Destination attractions: things to do in prague

Prague is a vacation destination that offers beautiful architecture and plenty of breathtaking views.

After their first visit, many people would immediately argue that Prague is the most beautiful city in Europe. Regardless of whether that's what you're hoping for on your next vacation, there's a good reason that thousands of tourists flock to the city every spring and summer. Its breathtaking views, well-preserved architecture, and the dark, gothic aura surrounding its churches and castles lend Prague a highly evocative sense of history on even most casual stroll through the city center.

The first must-see destination that most tourists head to is Old Town Square, where the main attraction is the city's Astronomical Clock, whose tiny mechanical saints deliver an hourly performance when the clock chimes to the flashes of cameras and glee of the crowds. In summertime the square's pavement is lined with the tables of upscale outdoor cafés, giving your break from a long day of sightseeing an unabashedly decadent feel while you sit back and do some leisurely people-watching. In the wintertime the square is decorated with Christmas trees and packed with souvenir booths, making it the perfect outdoor setting to enjoy a hot cup of grog. Admittedly, this area is so dense with hoards of tourists in the spring that with its "so-perfect-that-it's-surreal" buildings and narrow, winding streets, it could be described as strangely reminiscent of Disneyland. Those who'd prefer to drink their espresso in the company of locals can find refuge only a few minutes' walk away, in quieter cafés such as the cozy Literary Kavarna, which features a bookstore and courtyard seating, or the more laid-back Monmartre, where a Czech Surrealist group purportedly still meets.

Just a stone's throw away is another classic photo opp: Charles Bridge. By day, the bridge is cluttered with vendors, street musicians, and camera-armed tourists (it's probably impossible to cross without having your picture taken). This is a popular location for pickpocketing, however, so use your common sense. At night, the bridge is less crowded, and it's much easier to appreciate the scenery as well as the ever-so-slightly sinister quality of the statues looming overhead.

Cross the bridge, and you'll find yourself in Mala Strana, a far less crowded district that offers a less commercial atmosphere that's ideal for a romantic walk or introspective wandering. If you don't lose your breath climbing the hundreds of steps to the famous Prague Castle (known as Hradcany), you'll be rewarded with a glorious view of the city. Like Charles Bridge, the castle is best enjoyed at night, when there is dramatic lighting and few visitors. The cathedral of St. Vitus, with its exquisite stained glass windows, is well-worth a visit in the daytime. If you're in the area and want to experience the most quintessential of traditional Czech pubs, head to Urouha, which is guaranteed to be loud, lively, and packed with locals on any night of the week. This is also the area in which to find restaurants serving traditional Czech cuisine such as fried pork cutlets, gulasch, and dumplings.

Prague certainly has no shortage of breathtaking views, and on the next hill over from the castle, is Petrin Hill, which offers a less obstructed panorama-style view as well as a treat for families. At the top of the hill are gardens, the Observatory, and a wacky Mirror Maze for kids. If you're not in the mood for hiking uphill, you can always take a cable car all the way to the top. An alternative for adults is an evening watching the sunset from the heights of the Letna Beer Garden, where you can sample Czech beer, world-famous for its superb quality and low cost, in a casual outdoor setting. Other exceptional views can be found at the more serene area of Vysehrad, which is also the site of one of Prague's most beautiful churches, The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, and a cemetery where famous figures such as Dvorak and Smetana are buried. And finally, those who are curious about the country's fascinating recent history, can contemplate under the colorful giant Metronome, the bizarre landmark built on the original site of what was once the world's largest monument to Stalin.

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