Hradcany (Castle District) Walking Tour, Prague

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

Hradcany, or the Castle District, is the area surrounding Prague Castle, said to be the biggest castle complex in the world. Going back in history as far as the 9th century, the castle has been the seat of power for Bohemian kings, Holy Roman emperors, leaders of Czechoslovakia and is currently the President's official residence. Located nearby is St. Vitus' Cathedral, a symbol of Czech statehood and home to the country's crowns jewels. Despite the presence of majestic, historic locations, Hradcany also has plenty of romantic and peaceful nooks and corners, complete with picturesque lookouts, much to the delight of numerous guests and locals. Take this self-guided walk to explore some of these at your own pace.
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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 Restaurant
  • Belvedere or Royal Summer Palace
Strahov Monastery

1) Strahov Monastery

An austere Roman Catholic order founded in 1120 by St. Norbert, the Premonstratensians have been at this monastery ever since 1143, when it rivaled the seat of the Czech sovereign in size. Sitting high on a hill on the side of the river opposite 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.

All the monastery buildings have something interesting to offer visitors, starting with the fantastic library itself, a collection of roughly 200,000 books. Once inside, you'll find an additional fee is required to take pictures of either reading room, which are very impressive in their decorations – especially the fresco-covered ceilings. Same can be said about the Basilica of Our Lady, beautifully adorned with frescoes depicting the Virgin Mary and fitted with a particularly significant organ that was played by Mozart during his visit here in 1787. Finally, the Picture Gallery (situated above the cloisters and accessible from the door on the right) contains just enough religious art, church plate and reliquaries to make it worth a visit.

Other than that, there are several activities offered such as classical music concerts, the grade-A brewery (with tasty food as well) and Pelko (meaning "hell" in Czech), an underground cellar restaurant also located on monastery grounds.
Strahov Monastic Brewery

2) Strahov Monastic Brewery

If you're looking for authentic Czech cuisine, this place does it right. Well-prepared pub-style food (pork ribs in beer marinade, anyone?) is served at this well-run microbrewery restaurant with friendly service and fresh beer varieties at a reasonable price. Located close to Strahov monastery and its famously picturesque library, the courtyard garden is open to visitors during the summer months, so you can sit outside at one of the long tables, without feeling cramped for space (you can also sit inside at regular tables if you prefer). There is a rustic feel to the outdoor space which gives you the feeling you are well outside Prague; at the same time, you can enjoy great views across the city.

Beautiful place to visit on a sunny day!
Czernin Palace

3) Czernin Palace

Known as the largest of Prague's baroque palaces, for the sake of which two whole streets were demolished, this grandiose edifice was built between 1669-82 for Count Humprecht Jan Černín, one-time imperial ambassador to Venice and a man of monumental self-importance. Boasting an impressive 150-meter-long (492-ft) facade punctuated by thirty Corinthian half-columns, the palace towers over the attractive, grassy square that lies between it and the Loreta.

Today it houses the Czech Foreign Ministry, and it was from one of these windows that Jan Masaryk, son of the first Czech president, fell to his death in 1948, just a week or so after the Communist coup. Whether it was murder or suicide will probably never be satisfactorily resolved, but for most people Masaryk's death cast a dark shadow over the new regime. Some locals referred to his death as the "3rd Defenestration of Prague".

4) Loreta

Ever since its construction in the 1620s, this has been one of Bohemia's most important centers of Christian pilgrimage. Its origins are associated with Counter-Reformation when, in an attempt to bring Czechs back to the Catholic church, the Habsburg monarchs built replicas of the sacred Santa Casa of Loreto in Italy all across their land. According to the legend promoted at the time, the original Santa Casa (Holy House and home of the Virgin Mary, where the Archangel Gabriel told her about the future birth of Jesus) had been carried by holy men – or transported by angels – all the way from Nazareth when Islam had overrun the Holy Land at the turn of the first millennium.

Sitting on virtually the highest point of Prague's Castle District, Loreta Church's beautiful white façade is difficult to miss. The gorgeous Baroque shrine is really a complex of buildings including the church (covered in wood-carved babies), the handsome cloisters (covered with frescoes), and an interesting museum that includes many religious artifacts, including chalices, a grandiose monstrance with 6,222 (!) diamonds, as well as relics and other regalia of the Catholic Church. It's well worth the visit, the only drawback being that you have to pay extra if you want to take photos for your memory book.

