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Prague Castle

Prague, Czech Republic, Europe: Old Town Square from the Town Hall Clock Tower
Pražský Hrad
Prague
Czech Republic 11900
Tel: 420 224 372 423
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Concierge.com's insider take:

One of the largest castle complexes in Europe, Prague Castle is the residence of the Czech president and home to many government offices. It's also one of the city's primary tourist attractions, drawing ever-bigger crowds since its foundation more than 1,000 years ago.

Beyond the bureaucratic spaces and the presidential apartments (not open to the public), the sprawling grounds have many must-sees: Foremost is the stunning Saint Vitus's Cathedral, whose soaring spires dominate the castle skyline. Entrance is free, though there are fees for the guided tours and entrance to the cathedral tower. The building is one of the high points of Late Gothic architecture in Central Europe, so be on the lookout for gargoyles (420-257-531-622; www.katedralapraha.cz).

Nearby is the smaller, salmon-colored Basilica of St. George, originally founded in 920. It was given an Italian Baroque facade in the 17th century, as was the Convent of St. George next door. The convent is now home to the 19th-century art collection of the Czech National Gallery. Though painters like František Xaver Procházka and Ludvík Kohl are unknown to most foreign visitors, the themes of Romanticism and Impressionism will strike a familiar chord (33 Jiřské Nám.; 420-257-320-536; www.ngprague.cz).

You'll find more great art at the castle's Sternberg Palace (15 Hradčanské Nám; 420- 220-514-634; www.ngprague.cz). A Baroque villa built between 1697 and 1707 by Domenico Martinelli and Giovanni Battista Alliprandi, Sternberg Palace houses the National Gallery's collection of Old Masters: El Greco, Goya, Rubens, Rembrandt, and more. Prague Castle's own collection of Czech Baroque paintings is shown off in the Prague Castle Picture Gallery located in the castle's Second Courtyard (420-224-373-531; www.obrazarna-hradu.cz).

Though walking in and around the castle grounds is free, tickets are required for specific sites. The Long Tour ticket includes the Old Royal Palace, the Story of Prague Castle permanent exhibition, St. George's Basilica, the Golden Lane, the Castle Powder Tower, the Convent of St. George, and the Prague Castle Picture Gallery. A Short Tour includes just the first five.

The closest metro station is Hradčany, but go to metro station Malostranská so you can walk up the castle steps. The easiest way to get here is via tram (22 or 23 to stop Pražský Hrad) or go to tram stop Malostranské Náměstí and climb up beautiful Nerudova street—a commendable destination in its own right. It's worth noting that Prague Castle still functions primarily as a government building, and as such is subject to the whims of politics: If a president drops by to sign a treaty with his or her Czech counterpart, all sightseeing is off.

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