Czech Republic

A Guide to Prague’s Historical Quarters: Hradčany

Prague was been known to have many nicknames – ‘city of a hundred spires’, ‘the magic city’, ‘the mother of cities’, ‘the city with 100 bell towers’, ‘the golden city’, the Old Town, the New Town, the Jewish Quarter; and the ‘heart of Europe’. Travel to Prague, and you will instantly understand why. It is a captivating city full of beautiful buildings and historical sites just waiting to be explored. This bohemian city built on the hills alongside the Vltava River, features a stunning skyline of gothic spires. It is so photogenic with its cobblestone streets, red rooftops, extensive gardens and brightly coloured buildings.

Prague used to be known as the ‘Five Towns’, although it is divided into 10 separate districts, most visitors tend to concentrate on the five historic towns:

    1. Hradčany (Castle district)
    2. Stare Mesto (Old Town)
    3. Mala Strana (Lesser Quarter)
    4. Nove Mesto (New Town)
    5. Jewish Quarter

This travel guide is a five-part series focusing on one of the five areas at a time. It will highlight some of the area’s best of, so you won’t miss a thing.  So, let’s get started shall we, with Hradčany, otherwise known as the Castle district.

A major portion of Hradčany consists of the Prague Castle. It dates back to the 9th century, and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the largest castle complex at 70,000 square meters (750,000 square feet). It is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The castle is among the most visited tourist attractions in Prague attracting over 1.8 million people per year. While you can roam the castle grounds for free, there’s an entrance fee if you wish to visit the various buildings.

The main highlights within this complex include:

St. Vitus Cathedral

Built over a time span of almost 600 years, it began in 1344 where slowly many renaissance and baroque details were added over the centuries. It was in 1861, that a concerted effort was made to finish the cathedral which took until 1929. So, yes, over 600 years!

Old Royal Palace

The palace is one of the oldest parts of the castle complex. It was built on the remains of the original structure dating back to the 9th-10th centuries. The best part is the Gothic Vladislav Hall with its beautiful gothic vaulted ceiling.  The vast hall was used for banquets, councils, coronations, and even indoor jousting tournaments. There is even a Riders’ Staircase designed to allow for a knight on horseback.

Golden Lane

Is a picturesque street filled of small, I mean very small, colourful houses built in the 16th century mainly for the castle guards. In the 19th century, they were open up to the citizens of Prague, and typically the occupants were among the poor. However, some famous residents have also lived on Golden Lane. Literary icon Franz Kafka lived in house No. 22 in 1916 and film historian Josef Kazda lived at No. 12. Kazda is best remembered for saving thousands of films and documentaries from the Nazis during World War II. He hid copies in his house – and even organized small screenings in secret – in his tiny home.

Royal Garden

The beautiful Renaissance garden built in 1534, showcased rare botanical flowers and exotic plants from other countries. The gardens were meant to entertain the royal family and other nobility. Structures were soon added, and included the Ball Game hall (1569), the Summer Palace or Belvedere (1560), the Lion Court (1560). Today, it is a peaceful area to stroll and take in the beauty.

Hradčany was an independent borough until 1784, and because this area is located beside Prague Castle, it long held the status of being a ‘royal town’. Because of this status, residents living here were all wealthy and therefore were able to afford to hire the best artisans who created some of the most stunning buildings. It is easy to simply walk around aimlessly and admire all of these romantic looking structures.

Other highlights include:

Hradčany Square – it faces Prague castle and you can see the towers of St. Vitus Cathedral standing in the centre.

Schwarzenberg Palace (left) and Salmov Palace (right) – both surrounding Hradčany Square square are elaborately designed each one painted a different soft pastel colour and covered in naturalistic stucco designs.

Strahov Monastery – founded in 1140 for the Premonstratensian order. Within the complex you will find Church St Roch (1612), which is now an art gallery and the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady (1143). Also of interest would be the rare Stratov library which houses a number of medieval manuscripts and maps.

Loreta – this is a pilgrimage site which consists of a Baroque Church of the Nativity and a replica of the Holy House surrounded by cloisters and chapels, all built in the 1600s. In the tower there is a 27-bell carillon that plays the Loretan Marian song “A Thousand Times We Greet Thee” every hour from 9am to 6pm.  

