36 Hours in Prague: Churches, Synagogues and Monasteries

By: Sarah Mount

While Prague may be the most secular city in the world, its churches and synagogues continue to draw visitors to the quiet wonders lying behind closed doors. Prague, with its church spires spread over the two sides of the Vltava River and religious statues lining the Charles Bridge, provides a mix of old buildings and new faces. One side of Prague holds the “Lesser Town” or “Mala Strana” where the castle, the homes of past elites, and a variety of churches remain standing. The other side includes the “Old Town,” “Wenceslas Square” and the Jewish Quarter.

Until the 9th century, Prague was a pagan nation. Then, two evangelists, Cyril and Metodej, started to spread Christianity around the nation and Catholicism began to dominate the scene. This changed when religion was essentially outlawed in the Communist era and the people of Prague were discouraged from attending church. Whether it was because of the strict rules of certain religious denominations or the push from the Communists, many people in Prague have turned to atheism rather than religion.

Christianity is not the only faith that was affected in Prague. Judaism was commonly practiced in the Jewish Quarter and the Jewish people made up a large part of the population prior to World War II. However, dueing the Nazi invasion, many Jews were killed or were forced to leave the Czech Republic. Because of the war, only a small Jewish community is left in Prague, where many synagogues, holding the history of the Prague Jewish community, remain. These events resulted in sparsely attended services and tourist-oriented synagogues, where visitors get to admire rather than participate.

Religious sites around Prague.

DAY ONE

1 PM: Strahov Monastery

Strahovské nádvoří 1/132, 118 00 Praha 1

Visitors of Strahov Monastery will be turning their heads to catch the beautiful view of both sides of the city that the hilltop community offers. At the monastery, you can walk around the compound where there is a stunning library, a private art gallery and peeks through the preservation gate of a breathtaking church. You should end your sight-seeing at the Bellavista restaurant overlook, where beers made by the Strahov monks are served. You’ll get to sit and enjoy a brew, from the monastery brewery, along with the quiet mumblings of conversation and authentic Czech cuisine that the restaurant offers.

Ticket information for tours of the library and art gallery: https://www.strahovskyklaster.cz/en/basic-information

To get there: Take the green line metro to “Malastrana” and then take a tram or walk the mile uphill to the Monastery.

4 PM: St. Vitus Cathedral

III. nádvoří 48/2, 119 01 Praha 1

Hard to miss against the usually sunny sky, the spires of St. Vitus Cathedral rise above the Prague Castle and its surrounding city. You will find the most important church in the country picturesquely situated and full of rich history in the center of the historic Castle District. You will see groups stopped in wonder before the massive cathedral where past royalty and saints lie. The royal mausoleum mostly includes the tombs of previous Kings and Queens, but some religious lie with them. Be sure to honor Czech’s most important saint, St. Wenceslas, in the cathedral’s chapel. Here you can see the door that hides the Crown Chamber where the Bohemian Coronation, or Crown Jewels, are located.

Ticket information: While you may be able to peek into the Cathedral to see it in all of its glory, you most likely will have to buy the “Exhibition Ticket: The Treasure of St. Vitus Cathedral.” (https://www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle-for-visitors/tickets)

To get there: Walk down “Pohorelec” for about 13 minutes from Strahov Monastery.

The massive St. Vitus Cathedral, from the Royal Gardens.

 

5 PM: St. Georges Basilica at Prague Castle

119 08 Prague 1

In the hilltop palace compound where the St. Vitus Cathedral stands tall, the St. George’s Basilica at Prague Castle overlooks the city as well. Be sure to explore the area surrounding the basilica, where you can find the historic castle and its gardens. Groups gather around the basilica, which is the oldest surviving church building within the Prague Castle. It holds the 18th century Bohemian Art Collection of the National Gallery in Prague, where you can spend time connecting with your inner artist. The Basilica also is used as a concert hall where orchestras, musicians and others provide shows. If there is a show being offered, take advantage of hearing the talented artists and then grab a quick sandwich at Café U Kanovníka the café nearest the castle, following the concert.

