Come see the spires of kid-friendly Prague, shop, party, dine and absorb European history without ever entering a museum.
When you step into Prague, Czech Republic, you’ll think you’ve stepped into the pages of a real-life fairytale. Kids will love the views of the spires, towers, and majestic castle in the distance. Its rambling cobble stone streets are home to scenes in such movies as Mission Impossible II, Vin Diesel’s XXX, James Bond’s Casino Royale, and The Bourne Identity. In addition to its cinematic splendor and mystical backdrop, the city also has a history of communist occupation, a peaceful revolution, and an ongoing struggle with the global crisis. And, in January 2009, the Czech Republic assumed presidency of the European Union. It was the first time in history an ex-Soviet country will lead the community.
A Walk through Historic Old Town
To get an overview of Prague’s past and present, start your medieval tour in Old Town by walking under Powder Tower, one of 13 entrances into this intriguing section of the city. The tower began construction in 1475 and was once a part of the castle’s defenses. It later became a workshop for a cannon and bell maker, laboratory for alchemists, and, in 1754, a gunpowder producer. Today, visitors can see a small exhibition of its history and Renaissance life in Prague before exploring the observation deck. If you climb to the top, you can see views all the way to Prague Castle across the Charles River.
Visitors will quickly notice that there are no cars in Old Town, which makes it an ideal place for kids to wander under the watchful eye of Mom and Dad. Tourists might even sense a touch of Venice, as the streets, built for the city’s protection, wind and twist. However, the influx of crowds during peak season and uneven pedestrian streets will make it a difficult place to maneuver a stroller. Prague is a better option for kids who like to walk, or parents who don’t mind carrying their little ones themselves. Horse drawn carriage rides are also popular through Old Town, and an ideal choice for weary kids.
Follow along the cobble stone streets until you find yourself in an open square dotted with restaurants, pubs, museums, and souvenir shops. Old Town Square dates back to the 12th century and was the central marketplace for Prague. One of its most popular attractions, the Astronomical Clock, attracts scores of visitors every hour on the hour. You can find it by locating the Old Town Hall Tower in the center of the square.
The clock dates back to the 15th century and features a dazzling show for tourists. Each hour, the Skeleton of Death rings the bell and a trap door opens. Christ and his Twelve Apostles start a procession past the small door. There are also 12 medallions with signs of the zodiac located just below the clock. It’s a captivating sight for visitors of all ages. There are plenty of options for outdoor seating and snacks near the tower. Show up and choose a spot for a quick beverage within eyesight of the clock and its hourly toll.
After your visit to the clock, take a tour inside the tower itself and make your way to the top. You’ll find that the tower is one of the most striking buildings in Prague and currently houses the Prague Tourist Information Center. The view allows tourists to see across the city, the amber and red rooftops of the houses below, and learn how the nooks and crannies of the streets wind together.
At the center of Old Town, you’ll find a large statue of Jan Hus, a notable reformer of Prague. The statue was erected in 1915 to mark the 500th anniversary of his death. From here you should see a mix of Roman, Baroque, and Gothic style buildings surrounding the square. This is also a good spot to for an overview of everything the square has to offer. But it can also be a hot spot for pickpockets, so keep an eye on your wallet throughout Old Town.
Locate the intriguing Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, just beyond the Jus Hus statue. This Gothic church lines one side of the square and features ominous spires that can be seen throughout the entire city. You might notice that the two spires which represent the masculine and feminine sides of the world, aren’t symmetrical. Visitors can also tour its Baroque interior to learn more about the church and its history.
Lesser Town & The Lennon Wall
When you’re done exploring Old Town Square, its many restaurants, markets, and street vendors, keep walking down the cobble stone streets. You’ll find a variety of marionette shops and toy stores on each side. The streets are narrow, which can make it easier to keep an eye on roaming kids eager to explore. Keep walking until you hit the Charles Bridge crossing over the Vltava River. This famous bridge links Old Town with Lesser Town and has a tower with observation decks on each side.
The Charles Bridge was first called the Stone Bridge during its infancy and was later named for the Roman Emperor Charles IV. There’s a rumor that egg yolks were actually mixed into the mortar to strengthen the construction of the bridge and sustain numerous attacks. Thirty Baroque statues were placed on each side of the bridge during the 17th century. The ones that remain are mostly copies, but the originals can be seen in the Lapidarium Museum.
Parents looking for a little romance will find the best time to visit the bridge is at sunset when views of the castle district of Mala Strana and the surrounding Hradcany area are magically lit up against the sky. Let the kids pore over the souvenir stands and watch the street performers while you take in the spectacular view. You might just hear music from the cafes below and see young couples holding hands stroll over the bridge.
If you have older kids who understand your nostalgia for The Beatles, head down to the Lennon Wall located at Velkoprevorske Namesti, Mala Strana. It’s a little tricky to find it, and not all tourists know where it is. Before you reach the end of the Charles Bridge on the Lesser Town side, look for a staircase on your left. From there, walk downstairs and make your way right through a small street corridor until you find the wall. If you have access to Google maps, you can plug in the coordinates N 50° 05.177 E 014° 24.417 to find the exact location on a map.
The wall is symbolic of the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic, when it was still called Czechoslovakia. When John Lennon was murdered in 1980, he became a hero to many young Czechs and a memorial was painted on the wall. Graffiti expressing anti-communist views also appeared as the popularity of the wall grew with locals. Despite the communist’s efforts to whitewash over the art and threaten prison to anyone caught at the wall, they could never keep it completely clean. The wall is also synonymous with the relatively peaceful Velvet Revolution that led to the fall of Communism in 1989. Today, the Lennon Wall is owned by the Knights of the Maltese Cross, who allow the graffiti to continue.
