Discover the secrets of the centuries-old Charles Bridge in the timeless city of Prague.
We've adapted a new mantra when we're asked for travel advice these days and it goes something like this. When people say that they want to visit Paris, we always pause and ask if they're sure they don't mean Prague. It's no slight against Paris, but I think when it comes to European beauty, charm, romance, and cobblestones, most would-be visitors are craving Prague (and they don't even know it!)
The city is home to fine bakeries, delightful public squares, and, of course, is no stranger to beautiful bridges. Plan your trip to Paris all the same. Just consider adding Prague onto that itinerary! We were fortunate to spend 4 days in the heart of the city, next to the legendary Charles Bridge, and we found reason after reason to starting recommending "The Golden City" along with "The City of Lights".
A bridge has connected the banks of the Vltava River since 1158, with the current design of what's known as the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most in Czech) dating back to the mid 1300s. While King Charles IV himself was rumored to have laid the bridge's first stone, it wasn't until the late 1800s that the name "Charles Bridge" was widely used.
But no matter its name, Charles Bridge has been beloved by locals and visitors for centuries. It's so much more than a critical transportation link - it's a symbol of Prague's enduring beauty and is a glorious piece of open air artwork.
The bridge is lined with a collection of 30 some astonishingly striking statues and pieces of sculpture relief, some which are rumored to bring good luck or love to those who rub them (like the faithful dog pictured below). The bridge has been pedestrian only for several decades, giving visitors plenty of time to linger on the cobblestones and examine the artwork. Alas, these aren't the originals. They're kept safe and sound in the National Museum, while the ones on the bridge are replicas.
Speaking of pedestrians, you'll find PLENTY on the bridge, especially in peak travel season. Prague is one of the most visited cities in Europe and, mid-day, the bridge can be very congested. But there's still plenty to see and do even if you can't get much alone time with your favourite sculpture. There are buskers and entertainers galore, people selling cheap (and not so cheap) souvenirs and trinkets, caricature sketchers, and my favourite of all - the bubble artists. It's kind of an ingenious gig. For the price of two sticks, some string, a bucket, and a bottle of soap solution, you've got yourself an excellent set up to entertain kids (and adults!)
Prague is an extremely safe city but, like any busy travel destination, keep your belongings and bags secure on the bridge. And if you're after crowd-free photos, follow our simple (but least favorite!) travel tip: Get up EARLY. Pre-sunrise photos can't be beat!
One of the best things about wandering on and around the bridge is that you can see so many neat shops and buildings on the streets below. There's the usual smattering of classic (and cheesy) souvenirs but we also spied some pretty cool finds, like a film museum and an instrument shop, before wandering into some charming shops, like a puppet studio (puppet making is a traditional art in the Czech Republic), a shop filled with super cute dishes and household ornaments made from jaunty polka dot porcelain, and the most gorgeous wee garden and florist shop.
We were able to explore the Charles Bridge and surrounding area with ease thanks to the picture-perfect location of our hotel, The Nicholas Hotel Residence. It's no exaggeration to say we were just steps from the bridge and the hotel's location in the Mala Strana neighbourhood made it the perfect base for accessing many of the city's best attractions, including the castle and the nearby Shakespeare and Sons English bookstore.
(And, while I'm not proud to admit it, its location above a Starbucks made for some very convenient blog writing. Sometimes you just need your caffeine a certain way!)
The Nicholas aims to be Prague's most charming small hotel and, considering that the 9 rooms are located on the top floor of a palace that dates back to 1786, I'd say it's accomplished its goal. But despite being one of the oldest buildings we've ever stayed in, the Nicholas offered thoroughly modern comfort. There's an elevator to bring you to the beautiful rooms, all with kitchenettes (such a rare treat in Europe), an included continental breakfast, 24 hour access to a Nespresso machine (Ryan's favourite!) and complimentary treats and drinks in your room.
Everything about the hotel is stunningly beautiful, from the ornate front door to our bedroom view of the Church Of Saint Nicholas. I hadn't even realized how close we were to the church until I opened a small ceiling window above our bed. Surprise! The most incredible view greeted me.
I insisted on keeping the windows open all night just so I could periodically look at the church - it must have been one of the best views we've ever had. (Though our followers on Twitter might remember me asking if there are any bats in Prague. Happily, no creatures of the night dropped in to visit and sleeping with the window open was a nice treat.)
The loft style room was the ideal set up for our 4 night visit. I loved how the sleeping loft was separate from the rest of the room, giving us a space below to rest and work. The large living room window was perfect for people watching on the square below and we were impressed by how much clever storage space was incorporated into the design (just check out the teeny drawers tucked underneath the stairs in the photo below!)
The same loft ceiling windows that gave us such an amazing view of the church let in plenty of natural light and, combined with a portable fan, provided a comfortable cross breeze, even in the middle of summer. (The age of the building precludes an air conditioning system).
The staff of The Nicholas were wonderful. They brought us up to our room and gave us a full tour of all the room and hotel features. When I asked about directions to the post office and if it would sell supplies like mailing boxes, the staff were able to provide the information I needed and they even volunteered to walk there with me should I run into any troubles. That's pretty amazing!
My only complaint was that the hotel didn't have a laundry service and that the staff weren't sure what to suggest. In the end, we found Prague Andy's Laundromat, a fantastic laundromat designed primarily for tourists, with the most powerful laundry soap I've ever used! (An added bonus: while it's not close to the hotel, it is on the same tram line so it was a simple ride).
There's never enough time in Prague
It's impossible to come to this city and not fall a little bit in love. Just check out my first view of Prague and the square outside our hotel. Behind me, just at the end of the tram, is the path down to Charles Bridge - a pretty good home base if you ask me. The city is like something from a fairy tale and I suspect it's exactly what everyone secretly wants when they picture a trip to Europe. Charles Bridge may be one of the city's top attractions, but there's nothing overrated about it and I can't wait for my next sunrise stroll over the cobblestones.
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Our visit in Prague was facilitated by Czech Tourism and we thank them for their support. All research, writing, and opinions are our own.