From Napoleonic battlefields to medieval castles and grand monuments, we’ve selected 10 of the best historic sites in the Czech Republic. Situated in central Europe, the lands of the Czech Republic feature great diversity and an enormous, varied history. Incorporating sites that recall the Celtic “Boii” inhabitants of the 1st millennium BC, and others that allude to Czechia’s tumultuous 20th century, the Czech Republic makes for a compelling destination for the historically-minded.
Wenceslas Square (Vaclavske Namesti) is a shopping boulevard in the centre of Prague. Established as a horse market in the 14th century during the reign of King Charles IV, it was officially renamed Wenceslas Square in the 19th century after the patron saint of Bohemia, Saint Wenceslas. It was at this time that the statue of Saint Wenceslas on horseback was erected in the square.
Wenceslas Square has been the site of political and social gatherings, including the reading of the Proclamation of Independence of Czechoslovakia on 28 October 1918. Wenceslas Square was also where Czech student Jan Palach set himself on fire on 16 January 1969 to protest the Soviet Union’s occupation of Czechoslovakia.
Prague Castle (Prazsky hrad) is the Czech Republic’s most iconic landmark, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest castle complex in the world. Sprawled over 70,000 square metres, the complex embraces Saint Vitus Cathedral, Lobkowicz Palace and St. George’s Basilica, as well as several other palaces, viewing towers, museums and art galleries.
Prague Castle was originally built around 880 AD by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty. It has since been the seat of Czech monarchs, religious leaders, Holy Roman emperors and heads of state.
The Astronomical Clock at Prague Old Town Hall was made by Mikuláš of Kadaň and Professor Jan Šindel in 1410, with the calendar dial and gothic decorations presumed to have been added near the end of the century. Today, visitors come on the hour to see its animated display of the Twelve Apostles, Christ and a representation of death tolling a bell.
Prague Old Town Hall itself is constituted from two buildings joined together in 1364. Its tower was built in 1338 and can be climbed for views of Prague. Visitors can also find Prague’s tourist information centre here.
Austerlitz Battlefield was the site of the Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, which took place on 2 December 1805. It saw Napoleon Bonaparte’s army decisively defeat the combined forces of the Russian and Austrian empires. As a result of the Battle of Austerlitz, Austria was forced to sign the Treaty of Pressburg and Russia retreated to its own territory.
Austerlitz Battlefield is today dominated by the Cairn of Peace, a monument commemorating the war. The best views are from the surrounding hills Zuran, the Pratzen Heights and Santon. Plaques and information boards describe the military campaign. The Cairn of Peace has an adjoining chapel and a museum, allowing visitors to the Austerlitz Battlefield to view multimedia displays and exhibits about the battle.
Lobkowicz Palace (Lobkowiczky palac) is one of the museums of Prague Castle and one of its most popular sites. It is named after the affluent and influential Lobkowicz family, to whom Lobkowicz Palace passed not long after it was built in the mid-16th century. Inside Lobkowicz Palace, a range of interesting exhibits include ceramics and 16th century Spanish art as well as musical manuscripts by Beethoven (a member of the Lobkowicz family was a patron).
The architecture and history of Lobkowicz Palace itself and the history of the Lobkowicz family are fascinating, too. A free one hour audio guide lets visitors make the most of a visit to Lobkowicz Palace.
The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague is the final resting place for many leading figures of the city’s Jewish community. In use between the 15th century and 1786, the Old Jewish Cemetary is one of the most important Jewish historical monuments in the city.
Thousands of gravestones jostle for space in the graveyard, which struggled for plots during its three centuries of active use. Visitors will notice that the surface of the cemetery is raised several metres higher than surrounding streets. This is because new levels of soil were added to create additional areas for new graves. Many of the gravestones on the surface actually commemorate individuals buried several layers down.
St George’s Basilica is a 10th century church rich with Baroque, Romanesque and Bohemian architectural elements. It is located in the Prague Castle complex. The church has undergone a series of reconstructions: while it was originally built in 920 AD by Prince Vratislav I, St George’s Basilica only retains the foundations from this period.
While the Baroque facade was added in 1671-91, the basilica has maintained the Romanesque style from the restoration following the 1142 fire in Prague Castle. The basilica is also the oldest surviving church building within Prague Castle.
Prague’s Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti) was established in the 12th century and originally served as the city’s main marketplace. Over the centuries, the Old Town Square has accumulated buildings of ranging styles, including Baroque sites such as St Nicholas’s Church, the Gothic Týn Cathedral and Romanesque architecture.
One of the main sites at the Old Town Square is the statue of Jan Hus, the 15th century Czech Catholic priest and religious reformer who was burnt at the stake on charges of heresy. The statue was erected on 6 July 1915 on the 500th anniversary of his death. The Old Town Square is also where visitors can find the Old Town Hall with its Astronomical Clock.
Perhaps the greatest example of Prague Baroque architecture, St Nicholas Church in the Lesser Town of Prague was a Jesuit church built between 1673 and 1752. It replaced a Gothic Parish church of Saint Nicholas which had stood on the site since the 13th century.
During the communist era, the church tower was used by State Security to surveil the American and Yugoslav embassies, as well as the route the West German embassy. Visitors today can climb the 80 metres to the top of St Nicholas Tower, while tours of the church’s architecture are also available.
Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) is an iconic bridge in Prague that crosses the river Vltava. Construction of Charles Bridge began during the reign of Charles IV in 1357, to replace the flood-damaged Judita Bridge. Upon completion in the 15th century, the “Stone Bridge” was the only means of crossing the river in Prague. It was therefore a vital connection between Prague Castle and the Old Town. It was renamed “Charles Bridge” in 1870.
The impressive 516 meter-long bridge is made from Bohemian sandstone, and features 16 arches and three towers. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Charles Bridge was adorned with around 30 Baroque statues depicting saints and patron saints. Although there are now over 70 statues on the bridge, they are all copies. Charles Bridge has been the site of important historical events in Czech history and today it’s a vibrant tourist attraction.