A UNESCO World Heritage site and listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest coherent castle complex in the world, seeing Prague Castle is wonderful, albeit sometimes confusing visit. How do you master those 70,000 square metres? Here are a few tips to tackle the hrad (Czech for castle) enjoying its beauty from the bottom up. Jacy Meyer shows us the way.
Yes, like any proper castle Prague Castle sits atop a hill. Its location is part of what makes the Prague skyline so visually attractive. We are going to start with two alternatives for walking up. You can follow the route you didn’t choose to make your way back down thereby completing a loop of the complex.
Starting at Malostranské námestí, you’ll head left out of the square to Zámecká and then a quick left turn onto Thunovská. Follow the street up to the New Castle Stairs which brings you into Hradcanské námestí. The Gate of Giants, which you can’t miss on your right, is the entrance to Prague Castle. This isn’t the easiest way, but does provide lovely views over the Malá Strana neighbourhood.
A slightly easier way, still using your own two feet, is up the Old Castle Stairs. From the Malostranská metro station, exit right through a small park. Continue to walk (most likely simply following the crowds) till you see a staircase running up the hill on your left. This way brings you to the ‘back’ of the Castle via the Na Opyši gate. The walk here has a nice viewing stop for photos of the neighbourhood’s gardens and, before entering the Castle, you can take a short stroll through the St. Wenceslas vineyards.
By far my favourite way is to access the Castle through the Royal Garden. Unfortunately this option is only available between April 1 and October 31 when the garden is open. Take tram No. 22 to Královský letohrádek and enter the garden. You’ll pass the Summer Palace of Queen Anne, enjoy the beautiful gardens and at the end see the Prague Castle Riding School, which now shows art exhibitions. Turning left when you exit the gardens will lead you into the Second Courtyard.
The most typical (and easiest) way most people get to the Castle is to simply take tram No. 22 to the Pražský hrad stop. You’ll be right across the street from the Castle – cross the bridge and you are in the Second Courtyard. Alternatively, stay on tram No. 22 a couple stops more and exit at Pohorelec. Walk down the hill and you’ll be able to enter the Castle via Hradcanské námestí.
Inside the Castle
There are information centres in both the Second and Third Courtyards. To situate yourself, St. Vitus Cathedral is located in the Third Courtyard.
If you enter the complex via Hradcanské námestí, you’ll pass through the First Courtyard and into the Second. Make it to the First Courtyard by 12:00 daily and you can watch the ceremonial Changing of the Guard including a fanfare and the flag ceremony. If you got here by way of the Royal Gardens or the tram to Pražský hrad, you’ll enter the Castle into the Second Courtyard. Here you’ll find the Imperial Stable; a gorgeous gallery with a mannerist interior. It’s one of the best exhibition halls in Prague. Also here is the Prague Castle Picture Gallery which permanently displays paintings from the famous collection of Emperor Rudolph II.
Moving towards the Third Courtyard, you of course can’t miss the soaring towers of St Vitus Cathedral. The Great South Tower of the Cathedral is open daily, and weather permitting you can climb it for views of the Castle and beyond. Other sites of interest in this courtyard include the Powder Tower which has a permanent exhibition on the Prague Castle Guard; the permanent exhibition of The Story of Prague Castle and the elegant Old Royal Palace.
Moving out of the courtyard, you’ll come to the red-hued St. George’s Basilica, a striking example of Romanesque style. Keep walking along the narrow road, and to your left you’ll see the entrance to Golden Lane, one of the most charming and photographed spots in the Castle. And finally, on your way out, take a stroll through St. Wenceslas’ vineyard. If you entered the Castle by way of the Old Castle Steps, you can do this trip in reverse.
Exiting via the Old Castle Steps will bring you down to the Malostranská metro station. Exiting through Hradcanské námestí you can either head left and down the New Castle Steps to Malostranské námestí or continue straight through the square and hit the Pohorelec tram stop to take tram No. 22 back down to the centre.
Prague Castle Opening Hours
Prague Castle is open daily:
5:00 – 24:00 from April 1 – October 31
6:00 – 23:00 from November 1 – March 31
Historical monuments are open daily except December 24:
9:00 – 18:00 from April 1 – October 31
9:00 – 16:00 from November 1 – March 31
Prague Castle’s grounds and gardens are free. An admission fee (http://www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle/prague-castle-tourist-information/tickets.shtml) is charged to visit St. Vitus Cathedral and for buildings, monuments and exhibitions. Tickets purchased are good for two days.