Our day at Prague Castle got off to a splendid start with an exploration of St. Vitus Cathedral. Once we had seen that incredible edifice, there were still many other sights to see, and many more hours to explore the rest of the Castle complex.
Before I get into all the details of the rest of our day, I want to address the question of how you get to Prague Castle. The main metro/tram hub at Malostranska, on the map, looks tantalizingly close to the east end of the castle. However, I warn you that, while a short distance as the crow flies, this is a brutal uphill climb. And when you enter that back end of the complex, there is no ticket office nearby to my knowledge. So if you came that way and wanted to see all the remarkable sights at the Castle, you would have to walk the entire length of the castle – not the worst thing, but chewing up some of your day – to get to the ticket booth. And without a ticket, all you can do is walk around and look at the buildings from the outside, which for me would be frustrating. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, the best option for getting there is to transfer at Malostranska to Tram 22, take that two stops to Prazky Hrad, walk two short blocks (downhill) to the 2nd courtyard, and you’re ready to buy your ticket and start your day at the Prague Castle.
So after we had seen St. Vitus, we were feeling like a break for a beverage would be a welcome thing. Luckily, just east of the cathedral in the fourth courtyard is U Kanovniku, a nice cafe with outdoor seating.
U Kanovniku – Cafe in the Fourth Courtyard
Fourth Courtyard of Prague Castle with St. George’s Basilica
We found a table with a bit of shade, ordered cold drinks, and contemplated our next move. St. George’s Basilica was right in front of us, but I had thought our next stop should be the Old Royal Palace. Therese, however, had a different idea. She had seen the entrance for the Story of Prague Castle nearby, and since she always likes to get historical perspective, the story behind places she is visited, she wanted to go there next. As family travel itinerary developer (a role for which I am handsomely remunerated), I try to be open-minded to what Therese calls “changing the plan,” so I followed her impulse.
In the Story of Prague Castle exhibit, there was no photography allowed. Nevertheless, we managed to snap a photo which gives a sense of the kind of thing that was on display there. There was a large diorama of the castle grounds in the middle of one of the rooms of the exhibit.
A Diorama of the Prague Castle and its Stages of Development
Different materials were used to represent different stages in the development of the hilltop site. The building and renovation of the various buildings undertaken during succeeding centuries and the kings and other nobility who were responsible for making the Castle what it is today are described in very colorful fashion throughout this exhibit.
Next we tackled the Old Royal Palace. I have to say, I was rather disappointed here. Certainly, the main Vladislav Hall is impressive with its cavernous size and Gothic vaulting.
Vladislav Hall in Old Royal Palace
But there are few rooms off this large room that are open to the public, and there is not that much to see (by contrast, I felt there was much more on display in the Story of Prague Castle exhibit). The Land Rolls Room with its coat of arms painted on the walls was interesting, and an exhibit of plaster casts of the architectural details of Vladislav Hall were pretty cool.
Land Rolls Room with its Coats of Arms
Furnace in the Old Royal Palace
Our Lord King of the Bohemians and the Hungarians
Plaster Casts of Stone Carving Details from Vladislav Hall
Paintings of Habsburgs in the Royal Palace
And the diet room where meetings of the nobility were held is beautiful with its throne.
Diet Room in the Old Royal Palace
Painting in the Diet Room in Old Royal Palace
Throne in the Old Royal Palace Diet Room
But probably what I loved most of all were the many antique keyholes and locks in the palace’s doors.
Dark Blue Keyhole
And there were nice views from the windows of the Royal Palace, both of other sections of the castle complex and of Prague itself.
St. Charles Bridge, with National Museum in the Background, from Prague Castle
View from the Window of the Old Royal Palace
Our next stop was St. George’s Basilica. This sacred building, diminutive in size compared to St. Vitus Cathedral, was overrun by huge tourist groups when we were there. We did our best to appreciate it. A Romanesque church in origin, it has maintained the original straightforward rectangular shape, and some medieval murals on the main arch and above the altar can still be viewed.
St. George’s Basilica
St. George’s Basilica Interior
Mural of Man, St. George’s Basilica
Mural of Woman, St. George’s Basilica
Side Chapel, St. George’s Basilica
Triptych, St. George’s Basilica
St. George’s Basilica Altar
St. George’s Basilica Crypt
St. George’s Basilica South Portal
St. George’s Basilica Tower
I took some pleasure at the Latin inscription below the tympanum on the south portal: Sancte Georgy, ora pro nobis deum et matrem eius. amen. (Saint George, pray for us to God and his mother, Amen.) I like the fact that George is written with a Czech spelling, ending in a “y.”
At this point, we had seen a lot and there was some question as to what was left to see. I consulted our ticket and looked around. We checked out the Golden Lane, and the Rosenberg Palace to conclude our time at the castle. The former is pretty touristy, a bunch of small shops that look like they were lifted from a Disney village (Therese said it reminded her a lot of the street in Mont Saint Michel, lined with kitschy souvenir shops, that you have to pass through to get to the abbey).
The Golden Lane
Prague Castle Sewer Cover, Golden Lane
Shop Entrance, Golden Lane
Chimney in Golden Lane, Prague Castle
Water Fountain Spiget, Golden Lane
In the Rosenberg Palace, I expected to see more about the women who took up residence there over the centuries. Instead, there was some of the usual stuff: a glorious ceiling mural in the main entrance, some glorious 18th century furniture. Then there was an exhibit of plaster casts of gargoyles from St. Vitus Cathedral that I thought was lots of fun (you know me – give me a gargoyle that’s half man and half chicken, and I’m happy).
Ceiling Mural, Rosenberg Palace
Furniture, Rosenberg Palace
Wall Medalion, Rosenberg Palace
View of Prague from Rosenberg Palace
Our time at the Prague Castle was nearly done. Now all we had to do was exit through the east end and stumble down the steep walkway to Malostranska to pick up Tram 5 back to Namesti Republiky where our hotel room beds waited to provide us with some post-castle relaxation. We made it to the square and the tram without too much incident, our minds full of the day’s fun (this had been, after all, our first full day in Prague, and with this, our trip was off to a great start).
That evening for dinner, we had made reservations (with the Hilton Executive Lounge Concierge’s recommendation) at Cafe Imperial. I will cut to the chase and tell you that the decor at Cafe Imperial is gorgeous; however, the food was not so great.
Cafe Imperial Ceiling
Cafe Imperial Ceiling
Cafe Imperial Pole
They just didn’t know what to do with my allergy at this restaurant. For my appetizer of beef tartare, they gave me dry toast to substitute for whatever dairy-laden bread usually accompanies it.
Beef Tartare Appetizer
Then I ordered rabbit for my main course. In my conversation with the waiter, I had thought they would substitute the usual buttery sauce that goes with the rabbit for something like an au jus. Then the dish came: a big piece of rabbit totally dry, with a side of french fries. ????? We spoke with the waiter further, and eventually they brought me a plate of vegetables sauteed in oil to go with it. So, as composed by me, this is what the dish utimately looked like.
Main Course at Cafe Imperial – Rabbit with Vegetables and Fries
With a glass of nice red Czech wine, I was able to get the dry rabbit and bland vegetables down. But this was definitely one of the worst meals I had in Prague. A small bad mark on an otherwise extraordinary day in Prague.