The previous afternoon we’d taken an EasyJet flight from Manchester over to Václav Havel airport in Prague to enjoy a short break in the Czech capital. Getting into the centre was inexpensive as 90 minute transport tickets cost only 40czk (£1.38). For visitors aged 65+ travel on public transport is free of charge and no tickets are required to be purchased, just remember to always carry a passport in case of inspection. From outside the arrivals hall we caught Bus 119 which connects with the metro and trams to the city centre.
We only had a few minutes to wait to catch a 26 tram which took us close to Mama Shelter, our base for the next four nights. From the sound of its name you might be forgiven for thinking that we we’d booked to stay in a hostel but this fun, four star French mini-hotel chain, part of the Accor group is anything but.
Located in a former luxury communist hotel in Holesovice, north west of Prague it boasts a vast, brightly decorated lobby and extremely friendly staff. Our medium sized room up on the 10th floor had splendid city views and though minimalist in design, there was everything we needed for a comfortable stay. The neighbourhood benefits from a range of pubs and restaurants and after exploring the area we selected one where we enjoyed a hearty, reasonably priced meal.
The next morning we awoke to bright sunshine and after tucking in to the big buffet breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant we were ready to start exploring. Before leaving the hotel we had downloaded the Prague Cool Pass, a mobile app version of the Prague Card. The pass includes public transport and entry into museums, attractions and river boat trips. Please note that although the pass is designated 72 hours it is actually valid for three consecutive whole days. In order to get best value I’d recommend start using it after breakfast to make the most of the timeframe.
After taking a tram to the edge of the old town we started off our sightseeing with a visit to the Convent of St. Agnes which forms part of the National Gallery. The convent is located on the right bank of the Vltava river in the historic old town. Its collection is composed mostly of medieval church art with the galleries arranged in chronological order with the more recent artworks towards the end.
Of note are 14th century altarpieces and numerous wooden statues. Even if you are not so interested in viewing the church art it is worth visiting to take a look inside the impressive building, chapel and beautiful courtyard garden.
It was then time for our morning exercise with a climb up to the top of the Powder Tower, one of the original gates to the city separating the old and new towns. This Gothic tower also marks the beginning of Celetná Street, part of the Royal Way. This route leads through Prague’s historical centre and connects the former Royal Court with Prague Castle, historically forming a significant part of the route of Czech kings’ coronation ceremonies.
The ascent to the tower’s observation platform is via a narrow spiral staircase which seemed to go round and round forever but once reaching the top at a height of 65m we were rewarded with some excellent views over the city rooftops. The entrance ticket also includes a small exhibition detailing the history of the tower and of its construction.
A short stroll then followed to the House of the Black Madonna housing the Museum of Decorative Arts. The building constructed between 1911-1912 is a masterpiece of cubist architecture featuring all kinds of cubist artefacts and furniture on its upper floors. The building takes its name from a statue on the outside corner of the first floor which can be seen in the above photo. It’s also home to the immensely popular Grand Orient Cafe with its cubist chandeliers, coffee cups and teaspoons. There was a long queue to get a table otherwise we would have enjoyed our morning coffees there.
From the House of the Black Madonna we then moved on to the equally strangely named House of the Golden Ring tucked away on Tynska Street near to the Old Town square. This 16th century house was formerly two separate buildings that were later merged into one. The museum forms part of the city gallery with standard entrance 180czk (£6.25). It’s another of Prague’s beautiful buildings with its barrel vaulted ceilings and well preserved Gothic cellars and home to contemporary 20th century Czech artists. Before leaving, we discovered a pretty little courtyard to the rear with a small cafe.
After that we were just in time to view the magnificent Astronomical Clock strike 12.00 noon in the old town square. It was fortunate that we were there by 11.50 a.m. as we were stood in a good position just as large crowds started to form around us.
The medieval astronomical clock is attached to the southern side of the old town hall and its an unmissable sight on a visit to the city. At 12.00 noon precisely a trap door opened to reveal Christ marching out followed by his apostles along with the chiming of the clock tower bells. Below the clock 12 medallions feature the signs of the zodiac which were added in 1865 by the famous Czech painter Joseph Manes. You don’t need to be there just at midday to view this spectacle as it takes place on the hour between 9.00 a.m. and 11.00 p.m. daily.
It then started raining so we popped into a nearby cafe/restaurant for some lunch. There we both enjoyed bowls of soup served in large bread rolls which we accompanied with glasses of local beer. With good timing, the rain showers had stopped as we were ready to leave.
Next on our list, was a visit to the Naprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures. Entrance 129czk (£4.15). This collection of non-European ethnography is a branch of the National Museum and is housed in a former brewery.
It contains a wide range of objects from archaeological to more recent times with an interesting gallery on the ground floor devoted to Jules Verne’s novel ‘Around the World in 80 Days’.
A river boat trip was next on our agenda so we made our way to another of Prague’s iconic sights, the Charles Bridge. This bridge, spanning the river Vltava river was the only means of crossing the river until 1841 and it was at that time the most important connection between the city’s old town and Prague Castle.
At the old town end of the bridge stands the Charles Bridge Museum which offers combined tickets including a visit to the museum with a 45 minute boat trip for 340czk (£11.80). As a boat was due to depart, we decided to climb on board and enjoy this first. To our surprise we discovered that drinks and snacks were complementary, ranging from tea, coffee, lemonade or beer plus either a gingerbread cake or an ice cream.
We both happily sat back in our seats sipping cool glasses of beer and nibbling the tasty gingerbread as our boat tour passed alongside the Charles Bridge and through the smaller waterways of the city that the larger tour boats can’t fit through. A pre-recorded commentary was available in various languages and this gave an informative account of the history of the bridge and the landmarks that we passed along the route.
Afterwards, we just had enough time to explore the museum before it closed for the day. The exhibition displayed how the bridge had been constructed and the history of the 30 statues adorning it. As with all the other museums visited during the day we gained entrance via our Prague Cards (Cool Pass) but even if you were just paying to visit individual attractions, I would highly recommend this boat tour for its friendly service and complimentary refreshments.
We’d both enjoyed a fun filled day which we ended with a delicious meal in one of the cosy pubs close to the hotel. Tired but happy, we were then soon fast asleep in bed.
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