Hradcany (Castle District) Walking Tour, Prague

Hradcany (Castle District) Walking Tour (Self Guided), Prague

Hradcany, or the Castle District, is a historical neighborhood in Prague brimming with cultural landmarks and architectural marvels.

The area is centered around Prague Castle, reportedly the biggest castle complex in the world. Dating back as far as the 9th century, the castle has been the residence of Bohemian kings, Holy Roman emperors, leaders of socialist Czechoslovakia, and currently the president of the Czech Republic. This imposing fortress encompasses several notable sites, including Saint Vitus Cathedral, a stunning Gothic edifice housing the country's crown jewels, the Old Royal Palace, and Saint George's Basilica, a Romanesque gem.

Nearby, you'll find the opulent Czernin Palace accommodating the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the majestic Schwarzenberg Palace, now home to the National Gallery's Baroque art collection, and the Archbishop Palace, a seat of ecclesiastical power.

Alongside grand historical locations, Hradcany has plenty of romantic and peaceful nooks and corners, complete with picturesque lookouts, much to the delight of numerous visitors.

Explore the tranquil grounds of Loreta, a pilgrimage site known for its striking architecture, or wander through the enchanting Golden Lane, a row of colorful cottages offering glimpses into medieval life.

For a taste of local brews, visit Strahov Monastic Brewery, located near the historic Strahov Monastery, where monks have been making beer for centuries.

Venturing further, you'll discover the elegant Lobkowicz Palace, displaying a private art collection spanning centuries, and Villa Richter, offering panoramic city views and a fine dining experience. Also, don't miss the Belvedere, a picturesque summer palace nestled in lush gardens.

If you're keen on the old-world charm, Hradcany is the place. So, come and experience the magic of this area for yourself, where every corner has a story to whisper.
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Hradcany (Castle District) Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Hradcany (Castle District) Walking Tour
Guide Location: Czech Republic » Prague (See other walking tours in Prague)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Strahov Monastery
  • Strahov Monastic Brewery
  • Czernin Palace
  • Loreta
  • Schwarzenberg Palace
  • Archbishop Palace
  • Prague Castle
  • St. Vitus Cathedral
  • Old Royal Palace
  • St. George's Basilica at Prague Castle
  • Golden Lane
  • Lobkowicz Palace
  • Villa Richter
  • Belvedere (Royal Summer Palace)
Strahov Monastery

1) Strahov Monastery

Founded in 1120 by Saint Norbert, the Premonstratensian order has maintained residence at Strahov Monastery since 1143, once a formidable rival in size to the seat of the Czech sovereign. Perched atop a hill on the opposite side of the river from Old Town Prague, Strahov was one of the lucky few to escape Joseph II's 1783 dissolution of monastic houses, a feat it managed by declaring itself a scholarly institution – the monks had, indeed, amassed one of the finest libraries in Bohemia.

Each of the monastery's buildings offers something intriguing for visitors, starting with the fantastic library itself, a collection of roughly 200,000 books. Photography within the reading rooms requires an additional fee, but the ornate decorations, particularly the fresco-covered ceilings, are well worth the expense. Same can be said about the Basilica of Our Lady, adorned with frescoes depicting the Virgin Mary and featuring a significant organ played by Mozart during his 1787 visit. Additionally, the Picture Gallery, accessible from the cloisters, showcases religious art, church plate, and reliquaries, offering a compelling glimpse into the monastery's heritage.

Beyond the cultural treasures, Strahov Monastery offers various activities such as classical music concerts, a top-notch brewery serving delectable cuisine, and Pelko, an underground cellar restaurant aptly named "hell" in Czech.
Strahov Monastic Brewery

2) Strahov Monastic Brewery

If you're craving genuine Czech fare, this establishment delivers an authentic experience. Serving up expertly crafted pub-style dishes (care for some apple strudel, schnitzel, onion soup, or pork ribs marinated in beer?), the well-managed microbrewery restaurant offers warm hospitality and a diverse selection of fresh brews at affordable prices.

Conveniently located near the famed Strahov Monastery with its enchanting library, the courtyard garden welcomes visitors during the summer months. Here, you can bask in the outdoor ambiance at spacious communal tables or opt for indoor seating at standard tables. The area's rustic charm evokes a sense of being far removed from the bustling city, while offering splendid vistas of Prague's skyline.

