Visiting Prague With a Dog – Part 1
The name “Prague” will forever conjure the image of a pet friendly fairy-tale landscape. To us, it will always be a city we love for not succumbing to the Napoleonic grid system thus providing us with hours of entertainment as we got lost in the winding and “directionally unpredictable” streets. It will remain in our hearts a city full of hidden gems, of special places and enchanted memories. And WOW is it ever pet friendly!
You’ve already tasted Prague a little; since I’ve shared with you the wonderful studio we stayed in, the magnificent wedding we attended and the joy of spending a day on Petrin hill. So with that in mind I shall continue with three more posts. Yes, three posts. Each post will cover 2 districts. This will make things a little more complete and give you a true sense of what this amazing city has to offer. And it has a lot to offer.
Hradcany – Prague Castle
Like so many European cities, Prague’s history started with its castle. Dating back to the 9th century it sits high above the Vltava River on its very own hill. And yes, it takes up the entire hill top. The castle is very much a town onto itself (section 1-5 on the map bellow).
Despite a bunch of fires and the “to be expected” invasions, Prague castle has somehow safeguarded its churches, chapels, halls and towers from every period of its history. That makes it pretty darn unique! For architecture buffs like us, it’s a joy since you get everything from the Gothic splendor of St. Vitus’s Cathedral…
… to the renaissance additions of Rudoph II, the last Habsburg to use the castle as his principal residence. The main courtyard dates all the way back to 1753, when joy Oh JOY the area was rebuilt in the Baroque and Neo-classical styles.
And if you think it’s just a museum you would be wrong. It never stopped being “the seat of power”. The current president of the Czech Republic still has his office there.
The fantastic thing about the castle is that the grounds proper are pet friendly. You can’t enter any of the buildings, chapels and such with your pet, but you can easily walk about the outside and soak it all in. The restaurants (yes, plural), cafés and shops are all pet friendly (inside and outside) and the views are amazing. So if you want to do the hand off thing it’s easy enough to do if there are two of you.
For the one “staying with the dog” your pet friendly stroll will take you past the high security entrance (left of the Main entrance courtyard). Here your bags will be checked and you will go through a metal detector.
Once in … you and your dog are free to roam the castle village streets. And I mean free as in there is no fee. Fees apply to ENTER each of the buildings along the way but for your dog and you to just enjoy the outdoors it’s free.
First stop for us was the royal gardens Café at the left of the main entrance. After standing in line to go past security it was time for a drink and an ice cream. Service at the café there was absolutely stellar.
Then we wondered over to the Powder tower, used in the past to store, you guessed it… powder. Then onwards towards the White tower and the adorable Golden lane (there is a fee for this section), a row of picturesque artisan’s cottages along the inside of the castle walls built in the 16th century. It was mostly goldsmiths that actually lived there hence its name. It’s arguably one of the prettiest streets in Prague.
Then we took full advantage of the view from the Dalibor Tower before looping back to enjoy Jirska street.
We stopped to see “The Youth” statue in the Burgrave Courtyard and ummm… did what one does. I guess it is good luck to “rub the penis”? No idea. I admit it was hilarious to watch all the other tourists trying SO hard to ignore this shining golden penis! There it was, glowing from all the previous folks that had rubbed it. So many people wanted to take a photo but felt “weird” doing so. As a result they just kept “hovering” waiting for someone to break the ice.
Well, we had NO trouble whatsoever! Our photo-shoot moment came complete with Mom happily shouting “Oh come on! You ALL know you want this photo!” … ah mom … our fearless one.
As you can see you will have a lot to visit with your dog; even if the picture gallery, main palace, basilica and royal gardens are not pet friendly.
Mala Strana – Little Quarter
Occupying the slopes beneath the Castle all the way down to the river is the area known as Mala Strana. It’s pretty much been the way it is today since the 1700s. It’s a maze of streets with lavish baroque palaces and churches. It was the realm of the nobles that desired privacy outside of the palace walls while still remaining close to the seat of power. Now it’s mostly home to embassies, artists, cafes, restaurants and lots of music venues.
If you are leaving the castle to head back towards the river and the famous Charles Bridge you’ll be crossing Hradcanske Square. This vast square right in front of the castle is a surprisingly large empty space. But it wasn’t always the case. Once home to a lot of small workshops, a fire in 1541 burnt that all to the ground. Quickly taking advantage of the newly liberated “prime real estate” a series of imposing palaces were built. On the South side is the huge 16th century Schwarzenbersky palace. Likely one of the most beautiful renaissance buildings in Prague with its diamond-point work (sgraffito) and hidden away pet friendly café with STELLAR view of the entire city of Prague. And off-leash time allowed too!
The West end of the square has the Thun-Hohenstein Palace, a heavy and austere thing built in 1689. You’ll recognize it by the statue on its roof. North side will regale you visually with the pink and white Rococo façade of the Sternberg Palace built in the 16th century palace for the Archbishop at the time.
From here we took the Nerudova Street back down towards the river. It’s a picturesque if narrow street named after a poet and journalist. His house is there … with two suns over the door (#47). It’s normally a crazy busy, noisy street but because we were there a little off season and earlier in the day than most we got to enjoy it fully.
Delightfully this street has tons of signs on and above the houses. This use to help people find the right home before they introduced house numbers; these signs are such fun! Top to bottom we figured out White Swan (#49), Green Lobster (#43), Golden Horseshoe (#34), The Three Fiddles (#12) and the Red Eagle (#6).
Most of these buildings are now embassies so keep your eyes open to see if you find yours! We saw many but not the Canadian embassy ….hmmmm…..
Then it was onwards to the Little Quarter square is sort of the hub of Mala Strana. It’s the center point of all access. Behind you would be the castle way up on its hill, ahead the Charles Bridge to cross the river, to your left the massive Church of St. Nicholas and to the right is Petrin Hill.
But before you cross the Charles bridge and leave…
Do take a moment to enjoy the area on the banks of the river just before the Charles Bridge. We found it to be full of wonderful museums, amazing restaurants including one with a patio right ON the river bank.
There we sat down, caught our breath, enjoyed the view of the bridge and the hordes of tourists now on it while peacefully enjoying the freshly prepared trout we chose out of the barrel of live fish marked “catch of the day”.
Take a moment to walk the park, see some modern art – much of it outside and free to see – and relax away from the crowds. It’s a great chance to let your dog run off leash too and if you have time head out to the Lennon Wall.
In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime. It was where young folks would gather and often write grievances. Today, the wall still undergoes change as message upon message is written. Sadly the original portrait of Lennon that gave it its name is long lost under layers of new paint. But it endures.
It is in that endurance that the real message lives on. Once, when the wall was repainted by local authorities… well, two days later it was again full of poems and flowers. And so, it survives as a symbol of the ideals of love and peace.
On that happy note, I shall leave you. Next week I’ll pick up by crossing the famous Charles Bridge with you over to the other side to tell you all about the Stare Mesto and Josefov districts.