The average tourist visiting Prague most likely will wonder, “what the hell is that big building up on the hill over there, and how can I reach it?”
The Prague Castle is a world record holding, massive castle complex that was once home to various ruling bodies during the Holy Roman Empire, especially when Prague was the capital of the entire union.
Only ever militaristically breached by the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War, the castle is now stormed every day my a mess of tourists (yours truly as well) for a glimpse of the lovely Prague backdrop and the assortment of exquisite cathedrals atop the hill. It is definitely worth a day trip/ afternoon visit, but of course, how can you optimise your time and money?
There are many options for getting up and exploring the castle: walking, hiring a taxi, using the tram, and going alone or with a guided tour. The grounds are literally filled with tour groups from the array of companies that exist in the world that is Prague tourism; we (Nina and I) took one.
If you want to join one, they often start in the Old Town square, so just stop by that area at around 10:45 AM or 1:45 PM depending one when you want to go. The guides will advertise themselves. For a few hundred koruna, they give you a pre-purchased ticket for a tram that you take up with the group, which is a useful gesture if you do not understand the public transportation system here.
The tours are informative, but can run a little long (possibly 3+ hours), so if you want to go at your own pace and just marvel at the views, undertake the tram system or pay a little more for a taxi to go it alone.
Our tour was wonderful, but we were reminded of a chilling fact: how obnoxious and borderline disrespectful some tourists can be.
You will meet a lot of characters while traveling, fun ones, attractive ones, stuck up ones, but also ones you kind of just want to defenestrate or throw into the Vltava river like one former Czech king once did to a priest (we are on principle of course since we are in the Czech Republic). Going alone as a self guided visitor can reduce the possibility of being around the same unpleasant tourists for an entire afternoon.
If you cannot already tell, this area was reserved for the nobility at the time. Today, the presidential office is located here with the Parliament building being more so by the river. Sometimes on tours, President Miloš Zeman can be seen walking out of his office. However according to some Czechs, he shouldn’t be there at all … He’s a friend of Putin by the way …
Formal occasions and visiting diplomats are kept here as well, so do not be surprised if there is a more heightened military presence around the castle than in the actual capital. Do not be alarmed; the military seems to be quite unstressed when it comes to thousands of visitors entering the nation’s executive quarter. Even the hourly changing of the guards is relaxed.
Hundreds of legends surround the Czech Republic and its history, and they are interlaced within the architecture and construction of the ornate buildings of the complex. Every piece has meaning. If you skip the tour, you may miss out on some interesting anecdotes and Czech stories.
For example, did you know that the Charles Bridge has eggs in its cement to give it strength? According to the Catholics at the time, angels caught the defenestrated bishops who later went to the Pope, which ultimately started the Thirty Years’ War?
The mythical founder of the Czech Republic’s brother, Lech, founded Poland? And, the fabled Czech founder’s daughter, Libuše, was a seer and feminist queen? A few of these tales apparently aren’t too fictitious either.
So, should you take a tour or go it alone? Here, is a breakdown of the pros and cons –
Tour: Learn about Czech mythology and history – Know exactly what you are seeing – No travel worries
Alone: Go at your own pace – You probably won’t/shouldn’t feel like you have to defenestrate anyone – More freedom to explore the area
Tour: Pay a little more (remember to tip too!) – Can run long/ be long to begin with
Alone: May not understand what you are seeing (the historical and cultural significance) – Easier to get lost (though that is not so bad, right?)
It’s totally your decision, but I would definitely opt for using a vehicle to ascend to the castle – Some fellow hostelers have said they were warn out after a hike up to the top.
We say goodbye to Tess, Grace, and Nina, and I am off to the farm! Time to experience rural Czech culture, get a little (or a lot) dirtier, and live in the mountains.
Then after about a month, we are off to Croatia to stay with Nina and see the Balkans. We are about half way done with Expat-tern’s European excursion. Stay tuned for much much more happenings here.