A delightful spot to explore, especially on a sunlit day!
Czernin Palace

3) Czernin Palace

Renowned as Prague's largest Baroque palace, this monumental structure was constructed between 1669 and 1682, resulting in the demolition of two entire streets to accommodate its grandeur. Commissioned by Count Humprecht Jan Černín, a former imperial ambassador to Venice known for his towering self-importance, the palace boasts an impressive 150-meter-long facade adorned with thirty Palladian half-columns and embellished with diamond-pointed rustication, commanding attention over the charming grassy square adjacent to the Loreta.

Since 1918, the palace has served as the headquarters of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and during World War II, it briefly served as the residence of the Nazi governor ("Reichsprotektor"). However, its most infamous moment came on March 10, 1948, during Prague's third—and most mourned—defenestration. Following the Communist coup, Jan Masaryk, the only son of Czechoslovakia's founder and the last non-Communist cabinet member, tragically fell to his death from the top-floor bathroom window of the palace. Masaryk's untimely demise cast a somber shadow over the new regime for many, symbolizing the dark turn of events.

4) Loreta

Since its establishment in the 1620s, this site has remained a significant hub of Christian pilgrimage in Bohemia. Its inception is intertwined with the Counter-Reformation era, during which the Habsburg monarchs, aiming to reassert Catholicism in Czech lands, erected replicas of the revered Santa Casa of Loreto from Italy throughout their realm. According to the prevailing legend of the time, the original Santa Casa, believed to be the abode of the Virgin Mary where the Archangel Gabriel announced the forthcoming birth of Jesus, was miraculously transported from Nazareth either by devout individuals or celestial beings during the Islamic conquest of the Holy Land at the turn of the first millennium.

Perched atop Prague's Castle District, the striking white facade of the Loreta Church is difficult to miss. The gorgeous Baroque shrine is really a complex of structures, including the church adorned with wood-carved cherubs, elegant cloisters embellished with frescoes, and an engaging museum housing an array of religious artifacts. Among these treasures are intricately crafted chalices, a majestic monstrance encrusted with an astounding 6,222 diamonds, and assorted relics and regalia of the Catholic Church. While admission is worthwhile, note that an additional fee applies for photography.

Take advantage of the opportunity to explore Nový Svět (New World), a picturesque and tranquil neighborhood tucked behind Loreta Square. Its enchanting streets and homes offer some of Prague's most romantic settings to discover.
Schwarzenberg Palace

5) Schwarzenberg Palace

Arguably one of Prague's most remarkable architectural marvels, this Renaissance-style palace from the 16th century stands out with a facade that looks as though it is of pyramidal relief—a clever 3D effect painted onto the flat stonework. Within, visitors are greeted by ceilings adorned with magnificent canvases stretched over wooden frames, depicting scenes like the Judgment of Paris and the Conquest of Troy, all carefully restored during the comprehensive five-year renovation completed in 2008.

Now under the auspices of the National Gallery of Prague, the palace hosts a diverse array of exhibitions. On the ground floor, a superb collection of religious art and sculptures awaits, while the first floor showcases a permanent exhibition featuring works by Renaissance and Baroque masters such as Rubens, Bruegel, Brandl, and El Greco. However, the pinnacle of the experience lies on the top floor, where visitors are treated to a jaw-dropping collection of Baroque weapons and armory. The exhibition spaces, characterized by their airy ambiance, often find themselves overshadowed by the exquisitely painted ceilings, which are marvels in themselves.

Why You Should Visit:
Impeccably renovated and visually striking edifice housing an assortment of paintings, sculptures, and exhibitions to suit all tastes.

Opt for a combined ticket for Schwarzenberg Palace and the adjacent Sternberg Palace—free for visitors aged 26 or under—and gain access not only to these two exhibitions but also to all of the National Gallery's properties across Prague for a period of 10 days.
Archbishop Palace

6) Archbishop Palace

Located at Castle Square near Prague Castle, this extravagant palace, painted in a vibrant vanilla hue, was acquired by Archbishop Anton Brus in the 1560s and has since served as the principal residence of Prague's archbishop and the archdiocese. Its Rococo façade offers a glimpse of the opulent interiors, adorned with intricate wood carvings, elaborate stuccowork, exquisite glassware, porcelain vases, and rare 18th-century Parisian tapestries gracing the ceremonial chambers.

