Prague

02-old-town-square An architectural gem, Prague is a city of dreaming spires and hidden treasures ranging from an animation museum to underground bomb shelters. It is a city associated with Einstein, Mozart, Kafka, Alphonse Mucha, Dvorak and Johannes Kepler and has much to offer travellers no matter what type of activity is being sought. With direct flights taking less than two hours from UK airports, it is a very accessible location. Travelling within Prague is very easy, as there are reliable, fast underground and tram systems. Most tourist destinations within the Old City and the Hradcany districts are within walking distance. English is widely spoken and the climate is pleasant, with summertime temperatures similar to those of the UK. A highly acclaimed international music festival – Prague Spring – is held every year attracting leading orchestras, singers and musicians. In 2017, the Vienna Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim will open the festival programme. Other events include an International Film Festival, Prague Light Festival and a festival of contemporary circus. www.festival.cz www.prague.eu There is a wide range of accommodation from international chains like the Hilton and Four Seasons to independent, boutique hotels, and high quality local groups, such as Czech Inns, with its mid priced Galerie Royale located just outside the Old City, which can arrange group rates. www.hotelroyale.cz

ARCHITECTURE Prague Castle dominates the city – but this is no ordinary castle. It is a massive complex of buildings, which includes a cathedral, several churches, countless palaces, the picturesque Golden Lane, courtyards and art galleries creating the
impression of one continuous building surrounded by gardens overlooking the city. It is a spectacular complex with many unusual features, such as the glowing Alphonse Mucha stained glass inside the St Vitus Cathedral, the shrine of St Wencelas and the glittering 14th century glass mosaic on the exterior above the Golden Gate. The Lobkowicz Palace has recently opened to the public and houses an acclaimed art collection with works by Brueghel, Veronese, Canaletto and Rubens. There is no overall ticket to the Prague Castle complex as some areas have separate entry fees. Group rates can be arranged. www.hrad.cz www.lobkowicz.cz Close to Prague Castle are many more palaces including the Sternberg Palace, which is also the site of the National Art Gallery. Within the same area is the Loreto, one of the most visited places of pilgrimage within the country and the Strahov Monastery, part of which houses the Museum of National Literature. Notable too at the Strahov is the Library with its 18th century painted ceilings. www.strahovskyklaster.cz For the best views across the city, head for the Petrin Observation Tower situated within Petrin Park, easily accessed from the iconic funicular railway. Built as an imitation of the Eiffel Tower, it is 63.5m high. There is no lift, just 299 steps leading to the viewing galleries. Other attractions within walking distance include the Monument to the Victims of Communism, the Monument to the Victims of the Resistance and one of the biggest Mirror Mazes in Europe containing endless mirror lined corridors and optical illusions. Guided tours and astronomical events can be arranged for visits to the Observatory with its large collection of telescopes, including many obsolete models. www.muzeumprahy.cz

