When traveling through certain parts of the UK and Europe, especially via road trip, castle sightings can be a frequent occurrence, sometimes even more common than petrol stations. (I’m looking at you, Scottish Highlands!) For those of us who come from countries where castles and palaces are things that previously only existed in our childhood storybooks, these sightings can induce all sorts of abnormal behavior; i.e., suddenly crossing three lanes of traffic and jumping out of a still-moving vehicle to get a photo of castle ruins on the side of a highway in Ireland. Despite seeing more castles than I could ever count over the course of our three years in Europe, the number of those we actually took the time to go in is, regretfully, much smaller. In fact, outside of London, I believe we only saw two – St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall and Prague Castle in, obviously, Prague.
Prague Castle, listed with the rest of the historic center of Prague as a UNESCO world heritage site, is considered to be the largest ancient castle complex in the world. I didn’t realize just how vast in size 750,000 square feet was until we visited and spent an entire half-day inside Prague Castle and still only saw a small portion of the whole complex. Several churches, palaces, towers, halls, and other buildings within Prague Castle are open to visitors, but you will need a ticket to enter a majority of them. There are several types of tickets available, and which one you decide to choose will probably depend on a) how much time you have and b) just how much you like exploring old castles.
For those who only have a short amount of time to explore Prague Castle, I recommend sticking with the free areas, but for everyone else, purchasing one of the tickets offered will allow for a much more in-depth experience. Wanting to see inside some of the ticketed areas, but preferring not to spend the whole day looking at churches and old palaces (is it just me or do they start looking sort of similar after awhile?), we opted for Circuit B tickets, which turned out to be a good middle ground between seeing it all vs only the free areas. The following are six things to do and see inside Prague Castle we think you shouldn’t miss!
If you buy one of the tickets into Prague Castle, the very first place you should head is Golden Lane. Golden Lane is a charming cobblestone street featuring tiny, brightly painted cottages where castle guards and various tradespeople once lived…but it gets a whole lot less charming after tour groups begin descending on it! Like the miniature houses lining it, Golden Lane is quite narrow and becomes almost impassable when crowded. If you arrive early, you’ll be able to avoid the worst of the crowds, though, and can wander in and out of the tiny museums inside the preserved homes with ease.
Two of the most interesting homes on the lane are No. 14, where the famous WWII fortune teller Madame de Thebes once lived, and No. 15, the home of the goldsmiths the lane was later named after. Also be sure to check out Daliborka Tower, the castle’s gun tower which also served as a prison.
ST VITUS CATHEDRAL
Prague Castle is fairly easy to spot from practically anywhere in Old Town thanks to the tall towers perched atop its most prominent sight, St Vitus Cathedral, located at the center of the castle complex. Besides being the largest cathedral in the entire Czech Republic, St Vitus Cathedral is also the country’s most important. In the past, St Vitus Cathedral was where the coronations of Czech kings and queens took place. Today, besides being a place of worship, St Vitus Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague, as well as the final resting place of several patron saints, kings, and Holy Roman Emperors.
Entrance into St Vitus Cathedral is technically free, but if you want to make it past the cordoned-off main entrance, you’ll need to buy a ticket. If you have time to spare, I highly suggest you do, because this is one beautiful church. Past the main entrance, the chapels and nave clear out considerably and it’s easy to walk around and explore the quieter areas of the cathedral. Like Notre-Dame in Paris, St Vitus Cathedral is an outstanding example of gorgeous Gothic architecture. If you like to take photos, don’t be surprised if you end up spending an hour photographing all the nooks and crannies inside this cathedral!
It doesn’t have to be Rosenberg Palace, but if you visit Prague Castle, you really ought to go in at least one of the complex’s old palaces. On the day we visited, the more popular Old Royal Palace was closed, so we saw Rosenberg Palace instead. (FYI: Tickets are required for both.)
Rosenberg Palace, also known as the Institute of Noblewomen, was a home for Prague’s unmarried noblewomen who had fallen on hard times. The home was run by an unmarried archduchess, and up to 30 women could live in the home at any given time. In my opinion, the story behind Rosenberg Palace ultimately ended up being more interesting than the palace itself, but its restored interiors were still quite beautiful to see in person!
ST GEORGE’S BASILICA
Living in the shadows of St Vitus Cathedral is another, albeit much, much smaller, church within Prague Castle that you absolutely must see. With its colorful red and white exterior, St George’s Basilica certainly stands out among the more muted tones of the buildings surrounding it, but if it weren’t for the map we were carrying with us, we’d never have known it was actually a church at all. Resembling something more akin to a Town Hall, St George’s Basilica is actually the oldest surviving church still standing in Prague Castle. (On the inside it looks far more church-like!)
Various important figures are entombed in St George’s Basilica, most notably Prince Vratislav, father of St Wenceslas, and St Ludmila of Bohemia. Practically the opposite of the flashier St Vitus, St George’s is stunning in its simplicity. Thanks to its shape and acoustics, St George’s Basilica is also a popular concert venue.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Presidential guards stand at all three main entrances to Prague Castle, and every hour they switch out without much fanfare. But what both ticket holders and those entering for free won’t want to miss is the ceremonial changing of the guard that happens every day at noon in the first courtyard of Prague Castle. If you’re interested in getting pictures, I recommend arriving in the courtyard and securing a spot along the barrier at least 10-15 minutes before the ceremony commences as it does get quite busy.
The ceremony begins with a musical performance and then a short parade follows as the guards switch out their duties. The whole thing is less than 20 minutes in length, but definitely worth working into your schedule if you plan to visit the castle!
PRAGUE CASTLE MOAT
The landscaped gardens within the castle are lovely, but in my opinion they’re completely one-upped by the less manicured, natural beauty found in the castle’s moat. For some of the prettiest walking trails in Prague, especially in autumn, look no further than the Upper and Lower Moat inside Prague Castle. There are a few different entrances to the moat, but the easiest way to access the Upper Moat from within the castle is via the entrance in the royal gardens. After that, you can make your way down into the Lower Moat via the trails.
There are a few things to see – a unique, bricked tunnel, the old bear keeper’s house, a variety of old sculptures – but the real appeal here is just the trails themselves. Maybe it was the fact that we were walking on a blanket of brightly colored leaves, or maybe it was because practically no one else was there with us, but the forested trails of the castle moat were my absolute favorite thing about Prague Castle. Completely free and open to the public without a ticket, Prague Castle’s moat is open from 1 April to 31 October.
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