After visiting the wall and exploring the shops in Lesser Town, make your way to the striking Prague Castle, that dominates the city’s skyline.
Prague Castle is the largest medieval castle complex in Europe. Over the centuries, it was also the historic home to a succession of Czech kings. Today, the castle serves as the seat of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle grounds are made up of several historical attractions including Saint Vitus Cathedral, a monastery, several towers, museums and art galleries, Golden Lane, Lobkowicz Palace, and St. George’s Basilica among others. Tour the grounds and share a picnic on the steps leading up to the castle, stretch your legs, and take some photos of the city below.
You will probably find long lines at Saint Vitus and St. George’s, and, inside will probably prove uninteresting to children. Instead, head to Golden Lane, a small street lined with 11 houses featuring armory, textiles, souvenir shops, and a bookshop. Little girls might think the picture-perfect houses look like their favorite dollhouses back home. Legendary writers including Franz Kafka lived in the houses before they fell into destitution and were later restored. Touring Golden Lane requires a ticket which comes with the purchase of a Prague City Card.
Upon leaving the Golden Lane, young visitors will be treated to The Prague Toy Museum located in the Old Count’s Chambers of the Prague Castle area. Two floors house toys from all over the world and range from ancient Greek era to modern Barbie dolls. Kids will also have a chance to see Czech and Bohemian traditional toys cars, airplanes, engines, and more. Children 15-years and under receive free admission and adult tickets run about $3 to $4 depending on the exchange rate.
Just beyond the Toy Museum lies a medieval torture chamber called the White Tower. It was used as a prison dating back to 1584 and has a sordid history of torture. The last prisoner left the tower in 1743. Although the tower itself isn’t open to visitors, you will find a small section that depicts some of the medieval methods for torture and view of prison life in Prague. Young kids and queasy adults might be put-off by the instruments and pictures.
Prague Especially for Kids
After exploring the castle grounds, head over to Petrin Hill by subway, bus or car. Ambitious families can walk up the winding hills and stairs to the top of the hill, or take the cable car, or funicular, to the top. You’ll find Petrin Observation Tower at the center of the hill. This miniaturized version of the Eiffel Tower was built in 1891 for Prague’s Jubilee Exhibition.
Visitors can climb the 299 winding steps to the top for remarkable views of Prague below. The tower itself is the center of the landscaped grounds and a few other attractions surrounding the hill. After your expedition to the top of the tower, explore the Mirror Labyrinth and watch as your body distorts at every bend. Petrin hill also features a Planetarium for stargazing and a lush Rose Garden.
If your kids are having trouble relating to the Czech culture, take them to Prague Zoo (420 296-112-111, U TrojskÃ©ho zÃ¡mku 3/120, 171 00 Praha 7), where animals speak a universal language. The zoo is located in the district of Troja and features a seasonal chairlift, Indonesian Jungle, Monkey Island, gorillas, komodo dragons, and much more. A special children’s zoo offers the chance to feed and pet Prague’s domestic animals with ponies, sheep, and pigs.
For live entertainment that both kids and parents can enjoy, take the family to the National Marionette Theater. Touting their shows as “opera for the whole family,” the Czech marionettes have performed in over 3,000 shows since 1991. Catch a production that celebrates Mozart with elaborate staging, costumes, and marionette design. The Spejbl Theatre and HurvÃnek Theatre are also mainstays of Prague puppetry and children’s entertainment. Visitors can learn more about the puppets and the history of woodcarving and performance. Be careful, kids might want their own marionette from the shops lining Old Town after a performance.
In warmer weather, kids can stretch their legs and get some fresh air at Ledeburg Gardens and Palffy Gardens, or tour the Golden Street. Older children in need of some evening entertainment can take a look at the Prague National Theatre (NÃ¡rodnÃ divadlo v Praze) (+420 224 901 448). FTF also recommends a family outing to Laterna Magicka, a sound, light and dance-filled show akin to Cirque du Soleil that will dazzle anyone over 5-years-old.
Prague is very tourist friendly and visitors will be hard-pressed not to find English speakers within the city center. There are plenty of kid-friendly restaurants and chains including TGIFridays, McDonald’s, and Burger King located near Old Town. If you started your walking tour veering right through Powder Tower instead of straight, you would hit a pedestrian shopping mall full of eateries, shopping, chains stores, and grocery marts.
For local fare, kids will probably love the traditional potato pancakes with sour cream, roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut. Pizza is also popular in this town, where it’s not uncommon for live jazz to accompany local pizzerias and pubs. For a special treat, try a traditional honey cake called MedovnÃk, the apple strudel called jableÃ£n? zÃ¡vin, or blueberry dumplings called borÃ›vkovÃ© knedlÃky.
Like most of Europe, hotels in Prague aren’t known for their spacious or frugal accommodations. For a cost-effective option without skimping on space, try The Best Western Meteor Plaza (420 224-192-559, Hybernska 6, 110 00 Prague 1) located within walking distance of Powder Tower and local transportation. Ask the friendly, bilingual staff about family-sized rooms with pullout sofas, pocket doors to the main bedroom to give Mom and Dad privacy, multiple armoires, and a Jacuzzi tub.
Though it lacks the fancy plasma TV’s the kids might be accustomed to back home, The Meteor Plaza does offer space, relative quiet, and a daily hot breakfast whose options include eggs, pancakes, pastries, potatoes, fruit, granola, and cereal. It’s an easy and no-cost way to fill up for the morning and go light on lunch.
To save on attractions, pick up a Prague City card for free entry into over 50 museums, towers, castle grounds, guided walks, and public transportation. Tourists can also opt for the Prague Package, which includes hotel accommodation at one of 40 hotels, buffet breakfast, and the Prague Card with or without the Transport Pass option.
For more information about Prague, local hotels, and attractions, please visit www.czechtourism.com.
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