About Prague Castle
Prague Castle (Prazsky hrad) is the Czech Republic’s most iconic landmark, a UNESCO World Heritage site and apparently the largest castle complex in the world.
History of Prague Castle
Sprawled over an area of 70,000 m², the complex is made up of the large, Gothic Saint Vitus Cathedral, Golden Lane, Lobkowicz Palace and St. George’s Basilica as well as several other palaces, a monastery, viewing towers, museums and art galleries. It’s something of a Gothic fairy-tale: expect to be wowed.
Prague Castle itself was originally built in approximately 880 AD by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty and has since been the seat of Czech monarchs, religious leaders, Holy Roman emperors and heads of state, the latter function of which it still fulfils today.
Major rebuilding took place in the 14th century under King Charles IV (the Gothic styles date from this period, although the church was completed nearly 600 years later), and fortifications were strengthened in case of attack. A fire in 1541 destroyed large parts of the castle: Ferdinand I rebuilt and added the Belvedere for his wife. The last monarch to undertake major alterations was Empress Maria Theresa in the 18th century.
Hitler spent a night in the castle in 1939, and during Nazi occupation it was used by Reinhard Heydrich as his headquarters. After the war, the castle became the home of offices for the new communist government – today, it’s still the sear of the Head of State in the Czech Republic.
Prague Castle today
Today, Prague Castle contains a wealth of information, archeological findings, artifacts and exhibits showcasing Czech history and heritage. Attractions include the beautiful gothic architecture, tower views and crown jewels at Saint Vitus Cathedral, the changing of the Castle Guard, which occurs once every hour, and the many galleries in and around the Castle.
With such an array of attractions, visitors can start their day at Prague Castle’s information centres located in the second and the third courtyards. This is where you can find information, maps and even professional tours through Prague Castle. There are multiple admission packages – think about what you really want to see so you don’t end up disappointed or ripped off!
The castle complex is open every day, with shorter hours in winter and until 10pm most summer evenings – the golden evening light is glorious and the views bathe the city in warmth when you look down from the castle. There’s plenty of tourist facilities in the vicinity. You’ll need to produce ID before entering and may well be subject to a bag search.
Getting to Prague Castle
The castle is on the west bank of the Vltava: head for metro Malostranska which is a 5 minute walk away, or any of the tram stops along the same road. The gardens of the castle are lovely and good for relaxing in with a book and a picnic after a visit. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the Old Town, across Charles Bridge.