Take some extra time to explore Nový Svět (New World) – a charming, unspoiled little neighborhood located behind the Loreta square, full of some of the most romantic homes and streets Prague has to offer.
Schwarzenberg Palace

5) Schwarzenberg Palace

Perhaps one of Prague's most impressive buildings, this 16th-century Renaissance-style palace stands out with a façade that looks as though it is of pyramidal relief – a clever 3D effect painted onto the stonework, which is actually flat. Inside, many of the ceilings are covered in amazing canvases stretched onto wooden frames, depicting scenes such as the Judgment of Paris and the Conquest of Troy, all carefully restored during the five-year renovation that was finished in 2008.

Now a department of the National Gallery of Prague, you can visit a great collection of religious art and sculptures on the ground floor, a wonderful permanent exhibition of sculptures and paintings of Renaissance and Baroque masters (Rubens, Bruegel, Cranach, Brandl, El Greco...) on the first floor and an absolutely jaw-dropping collection of Baroque weapons & armory on the top floor. The exhibition rooms are light and airy and the beautifully painted ceilings are sometimes more impressive than the exhibits themselves.

Why You Should Visit:
Tastefully renovated and eye-catching Renaissance building with a fine collection of paintings, sculptures, and exhibitions for everyone. Amazing for everyone, because there is something to see for all interests!
Archbishop Palace

6) Archbishop Palace

Situated at Castle Square near Prague Castle, this sumptuous vanilla-colored palace came into the hands of Archbishop Anton Brus in the 1560s and has served as the seat of Prague's archbishop and the archdiocese ever since. The Rococo exterior hints at the even more extravagant furnishings inside – an amazing mix of wood-carvings and stuccowork, priceless glass and porcelain vases, as well as unique 18th-century Parisian tapestries in the ceremonial halls.

The only part of the palace that is open to the public is the 16th-century Chapel of St John the Baptist – albeit for a very limited time. If you are lucky enough to be in Prague on the day before Good Friday, don't miss a trip! In the chapel, you will notice a striking painting of the Crucifixion, which was executed under rather gruesome circumstances. Commissioned by the Archbishop of that time, the work was carried out by a young Italian artist who hired a beggar as a model and tied him to a cross. Because the poor man didn't seem to be suffering enough, however, the artist stabbed him through the heart and painted his agony-filled face. After delivering the painting, the artist, full of remorse, committed suicide.
Prague Castle

7) Prague Castle (must see)

Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) is where the Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors, as well as presidents of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic have had their offices. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept here. Prague Castle is one of the biggest in the world (according to Guinness Book of Records the biggest ancient castle) at about 570 meters in length and an average of about 130 meters wide.

The castle buildings represent virtually every architectural style of the last millennium. The Prague Castle includes Gothic St Vitus Cathedral, Romanesque Basilica of St. George, a monastery and several palaces, gardens and defense towers. Most of the castle areas are open to tourists. Nowadays, the castle houses several museums, including the National Gallery collection of Bohemian baroque and mannerism art, an exhibition dedicated to Czech history, a Toy Museum and the picture gallery of Prague Castle, based on the collection of Rudolph II.

Why You Should Visit:
Prague's highlight; a remarkable blend of history with different architectural styling from the inhabitants of the castle and its walls over the years.

There are multiple ticket booths, so if the main line is too long, walk into the courtyard to check the other line as well.
Plan for a minimum of 3-5 hours to explore the whole Castle complex. Gardens are free and you're welcome to enjoy them as much time as you like.
St. Vitus Cathedral

8) St. Vitus Cathedral (must see)

Situated on the grounds of the Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece, is considered by many to be the seat of Bohemian national identity. With the tombs of numerous Holy Roman Emperors and Bohemian kings, it is easy to see why this is the case. Beyond this history, you have the sheer beauty of the structure with its imposing and elaborate exterior, majestic nave and ravishing stained-glass windows all combining to create a moving aesthetic.