5:45 PM: St. Nicholas Church (“Mala Strana”)

Malostranské nám., 118 00 Praha 1-Malá Strana

The busyness of the day starts winding down as you head towards the small square where St. Nicholas Church is located. This centrally located church is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture (link to Mary Carols) and offers wonderful concerts. At 6 p.m., every night except for Tuesday, you can enjoy organ and church music concerts for around an hour. Appreciate the music and spend your time taking in the stunning architecture, surrounding paintings and various golden statues.

 

6:45 PM: Church of Our Lady Victorious

Karmelitská 9, 118 00 Praha 1

Follow the sounds of the church bells to your final church of the day. Church of Our Lady Victorious, sometimes called The Church of Our Lady of Victory, houses the Infant Jesus of Prague. This small statue holds a lot of historical value. Some believe that it once was in St. Teresa of Avilia, a Carmelite nun’s, possession while others believe that it once belonged to a priest of the church. No matter the owner, the Infant Jesus of Prague has been known to be the reason for blessings and miracles over the years. For many Christians, the statue is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Eastern Europe. Groups of visitors crowd the altar where the Infant Jesus is located, and people kneel for a moment before the spot. Be sure to quietly appreciate the altar where the statue stands.

To get there: Head south on Malostranské nám and turn right onto Karmelitská.

7:15 PM: The Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge offers a wide variety of street art, historic statues and people-watching. At this point in the night, what some may call the Golden Hour, you will enjoy walking down the bridge in the fading light. When you get to the end, go back into Old Town and enjoy dinner at the appropriately named Cathedral Café that’s conveniently located behind the Church of Our Lady before Tyn. The Cathedral Café offers soups, salads and heavier meals like their chicken curry with rice. Dinner for two is usually around $30.

DAY TWO

Prague’s Jewish Quarter was established in 1142 and was known for beautiful crafting, a rabbinic culture and many famous scholars. However, over time the people of this neighborhood were extremely persecuted. The Jewish people were affected by the Crusades, the Hussite Wars, Ferdinand I, and various other groups during the early days. Eventually, the Jews established an area that was safe and successful. However, that safety was taken away by the Nazis. The population in the Jewish Quarter fell from over 50,000 Jews before World War 2 to around 2,000 in 1968. This resulted in the area becoming more of a memory and testament to the past than a preserved community for the living. (link to Alana’s WWII piece).

10 AM: OldNew Synagogue

Maiselova 18, 110 01 Praha 1-Staré Město

Start your day at the Old-New Synagogue in Prague’s Jewish Quarter. The synagogue was opened in 1270, establishing it as the oldest active synagogue in all of Europe. To get the chance to see the Old-New Synagogue and all its history, you will want to buy a ticket. If you’re interested in going through all 7 of the synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, then you can buy a ticket for about $40 at the Information and Reservation Center (IRC) located on Maiselova. If you choose not to buy the ticket, then you can view the entrance to the synagogue and the outside of the building for free. After seeing this, walk straight down Maiselova towards Siroka and go up the stairs of the Jewish Ceremonial Hall to get a glimpse of the Old Jewish Cemetery.

Ticket information for tours: Go to the Information and Reservation Center or visit http://www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/info/visit/information-and-reservation-centre/

To get there: Take the Metro to the Staroměstská station.

11 AM: Maisel Synagogue

Maiselova 10, 110 00 Praha 1

While you may choose not to tour all seven of the Jewish Quarter synagogues, you might want to spend some of your morning with one more experience of a synagogue. The Maisel Synagogue is close to the Old-New Synagogue and visitors can find it by taking the small street Maiselova. You will be able to freely view the outside of the Maisel Synagogue and the entrance to the inside, but you must buy a separate ticket to see the entirety. If interested, learn the history of the Maisel Synagogue through the museum within!

Ticket information for tours: Go to the Information and Reservation Center or visit http://www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/info/visit/information-and-reservation-centre/

The exterior of Maisel Synagogue as seen from Maiselova Street.