Nový Svět – is a tiny area of just a couple of streets tucked away off the beaten path, and the radar of most tourists. This hidden gem is full of charm with its picturesque cottages dating back to the Middle Ages. 

Also, here are a few of my favourites in this area for food and drink:

  • Coffee shop – Karvarna Novy Svet
  • Brewery – Klaterni Pivovar
  • Restaurant and terrace – Peklo (part of Strava Monstery)

Most come to Hradčany to only see the Prague Castle. Not me. What I loved the most was how quiet and picturesque this area is. With its elevated position over the city it offers some beautiful lookout points and definitely a quiet respite from the busy, tourist filled streets of Prague. Be sure to check out the other 4 historical areas in future blog posts. 

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    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you so much for commenting Lauren. Yes, although Prague Castle takes up the majority of this historic area, I really loved exploring beyond the complex. The series will be slowly released over the coming months.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting Rachel. Every trip is a trip of a lifetime. They are each special it is hard to pick a favourite.

  • Christine

    We had such terrible weather in Prague that we didn’t really get to enjoy it. Your photos and descriptions make me want to go back and try again. Looking forward to the rest of the series!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Hi Christine, thank you so much for commenting. Oh, we have had those trips where the weather hasn’t been great too. We lucked out, springtime in Prague was so vibrant with greenery and blooms.
      The series will be a slow release over the coming months.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you so much for your kind words! It makes me happy to know that this may be helpful to someone.

      • Faith Hernly

        Always love reading your posts! So many beautiful, historical places to see there. I thought it was so neat when you said that the palace had a Riders’ Staircase for knights on horses. How cool is that?!

        • The.Holidaymaker

          Thank you so much Faith for reading my post and commenting. Yes the Vladislav Hall is massive, I was just awe of the ceiling that I never got a picture of the actual space.

  • MY RIG Adventures

    It honestly looks like such a beautiful old city. My Nana has always loved Prague and visited many times during her life. Then she’d come home and share those stories and adventures with us, the grandkids. I wonder if I’ll get there myself someday to check it out.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Yes! It sounds like absolutely you should. This would be a wonderful memory, that you Nana was able to inspire your travels. Hope you get there one day soon!

  • Punita Malhotra

    Love, love, love Prague. I have been twice and both times I experienced it differently. The historical quarters are so grand yet not overwhelming at all. The castle gardens were my fave spot.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting Punita! Yes, they are grand, and that is why finding some serene spots, like the gardens or quieter hidden away areas are always a great find.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting and your kind words. I wanted to go into a bit more detail to do this over a series of photos! Glad you enjoyed as much as I did.

  • Emma

    I would love to explore this whole district. Wandering the castles and local eateries would be an amazing way to spend a few days. The buildings look so old and rich with history.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Emma for commenting. Yes, this was a wonderful district to visit and spend some time in, even beyond seeing Prague Castle.

  • April Key Rode

    What an interesting read about this country and town full of gem. Honestly, reading a lot about Prague recently made me want to explore it. Hope in two years we can start exploring Europe! Thanks for the informative post.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting April. Yes, I think Prague is a popular destination and one of the countries in Europe that should be seen. Hope you get to see it in the next couple of years.

    • Life Of Y

      Great detailed post! I’ve only visited Prague on a uni trip when I was 19. I think that, after reading this, I seriously missed out on some beautiful places. No harm done – I’ll just have to go back!

      • The.Holidaymaker

        Thank you for commenting April. We all have those travels in our “earlier” years, but they were just different experiences. Travel and experiencing looks different as we age, and that is why I love to continue to do it and return to same places, as you will always have a different perspective and interest. But yes, all the more reason to return. Hope you get to one day.

  • Josy A

    Goodness there is so much history and beauty with all that gorgeous architecture.

    Prague is really popular in the UK for hen-nights or stag parties, but it looks like it would be better suited to a relaxed holiday!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting Josy. There are definitely a lot of facets to this city. There are a lot of young people, as you mentioned it is quite popular with parties. But there are also a lot of people who are just attracted to the beauty and history of the city. Hope you get to see it one day.

