Prague is a city filled with iconic religious imagery and ornate houses of worship, devoid of inhabitants. As a result of centuries of rulers sanctioning religions from their thrones, combined with the recent 40 years of communist rule, many Czechs reject traditional forms of religion and question organized institutions. In a 2009 opinion poll sponsored by the Stredisko Empirickych Vyzkumu (STEM) agency, 38 percent of people surveyed considered themselves atheistic. “The Czech Republic is among the most secular countries in the world,” said Pavel Hosek, a professor of comparative religions at Charles University in Prague.
Still, those who are religious have created communities where they feel comfortable expressing themselves. Visitors pray at Christian statues throughout the city . A small but vibrant Jewish quarter filled with synagogues and Kosher restaurants reminds visitors of Europe’s troubled anti-Semitic past. Even Muslims can find comfort in mosques and halal restaurants. For spiritual travelers visiting Prague, opportunities for personal worship and exploration of Czech religious culture can fill 36 hours with reverence.
The Jewish people have a long history in Prague, dating back to the 13th century with the opening of synagogues and cemeteries. Journey through Josefov, a district near the Old Town Square, to see how historic sites combine with modern history for a view of Jewish life in Prague. The Jewish Museum serves as a resource for most of the Jewish attractions in the city and offers a basis to understand the past and current relationships between the Jews and other religious groups. Tourists can appreciate some of the attractions on their own, but the guided tours allow for greater comprehension of the sites. The First Jewish Town tour is one of the most comprehensive for your money, at 480 CZK (or $24) for adults. Be sure to ask about discounts and specials.
After touring the area, you may enjoy a meal at Chabad’s Shelanu Kosher restaurant. During lunchtime, prices are 100-300 CZK, or about $5-$15. The restaurant is crowded on Fridays when locals pick up food orders for Shabbat festivities. Dinitz and King Solomon are also located in Josefov and offer a similar dining experience at a slightly higher price.
Though the Czechs have had a complicated relationship with religion, creating a subtle culture of Atheism, this lack of traditional devotion has paved the way for alternative forms of spirituality. Neo-Paganism, for example, is re-emerging. “There is a sense of return to Mother Earth and return to Celtic, Germanic and Slavic pre-Christian spirituality and culture,” Hosek said. “It’s quite popular and often combined with new-age spirituality and very practical concerns like a healthy lifestyle and environmental concerns.” Founded in 2005, Wulflund is Czech Republic’s first pagan and re-enactors shop, according to its website. At Drakkaria, one of the company’s stores, you can find swords and jewelry as well as clothing and books that embody the Pagan lifestyle.
Specializing in Turkish cuisine, Istanbul Kebab offers a variety of Halal options, including lamb, chicken and beef, for 200-400 CZK, or $10-$20. Across the street from the Mosque in Prague City Center, Istanbul Kebab is a kebab stop before Friday prayer. The restaurant is also near a Halal grocery store, if you would like to try making a few dishes while traveling.
Mosque in Prague City Center
About 4,000 Muslims live in the Czech Republic among the total 10.5 million people, according to the 2011 recent census, so finding those who share Islamic beliefs can be challenging. If you stay in Prague on a Friday evening, however, you may catch the final Salat service of ‘Isha, where Czech Muslims pray. Located on the first floor inside a mall, the mosque space is small enough for quiet reflection but large enough to accommodate a communal gathering. There are prayer areas for men and women, but women may have trouble hearing certain aspects of the service, said Lori Goshert, a Czech Muslim.
A popular tourist attraction, the Charles Bridge is one of the most well-known sites of religious imagery in Prague, with 30 figures depicting Christian images, including two in the reconstruction process. Construction of the bridge began in 1357 under the rule of King Charles IV. At the time, it served as the only way to cross the Vltava River that connects the city’s Old Town to Lesser Town. Today, people from around the world pay tribute to the statues lining both sides of the bridge. They also place locks on parts of the bridge, some inscribed with religious prayers.
Also known as Lehka Hlava, Clear Head is a vegetarian restaurant that “aims to satisfy your senses and clear your mind,” according to its website. Clear Head emphasizes meditation and espouses compassion and tolerance, among other Buddhist principles. The Big Clear Head dish, which is large enough to split between two people at about 212 CZK each, or $11, comes with tofu and vegetable skewers, potatoes, cheese quesadillas with jalapenos and pita, and is enough to satisfy the appetite — even for meat lovers. The aloe vera drink pairs nicely to counteract the spices from dinner.
Regarding religion, Franz Kafka embodied what surveys indicate many Czechs feel today. Born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, Kafka struggled with his identity and his religion in particular. “What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe,” he once wrote in his diary. He became famous posthumously for his short stories and novels including Die Verwandlung, Der Process and Das Schloss. Critics have argued how much his religion influenced his works. Debate the existential subject over pasta and coffee in Cafe Kafka, which is located adjacent to the Old Town Square.
Finish your journey in Prague with trdelnik, a Czech delicacy in which dough is wrapped around a stick, fried and topped with sugar. You’ll see people who frost the dessert with Nutella and while it may not be the religious experience of your past 36 hours in Prague, your taste buds will enjoy the treat. Stands are located throughout the streets, including one conveniently located across from Cafe Kafka.