Prague is Europe’s most beautifully preserved city

From the main railway station in Prague, the comfortable Mercedes sedan sent by the Iron Gate Hotel wound its way through a maze of tiny streets in a circular manner similar to a labyrinth. Though it couldn’t have been more than a couple of blocks from the train station, it took more than 20 minutes to arrive at the Iron Gate Hotel in the heart of Old Town. The trip was a quick lesson that the best way to navigate this ancient section of Prague is by walking.

Despite the many wars that Europe has endured throughout history, Prague is the only city that has avoided most of the destruction. It is the largest city in the Czech Republic and part of Bohemia, which runs the gamut architecturally of Roman, Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance influences. Visitors continually marvel at the massive churches, cathedrals, castles, theaters, bridges over the Vltava River, and art or sculptures on or around every structure. The wonders of Prague’s diverse art and culture keeps newcomers heads turning constantly as though they were on a swivel. It would take months to see even half of this picturesque city.

From the historical Iron Gate Hotel (the best place to stay in Prague) that was established in 1519 (hotel@irongate.cz), it’s a short morning walk through narrow, colorful streets lined with tiny retail shops to the famous Charles Bridge, which is the best place to begin your walking tour of Prague. This pathway across the Vltava River from Old Town to New Town is almost six football fields in length was first constructed of sandstone blocks in 1357. It was originally named the Stone Bridge or the Prague Bridge, but was officially christened the Charles Bridge in 1870.

Because of the magnificent construction, the huge towers at both ends, the more than 70 sculptures, and the breathtaking views of either side of the river, the Charles Bridge is probably the most visited site in Prague. To enjoy the beauty and serenity, early morning is the best time, but the evening can be a very romantic period to stroll the bridge. During the middle of the day, however, hundreds of street vendors, artists, musicians of all kinds, and a few unsavory types show up to vie for your money.

The most famous statue on the Charles Bridge is that of Saint John Nepomuk, who King Wenceslas IV had thrown from the bridge to his death in the river because he wouldn’t reveal a confession that the queen had given. Therefore, tradition implies that anyone who rubs the statue in the right place will be granted a wish or become lucky. The brass plaque on the statue has been polished to a bright shine by all the people who have touched it throughout the history of the Charles Bridge. Only touch the part depicting Saint John Nepomuk being thrown from the bridge … not the other one with the queen and the dog … that is bad luck!

After the bridge and during the picturesque climb over cobblestone roads and up steep, stone stairways to the Prague Castle, many interesting shops, restaurants, and drinking establishments are passed. Looking backward occasionally during this sojourn, unforgettable vistas of Prague and the Vltava River can be enjoyed.

The Prague Castle has been in existence for more than 1,100 years, is the largest castle complex in the world, and with the St. Vitus Cathedral is the defining structure of the Czech Republic. Despite numerous fires, changes of rulers, invasions, and even World Wars, this area has remained a living history that has survived every circumstance.

The castle was originally built by one the early Czech rulers around 870 AD using only dirt and timber. Since that beginning, it was rebuilt in the Romanesque style during the 13th century, the Gothic style in the 15th century, and after a horrific fire in 1541, it emerged with a Renaissance look. The last change to its modern Baroque style was accomplished during the 18th century. Also, since 1918, the Prague Castle has served as the official home to the president of the country.

After returning from the castle and going back across the Charles Bridge, take a left turn and proceed to the Jewish Quarter. You can visit synagogues, the cemetery, and the remnants of the Jewish Ghetto where many Jews died during World War II. This is a beautiful and historical section of Prague.

Walk in an angle to the right after the Jewish Quarter and you will be in the heart of Old Town which dates back to 1091. All of this section revolves around Old Town Square, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, and the Town Hall with its Astronomical Clock and tower. Highlighted by colorful pastel buildings and historical statues, the square is always active with tourists browsing the many portable retail shops or tasting the food from vendors in the square or outdoor restaurants.

Though parts of Prague are very modern, the true beauty of this magnificent city is the practically undisturbed history. Add to that a culture,

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