The exterior is characterized by the prominent Great Tower, topped with a baroque dome and home to Sigismund – the largest bell in all Bohemia, made in the mid-16th century and weighing well over 33,000 pounds. To the right of the tower you will find the cathedral's southern doorway, which formerly operated as the main entrance. Known as the Golden Gate, it is unmistakable due to the large multicolored Venetian-glassed mosaic depicting the Last Judgment.

Inside, the majestic, soaring nave is overwhelming at first, and the stained-glass windows on the left add an ethereal quality to an already other-worldly atmosphere. Admire the third window – an exquisite work by the Art Nouveau great Alfons Mucha, which tells the entire history of Christianity in the Czech lands – from the first missionaries to modern times – with swirling figures, vibrant colors, and powerful symbolism. Other items of interest include the wooden panorama of Prague, the tomb of King Wenceslas, and all kinds of decorative elements ranging from the elaborate to the whimsical.

Why You Should Visit:
The crown jewel of Prague Castle, this would be a major attraction even if it were standing alone a mile away.

You can visit the exterior and view part of the interior without a ticket. To view the cathedral properly, however, purchase a ticket as part of one of Prague Castle's visit options. There's a also a separate charge to climb the tower – quite a tough climb with lots of steps and fairly narrow, but views from the top are amazing and the clock and bells are visible as well.
Old Royal Palace

9) Old Royal Palace

Part of the Prague Castle complex, the Old Royal Palace was once the home of kings and where the Thirty Years War started in 1618 when two Imperial Catholic Governors were thrown out of the window of one of the Bohemian Chancellery Rooms by Protestant nobles. The rather funny thing about this piece of Czech history is that the two unfortunates had their lives saved because they fell onto the Royal Stable muck-heap below the window!

The most notable part of the palace is the 60m-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, including coronation, balls, and indoor jousting tournaments, which explains the specially adapted "Rider's staircase" that allowed knights to enter the area while remaining on horseback. Today, the hall is where the National Assembly elects new presidents and was the setting for the swearing in of Václav Havel in 1990—the country's first leader after over four decades of Communist rule.

At the eastern end of the hall is a balcony that overlooks All Saints Church, built during the second half of the 14th century. It was destroyed by fire in 1541, leaving only its peripheral walls intact, and was redone in the Renaissance style near the end of the 16th century. The church is only open to the public during religious services and for the occasional concert.

Why You Should Visit:
Imbibed with Czech history, this palace is a nice way to spend a cultural afternoon. The vast array of painted coats of arms on the walls and ceilings is impressive and the old heating system with the tiled room towers is interesting.

Remember to look up, because that's where some of the best things to see are! Also, don't miss the observation gallery on Vladislav Hall's southern wall, which affords a beautiful view of the Garden on the Ramparts and of Prague.
St. George's Basilica at Prague Castle

10) St. George's Basilica at Prague Castle

At the center of the Prague Castle complex lies George Square, home to the basilica of the same name – Prague's oldest surviving church building! Founded by Prince Vratislav in 921, its eye-catching red-and-cream baroque facade marks a stark contrast from its Romanesque interior, which is fairly austere and monumental at the same time. The tombs of members of the Přemyslid dynasty (first Czech ruling dynasty) are situated in the main nave, while, rather unusually, a two-sided stairwell leads up to the high altar. The painted decoration on the apse and the ceiling is particularly noteworthy.

Due to excellent acoustics, some classical music concerts are held here during the year – worth attending even if you're not a classical music buff. Left of the basilica is the sober-looking Convent of St. George, established in 973 by Boleslav II. Today it acts as a branch of the National Gallery and offers an interesting exhibit of Renaissance and baroque works.
Golden Lane

11) Golden Lane

One of Prague Castle's most fascinating areas is, undoubtedly, Golden Lane, where you will find a collection of tiny houses, all brightly painted. There were once 24, built up against the castle's northern fortification in the 16th century. At first, they housed Rudolf II's marksmen and legend has it that he ordered them not to build houses that exceeded the wall's arches. Besides being small, they also were rather poorly made out of stone, mud, and wood and had to be regularly restored.

When the marksmen were moved to new lodgings, the tiny houses were given to various palace workers, including goldsmiths (which is where the name Golden Lane derived from); however, the most famous resident was the one and only Franz Kafka, who stayed at number 22 with his sister Ottla for a short time (a memorial plaque has been fixed to the wall).