Accessible to the public for a limited duration, the palace showcases the 16th-century Chapel of Saint John the Baptist. If you are fortunate enough to be in Prague on the day before Good Friday, don't miss a trip! Within the chapel, a remarkable painting of the Crucifixion captures attention, its creation shrouded in macabre circumstances. Commissioned by the Archbishop at the time, a young Italian artist undertook the task, employing a beggar as his model, whom he cruelly bound to a cross. Dissatisfied with the beggar's portrayal of suffering, the artist fatally stabbed him in the heart, using his anguished countenance as inspiration. Tormented by guilt, the artist took his own life after completing the commission.
Prague Castle

7) Prague Castle (must see)

The term "Prague Castle" might lead you to envision a single grandiose structure with towering turrets and regal chambers; yet, it's actually a sprawling fortified enclave comprising government edifices, churches, museums, historical courtyards, stunning gardens, and the enchanting Golden Lane, where one of the cottages was once inhabited by Kafka. Spanning roughly 70,000 square meters (over 17 acres), this complex holds the Guinness Record as the largest castle complex globally. Its history spans centuries of royal dynasties.

Established around 880 by Duke Bořivoj I and his wife Ludmila, the Castle has hosted notable residents such as their grandson Wenceslas I, members of the Habsburg family, and Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Today, it serves as the residence of the Czech president, marked by the national flag flying when the president is in town. Outside the main Matthias Gates, stone-faced castle guards perform a ceremonial "Changing of the Guards" at noon, with smaller versions held hourly from 7 AM onwards.

The architectural diversity, ranging from the dazzling Gothic-Renaissance-Baroque fusion of the Saint Vitus Cathedral to the Baroque exterior and Romanesque interior of Saint George's Basilica, reflect an ongoing evolution spanning from 880 to the early 1900s. Modern elements, attributed to Slovenian architect Josip Plečnik's 20th-century contributions, can also be spotted throughout the grounds.

Allocate at least 3-5 hours for a comprehensive exploration of the Castle complex. The gardens are open to the public free of charge, allowing ample time for leisurely enjoyment. Since there are multiple ticket booths, if the main line appears lengthy, consider checking alternative lines within the courtyard.
St. Vitus Cathedral

8) St. Vitus Cathedral (must see)

Perched within the precincts of Prague Castle, overlooking the Vltava River and the cityscape, Saint Vitus Cathedral is hailed as a pinnacle of Gothic architecture, symbolizing the essence of Bohemian national identity for many. Housing the tombs of numerous Holy Roman Emperors and Bohemian kings, its historical significance is palpable. Yet, beyond its rich past, the cathedral's striking exterior, grand nave, and exquisite stained-glass windows unite to evoke a profound sense of beauty and reverence.

The exterior is distinguished by the imposing Great Tower, crowned with a baroque dome and housing Sigismund – the largest bell in Bohemia, forged in the mid-16th century and weighing over 33,000 pounds. Adjacent to the tower lies the cathedral's southern entrance, known as the Golden Gate, decorated with a remarkable Venetian-glass mosaic depicting the Last Judgment.

Stepping inside, one is immediately awed by the soaring height of the nave, while the luminous stained-glass windows on the left impart a transcendent aura. Noteworthy among these is the third window, a masterpiece by the Art Nouveau maestro Alfons Mucha, narrating the entire history of Christianity in the Czech lands through vibrant imagery and profound symbolism. Other captivating features include the wooden panorama of Prague, the opulent Tomb of Saint John of Nepomuk crafted in solid silver, and an array of decorative elements ranging from the intricate to the whimsical.