_11RICH HISTORY Tucked away beside the Charles Bridge is the unique Karel Zeman Museum, containing the special effects generated by a 20th century Czech master of animation. He provided the inspiration for a generation of filmmakers such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Terry Gilliam. Karel Zeman animated dinosaurs decades before Spielberg made Jurassic Park. He created flying machines, underwater adventures and even trips to the moon. Visitors to the museum can actually try out special effects such as operating a bicycle-style flying machine, and film themselves while doing so. Each room is set out as a film set, with small stages containing backdrops against which visitors can shoot film scenes. Everything is interactive so visitors can walk around the moon like Baron Munchausen or take the controls of Jules Verne’s submarine. Groups can book guided museum tours as well as animation and special effects workshops. http://www.muzeumkarlazemana.cz A visit to the National Museum to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror under the St Cyril and St Methodius Cathedral is highly atmospheric, as visitors can explore the crypt where UK trained Czech paratroopers were killed following their assassination of Reinhold Heydrich. There is now a national memorial on the spot. www.pamatnik-heydrichiady.cz To find what daily life was like under Communist rule, the Museum of Communism offers a glimpse into the past. Displays include daily life, education, shopping, sport, ‘the arts’, media propaganda, censorship, the Peoples Militias and the Stalinist show-trials. There is an interrogation room, a factory and an agricultural co-operative. Discounted entry prices together with guided tours are available for groups of 15 or more. There are also special admission rates for tour operators. www.muzeumkomunismu.cz The Communism & Nuclear Bunker Tour offers a fascinating and littleknown glimpse into the recent past. The organisers are young people who are intent on finding out more about their country’s recent past. By talking to those directly involved, including their own parents, they have created tours that bring this period to life. It starts with a walk around the streets of Prague, where understated buildings reveal more deadly backgrounds such as the hotel that used to be one of the most feared prisons, and the police station formerly the home of the secret police. There is the massive podium on which giant Communist statues used to be located. It is brought vividly alive when the tour guide talks about his parents (carrying him as a babe in arms) at a demonstration in Wencelas Square where everyone rattled keys, the symbol of freedom. Then the group is taken by tram to visit a former nuclear bunker. Deep underground with lots of stairs, there are endless bleak corridors and rooms. It contains a unique collection of Cold War memorabilia and there are horrific tales to be heard such as the provision of eight toilets for a thousand people. www.prague-communism-tour.com The Alphonse Mucha Museum, National Gallery and the Municipal House are essential venues for any group interested in the Belle Epoque and Art Nouveau. Alphonse Mucha created the concept of advertising art with his spectacular theatre posters, while his monumental Slav Epic series of paintings helped fuel Czech nationalism. Prague houses the biggest collection of his work.  Guided tours of the Municipal House provide access to the spectacular murals he created on the walls of the Lord Mayor’s Hall. www.obecnidum.cz www.muchafoundation.org

CZECH EXPORTS The Czech Republic has long been known for its beers. Guided tours of three of Prague’s most famous breweries accompanied by beer tasting together with talks on brewing history and techniques can be arranged. There are also tours of the Czech Beer Museum, which can include a beer experience. Visitors are able to bottle their own beer. www.beermuseum.cz www.beertasting.cz Another iconic symbol associated with the area is the Skoda. Group tours can be arranged around the Skoda factory, with an extended programme being available for technically-orientated groups. General tours are available for all ages, including children. The Museum also contains changing exhibitions relating to the car brand, as well as Czech culture, such as David Cerny’s Nativity bronzes. www.museum.skoda-auto.com

_19TOURING THE CITY Walking tours of Prague are one of the best ways of discovering the city’s history. There is a wide range of tours available and all can be specially booked for groups. Discover Prague can tailor tours to suit requirements on a range of subjects such as the Castle District, the Jewish Quarter and a City tour which includes visits to the Old Square, the Astronomical Clock and Charles Bridge. There are also tours dealing with World War II in Prague, ghost tours with stories of the Golem and the headsman Jan Mydiár; as well as underground tours exploring hidden rooms, corridors and cellars up to two floors below ground with stories covering a thousand years of history plus the 2002 & 2013 floods. www.discover-prague.com www.prague-underground-tour.com www.prague-ghost-tour.com Alternatively, sit back and enjoy a boat trip on the River Vltava with Prague Boats. A variety of tours are available including dinner and night time cruises, which pass architecturally dramatic buildings like the Dancing House and the Smichov Brewery. Shorter trips lead into the Devils Stream, a narrow channel dividing Kampla Island from the Lesser Quarter, with views of the watermill and the Infant Jesus of Prague. www.prague-boats.cz

BEYOND PRAGUE Just outside the city is Prague Zoo, which TripAdvisor ranks as the fourth best zoo in the world. It attracts more than 1.5m visitors each year and is home to over 4,600 animals representing 680 species within areas such as the Sichuan territory, Indonesian jungle and a Giant Salamander House. www.zoopraha.cz Within easy distance of Prague are destinations such as the world heritage site of Kutna Hora with its Gothic town, monastery and Bone Chapel, and Terezin, the site of one of the Nazis’ most infamous concentration camps. Cesky Krumlov is the second largest Czech Castle complex as well as being a beautiful medieval town, while Karlstejn Castle is a hill top retreat that is one of the most visited castles in the Czech Republic. www.czechtourism.com

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