The tiny houses were occupied until World War II, but already during the period of the First Republic, care was taken to ensure that the picturesque character of the Lane was not changed in the course of modifications. The eleven remaining houses have been restored, repainted and are now used to exhibit medieval armor, weapons and textiles, or have become souvenir shops and snack bars. The Lane ends at the prison-tower called Daliborka – a little gory in parts, with examples of torture instruments which are hideous (but part of history after all).

Why You Should Visit:
To see the last remainder of Prague Castle's small-scale architecture. No golden pavement, unfortunately, but plenty of cobblestones, colorful facades, a few small windows, and interesting histories.

Buying a ticket will grant access to other parts of the complex, including the Prague Castle. If you'd rather not pay the ticket, you may still walk through the street after 5pm, although most houses and shops are closed by that time.

Opening Hours (paid entrance):
Daily: 9am–5pm (Apr–Oct); 9am–4pm (Nov–Mar)
Lobkowicz Palace

12) Lobkowicz Palace

The only privately owned building in the great Prague Castle multiplex, this 16th-century palace still belongs to the aristocratic Lobkowicz family after being restored to them after the fall of the communist regime. Now housing a museum, reception rooms and concert hall where classical music is played every lunch time, it is also known for the exquisite 180° panoramic view from its terrace and the 30-minute Prague Inspires Panorama Tour included with every audio guide.

The concept of the museum is a family-narrated audio tour, that guides visitors through the exhibition highlighting world-famous paintings by "old masters" such as Canaletto, Brueghel the Elder, and Velázquez. Also on view are exceptional arms and armor and ceramics, including the largest surviving Delft dinner service in the world. Original music scores and manuscripts written by Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn, among other famous compositors, complete the experience.

The palace's reception rooms, concert hall, balcony and Marble Hall are beautifully decorated with frescoes of Greek mythology on the stucco-work ceilings, while the Imperial Hall has magnificent trompe-l'oeil paintings of Roman statues. The palace's 17th-century chapel is dedicated to St. Wenceslas and the walls are decorated with medallions depicting the legend of the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

Why You Should Visit:
Worth the price of entry, especially for classical music lovers and those interested in music instruments.

When you have finished your visit and have bought your souvenirs at the museum shop, you can relax and have a wonderful meal in the palace café-restaurant which is geared to all palettes and where the burgers are the best in Prague.
Villa Richter Restaurant

13) Villa Richter Restaurant

You'll need a break after walking around Prague Castle and the Panorama Pergola at Villa Richter is the place to do it! It's the perfect place to take a break and just soak in the beauty of the city.

Restaurants with great views astride the path taken by tourists are usually a recipe for disaster: a view, yes, but almost always crummy food, lousy service and inflated prices to go with it. Happily, the wonderful view overlooking all Prague that you get from this restaurant is not spoiled by such things, though one could rightly argue that the prices are a bit on the high side. Again happily, the food itself is such a fantastic standout that even a little price gouging can be forgiven, especially when the genuine friendliness of the service and the splendid atmosphere of the place are factored in. Add in the opportunity to try wines from St. Wenceslas vineyards, which are right there on the property!
Belvedere or Royal Summer Palace

14) Belvedere or Royal Summer Palace

Located at the far end of the Royal Gardens to the north of Prague Castle, the Belvedere is Prague's finest example of Italian Renaissance architecture, commissioned by Ferdinand I for his wife Queen Anne. While its copper roof resembles an upturned ship's keel, the arches between the thirty-six columns of the ornate arcade have 114 reliefs depicting scenes from royal hunts, battles and Greek and Roman mythology. One relief shows Ferdinand I presenting a flower to his wife.

The first floor of the palace was once an observatory, as the building's remote location made it ideal for observing the night sky. It has a splendid fresco of famous events in Czech history. The ground floor was once made up of drawing rooms and ballrooms, but nowadays these are used for modern and creative art exhibitions.

The geometrical gardens in front of the palace are graced by the famous 16th-century Singing Fountain. Made of bronze and bell metal, its jets produce a "musical" sound when the water hits the fountain's resonating bronze plate. You need to use a little imagination and also to crouch down beside the fountain basin to hear the sound.

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