The largest ancient castle in the world, the Prague Castle complex is home to a bewildering array of cultural sites and historic buildings, from royal palaces and ancient cathedrals to art galleries and gardens. A vast hilltop fortress, Prague Castle was founded by Prince Bořivoj in approximately 880, though it’s housed many a monarch since and survived numerous reconstructions. With such a long and illustrious history, it should come as no surprise that UNESCO has awarded Prague’s most popular attraction World Heritage status. But with so much ground to cover, how do you decide where to begin? From the hallowed halls of St Vitus Cathedral to the artistic treasures on display at Lobkowicz Palace and the Prague Castle Picture Gallery, here’s what to see at the Prague Castle complex.
Once you’ve taken in the full spectacle of towers and spires from outside the complex, venture inside and begin your explorations at the Old Royal Palace. First founded in the 9th century, the palace has been reimagined, remodelled and even tragically neglected over the years (it was abandoned for a full eighty years back in the 15th century). Today, the centrepiece is without a doubt the impressive Vladislav Hall, famous for its vaulted Gothic ceiling and early Renaissance windows. An important State building for centuries, the elections of the president of the Czech Republic still take place here today.
Keen to take a peak inside Prague’s most important temple? St Vitus Cathedral is not only celebrated for its long history of coronations, but it’s also famous for housing the tomb of St. Wenceslas. A patchwork of architectural and artistic styles, with its first stone being laid in the 14th century and its last in 1929, step inside the cathedral’s ornate bronze doors and you’ll face a riot of colourful frescoes and stunning stained glass windows.
Located in the secluded confines of the castle’s second courtyard, the Prague Castle Picture Gallery houses important masterpieces by the likes of Titian, Rubens and a host of revered Czech painters. Originally the private collection of Emperor Rudolph II, there are over 100 works on display here, though this is just a fraction of the entire 4,000-strong full collection.
After tackling some of the cultural heavy-hitters, a quiet amble through the picturesque Royal Garden may be in order. The manicured lawns at this serene Renaissance spot feature plenty of quiet places to sit and soak up the scenery. Make sure to stop in at the Italianate Summer Palace, built by Ferdinand I for his wife Queen Anne – now home to various creative and artistic exhibitions and events.
Running past the northern perimeter of the castle, Golden lane is a charming little alley of tiny, colourful cottages and cobbled pavements, which today serves as a historical walking tour through old Prague. Built back in the 16th century for servants working in the castle, the houses became popular among Prague’s artistic and literary set during the 20th century, with a certain Franz Kafka calling cottage No.22 home for several years.
The only private property in the Prague Castle complex, Lobkowicz Palace was once the home of an aristocratic dynasty, before being confiscated by the Nazis. And then again by the Communists. Today, it houses an unorthodox selection of art, furniture, music and religious objects, as well as an enormous library. There are also free classical music concerts daily, which take place in the ornate 17th century baroque concert hall.