  • Karie

    Prague has been on my bucket list since long. I had no idea it was divided into 5 towns. Hradčany looks like a really surreal place with those buildings and the castle. As an architecture lover , I can’t wait to visit here soon. Thanks for sharing!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting Karie. Actually there are 10 districts in Prague, but there are 5 historical areas, ones that tourists tend to visit most, that I will be highlighting in my 5 part series. I hope you get to travel there one day soon. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Elizabeth

    I really love your idea to break Prague up into five separate blog posts. There is so much that the city offers – it is nearly impossible to fit it into one. This brought back memories of walking through the castle complex several years ago. It offers such spectacular views of the Old Town and river.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Elizabeth for commenting. Yes, I like to keep my blog posts short, hopefully capturing people’s attention; and seeing there is so much to see and do, I thought it be best to break it down. I am glad that it brought back some memories for you!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Carol for commenting. Well, of course it is those two draws and so much more! 😉 Thanks for stopping by and hope you check back in when the other four ones come out!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Hello Tania, thank you for commenting. Yes, it is the largest castle complex (which includes all the buildings) according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Hope you get there one day soon. And, always happy to inspire.

  • Cindy

    Prague has been on my list for far too long – – I must plan a visit. I’m with you. While I would like to see the castle and the rest of the complex (including the Stratov library ), I really like those cute streets like Golden Lane and Nový Svět. I love wandering in neighbourhoods like that and then stopping at the coffee shop you recommended for something sweet.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Hello Cindy, and thank you for commenting. It sounds like we are kindred spirits. Yes, the small little coffee shop, with only 2 tables out front is the perfect spot to sit and enjoy the peacefulness of the area, and watch the locals go to and from. Hope you get there one day soon.

  • Helen

    That row of pastel houses is so lovely. It was snowing when we went and I think I spent more time huddled underground tasting beer than sightseeing – now feel like I missed so much. Looking forward to the other posts.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Oh, it must have been a completely different experience to see it covered with a blanket of snow! I don’t blame you for wanting to hibernate in one of their cozy restaurants or cafes. That would have been a great experience too! Thank you for commenting Helen and for stopping by. Hope you get the chance to check out the rest of the series.

  • Life Of Y

    Great detailed post! I’ve only visited Prague on a uni trip when I was 19. I think that, after reading this, I seriously missed out on some beautiful places. No harm done – I’ll just have to go back!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting. Yes, we all have those travels in our youth that we feel we need to return to and experience it in a different way. That is what I love about travel, it broadens your perspective and creates great memories that last a lifetime, no matter the age or the experience. Hope you get to return!

  • Candy

    This is such a wonderful and informative guide for those of us planning a visit to Prague. I always like to visit cathedrals, but from your list, the Golden Lane really piqued my interest.

    I love these colorful quaint areas, but even better when there is so much history behind them. I had no idea both Josef Kazda and Franz Kafka lived here. Are you allowed to go inside them or do they offer tours?

    • The.Holidaymaker

      How wonderful Candy that you are planning a trip and happy to know this post has expanded your itinerary. Yes, some of the homes are open for tours – they try to show what life would have looked like for some of the key castle staff. You can tour Josef Kazda’s house, and read up on some of the ways he was able to hide his documentaries. The house that Franz Kafka lived in for almost 2 years with this sister is not open for a tour, but it makes a great photo. Sadly, mine wasn’t up to snuff to post! Thank you for commenting Candy.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting Akriti. That sounds wonderful that you are planning a trip this summer and that you might use this as your guide. Would love to hear back from you once you return if you feel there was anything I missed about this area in Prague. Safe and happy travels.

  • Ketki

    Hradčany looks so colorful! And the old palace architecture is stunning. I had never heard of Hradčany before but sure looks like an amazing and calm place to explore.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Hello Ketki, thank you for commenting. This is just an area of the historic Prague, not a city itself. Prague is broken into 10 districts, 5 of them fall into the historic city centre of Prague. The posts will focus on 1 of these 5 areas at a time. Indeed it is a lovely and calm place to explore.

  • Lara Dunning

    Prague is high on my list and historic areas are always on my travel itinerary. St. Vitus Cathedral is gorgeous! I’d love to check out Nový Svět and drink a beer at the brewery!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Lara for commenting. If historic areas are on your list, then Prague is definitely the city to explore. When you go, make it for a week, it’s not a city that can be seen in a couple of days.

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