12 PM: Lunch

King Solomon:  Široká 55/8, Staré Město, 110 00 PrahaJosefovPraha

Krćma:  Kostečná 4, 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město

Fully embrace the Jewish history of Prague by having an authentic Jewish meal. Enjoy lunch at a Jewish restaurant that’s near Jewish Quarter. Whether it is fully kosher such as the food served at the King Solomon restaurant, or a Prague and Jewish menu combination like the t away tucked-away Krćma café, you can fully experience a taste of the Jewish heritage that is so prevalent in this part of Prague.

1:30 PM: St. NicholasChurch

Staroměstské nám. 1101, 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město

After you spend your morning at the Jewish Quarter, weave your way through the various visitors and cobblestoned streets to the Old Town side of Prague. The groups of tourists, the quickness of locals and the height of buildings creates a busyness in Old Town that will propel you through Prague. Follow the crowds to St. Nicholas’ Church in the square of Old Town. Take in the authenticity of this church with its beautiful Bohemian organs as your soundtrack.

2:15 PM: Church of Our Lady Before Týn

Staroměstské nám., 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město

Step across the square to see the spires of the Church of Our Lady Before Týn. While this church is currently not open to the public, the building can be appreciated by walking around it. If facing the front of the church, walk along the right side of it until you find the statue of Our Lady Before Týn. There is a small garden where the statue stands and where you can spend some time learning about the history of the church. Continue around the entire church to find the worn, wooden doors that greet you, tempting you to enter but not opening for any visitors. Be sure to appreciate the Gothic architecture that rules this city.

To get there: Coming out of the front entrance of St. Nicholas’ Church, turn right towards the middle of Old Town. You will find the dark spires of the Church of Our Lady Before Týn standing tall behind the statue in the square.

3:00 PM: Church of St. James the Greater

Malá Štupartská 6, 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město

Around the corner from the square find the Basilica of St. James. This stunning church is from the Baroque period. The Basilica of St. James hosts organ concerts regularly. If you are interested in attending an organ concert, then be sure to research times so that you can enjoy the church music streaming from the organs. Be sure to see the infamous hanging arm that is on your immediate right when you walk into the church. The hand has many stories surrounding it, but the most common one is about a robber who was trying to steal from a statue of Mary. Between the hand and the streaming sounds of music, you’ll be sure to get goosebumps from this church (link to Maddie’s story).

4 PM: St. Salvator Church at Charles Bridge

Křižovnické náměstí, 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město

Head towards the water for a glimpse of the St. Salvator Church at Charles Bridge. This church sits facing the Charles Bridge entrance and is a mix of Baroque and Gothic features. The church hosts organ concerts where the sound of music mixes with the sounds of one of the most active parts of the city. Be sure to take in the last church of your weekend!

5 PM: Cross Charles Bridge toLesser Side

Malostranské nám. 6/18, 118 00 Praha 1-Malá Strana

When you finish at St. Salvator, you can cross the Charles Bridge once again and go eat dinner at Bistro Palliardi, where authentic Czech food like beef goulash and potato dumplings is served. This restaurant is conveniently situated in “Lesser Town,” where you can sit outside to enjoy the view of St. Nicholas as it turns into a structure that lights up the skyline.

DAY THREE

The interior of Basilica of St. James, as seen from the entrance.

8:30 AM: Basilica of St. James

Malá Štupartská 6, 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město

To fully experience the history that Prague’s churches offer, attend a Holy Mass service at 8:30 a.m. at the Basilica of St. James. You’ll hear the organs, smell the incense and feel the centuries of religious devotion permeate the walls of this church.

To get there: Located in the middle of Old Town, take the metro to Staroměstská.

9 AM: Cathedral Café

Týnská 11, 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město

Finish your adventure in the greenery of the garden at the Cathedral Café. Their excellent breakfast will leave you with a taste of the city that you won’t soon forget!

The sounds of bells call you around corners where steep stairs lead to crosses pointing to the sky. The quiet murmur of crowds moving through the Jewish Quarter take your mind to a time when these crowds were not visitors but inhabitants. You will remember the past, forming a bond with the other guests who move through these monuments seemingly stuck in time. While the religious traditions may be left behind, the ringing bells, shimmering chandeliers and underground corridors will not soon be forgotten.

 

 

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