Romantic Prague

Romantic Prague Romantic Prague 1
Prague romantic Prague romantic © Ameloot Alix 3
Prague romantic Prague romantic © Petr Soukup 4
Prague romantic Prague romantic © Thinkstock 5

On almost every corner in Prague you will encounter a monument commemorating some historic event or great personality.

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Many a plaque pays tribute to a battle or other consequential moment in time. These stories have been frequently written about and endlessly told.

Yet in addition to these major events there are stories that may seem much more ordinary, but when examined closely they reveal the true nature of those great events much more eloquently. Come visit some of Prague’s well known sites with us and we’ll look at them together through fresh eyes. Let yourselves be inspired by our guide, who will take you through the four seasons in Prague and help you to experience your own love story here.

Love is all around

(spring)

 

It is said that Prague is at its most beautiful in the spring, and hardly anyone will dispute this claim – especially if you go with them on a stroll through the gardens below Prague Castle at this time of year. While the castle itself is usually bustling, its gardens contain plenty of secluded nooks. If you start your journey towards the castle from the northeast, in the Royal Garden, you will be welcomed right at its entrance by what art historians call the purest Renaissance building north of the Alps. Construction on the Queen Anne Summer Palace began in 1538 under the direction of the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand I. According to available documentation, it was intended for recreational and ceremonial purposes. Monarchs and courtiers used it for their daily relaxation but also for some “official duties” such as balls and garden parties. What’s more, the interior decoration of the summer palace filled an important function – paintings and reliefs here clearly express the Habsburgs’ belief in their right to rule the Czech lands. If we look closely, however, we also find a more personal message here. It is said that Ferdinand dedicated the summer palace to his wife, Anne Jagiellon, and indeed, one of the reliefs has a scene of Ferdinand giving his wife a fig blossom – which is generally interpreted today as the bestowal of this magnificent architectural gift. The sad truth, however, is that the modest and humanistic woman, who undoubtedly was deserving of such a grand expression of love, did not live to see the building’s completion, for she died soon after the birth of their fifteenth child, long before its construction was finished.

 

  

Photos: (© Libor Sváček, © Hana Fialová)

 

The garden adjacent to the Summer Palace is an ideal place for romantic springtime strolls under a canopy of mature exotic trees and surrounded by blossoming peonies. From here you can walk all the way to Prague Castle or you can go down to the Deer Moat and then continue on to the neighbourhood called Nový svět (New World), where you can lose yourselves in its picturesque streets. If you are interested in another story of eternal love, you will find one just a few tram stops away at the Obora Hvězda (Star Game Reserve), which was established by the the previously mentioned Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand I.

Prague Castle gardens
Prague Castle gardens
Slideshow
A garden wedding © Artur Jakutsevich

A garden wedding

Deer Moat © Irena Brožová

Deer Moat

Garden on the Ramparts © Hana Fialová

Garden on the Ramparts

Royal Garden © COEX Praha

Royal Garden

The New World © Irena Brožová

The New World

Wallenstein Garden – grotto (a typical Romantic element) © Thinkstock

Wallenstein Garden – grotto (a typical Romantic element)

Wallenstein Garden – grotto (a typical Romantic element) © Artur Jakutsevich

Wallenstein Garden – grotto (a typical Romantic element)

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The main figure in this story, however, is the emperor’s son Ferdinand of Tyrol, who was vice-regent of Bohemia and an amateur architect. In the game reserve founded by his father he had built to his own design a hunting lodge in the shape of a six-pointed star. It is generally believed that the love-struck Ferdinand had the Star Summer Palace built for his beloved, Filipina Weiserová, who fatefully affected his entire life. Filipina was an exceptionally beautiful and educated woman, but she was also the daughter of a wealthy yet low-born merchant and financier. Ferdinand and Filipina therefore had to fastidiously hide their socially unacceptable relationship. His marriage to a women of humble origins closed off access for himself and his heirs to the highest circles of European royalty. And because Filipina could not live at Prague Castle, Ferdinand tried to right this injustice by creating for his beloved not just a refuge here in Prague but a second one at Křivoklát Castle, in the midst of deep forests. The pope finally recognized their unequal marriage as legitimate almost twenty years after the fact, and their sons at last attained their birthright. Filipina’s happiness did not last long, however. She died four years later.

