable sights. The Church of Our Lady before Týn is free to enter, but small donations are welcomed if you feel inclined. Since the church actually sits a bit back from the square, you’ll have to follow the narrow passage behind the row of houses to find the entrance on the church’s western side. Photography is not allowed within the Church of Our Lady before Týn, which is a bit of a bummer, and opening times for tourists are a little hit-and-miss (check times here), but it’s still definitely worthy of your time to make a stop in here. Things not to miss: the organ (the oldest in Prague) and the beautiful paintings by the alter.
GO INSIDE ST NICHOLAS CHURCH
While not quite as stunning on the outside as the gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn, I think St Nicholas Church, located on the other side of Old Town Square, just may one up Our Lady when it comes to what you’ll find inside. (And photography is allowed. Bonus!) St Nicholas Church, built in the 18th century, was inspired by the chapel at Les Invalides in Paris, which we visited all the way back in 2013. (Spoiler alert: that one was beautiful, too!) The Baroque interior of St Nicholas Church features delicate stucco decor and detailed frescoes adorning every wall and ceiling. Entrance into St Nicholas Church is free, and it is open to the public every day from 10-4, except for Sundays when it opens at noon. St Nicholas Church is also well-known for its nightly classical music concerts. If you want to attend one of these popular performances, it’s smart to book ahead as they tend to sell out!
EAT ALL THE TRDELNÍK PASTRIES
One whiff of these delicious pastries spinning over the fire and it’s highly likely you won’t be eating anything else ever again in Prague. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Made from rolled dough cooked on a spit and then sprinkled with sugar, spices, and nuts, trdelníks, while Hungarian in origin, have become one of Prague’s most loved delicacies. You’ll find trdelníks sold all over the city, particularly in high traffic tourist areas, but there’s just something special about enjoying your first one in Old Town Square where you can sit and marvel at the pretty architecture and watch other tourists while simultaneously trying to keep from covering yourself in rogue sugar crystals. Beware, though. These little pastries are highly addictive, and you can smell them practically everywhere you go in Prague. It’s pure torture if you’re on a diet!
SEE THE ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK CHIME THE HOUR
Located on the southern wall of the Old Town Hall in Old Town Square is Prague’s famous astronomical clock – one of the city’s most popular sights, at least every hour on the hour, anyway. A few minutes before the top of every hour from 9am to 11pm, a huge crowd gathers beneath the astronomical clock in anticipation of the show that is performed here 15 times a day. The “show” is little more than a couple windows opening up to reveal the 12 apostles passing by and a creepy skeleton ringing a bell before the clock chimes the hour – I honestly can’t overstate how anticlimactic this is – but it’s free, and if you’re already in Old Town Square anyway, you really must watch it at least once. The whole performance lasts less than a minute, so if you’re looking for a little something more from the experience, it is possible to go to the top of the Old Town Hall and get a look at the square and surrounding city for a fee. (Ticket info here.)
VISIT OLD TOWN SQUARE AT NIGHT
And finally, if you’re in Prague overnight, I recommend checking out Old Town Square after dark, too. It’s like a whole different place after the sun sets. The crowds clear out, the lamps lining the perimeter of the square cast a warm glow over everything, and there’s always at least one or two buskers playing music. A much more chilled out vibe falls over the square after dark, making it the perfect time to grab your last trdelník of the day or get some night shots from the top of the Old Town Hall. (It’s open until 10pm.)
For more things to do in Prague, check out our full 3-Day Prague Itinerary!
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