While entry to the exterior and partial interior is free, a ticket is required for a comprehensive tour, available as part of Prague Castle's visit options. Additionally, a separate fee allows access to the tower, offering amazing views albeit via a rather narrow ascent.
Old Royal Palace

9) Old Royal Palace

The Old Royal Palace, among the Castle's oldest structures dating back to the 12th century, offers a fascinating stop for history enthusiasts. Once the residence of monarchs, it gained notoriety as the site where the Thirty Years War ignited in 1618, following the expulsion of two Imperial Catholic Governors from one of the Bohemian Chancellery Rooms by Protestant nobles. A curious twist in Czech history, the two individuals were fortuitously saved by landing on a heap of muck from the Royal Stables beneath the window!

The highlight of the palace is the impressive 60-meter-long Vladislav Hall, designed at the turn of the 16th century with marvelous stellar-ribbed vaulted ceilings. It was once used for all manner of events, from coronations to balls and indoor jousting tournaments, evidenced by the specially designed "Rider's Staircase" facilitating access for knights on horseback. Today, the hall is where the National Assembly elects new presidents and witnessed the inauguration of Václav Havel in 1990, marking the end of over four decades of Communist rule.

Adjacent to the hall's eastern end lies a balcony offering views of All Saints Church, erected during the latter half of the 14th century. Ravaged by fire in 1541, only its outer walls survived, prompting a Renaissance-style reconstruction towards the late 16th century. Accessible to the public solely during religious services and occasional concerts.

Why You Should Visit:
Immersed in Czech heritage, the palace promises a culturally enriching afternoon. You can admire the multitude of painted coats of arms adorning the walls and ceilings, and delve into the intriguing old heating system featuring tiled room towers.

Be sure to gaze upwards, as some of the most captivating sights await above!
Also, don't overlook the observation gallery on the southern wall of Vladislav Hall.
St. George's Basilica at Prague Castle

10) St. George's Basilica at Prague Castle

Nestled within the heart of the Prague Castle complex lies George Square, which hosts the namesake basilica – the oldest surviving church building in Prague! Established by Prince Vratislav in 921, its striking red-and-cream baroque facade contrasts sharply with its Romanesque interior, characterized by its austere yet monumental design. Within the main nave rest the tombs of members of the Přemyslid dynasty, the first ruling dynasty of Czechia, while a unique two-sided stairwell leads to the high altar. Particularly noteworthy is the painted decoration on the apse and the ceiling.

In the chapel's center lies a large stone coffin containing Boleslav I, also known as Boleslav the Cruel, with the chapel of St. Ludmila, grandmother of Boleslav and Wenceslas, situated to the right of the central staircases. Depictions of Ludmila often feature a scarf or veil around her neck, symbolizing her alleged death by strangulation, rumored to have been orchestrated by her daughter-in-law Drahomira. Ludmila played a crucial role in raising Wenceslas as a Christian, while Drahomira remained loyal to Bohemia's pagan beliefs, reflecting a recurring theme of Czech resistance against the dominance of a single religion.

Thanks to its exceptional acoustics, the basilica hosts classical music concerts throughout the year, offering a captivating experience even for those not well-versed in classical music. Adjacent stands the unassuming Convent of Saint George, founded in 973 by Boleslav II, now serving as a branch of the National Gallery, showcasing a compelling collection of Renaissance and baroque artworks.
Golden Lane

11) Golden Lane

One of the most fascinating corners within Prague Castle is undoubtedly Golden Lane, a charming thoroughfare adorned with brightly painted miniature cottages. Originally constructed in the 16th century to accommodate the 24 members of Rudolf II’s castle guard, the lane acquired its name from the goldsmiths who settled there a century later. By the 19th century, the lane had transformed into a sort of palace slum, attracting artists and craftsmen. Among its notable residents were Nobel Prize-winning poet Jaroslav Seifert and Franz Kafka, who frequented the lane in the evenings to craft his short stories during the winter of 1916.

Although the tiny houses were inhabited until World War II, efforts were made to preserve the picturesque character of the lane during any renovations. Today, the eleven preserved houses have been meticulously restored and repainted, serving as venues to exhibit medieval armor, weapons, textiles, as well as housing souvenir shops and snack bars. The lane culminates at the prison tower known as Daliborka, which features displays of historical torture instruments, providing a chilling yet integral glimpse into the past.

Why You Should Visit:
To experience the last vestige of Prague Castle's small-scale architecture. While there may not be a literal golden pathway, the lane's cobblestones, vibrant facades, quaint windows, and rich histories offer ample fascination.