Křivoklát
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Ferdinand of Tyrol’s fate thus partially echoed that of his father, who had built for his beloved Anne the summer palace at Prague Castle. Perhaps he even tried to live up to him. He compensated for his political ambitions, futile because of his romance with Filipina, with grand architectural endeavours. He transformed Prague into a hub of social life, and many monuments from his time are preserved to the present day. So perhaps it can be said that part of Prague’s beauty came at the expense of his love story.

A place in near Prague Castle that is literally dedicated to all those in love is Petřín Hill. You will recognize it by its lookout tower – a scaled-down replica of the Eiffel Tower – which is clearly visible from almost anywhere in the city centre. In the spring, when the fruit trees in the Seminary Garden are in bloom and the Rose Garden is awash with thousands of flowers, Petřín is at its most beautiful, and it is hard to believe that such a charming place was once the city gallows. Today, it invites enamoured couples to stroll through its park grounds or to nestle together on a bench or on the grass. And on May 1st, couples traditionally make a pilgrimage to the statue of the poet Karel Hynek Mácha – the Czech Don Juan – which is tucked in a romantically overgrown nook in the lower part of the garden. Lovers kiss under a blossoming tree near the monument so that the woman, as the custom says, will never wither up. Although the factual basis of this folk observance is often questioned by historians, among young people it is ever more popular each year, and on the first day of May you can see couples streaming to the blossoming cherry orchards to declare their love.

 

Photo: (© Petr Soukup)

 

Summer lovin’

(summer)

 

Even in summer, when the Czech capital is bustling with tourists, you can enjoy the best that Prague has to offer in relative peace and privacy. If you wish to see Prague alone as a couple and at the same time not miss out on any of its beauty, we recommend starting your city tour at the boat rental near the National Theatre. Aboard your rented boat you can take a romantic cruise past several of the islands in the Vltava River, and more experienced sailors can journey all the way to the weir beneath the Charles Bridge. The view of the medieval bridge with Prague Castle in the background is an unforgettable experience from a boat. At the Charles Bridge you can then set off on foot, and the best place to head to is Kampa Park, which holds plentiful secrets and surprises.

 

Photos: (© Michal Vitásek, © Artur Jakutsevich)

 

Tucked away amongst the gardens, embassies, a blind branch of the Vltava River with a large mill-wheel, and picturesque little squares is the famous Lennon Wall – a colourful pilgrimage place for couples in love. In the 1970s this section of the Maltese Garden enclosure started to be called the “Wailing Wall”, because chalk-written verses and messages of love often surfaced here. After the assassination of John Lennon in 1980, it became a symbolic memorial to him where people left flowers and candles. Graffiti inspired by the life of John Lennon appeared on the wall, and someone created a large portrait of him here. This was one of the few public places where nonconformist youth would regularly meet during the repressive years of “normalization” to express their desire for freedom. Under the watchful eye of the police, what were originally small, spontaneous gatherings grew into anti-regime rallies at which petitions were signed against the deployment of nuclear weapons or demanding the release of political prisoners. They were the largest protests since 1970 and prefigured the mass demonstrations at the end of the 1980s that triggered the end of the communist regime. The wall has changed over time, and the original portrait of Lennon has been subsumed under layers of new paintings. Every time that paintings or lyrics expressing a desire for freedom were whitewashed by state authorities, new images and verses would appear the following day. Today the wall is owned by the Knights of Malta, and every year on the anniversary of Lennon’s tragic death young people come here to light candles and honour his memory.

 

Photo: (© Artur Jakutsevich)

 

From Kampa it is only a couple of steps to the Charles Bridge. Directly below it, however, you can make a stop at Prague’s own love-lock bridge, and if you wish you can declare your eternal love by attaching a padlock here and throwing the key into the Čertovka canal. While this custom commemorating the martyrdom of St. Valentine was imported to Prague from abroad, if your next steps take you to the Charles Bridge be sure to visit the statue of St. John of Nepomuk. This Czech martyr shares an unhappy fate with the Italian patron of lovers – he was also thrown into the river. At the place where it happened, you can touch a bronze relief for good luck. It is said that if you place your hand on the relief so that each finger touches one of the five stars of his halo you will have your secret wish fulfilled.

