What’s not to like about Prague? From the splendour of Gothic Prague to Art Nouveau and Modernist masterpieces, from traditional pubs to a thumping clubbing scene, everyone can find their thing in the Czech capital. Likewise, there's somewhere to stay for everyone. Prague made our list of the best cheap places to travel in the world. Here's our guide to where to stay in Prague.
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On catching your first sight of Prague Castle from across the Vltava River you will be taken aback by its vast size. Not for the rulers of Bohemia a simple stone stronghold: rather, a citadel as big as a small town, its numerous fine buildings an imposing reminder of the power of royalty through the centuries.
From its beginnings some 1,000 years ago, it developed to perform important ceremonial functions in addition to its protective ones. In recent times, part of the castle was renovated to house the office of the president of the Czech Republic.
If you're interested in having an unusual time in Prague, read our guide to alternative Prague.
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Lying below the castle and stretching to the banks of the Vtlava River is Malá Strana, the Lesser Quarter or Little Quarter. The area was first settled in the 13th century when Otakar II invited German craftsmen to settle in Prague. Several fierce fires destroyed the early town, so although the street plan remains faithful to Otakar’s original instructions, the majority of the buildings date from a later period.
Following the CounterReformation in the mid-17th century, Malá Strana became fashionable with courtiers and aristocrats, and their money was invested in mansions replete with Renaissance and Baroque details. This is still a residential area, a factor which gives it an intimate atmosphere tangibly different to that of Staré Město just across the river.
Fans of twentieth-century architecture are wowed by the Art Nouveau, Cubist and Functionalist architectural parade. With a wide selection of eateries, this is also the best district to find yourself at mealtimes.
Charles IV gave the go-ahead for the building of the New Town (Nové Město) in 1348 when overcrowding in the Old Town was becoming an acute problem. Although much of the first stage of building has been swept away in subsequent redevelopment, the New Town has many important attractions. It is also a focus for hotels, and entertainment in the form of theatres, nightclubs and cinemas.
Na příkopě is the street that was the traditional dividing line between the Old Town and the New Town. It was built over the old moat, the defensive structure around the Old Town and links to the Powder Gate at its eastern end. Today it is pedestrianised, and is one of Prague’s most important retail streets, lined with modern shops, restaurants, casinos and exchange offices.
While political power was invested in Hradčany, the Old Town (Staré Město) – a cluster of streets on the opposite bank of the river – was the commercial heart of Prague. The city sat on important trading routes, east–west from Krakow into Germany and north–south from Vienna to Warsaw. As the Bohemian groschen became one of the major currencies in Europe, so the city began to take on a grander appearance.
Today it offers streets of architectural delights from the medieval to the Baroque. Old Town Square, at the heart of the Old Town and once the main marketplace for the city, is a good place to embark on a visit.
Take metro line A to Jiřího z Poděbrad station, and you will emerge in the increasingly fashionable, densely built-up quarter of Vinohrady, somewhat dingy in places but full of atmosphere and historical charm, which makes it one of the best places to stay in Prague. Nearby is the Modernist Church of the Sacred Heart, built in 1932, which has a distinctive, tombstone shaped clocktower.
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Although the area is quietly becoming one of Prague's most attractive neighbourhoods, it hasn't always been this way. The Karlín district experienced one of the worst floods in the Czech capital in 2002 when the Vltava River burst its banks.
The flooding of the area caused many of the buildings to be damaged. Although there was a real estate boom in Prague at the time, premises in Karlín were much cheaper than in other parts of the city. This housing situation in the area has naturally attracted members of the creative and artistic community. This has led to the creation of Karlín Studios, home to affordable artistic ateliers, and an attendant gallery.
The charm of Karlín remains the same even as the neighbourhood continues to grow. Here you can still enjoy the intricate plasterwork of the nineteenth-century pompous apartment blocks and take in the beautiful views from the top of Vítkov Hill.
Having been an industrial area in the past, the air quality here has now improved thanks to the development of cycling culture. You can still sample the local national cuisine in a pub or pop into a modern coffee shop for a cup of locally roasted coffee.
The Czech Republic is famous for more than just its capital. Read our guide to the best things to do in the Czech Republic.
Ready for a trip to Prague? Check out the snapshot The Rough Guide to Prague. If you travel further in the Czech Republic, read more about the best time to go to the Czech Republic. For inspiration use the itineraries and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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Top image: Old Town Square © Creative Travel Projects/Shutterstock.