Purchasing a ticket grants access to other sections of the Prague Castle complex. Alternatively, you can stroll through Golden Lane after 5 PM without a ticket, though most establishments are closed by then.
Lobkowicz Palace

12) Lobkowicz Palace

As the sole privately owned edifice within the expansive Prague Castle complex, this 16th-century palace remains under the ownership of the aristocratic Lobkowicz family, having been returned to them following the collapse of the communist regime. Today, it serves as a multifaceted establishment housing a museum, reception areas, and a concert hall that hosts classical music performances during lunch hours. Notably, the palace is renowned for its exquisite 180-degree panoramic vista from its terrace, complemented by the 30-minute Prague Inspires Panorama Tour provided with each audio guide.

The museum offers a unique family-narrated audio tour, guiding visitors through an exhibition showcasing renowned artworks by "old masters" such as Canaletto, Brueghel the Elder, and Velázquez. Additionally, visitors can marvel at exceptional displays of arms and armor, as well as ceramics, including the world's largest surviving Delft dinner service. Original music scores and manuscripts authored by luminaries like Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn enrich the experience further.

The palace's reception rooms, concert hall, balcony, and Marble Hall are beautifully decorated with elaborate frescoes depicting scenes from Greek mythology on their stucco ceilings, while the Imperial Hall features stunning trompe-l'oeil paintings of Roman statuary. Moreover, the palace's 17th-century chapel, dedicated to Saint Wenceslas, showcases walls adorned with medallions depicting the legend of the Czech Republic's patron saint.

After concluding your visit and perusing the museum shop for souvenirs, unwind with a delightful meal at the palace café-restaurant, catering to a variety of tastes and renowned for serving the finest burgers in Prague.
Villa Richter

13) Villa Richter

After a stroll around Prague Castle, Villa Richter offers the ideal respite. Nestled amidst the castle vineyards, adjacent to the Black Tower, it provides a picturesque setting to unwind and marvel at the city's beauty. You will find three distinct venues stacked atop one another: the Piano Nobile, renowned for its sophisticated offerings of duck, beef, and seafood dishes; the Piano Terra, specializing in traditional Bohemian cuisine; and the Wine Tresor, where guests can indulge in Czech wines while relishing the sublime vistas.

Restaurants boasting panoramic views along tourist routes often suffer from mediocre fare, subpar service, and inflated prices. Fortunately, this establishment defies the norm, offering unparalleled panoramas without compromising on quality or service. While prices may lean towards the higher end, the exceptional cuisine, genuine hospitality, and enchanting ambiance more than compensate. Moreover, patrons have the opportunity to savor wines from the nearby Saint Wenceslas vineyards, enhancing the overall experience.
Belvedere (Royal Summer Palace)

14) Belvedere (Royal Summer Palace)

Positioned at the eastern edge of the Royal Garden, north of Prague Castle, the Royal Summer Palace, also known as the Belvedere, stands as a testament to Renaissance elegance, garnering recognition as one of the most splendid structures of its kind north of the Alps. Crafted by Italian architects in the mid-1500s at the behest of Ferdinand I for his consort Queen Anne, its distinctive copper roof, reminiscent of an upturned boat's keel, gracefully crowns the ground floor's arcades. Adorning the arches between the thirty-six columns of the ornate arcade are 114 reliefs portraying scenes from royal hunts, battles, and tales from Greek and Roman mythology, with one tender relief capturing Ferdinand I presenting a flower to his beloved queen.

Originally serving as an observatory due to its secluded locale, the palace's first floor boasts a remarkable fresco chronicling pivotal moments in Czech history. While the ground floor once housed drawing rooms and ballrooms, it now serves as a venue for temporary exhibitions of creative art and artistic crafts.

Adjacent to the summer palace lies the geometrically arranged Renaissance-style 'giardinetto' (little garden), featuring another masterpiece: the Singing Fountain. Designed by Italians and crafted by Czech artisans, this fountain emanates a melodic resonance from the cascading water. To fully immerse oneself in its tranquil ambiance and appreciate its serenading melody, visitors are encouraged to crouch beside the fountain basin, allowing their imagination to be captivated by its harmonious song.

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