From the Charles Bridge, you can continue, as most tourists do, to the Old Town. However, do try to avoid the main route and instead lose yourselves in some of the area’s romantic side streets. There are plenty of surprises awaiting you here.

Surprise
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You can end your walk at the Old Town Square in front of the ancient astronomical clock. Until recently, Prague was the only place in the world where you could see such a timepiece. However, today you can see a copy of it in Seoul, South Korea. And why there? It can be attributed to a popular Korean television series centring on the love story of a couple in Prague which charmed millions of people.

Lovers in Prague
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Photo: (© Irena Brožová)

 

City of wine

(autumn)

 

Wine and the annual vintage are inseparably connected with autumn, and even though it may seem rather unlikely, both have been an intrinsic part of the fall season in Prague for centuries. Vineyards right in the heart of the city with magnificent views of the skyline are a true Prague phenomenon, adding something very special to the rich urban tapestry. During the reign of Rudolf II, when winemaking here was at its peak, Prague was even known as the “city of wine”.

You will find one of these vineyards right in the vicinity of Prague Castle, situated on a rocky promontory above the Old Castle Stairs between Klárov and the Deer Moat. It is also the oldest vineyard in Bohemia, and according to legend it was cultivated by St. Wenceslas himself, the patron of the Czech lands. The vineyard has been preserved here nearly unchanged to the present day, and this unique site is of incalculable value. The dominant architectural feature here is Villa Richter, a summer palace built in the classicist style and featuring two terraces with unobstructed panoramic views of the Old Town, Malá Strana (the Lesser Quarter) and the Belvedere summer palace. They are attractive not only as a place to stop for some refreshment while touring Prague Castle but they also make a beautiful backdrop for a wedding ceremony. Special events taking place here include the Celebration of Rosé Wines in May, during which you can taste rosé wines from dozens of wineries all over Bohemia and Moravia together with select culinary delicacies.

Other Prague vineyards also offer an ideal spot for a romantic encounter over good food and wine with breathtaking views of the city. One of them is the newly renovated Viniční altán (Vineyard Gazebo) in Prague’s Havlíček Orchards. The vineyard was founded by Emperor Charles IV in the second half of the 14th century. Today it is a popular place not only for walks in the adjacent English-style park with a large romantic grotto but also for garden parties.

 

© Irena Brožová

 

Equally charming is the third of Prague’s trio of vineyards, situated at the edge of the city. However, you can combine your trip here with a visit to the zoo, which in 2007 was ranked among the seven best zoos in the world by the prestigious Forbes Traveler Magazine and is the most visited tourist destination in the country. Your reward for the journey will be beautiful and peaceful surroundings. The St. Clara Vineyard, Prague’s largest in terms of area, was originally connected with the Troja Chateau but today it is part of the Troja Botanical Garden.

Winemaking has a long tradition here, and in 2003 its production was relaunched. Thanks to its south-facing slope and plenty of sunshine, grapes ripen to an excellent quality here. They are processed on-site in a newly built cellar using the latest technology. Every year the winery organizes a celebration of the harvest – the Vintage in the Botanical Garden, with an exhibition of grapes and a tasting of wines and the fermented grape juice called burčák. Another event that you won’t want to miss on your autumn visit to Prague is the celebration in November of young St. Martin’s wines, which begins at 11 a.m. on 11.11 in the local wine shop.

Where to say ‘I do’ in Prague

 

Photo: (© Botanická zahrada)

 

