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Old Town Square (Staroměstské Náměstí), Prague
Concierge.com's insider take:
Old Town Square (Staroměstské Náměstí) is the heart of historic Prague and has more gawk-worthy points per square foot than just about any other location in town. Start with the soaring black towers of Týn Church, a flagship of Gothic architecture that was begun in 1461. Enter the church via the arcade on the north side and you'll find the grave of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who arrived in Prague in 1599 and is credited with the most accurate planetary maps of his time.
Two doors away is the pink Kinský Palace, an intricate Baroque construction that once housed the German grammar school attended by little Franz Kafka. The building now holds a posh wine restaurant and an exhibition of the National Gallery's 19th-century landscape paintings (420-224-810-758; www.ngprague.cz). Another Baroque landmark in Old Town Square is the white Church of St. Nicholas, on the northwest corner. Though discreet by the standards of Prague Baroque, it overwhelms the tiny Kafka Square next door, which marks the spot of the author's birth.
At the other end of the square, to the south, is the Old Town Hall (Staroměstská Radnice), whose tower contains the celebrated astronomical clock called the Orloj, a symbol of Prague since its creation in 1410. Every hour, crowds gather to watch the clockwork morality play, in which a skeleton tolls a death knell and overturns an hourglass while the 12 apostles parade past, a rooster crows, a Turk nods his head, and the bells toll the hour. The presence of death isn't just allegorical here: The Habsburgs executed 27 rebellious Bohemian nobles at Old Town Hall in 1621, marking the beginning of centuries of brutal oppression of national and religious dissent. Despite its grim history, Old Town Square remains a popular meeting point. It becomes especially festive during the annual Christmas and Easter markets, a celebration of only-in-Europe arts and crafts, hot pastries, sausage stands, mulled wine, and holiday concerts.
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