The magical atmosphere of autumn in Prague reaches a high note even in places that may not be considered traditional tourist destinations but are certainly among the most interesting spots to visit in the city. In addition to the popular Old Jewish Cemetery, other atmospheric graveyards are the Olšany Cemetery and the New Jewish Cemetery – the burial place of Franz Kafka. Its tranquillity and greenery, with numerous impressive tombs and Art Nouveau monuments draped with ivy, recall the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. It is a quiet and picturesque location that is ideal for autumn strolls. The nearby Olšany Cemetery is the final resting place of a number of Prague’s noteworthy past inhabitants: You will find here the graves of Czech and foreign heroes of both world wars, eminent Czech poets, and also the student Jan Palach, who burned himself to death in 1969 to protest the Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Beyond Franz Kafka
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Since the Romantic era, however, the Vyšehrad cemetery has been designated as the final resting place for outstanding personalities of the Czech nation. The Pantheon at Vyšehrad, an ancient hilltop fortification above the right bank of the Vltava River – and a location connected with many legends about the beginnings of Czech history – is one of the most hallowed places for Czechs. In the adjacent Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, however, is hidden a true rarity. During an inspection of the old depository in 2003, quite by accident a relic of St. Valentine, the patron of all lovers, was discovered in a dusty Baroque reliquary. How and when the relic arrived at Vyšehrad will probably never be known. It is generally believed, however, that Emperor Charles IV acquired it for Prague from Italy in the 14th century. The relic of St. Valentine – part of his shoulder blade – is the largest fragment outside of Italy and is now displayed in the church, but only once a year, on February 14th – St. Valentine’s Day. After the reliquary was found in 2003, a tradition began of betrothed couples making a pilgrimage to Vyšehrad on this day. So for lovers spending the holiday in Prague there is an opportunity to add a sacred dimension to your Valentine’s Day celebration.

 

   

Photos: (© Irena Brožová, © Libor Sváček)

 

In the glow of of gas street lamps

(winter)

 

That Prague has much to offer its visitors even in the dead of winter is confirmed by a report from the CNN news network, which included Prague in its selection of Ten Best Cities for a Winter Vacation.

Where to lose yourself on a winter walk through Prague
Where to lose yourself on a winter walk through Prague
Slideshow
Bistro Bruncvík © Viktor Janoušek

Bistro Bruncvík

A pleasant stop during a romantic stroll through Prague. Just a few steps from the Charles Bridge, on the bank of the Čertovka canal, it’s more a serving window than a traditional bistro. Hot and cold drinks, made from fruit juice and spirits, are particularly welcome in the winter.

Mlýnská kavárna (Mill Café) © Viktor Janoušek

Mlýnská kavárna (Mill Café)

The perfect place to end your romantic walk through Kampa Island and the surrounding area. This café in a former mill can be found – how else? – right along the Čertovka, a blind branch of the Vltava River. You can recognize it by the old mill wheel at the entrance. The café is usually crowded, but it stays open late and is a great place to mingle with Prague’s intellectual elite and premier league café idlers.

U krále brabantského (At the Brabant King’s) © Irena Brožová

U krále brabantského (At the Brabant King’s)

One of the oldest pubs in Prague, it is associated with many myths and legends. Among the storied figures who imbibed here are Rudolf II’s alchemists, the executioner Jan Mydlář, Mozart and the writer Jaroslav Hašek. But villains and crooks also drank their fill here.

U Magistra Kelly (At Master Kelly’s) © Lukáš Žentel

U Magistra Kelly (At Master Kelly’s)

This place tucked away in one of Malá Strana’s courtyards has an energetic and charming owner/waiter rolled into one who serves his customers in five languages.

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Particularly after a dusting of snow, Prague bedecks itself in romantic attire, all bathed in the glow of gas street lamps. It gives this ancient city an almost fairytale ambience, enticing you to duck into a quiet café or out-of-the-way pub. During Advent, on a walk along the Royal Route that leads along Celetná Street, through the Old Town Square and across the Charles Bridge all the way up to Prague Castle, you may meet a tall figure wearing a black cloak and top hat and carrying a long bamboo pole. He is one of the city’s master lamplighters, who take to the streets at Christmastime to amplify the nostalgic mood of the season.

 

  

Photos: (© Martin Mařák, © Irena Brožová)

 

The tranquil winter atmosphere is truly best enjoyed before Christmas, since the end of the year in Prague, as in all major cities around the world, is marked by tumultuous celebrations. Prague lights up with spectacular fireworks above Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge – the traditional manner of ringing in the new year. If you are here at Christmastime, however, do not miss a visit to the Prague Christmas markets, which are regularly ranked among the ten most beautiful in Europe. Against the backdrop of the Old Town Square you can buy traditional Czech handicrafts – wooden toys, glass, metalwork and ceramics – and also taste some traditional Czech and Central European specialties.

 

  

Photo: (© Irena Brožová)

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